MSE, Ticketmaster detail esports-centric venue
Monumental Sports & Entertainment (MSE), owner of several sports teams, venues and enterprises, has announced plans for a new multi-purpose live-event venue.
District E Powered by Ticketmaster will span nearly 14,000 square feet and comprise an Esports competition studio and a 150-capacity venue expected to host over 200 events per year.
The venue is expected to open this autumn in the Chinatown neighbourhood of downtown Washington D.C, adjacent to Capital One Arena, home of the NHL’s Washington Capitals and NBA’s Washington Wizards.
MSE, which owns both the arena and the aforementioned sports teams, will offer District E Powered by Ticketmaster as a competition and training venue for its esports franchises, which include Wizards District Gaming and Caps Gaming.
“Given the rapid rise in the popularity of esports, we believe the time is right to build an esports-centric venue”
Additionally, the venue will establish an East Coast satellite office for global esports outfit Team Liquid and host state-of-the-art streaming pods to tap into the streaming sector.
Zach Leonsis, president of media and new enterprises at MSE, said: “We are excited to invest in this first-of-its-kind venue for esports and other immersive experiences and know it will quickly become the preferred destination for pre- and post-event attendees with one-of-a-kind programming and food and beverage offerings.
“And given the rapid rise in the popularity of esports and the growing audience for gaming in general, we believe the time is right to build an esports-centric venue that serves as a rallying point for the gaming community in the Mid-Atlantic.
“The wide-scale, international appeal of esports brands is well documented. We believe that developing deep, grassroots-level connections within our local community is the natural next step for esports as the genre develops into a major league aside other traditional sports.”
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Silver Lake, Roc Nation invest in merch company Fanatics
Sports merchandise company Fanatics has raised US$325 million from investors including Jay-Z and his company Roc Nation, a joint venture with Live Nation, and private-equity company Silver Lake Partners, which owns shares in TEG, WME, Oak View Group and Madison Square Garden Company.
Headquartered in Jacksonville, Florida, and with international offices in Tokyo and Manchester, UK, e-commerce giant Fanatics sells officially licensed products for the National Football League, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, Nascar and more, and also operates several bricks-and-mortar shops.
The new funding will be put towards launching a non-merchandising division focusing on ticketing, gaming, media and sports betting, according to the Wall Street Journal. The company recently launched a company focusing on NFTs (non-fungible tokens), Candy Digital, and also has a partnership with leading esports competition Overwatch League.
The new investment values the company at more than $18 billion, the WSJ reports. The company expects to make $3.4bn in revenues in 2021.
Last week, the company hired Dan Goldberg, formerly of Warner Music Group, as senior vice-president for music and entertainment development, signalling its intention to branch out beyond sports apparel into music merchandise.
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New Toronto arena to double as ‘global hub for esports’
Global esports and entertainment organisation OverActive Media is set to build a multipurpose 7,000-seater arena in Exhibition Place, Toronto, projected to be complete in 2025.
According to the company, the venue will host 200+ events a year, driven primarily by music and entertainment bookings, while also serving corporate events, award shows and ‘a full slate of esports events increasing over time’.
OverActive Media is the owner of four major global esport franchises, including Toronto’s two professional teams – Toronto Ultra of the Call of Duty League and Toronto Defiant of the Overwatch League.
“We are already in active discussions to attract some of the biggest esport events in the world”
The venue will be home for both teams and the company hopes to establish the Toronto arena as a “global hub for major international esport events”.
The arena, designed by Populous, is just one aspect of the privately financed $500 million project, which includes a theatre-style entertainment venue and hotel complex.
“Today is another important step in the evolution of OverActive Media. We are building a world-leading, 21st-century sports, media and entertainment company and this best-in-class performance venue will be the chosen home for a new generation of fans that think differently about their entertainment choices and experiences,” says Chris Overholt, president and CEO at OverActive.
“It has always been our intention to develop a venue and hosting strategy and to build a facility that could not only serve as an iconic home for our two franchises, but ultimately emerge as a global hub for major international esport events. We are already in active discussions to attract some of the biggest esport events in the world. This venue will redefine Toronto’s event hosting opportunities in every way,” added Overholt.
