Ann Hand, CEO Super League Gaming


Can you share with me a little bit about Super League Gaming? What is it, what games/leagues to you offer and how does is benefit the overall esports ecosystem?

Super League was launched in 2015 with the aspiration to be the premier esports platform for amateur gamers.  With our City Champs league format, we allow gamers to unite under the banners of their City teams and engage in city v. city battles around the games they love.  Out of the gate, we started with a “little league” youth product built around Minecraft and launched into our more heightened, older demographic competitions with League of Legends in 2017.  We are launching two exciting top tier game titles this year along with introducing an all-star league to allow our very best players to take a greater spotlight in the ladder to the pros.

For a long time there has been a somewhat negative stigma tied to playing video games. What is SLG doing to educate parents and onlookers about gaming and how would you say SLG is breaking the stereotype?

This is really at the core of what our brand stands for.  We have run close to 2,000 events since our launch and what we see is that our gamers are a diverse, highly successful audience that debunks the old stereotype of gamers. And when you play with Super League you are part of something bigger than yourself – your city – and with that you get an added sense of belonging, glory of pursuit and personal growth that comes from being part of a team.

You did not start in the gaming industry, correct? Walk me through what brought you here and what parallels have you seen with esports and some of your past work experience?

While I was an avid gamer growing up as well as enjoying other sports, I presumed that being an outside would put me at a disadvantage in taking this role.  However the more that I went to the company’s earliest test events and the more I talked to the gamers and the parents, I got hooked.  There is such a massive unmet demand for this sort of competitive gaming league for amateurs – and so much good we can do with this offering.  As well, I realized that a lot of the experience  I did bring – building long term strategic partnerships and memorable customer experiences – was right up my alley.

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As esports continues to receive mainstream recognition, what do you feel has been the key factor in the growth of esports here in the US and globally?

I think there is so much still being understood and defined as this is such a huge, highly engaged global gaming audience, but I can tell you that the core insights we see at our events – how much gaming is a real lifestyle decision and no longer the thing you age out of, and the trend in families gaming together – tell us that current projections on the size of the industry in 2020 and beyond are grossly undervalued.

In January we saw a lot of endemic and non-endemic brands enter the esports space through Overwatch League, NALCS and professional teams. Has there been any entries that have surprised you and why? What brand(s) would you like to see enter the space and why?

We sit in a different position at the amateur level and as well serve such a wide diverse demo both in the age range and skill level of our various products.  What has me surprised me at Super League the most is how many non-endemics want to talk to us about our youth product.  It validates that so may brands want to get on esports and talk to mainstream gamers, but don’t have a lot of positive access points to reach them.  Super League’s super accessible wrapper around gaming and gamers provides that marketing channel in a way that is low risk for a brand.

There has been plenty of discussion on having more female representation in esports. Are their opportunities within Super League Gaming to encourage more female participation? If so what are they and is there anything in the pipeline for more inclusion in the future?

This is very top of mind for us in 2018 and increasingly a big part of our conversations with the publishers.  When you bring gamers together to join teams and play “in real life”, a ton of the toxicity comes out of gaming and with that makes a more inclusive atmosphere for female gamers.  And you can see it in our attendance numbers and the gender split.  We aspire to be a path to the pros for all gamers, and we think the “in real life” offer not only allows for faster skill progression, but also a legitimate launch pad for the next wave of great female gamers.

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I’m sure with such a successful inaugural year, there are big plans for 2018. Would you be able to give us a sneak peek into what’s in store for 2018?

City club expansion, more top tier game titles and more ways for all competitive gamers to join Super League regardless of where you live and what game titles you play.

Now that you are fully immersed in the gaming culture, do you have a favorite game to play or watch?

Well I watch a lot of League of Legends because we are constantly testing and running events, but I am terrified to attempt to play it.  Rocket League is so fun, fast and visually appealing so that might be the top right now.

What are you most excited about for esports in 2018?

Watching the pro ecosystem take this next important step with franchising and the ways the wider ecosystem begins to attract new brands and play into fresh, new content.  And of course holding out hope, even if it likely happens beyond 2018, that a gamer emerges out of Super League and gets a bid to the pros.  We only need one!

eSports Week In Review | Brand Investment On Pace To Double, US Investment Hits ~$100M, Tencent's Kids Gaming Limits

ESPORTS WEEK IN REVIEW | BRAND INVESTMENT ON PACE TO DOUBLE, US INVESTMENT HITS ~$100M, TENCENT'S KIDS GAMING LIMITS

eSports Week In Review. That's A Xbox Controller (Photo: Xbox)

eSports Week In Review. That's A Xbox Controller (Photo: Xbox)

TNL Take: What a week for eSports. The biggest news being finally some release of information on Activision-Blizzard's upcoming Overwatch League which The Next Level will cover next week and look at two areas that I don't believe have been fully analyzed yet.

