Exclusive: Underworld eSports Raises $10M From Grizzlies Kaplan, Survivor's Dr. Zahalsky


Underworld eSports Raises $10M From Grizzlie's Kaplan, Survivor's Dr. Zahalsky (Photo: The Next Level)

Underworld eSports Raises $10M From Grizzlie's Kaplan, Survivor's Dr. Zahalsky (Photo: The Next Level)

TNL Take: Money continues to pour into eSports teams. 

The Next Level has learned that Memphis Grizzlies co-owner Jed Kaplan and current "Survivor" season member Dr. Mike Zahalsky have invested in Portland based Underworld eSports.  Kaplan is also an owner of Swansea City Football Club of the English Premier League.

While the overall investment total was not revealed, the rumored figure is as high as $10M - which is an extraordinary amount for a team which currently competes in four titles ranging from Call of Duty to Vainglory.

Two other interesting aspects of this investment.

First, we’re beginning to see the second wave of professional sports owners who are seeing big investment opportunities in eSports.  Stephen Kaplan, co-owner of the Memphis Grizzlies as well, previously invested in team Immortals back in November of 2015 via Oaktree Capital.

TNL Infographic 027: NBA eSport Investment (Infographic: Jordan Fragen)

TNL Infographic 027: NBA eSport Investment (Infographic: Jordan Fragen)

Second, as Pro Sports team owners continue their involvement within eSports, what's the new investment trend?

Athletes and celebrities.

From NRG's recent investment from both Marshawn Lynch and Jennifer Lopez, Underworld eSports investment also includes Dr. Mike Zahalsky from the current season of "Survivor".

The deal was brokered by Bill Yates of the Sports Advisory Group who has also been linked to other eSports team investments.

eSports Week In Review | Hulu and ESL, eSports TV Ratings, My Week With Soylent


eSports Week In Review (Photo: Pixabay)

eSports Week In Review (Photo: Pixabay)

TNL Take: This past week on The Next Level, we took a deep dive into Hulu and ESL's exclusive eSports content deal, top ratings for DisneyXD, The CW and TBS and another installment of the new feature, eSports Brand Test: My Week with Soylent.


MONDAY 10/09

eSports Brand Test: My Week With Soylent

eSports Brand Test: My Week With Soylent (Photo: Soylent)

eSports Brand Test: My Week With Soylent (Photo: Soylent)

Hulu and ESL's Exclusive eSports Deal (Photo: ESL)

Hulu and ESL's Exclusive eSports Deal (Photo: ESL)

2017 Nintendo World Championship on DisneyXD (Photo: Nintendo)

2017 Nintendo World Championship on DisneyXD (Photo: Nintendo)




The Next Level was off



Have a great weekend!

Hulu and ESL's Exclusive eSports Content Deal


Hulu and ESL's Exclusive eSports Content Deal (Photo: ESL)

Hulu and ESL's Exclusive eSports Content Deal (Photo: ESL)

TNL Industry Guest Post 009: Over the past 13 years, Anton Ferraro has helped develop numerous esports focused properties including tournament broadcasts, television programs, streaming platforms, branded campaigns, digital products & live event activations.

Anton began his career in 2004 by organizing and playing at local Halo events and shortly thereafter joined Major League Gaming to assist their media efforts. After 8 years with the company Anton transitioned to the West Coast and helped build the Azubu streaming platform as Director of Content.

Anton currently resides in Brooklyn, New York with his wife and pug and too much of his time is spent playing Overwatch. You can view his work at www.AntonFerraro.com

TNL Take: It’s not surprising Hulu has finally decided to acquire some esports content and also not surprising that they went with their geographical neighbor ESL.

Yesterday, ESL announced a content partnership to bring four exclusive programs to Hulu's platform and its first foray into esports.

While all four show concepts have been attempted before, the main goal is how to maximize quality while also maximizing margins. This leads to concepts that dovetail with larger events or already existing studios. The Immortals show is unique but Immortals already has a content team  and fits well together (And perhaps and even larger margin for ESL).

Lets take a deeper look into the four shows with previous examples:




Player V. Player is a gamified debate show with casters and esports influencers facing off over the hottest topics in esports. Panelists accrue points while debating both newsy and big picture topics for ultimate bragging rights, with a final challenge over a classic video game. The result is an urgent, passionate conversation amongst signature esports personalities, connecting communities while also pitting them against one another.

The best version of this was done by the old NASL studio, which I believe included Clutch, Ben Nichols, Rotterdam and other casters. Ironically ESL took over the NASL studios, so 4 years later the show gets filmed in the same location.


Bootcamp is a weekly docu-series following The Immortals, a top CS:GO team, as they rebuild their roster leading up to IEM Oakland, one of the premiere esports events in North America that takes place on November 18–19 at Oracle Arena. With the tournament just weeks away, and currently three players short of a full team, The Immortals must find new talent and quickly build a cohesive team. Bootcamp will follow The Immortals through the extensive process of player evaluation, testing, and trials until they finally find the perfect players and then race to get ready for IEM Oakland. The series will also give unprecedented access to the inner workings of a professional esports team, with scrimmages and practice sessions at the team house as they formulate a new strategy and build team chemistry.

Literally any content top teams have produced in the past year, viewers expect this content to appear on Youtube. The potential downside for Immortals is gating this show by putting it on Hulu slows their “network effects” channel growth and fan growth. Conversely, getting a show on Hulu exclusively focused on the team and on a premiere platform adds cache - and valuation.