The arena will be the first new sports or entertainment venue built in Toronto since 2007 when the city opened BMO Field, a 40,000-capacity outdoor stadium at Exhibition Place.
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Virtual K-pop band inaugurate new Shanghai stadium
K/DA, a virtual girl group composed of four League of Legends characters, performed during the opening ceremony for the League of Legends World Championship grand final at the new Pudong Football Stadium in Shanghai on 31 October.
The competition, one of the biggest dates in the esports calendar, was the first event at the 33,765-capacity venue, constructed ahead of the AFC Asian Cup in 2023.
K/DA, created by League of Legends developer Riot Games, performed via augmented reality (AR), appearing on a physical stage in front of a crowd of 6,312 fans, according to tournament operator TJ Sports. The event was watched by an addition 3.8 million people online.
In addition to the virtual performers, the opening ceremony featured a number of real-world artists and dancers, including Chinese pop star Lexie Liu.
K/DA made their debut during a similar AR concert at the 2018 World Championships, which were held in Incheon, South Korea.
Esports gets in on the drive-in boom
Inspired by the success of drive-in concerts and cinemas, a new company, USA Drive-Ins, is launching the first-ever drive-in esports arenas.
USA Drive-Ins, a division of esports analytics firm Harena Data, has partnered with property company Horizon Group to develop esports arenas in four US cities. The first – in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania – will launch at the Horizon-owned Outlet Shoppes shopping centre this Labor Day weekend (5–7 September), with venues in Louisville, Kentucky, and El Paso and Laredo, both in Texas, set to follow later this year.
The Gettysburg event will feature three-different forms of drive-in gameplay: car play only, in which attendees connect to games via their smart devices without leaving their cars; hybrid car play, where players qualify using their own mobile device or Nintendo Switch console, with those who make the cut then invited up to the (socially distanced) stage to compete head to head; and stage play, a competitive mode, broadcast on the arena’s projector, for the best players, who are entered into a tournament to battle on games such as Super Smash Bros, Fifa, NBA 2K, Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter.
The launch of USA Drive-Ins comes in the wake of the explosion in drive-in shows that followed the shutdown of concert touring in March. The concept originated in Dusseldorf, Germany, with venue operator D.Live, and quickly spread around the world, allowing artists and promoters to put on concerts while traditional music venues are closed.
“Our first trial will mimic the cinemagoing experience but maintain the comfort of gaming in your own space”
“Our first trial will mimic the cinemagoing experience but maintain the comfort of gaming in your own space,” comments Bill Dever, chief strategy officer of Harena Data.
“Along with high-tech concession stands, we’re offering clean bathrooms versus the standard port-a-potties that drive-ins have. They will be disinfected frequently and limited in maximum occupants at one time.”
Like drive-in concerts, the esports events will allow gamers to offer food to their cars by smartphone, choosing from touch-free menus, adds Dever.
According to Futuresource Consulting, the esports, or competitive videogaming, sector, will reach a value of US$1 billion this year. Gaming has been one of the biggest winners of the coronavirus pandemic, with videogame stocks becoming increasingly hot property as locked-down consumers turn en masse to games for their entertainment fix.
IQ revealed that more than three quarters of a billion people – each one of them a potential concertgoer once the live business restarts – play video games regularly.
This article forms part of IQ’s Covid-19 resource centre – a knowledge hub of essential guidance and updating resources for uncertain times.
Riot Games exec joins virtual concert start-up Wave
Wave, a Scooter-Braun backed virtual concert start-up, has announced that former Riot Games executive Jarred Kennedy is joining the team as chief operating officer.
Kennedy, who most recently served as global head of entertainment businesses and partnerships at Tencent-owned gaming giant Riot Games, will oversee core operations and expand the scale of digital concert experiences at Wave.
The former Riot Games executive will also work on establishing partnerships with artists, investing and innovating in interactivity and expanding the reach of Wave so that more people can experience the musical events.
“The founding team and a lot of the first folks to join Wave are all musicians, they understand the artists that they’re serving and they understand what it means to be fans,” Kennedy tells The Hollywood Reporter.
“They’ve built their company and their culture around that, and so there’s a lot of trust between the creative community and Wave.”