This week, 2017 US eSports investment is almost $100M, 60+ brands sponsored eSports in the first of 2017 - which is on pace to double 2016 and China's Tencent's limitations on kids mobile gaming.

 

 

MONDAY 07/10

2017 US ESPORTS INVESTMENT HITS ~$100M
 

TNL eSports Startups 010: Super League Gaming Gets $15M From Media, Sports And Entertainment

TNL eSports Startups 010: Super League Gaming (Graphic: The Next Level)

TNL eSports Startups 010: Super League Gaming (Graphic: The Next Level)

AEG Invests In eSports Team Immortals (Graphic: The Next Level)

AEG Invests In eSports Team Immortals (Graphic: The Next Level)

Matcherino Raises $1.5M (Photo: Matcherino)

Matcherino Raises $1.5M (Photo: Matcherino)

TNL Infographic 050: 2017 eSports Brand Investment (Graphic: Jordan Fragen)

TNL Infographic 050: 2017 eSports Brand Investment (Graphic: Jordan Fragen)

Note: CenturyLink and SFR will be moved to Telco

 

THURSDAY 07/13

China's Tencent Imposes Limits On Kid's Mobile Gaming

Talking Tencent On China Global Television Network (Photo: CGTN)

Talking Tencent On China Global Television Network (Photo: CGTN)

 

Have a great weekend!

TNL eSports Podcast 021: Beyond The Whistle Interview

TNL ESPORTS PODCAST 021: BEYOND THE WHISTLE INTERVIEW

TNL eSports Podcast 021: Beyond The Whistle Interview (Photo: The Next Level)

TNL eSports Podcast 021: Beyond The Whistle Interview (Photo: The Next Level)

TNL Take: These are the best Podcast show notes I've ever seen so it's a direct copy from the McCants Sports website  run by President Odell McCant's and was a fantastic chat. Hope you enjoy it.

PODCAST LIST

SoundCloud

iTunes

Google Play

Stitcher

TuneIn

 

On this episode of the podcast I chat with Manny Anekal, Founder and CEO of The Next Level, which covers the business of eSports and owner of eSports team Versus Sports. Manny is THE guy to discuss what’s happening in the world of eSports. If eSports is new to you, Manny gives a great, quick eSports 101. He and I also discuss the NBA’s investment in eSports, the growth of eSports at the collegiate level, career opportunities in eSports and much more.

eSports is more than gaming. It’s a sport and a growing, $600 million business.

If you wonder why kids will sit watching YouTube videos of another person playing their favorite video game you don’t have to look any further than the money trail. One of the most popular YouTube personalities made between $6 million and $7 million last year. It’s become a very real business opportunity, not just for the players but also for investors. Eight NBA teams, including the Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers and Washington Wizards, have invested in eSports teams. This is in addition to the NBA’s eSports league to launch in 2018 based on the NBA 2K game. On this episode of Beyond the Whistle, Manny Anekal tells us about a wide variety of roles that can be filled in the rising eSports industry and gives his advice how you can get involved in a very successful career in eSports.

 

Minecraft is more than a game – it’s an eSport that builds skills for the real world.

In this conversation with Manny Anekal, he and I discovered something we have in common – we each have a son who absolutely LOVES the game of Minecraft. And while many parents feel that they should restrict their child’s consumption of video games, Manny pointed out how the skills that are developed while playing Minecraft are in high demand in the real world, so much so that many school districts are using it as a curriculum to help kids develop logic and reasoning skills that are needed to fulfill some of the most demanding roles in the world, like computer programming and software development. Listen to our conversation to learn more.

 

The eSports job market and how you can get in.

If you can think of a position or role in the world of traditional sports, there’s likely a counterpart in the eSports world that you could pursue. From players, to sales, to agents, to managers and coaches, the need for individuals with skill sets to fit the demand is rising as the eSports industry itself grows. On this episode, Manny Anekal explains how you can become an in-demand person in the industry and what it takes to get there. Take Manny’s advice seriously. The eSports space is already tremendously crowded so you’ve got your work cut out for you if you want to get into eSports on a professional level.

 

Focus on what you want and make yourself into an expert. That’s how to rise in eSports.

When I asked Manny Anekal what he recommends to those who want to pursue a career in eSports he said it’s like pursuing a career in any industry. Decide what it is that you want to pursue then do everything you can to become an expert at it. So when it comes to eSports that advice applies to being a player, manager, sales person – you name it. You need to learn what is needed to fit the role and the industry and be the best at it. That’s one of the many pieces of advice Manny offered on this episode. So if you’re at all interested in being a part of the rise of eSports, this episode is for you.