The pitch for these shows is “Hard Knocks” but about esports. For one reason or another they’ve never quite had that impact. This is for a variety of reasons, but primarily is that the NFL allows only one team to be followed in any pre-season. In the dog-eat-dog world of esports, multiple shows cannabalize each others audience. So it’s as much about distribution as it is about quality of product.


Dive deep into the most impactful moments in esports history with passionate casters and analysts explaining what made these moments so monumental. Defining Moments will cover many of the top games and fan the flames of ongoing debates about these plays. Each episode is centered on a specific theme for the week, whether trick-shots and insane reflex skills, controversial moves and their impact on gaming history, or long-lasting rivalries and how they came to be. The series will feature in-depth interviews with game designers, teammates, fans, rivals, even sports scientists assessing reaction speed — anyone who can add to the story of defining moments in esports.

This concept interests me the most as there are tons of great moments in esports but will competitors of ESL allow them to monetize their content. Otherwise we are getting a best of ESL highlight reel or ESL's version of SportsCenter's Top 10. There is 10+ years of good ESL history so 6–30 minute episodes is not unrealistic.


ESL Replay is a fast-paced, condensed, documentary-style recap of the most memorable moments from four of the biggest multi-day esports tournaments in the world, including in-depth analyses and behind-the-scenes footage not part of the tournament live stream. A never-before-seen view of the tournament that will entertain those who watched the full tournament and those who missed the action and want to see what they missed. Each episode of Replay will be edited and aired within a week of the live event.

The hardest year of my life was executing this show. Chris Puckett, three other editors and myself worked together and here’s what's challenging about putting on a show like this.

After four 15+ hour days, you’re going to come back tired and do your best job to grind for another three-four days to put out the best possible episode - essentially a lot of manpower is needed.

[Edit: From some figures I've heard on Hard Knocks, the costs per episode for that type of series are immense]

The part that’s tough is that even though you struggle to get it out in a timely manner  — the best clips will have already been shared and disseminated on Twitter or Reddit. So the value you are adding to the community is minimal because of the timeliness of the content.

Interesting sidenote — our distribution partner for this concept was WME-IMG, for whom this was their “testing the waters” moment with esports.

There are certain factors that can spell success for this deal. Audience and acceptance for esports have grown. Taking lessons from predecessors will allow you to improve the product.

And esports was a vertical Hulu was missing.

With Hulu’s push into live content, I would not be surprised that this is their test of how a larger, live content deal with ESL or another partner could work.


[Edit: Content. eSports. Content. eSports. Content. Films, TV show's, documentaries, documentary-series - eSports shoulder content isn't coming - it's here.]

Fashion Brand ULT Rolls Out Apparel For Pro Madden Team Versus Sports


Versus Sports and ULT Apparel Partnership (Photo: ULT)

Versus Sports and ULT Apparel Partnership (Photo: ULT)

From Venturebeat by Jeff Grubb

It’s one thing to be great at games. It’s another to look good while doing it. To accomplish both, Versus Sports — the largest professional Madden team — is working with fashion brand ULT on a new line of apparel that captures the squad’s look and feel.

ULT is working to establish itself as the go-to brand for esports fashion products in the same way that people associate Nike, Adidas, or Reebok with traditional athletic sports. So ULT is expanding its partnerships from EUnited — an Overwatch, Call of Duty, and League of Legends team — to also include Versus Sports. This collaboration between Ult and Versus features an Elite Jersey, a long-sleeve T-shirt jersey, and two baseball caps. But ULT isn’t just selling shirts and hats — it is selling the swagger of the Versus Sports competitors. That’s a strategy that more companies in the $696 million esports market are likely going to employ, and Versus wants to lead the way.

Versus Sports Athlete Mark "Schemin" Samuels (Photo: ULT)

Versus Sports Athlete Mark "Schemin" Samuels (Photo: ULT)

“Currently every esports team jersey looks exactly the same with no reflection of key aspects of the this genre: sport, fashion, and athletics,” Versus Sports founder and chief executive Manny Anekal said. “Many brands also miss the mark on telling the story and lifestyle of these gaming professionals. With ULT, Versus Sports found the perfect partner that recognized the team’s brand vision and our cultural ethos.”

Versus Sports Jersey (Photo: ULT)

Versus Sports Jersey (Photo: ULT)

For Versus, this gives the team a unified look that fans can buy into. For ULT, this expands their presence not just into another team but also into a new game in Madden.

“The evolution of the ULT brand into the traditional sports space is something we are very excited by,” ULT brand lead designer Nate Eckman said. “Challenging cultural ideas of athleticism, sport, and fashion for this community is something we at ULT are deeply inspired to do. Being able to partner with Versus Sports and collaborate with Manny Anekal on product ideas and content strategy is a total thrill.”

Versus Sports Hat (Photo: ULT)

Versus Sports Hat (Photo: ULT)

Anekal says the partnership is ideal not because it gives Versus some extra products to generate revenue. Instead, it gives Versus a new way to express itself.

“I wanted to build apparel that was fashion forward and innovative not just in design; but being able to build upon ULT’s content strategy and platform,” said Anekal.

Going forward, you can expect to see brands like Versus making more partnerships like this, and you can also expect Versus Sports players to show up to every match decked out in their ULT gear.


[Disclaimer: Versus Sports is part of the portfolio of companies associated with The Next Level]