“I believe in where technology is taking these interactive experiences and I also believe in the power of technology to enable really emotional and personal experiences”
Wave, which transforms artists into digital avatars in real-time, casting them onto stages in customised virtual worlds, recently received $30 million in funding from investors including Superfly co-founder Rick Farman, Twitch co-founder Kevin Lin and Justin Bieber manager Braun.
Kennedy says that he can see virtual concerts garnering popularity in a similar way to esports, as “[there is] the potential to create experiences that are both more interactive but also more immersive through virtualisation, [which] I think could be very powerful for what happens and what music performance becomes.
“I believe in where technology is taking these interactive experiences and I also believe in the power of technology to enable really emotional and personal experiences.”
“Wave is growing exponentially thanks to an incredible team of investors, partners and employees committed to our mission,” comments Wave CEO Adam Arrigo.
“Jarred’s wealth of knowledge in the industry, as well as understanding on how to build initiatives that tap into the core of digitally-forward culture, will allow Wave to better serve today’s digital avatar generation and increase our core technology and gaming capabilities.”
Wave concerts are distributed for free on major platforms including Twitch, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, and have featured artists such as John Legend and Imogen Heap.
Read more about the intersection between live music and gaming here.
Gamers: 750m new live music fans?
Live music professionals who fail to capitalise on the lockdown-era boom in videogaming will miss out on a confirmed audience of more than three quarters of a billion potential fans, new analysis of player numbers for some of the biggest online games reveals.
A total of 758.5 million people – more than live in Europe, and some 2.5 times the population of the US – regularly play one or more of the 20 most popular online multiplayer video games for which there is recent, reliable data on active users, according to IQ analysis.
Gaming is thriving during the Covid-19 crisis, with firms such as Epic Games, the company behind the Fortnite phenomenon, and Tencent, the Chinese publisher of hit multiplayer titles League of Legends and Honor of Kings, seeing sales soaring while consumers worldwide remain stuck at home.
Especially interesting for the concert industry is how successfully the virtual worlds of Fortnite, Minecraft and other online games lend themselves to live performance, as well as the apparent receptiveness of those games’ existing audiences to live music content. For comparison, One World: Together at Home – aka the star-studded, Taylor Swift-headlined virtual Live Aid – was watched by 20.7m people in the US; the figure for Travis Scott’s 20-minute ‘Astronomical’ event in Fortnite Battle Royale (albeit globally) was 27.7m.
Estimates of the number of videogamers worldwide range from 877m to 2.7bn
Before we continue, a note on IQ’s numbers: the 758.5m figure includes only active users. so while EA’s Apex Legends, for example, has been played by at least 70m people on PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4, the only available data on monthly active users (MAU) shows just shy of 7m playing regularly on console, which is the figure IQ has used. Similarly, Epic Games does not share data on active Fortnite users, so IQ has used the 27.7m who turned out for Travis Scott, even though the real number is far higher.
This, combined with the choice to limit the research to 20 games, means the aforementioned three quarters of a billion is a conservative estimate – with the actual total likely far higher. (Estimates of the number of videogamers worldwide range from around 877m for online gamers only to 2.7bn in total, including those who play single-player titles, casual mobile games and others).
Videogame concerts, it should be noted, are nothing new: Second Life, the forerunner of event-focused video game-cum-virtual hangout Sansar, hosted what was billed as the world’s first virtual gig in 2007, with Duran Duran, Suzanne Vega and, most famously, U2, also performing as virtual avatars during the game’s late-2000s heyday.
However, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the push towards digital forms of ‘live’ entertainment, with Travis Scott’s spectacular (albeit prerecorded) show in Fortnite in April and upcoming Diplo-headlined festival Electric Blockaloo in Minecraft among recent high-profile virtual events capitalising on the influx of new gamers.
A number of other multiplayer titles are nipping at Minecraft’s heels
Mojang Studios’ Minecraft, which launched in 2011, is both the best-selling video game of all time, with 200m copies shipped, and the most popular online game, with 126m monthly active users as of 18 May. It hosted its first music festival in 2016, and has held several more in the years since, including Fire Festival in January 2019 and the recent Block by Blockwest, with Pussy Riot, Idles and Sports Team.