 

EPISODE OUTLINE

[0:41] Why eSports is big business and a real thing.

[4:29] How Manny got involved in the eSports business.

[10:01] How are fans consuming eSports contests?

[16:13] The rise of eSports on the shoulders of kids who love Minecraft.

[19:10] Why basketball franchises are leading the way in eSports.

[26:21] The rising job market within the rise of eSports.

[30:37] The role colleges are playing in the rise of eSports.

 

RESOURCES AND PEOPLE MENTIONED

University of Utah eSports

NBA 2K eLeague

Twitch

Vision Venture Partners – Rick Fox’s Private Equity Firm

[Ed: What I recommend to all eSports Athletes on VS Sports to learn about business in general. Disclaimer: VS Sports is part of the Versus Sports company which includes The Next Level ]

 

READ: Machiavelli’s “The Prince”

LISTEN: Jay-Z's "Reasonable Doubt"

WATCH: Gary Vaynerchuck's "Daily Vee"

Movie Theaters and eSports: The Golden Opportunity

MOVIE THEATERS AND ESPORTS: THE GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY

Movie Theaters and eSports: The Golden Opportunity (Photo: ESL )

Movie Theaters and eSports: The Golden Opportunity (Photo: ESL )

TNL Take: A lot of sports Executives see the large, cheering crowds at eSports events at places like the Oracle Arena, Barclays Center and the hallowed Madison Square Garden and get excited about the future potential.

While seeing 20,000 people do the wave at MSG is pretty amazing, in 2017 there maybe 4 nights of eSports events - compared to close to 100 nights with just the New York Knicks and Rangers alone.

While it works, the current quantity of eSports events is just not there yet to continually fill stadiums.  However there maybe a real-estate opportunity that already exists that could be a perfect fit: Movie Theaters.

Here's a look back at how movie theaters and eSports became connected and what the future holds.

 

2015: SUPER LEAGUE GAMING RAISES ~$6M TO BRING ESPORTS TO THEATERS

Super League Gaming's Minecraft Event (Photo: Miriam Di Nunzio/Sun-Times)

Super League Gaming's Minecraft Event (Photo: Miriam Di Nunzio/Sun-Times)

Super League Gaming made their entrance into eSports by raising ~$6M through essentially Series A/B rounds in 2015.

Working with Canada's 3 largest movie chains - Cinemark Theaters (which invested in their Series B) Regal Entertainment Group and AMC Theaters and iPic Theaters -  SLG allows gamers to play together on the big screen.

After a 25 city test, Super League Gaming launched their Minecraft league in the Fall of 2015. Players bring their laptops, phones, iPads to the theater and play directly on their devices and then SLG's magic tech combines all the action where everyone can view it on the screen. 

I love this idea and will dig in deeper why it works so well.

 

2015: COCA-COLA HOSTS LEAGUE OF LEGENDS FINALS VIEWING PARTIES ACROSS THE US

Coca-Cola League Of Legends Theater Viewing Party (Photo: Coca-Cola)

Coca-Cola League Of Legends Theater Viewing Party (Photo: Coca-Cola)

When Coca-Cola invests in any new area, they tend to focus on what associates them with a large global Brand. Which in eSports in 2015 - and even today - is League of Legends.

In August, the League of Legends Summer Split, which has two teams battling to get an automatic slot into the the World Championship, was shown in 30 theaters across the US

The theaters ranged from Atlanta, New York, Chicago to smaller locales like Leawood, Kansas and Lancaster, Ohio.

Let's also not forget Coca-Cola sells a ton of product in theaters.
 

2015: CANADA'S CINEPLEX INVESTS $15M INTO ESPORTS

Cineplex Invests $15M Into eSports (Photo: Cineplex)

Cineplex Invests $15M Into eSports (Photo: Cineplex)

Just a month after Amazon bought Twitch for $1B, Cineplex announced they were going to buy a majority stake in WorldGaming, a gaming tournament platform, for $10 million and invest another $5M to create an eSports league across their chain of theaters.

Cineplex has 162 theaters across the country with 1,652 screens, visited by 74 million people annually, which is about half of Canada's population.

 

2015: COCA-COLA HOSTS LEAGUE OF LEGENDS FINALS VIEWING PARTIES AT 7 CINEMARK THEATERS

Coca-Cola's 2nd League of Legends Viewing Party (Photo: Coke eSports)

Coca-Cola's 2nd League of Legends Viewing Party (Photo: Coke eSports)

After their first foray into bringing eSports to the big screen, Coca-Cola will be replicating that experience across 7 Cinemark Theater locations.

Two things that Coke expanded on from their 1st program: 1) Collectible cups and branded thundersticks, which are those "baseball bat" looking things that fans use to cheer on their team. 2) Allowed fans to vote for additional cities if they weren't near locations like Salt Lake City or Los Angeles.

 

2015: BY EXPERIENCE BRING'S ESL ONE'S FINALS TO THEATERS IN 25+ COUNTRIES

BY Experience and ESL Bring eSports To Theaters In 30 Countries (Photo: BY/ESL)

BY Experience and ESL Bring eSports To Theaters In 30 Countries (Photo: BY/ESL)

ESL, BY Experience and Fathom events decided to take Coke's theater initiatives and make it even bigger by showing ESL One Counter-Strike Finals which took place in Cologne, Germany in screens in over 25 additional countries

Another interesting angle was having an eSports commentator exclusively for the cinema experience.

 

2016: COCA-COLA SHOWS OVERWATCH CONTENT IN THEATERS

Coke3.png

Coca-Cola's 3rd foray into their theater partnership was associated with the launch of Blizzard's Overwatch.

While this wasn't associated with an eSports event, fans got to see cinematics, shorts and short films around the heroes in the game.

One issue was that the content wasn't exclusive to the theater experience which I'm sure Coke learned from.

 

2016: COCA-COLA DOUBLES-DOWN ON LEAGUE OF LEGENDS VIEWING PARTIES WITH A TWIST

Coke's Twist To Theater Viewing Parties (Photo: Coke eSports)

Coke's Twist To Theater Viewing Parties (Photo: Coke eSports)

We've gone through a few of Coca-Cola's theater sponsorships but last year they added a new feature

The change in this partnership is that theaters won’t actually hold the 2016 League of Legends viewing event unless a minimum number of tickets are sold.  This allows individual theaters to essentially decide if eSports or a regular viewing would make them more revenue. 

Smart on both sides as Coke doesn't need to guarantee a minimum and the theaters can show eSports or whatever they were going to play anyways.

My estimate is that theaters needed to sell 200 tickets for it to be shown.

 

2017: SUPER LEAGUE GAMING LAUNCHES LEAGUE OF LEGENDS CITY REC

Super League Gamings City Based League (Photo: Super League Gaming)

Super League Gamings City Based League (Photo: Super League Gaming)

After initially starting with Minecraft, Super League Gaming launched a city based League of Legends league called City Rec. Essentially in the cities pictured above, local players can play in the featured match which is broadcasted on the screen.

For more insight, I spoke spoke Andy Babb, EVP of Super League Gaming.

TNL ESPORTS GUEST PODCAST 002: ANDY BABB, EVP SUPER LEAGUE GAMING

 

2017: HOLLYWOOD'S TCL THEATER GETS ESPORTS SECTION

Hollywood's TCL Theater (Photo: Amanda C Edwards/ Shutterstock)

Hollywood's TCL Theater (Photo: Amanda C Edwards/ Shutterstock)

The famous TCL Theater in Hollywood - formerly Mann's - are launching an eSports theater and experience within their complex.

The new area will be used for both MX4D Motion EFX and the "first immersive spectator theater hosting competitive eSports tournaments" - whatever that means.

 

ESL BRINGS ESPORTS TO 1,500 GLOBAL THEATERS

ESL One's 

ESL One's 

ESL is expanding their partnership with BY Experience to bring 5 live eSports events to 1,500+ theaters globally.  The "eSports in Cinema" series is scheduled to launch in July which will include action from ESL One Cologne and 4 TBD events.

In addition, ESL will debut a new eSports documentary from those that worked on The Smartest Men in the Room, Superheroes and Square Roots: The Story of SpongeBob SquarePants.

 

WHY DOES THE COMBINATION OF MOVIE THEATERS AND ESPORTS WORK SO WELL?

 

/01 REAL ESTATE ROI

"Historically 70-75% of a theater's business is done Friday through Sunday, so they are relatively inefficient operations Monday through Thursday," says Eric Handler, senior equity analyst for MKM Partners.

In addition, using the Coke minimum ticket model, theaters can determine what content will be most lucrative.

 

/02 MULTIPLE LOCATIONS

Can't make it to NYC, LA, Vegas or DC to watch your favorite eSports event, now the content is increases by an order of magnitude. It also provides...

 

/03 COMMUNITY BASED EXPERIENCE

Instead of watching an eSports event by yourself at home, you can join other fans and watch together.

Just like traditional sports, I believe this makes it even more attractive to the eSports fan.

 

/04 MONETIZATION

Look at the new revenue streams now available to theaters:

  • Tournament Fees
  • Sponsorships and Advertising revenue
  • Food and Beverage

Just think of this scenario: "Enjoy your time Bobby, Mom and Dad are going to be at the bar right outside"

 

Brilliant.