However, Minecraft’s status as top dog of the notoriously fickle online gaming world is by no means secure, with a number of other multiplayer titles – such as tween-friendly create-your-own-game platform Roblox (115m MAU), esports favourite League of Legends (100m MAU) and two Chinese games, Fortnite-style mobile battle royale Free Fire (80m daily users) and blatant Minecraft knock-off Mini World: Block Art (80m MAU) – already nipping at its heels.
To date, none of those games have hosted a large-scale, artist-backed live music experience akin to Travis Scott or Marshmello in Fortnite – and the same is true of Fortnite’s battle-royale arch-rival, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG), which has 55m active daily users excluding China according to developer PUBG Corporation.
Other as-yet untapped videogame phenomena include another free-to-play battle royale, Call of Duty: Warzone, which has been played by 60m people since its launch in March; mobile strategy game Teamfight Tactics, spun off from League of Legends by developer Riot Games, which had 33m active users as of September; and first-person shooter Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, another game played as a competitive esport, which recorded over 26m players in April.
“Going forward, there will be more partnerships with the wider entertainment industry”
Given Fortnite’s success, it seems likely the next major in-game musical performance will be in a similar battle royale-type title; DJ Deadmau5, who recently performed in Fortnite’s new combat-free Party Royale mode, is known to be a PUBG player, while Taylor Kurosaki of developer Infinity Ward has suggested live events could be held in Call of Duty: Warzone in future.
What the future has in store for digital live performance – whether consumers will ever flock en masse to concerts in video games or virtual-reality worlds, or if ‘simple’ livestreamed video will suffice – only time will tell. What is certain, however, is that music and other traditional entertainment businesses, keen to claim their slice of the US$160bn global videogame market, will seek increasingly to partner with gaming companies in the years ahead, according to Stefan Hall of the World Economic Forum.
“Going forward, there will be more partnerships with the wider entertainment industry, as media companies seek to take advantage of the momentum gaming has produced,” says Hall, who also highlights recent reports linking Japanese tech giant Sony with efforts to improve the VR content, including concerts, available for its upcoming PlayStation 5 console as proof of the growing power of virtual experiences.
The latest IQ Focus session, The Innovators, will discuss the growth of videogaming, virtual worlds, 3D venues, livestreaming and more. Featuring Sheri Bryant, president of Sansar, alongside other technological innovators, the panel takes place tomorrow (27 May) at 4pm UK time on Facebook and YouTube:
“The next gen is virtual”: Five Vectors on the rise of esports
Five Vectors, a start-up founded by former Universal Music Group and ESL executives, is on a mission to create “the first real baby” of the music and gaming space.
The company, which recently received US$1 million in seed funding from esports investor BitKraft, is aiming to “bridge the gap between the two worlds and create an end-to-end system”, creating and integrating music into games, streams and live esports events.
Esports has burst onto the entertainment scene in force in recent years, with revenues from the competitive gaming sector set to exceed US$1 billion in 2020. Esports events are now filling large-scale venues such as the O2 in London and New York’s Madison Square Garden with a host of new, purpose-built stadia also popping up to house the events.
However, for Five Vectors co-founder Andres Lauer, the role of music in the gaming space “is not being pushed to its limits”.
“All we’ve seen is the promotional angle, but no one is truly looking to understand what best fits the situation”
“All we’ve seen is the promotional angle – of pushing artists out there through gaming events – but no one is truly looking to understand what best fits the situation,” says Lauer, “so neither side is really benefiting.”
Lauer met fellow Five Vectors co-founder Wasae Imran while working on a multi-year partnership deal between Universal and esports giant ESL. Lauer, then head of digital strategy at the music company, dropped out shortly after the deal was signed, teaming up with ESL’s global head of video network, Imran, to work on a different kind of music/esports hybrid.
The Five Vectors team is looking at how music can be integrated into competitive gaming to “truly enhance the experience”. Lauer believes that the emotive and social qualities of music have the power to make physical and digital events much more immersive for players and for fans.
Working with gaming partners, the start-up creates data-driven profiles of the kinds of music that gamers, and those watching them, best respond to, and their research is revealing that the music best suited to esports events is not necessarily what would be expected.
“A lot of times dance music or mainstream pop tracks are used at esports events, but we found that often more instrumental music is preferred”
“A lot of times dance music or mainstream pop tracks are used [at esports events], but we found that often more niche music is preferred, and the arrangement always varies due to the curve of the game,” says Lauer.
Livestreaming also forms a big part of esports viewership, with those watching at home demanding a different kind of experience. EDM, for example, works in an arena but could be difficult in the livestream, states Lauer, so Five Vectors is looking to help create or find the right composition with pieces to fit a range of specific situations.
Once the company has identified the right kinds of music for the gaming space, the plan is to help artists, producers and independent labels find access and new ways of monetisation in the esports space, allowing them to flourish and grow their audience
“We are moving into a virtual age. The new generation identifies with their ‘online selves’ and is leading a more and more virtual lifestyle – this is why esports is so important to us,” says Lauer. “With Five Vectors, we are going to integrate music into this sector in completely new and engaging ways.”
Esports and music hub to open in Stockholm in 2021
Space, a music, videogaming and media company run by leading Swedish record label execs, has announced Space Stockholm, a seven-storey, 7,500m² (80,000sqft) gaming and music hub set to open in the Swedish capital in the first half of 2021.
The complex, to be located in Stockholm’s main square, Sergels Torg, will include recording studios, a co-working space, a gym, a nightclub and around 500 high-end gaming stations – along with an arena that, at a capacity of up to 800 seats, will be the largest permanent esports venue in Europe, according to the company.
Space’s co-founders are Gustav Käll, head of Universal’s esports label, Enter Records, Per Sundin, the former MD of Universal Music Sweden, and Lars Bloomberg, a partner at architecture firm DAP Group. Sundis is now CEO of Pop House Sweden, partly owned by Abba’s Björn Ulvaeus, which has invested an undisclosed amount into the project.
“Gaming, music and content creation are the three biggest pillars in terms of what the youth enjoy”
“In online culture, people are interested in gaming, music and content creation. They are the three biggest pillars in terms of what the youth enjoy,” Käll, who remains head of Enter – a JV between Universal Music and Electronic Sports League (ESL) – tells the Esports Observer. “We want to bring that under one roof.”
“Space Stockholm, with its unique location at the heart of Sweden’s capital, is poised to become a cultural landmark, not only for the city, but for the entire country,” says Anna König Jerlmyr, mayor of Stockholm, in a statement. “It promises a bright future for Sergels Torg by creating a modern, progressive hub for digital culture.”
Esports revenues are on track to exceed $900m this year, as a growing number of sponsors and investors show interest in the competitive gaming sector. Live music companies that have invested in, or partnered with, major esports competitions and teams in recent years include Deutsche Entertainment, AEG, CAA, TEG and Madison Square Garden Company.
Five Vectors receives $1m from esports investor
Five Vectors, a start-up bridging the gap between the music and gaming industries, has raised US$1 million in seed funding, in a round led by esports investment specialist Bitkraft Esports Ventures.
Five Vectors was founded earlier this year by former Universal Music Group executive Andres Lauer and ex-ESL executive Wasae Imran, and is based out of Los Angeles and Berlin.
Combining the two founders’ expertise, the company produces music for esports tournaments, leagues, games and teams, working in partnership with gaming industry publishers and esports organisations.
Five Vectors has created music for esports league Rainbow Six Siege, SK Gaming’s League of Legends team and the Japanese esports projects of creative gaming agency PlayBrain, among others.
Currently, Five Vectors initiatives engage over 4m gamers, with 600,000 monthly active users, and its artists collectively have more than 15m streams on Spotify.
“Music and games are coming together in new ways”
The funding will be used to attract additional music talent and to make music more accessible to game publishers, platforms, teams, leagues and creators across the gaming and esports industries.
“We are extremely proud to welcome the Bitkraft Esports Ventures family as an investor in Five Vectors,” says Lauer, CEO and co-founder of Five Vectors. “We see a powerful overlap between music and gaming and created Five Vectors to fill the gap in the industry by providing customised music solutions for the global gaming audience.
“Music and games are coming together in new ways,” says Bitkraft founder and managing partner, Jens Hilgers. “With our investment in Five Vectors, we are supporting an incredibly ambitious team that has subscribed itself entirely to music experiences and technology in gaming and esports.”
Esports revenues are on track to exceed $900m this year as more and more sponsors and investors show interest in the competitive gaming sector.