How FaZe Clan is continuing to lead the esports world

The esports world is evolving quickly and so are the professional organizations that drive it. FaZe Clan is among the world’s most popular. At TechCrunch Disrupt 2020 we talked to FaZe Clan CEO Lee Trink, investor Troy Carter, and Nick Kolcheff, better known as NICKMERCS, about the shifting industry landscape.

Carter first explained the motivation behind his interest in investing in FaZe Clan. “My diligence in this process was different from the diligence that I usually do in companies because I went and asked my son, who was 14 at the time, what do you think about me investing in FaZe, and he lit up. He lit up,” Carter told moderator and TechCrunch Managing Editor Jordan Crook.

As a veteran streamer, Kolcheff also shed some light on his work ethic and how he keeps producing. “I’ve been a streamer for 10 years now, so it’s it’s getting to the point now where it’s like… I’ll go to bed some days after a long stream Kolcheff said. “So it’s just my mind is so wired, I’m so in it 24/7 that I think that it just becomes your routine and your life and that’s what it is for me.”

Kolcheff touched on the responsibilities of streamers to act responsibly and the challenges that can emerge for younger streamers to deal with seeing their influence expand so rapidly. “A lot of these kids blow up fast on the internet and go from having like four or five viewers to hundreds or thousands and then they have to be more careful — like you can’t say all these crazy things.”

NICKMERCS boasts a substantial following across the platform with 4.3 million Twitch followers and more than 2.8 million YouTube subscribers. He talked about how he balances maintaining his following while also competing professionally.

“I think one of the best things about being on FaZe for me is that I’m already so busy on a day to day with everything I’ve got going on with the stream and YouTube and all of that stuff,” Kolcheff told TechCrunch. “You know, a lot of other orgs have been out there always trying to draw you away from some of those things and put a lot more on your plate, and that’s okay, but like for me, I already have enough on my plate as is. So I need people who are going to support the things that I’m doing.”

Trink addressed the recent settlement with eSports Turner “Tfue” Tenny after a 15-month legal dispute over his contract and sponsorship deals and discussed how the group was hoping to keep its athletes happy with their contracts.

“We’re continuing to reexamine contracts as we go because this industry is moving at such a pace that it requires that so we do an audit on on what what our contracts have in them and what are the rights, what are the obligations, and we do that review a couple of times a year and have the opportunity as contracts are expiring, we’re doing new ones and there’s another opportunity to say do we have it right?” Trink said.

Trink says the industry is progressing so quickly and that it isn’t always easy to “get things perfect.”

“My philosophy around FaZe Clan and the industry is different than it was a year ago, it’s different than it was even six months ago,” Trink says. “You know, we’re really living in like dog years here. I’ve been CEO for just about two years, it feels like a decade to me.”

Watch the interview in full below:

And the winner of Startup Battlefield at Disrupt 2020 is… Canix

We started this competition with 20 impressive startups. After five days of fierce pitching in a wholly new virtual Startup Battlefield arena, we have a winner.

The startups taking part in the Startup Battlefield have all been hand-picked to participate in our highly competitive startup competition. It was an unprecedented year as we moved all of the nail-biting excitement of our physical contest to a virtual stage. They all presented in front of multiple groups of VCs and tech leaders serving as judges for a chance to win $100,000 and the coveted Disrupt Cup.

After hours of deliberations, TechCrunch editors pored over the judges’ notes and narrowed the list down to five finalists: Canix, Firehawk AerospaceHacWare, Jefa and Matidor.

These startups made their way to the finale to demo in front of our final panel of judges, which included: Caryn Marooney (Coatue Management), Ilya Fushman (Kleiner Perkins), Michael Seibel (Y Combinator), Sonali De Rycker (Accel), Troy Carter (Q&A) and Matthew Panzarino (TechCrunch).

We’re now ready to announce that the winner of TechCrunch Battlefield 2020 is…

Fabletics’ Adam Golderberg and Kevin Hart on what’s next for the activewear empire

Like plenty of other modern direct-to-consumer companies, influencer marketing has been an essential part of Fabletics’ journey. Actress Kate Hudson co-founded the company and co-CEO Adam Golderberg believes that its network of spokespeople has been key to the company’s growth.

We were joined on our virtual TechCrunch Disrupt 2020 stage by Goldenberg and comedian Kevin Hart who has been working as a brand partner for Fabletics.

“You can have the best product, which we believe we have, but if you can’t get it out there then you’re not going to be the leader that you want to be,” Goldenberg told us. “By having a very broad and diverse ambassador and influencer network, it allows us to become a very inclusive brand.”

Hart joined the company as an official brand partner earlier this year just as the pandemic took hold stateside and the company launched a menswear line. For Hart, the partnership is one of many relationships with brands and startups, but fits into his own lifestyle and thus made a lot of sense for him to work with, he says. 

“[A company I invest in] has to coincide with myself and my lifestyle. If I’m going to talk about it, I have to be true to it,” Hart told TechCrunch. “There’s a plethora of things that I’m involved with that people would be shocked to know I was a part of, but it’s because I have the eyesight for it and a love for it.”

The Fabletics menswear line that Hart has advertised, and served as a brand spokesman for, has seen major growth amid a broader spike in athleisure wear sales. Goldenberg is bullish on just how much growth Fabletics will see from its men’s line so early in its lifecycle.

“It’s a big goal, but I think we could do $75-100 million in sales next year with Fabletics Men, which is our first full year with this line, which would be very, very fast growth,” Goldenberg says.

As the company firms up its offering in activewear, they’re also keeping an eye on what trends will help them grow. Fabletics has already been building out technology trying to connect online and offline user habits in its stores. On the heels of Lululemon’s major acquisition of Mirror, which it announced in late June, moderator Jordan Crook inquired whether Fabletics had its own interests in expanding its footprint beyond activewear.

“We really believe in the importance of living an active lifestyle, so we’re not ready to share it yet, but we’re going to be doing something very large incorporating fitness into Fabletics,” Goldenberg said.

Check out the interview with Hart and Goldenberg below.

Facebook is officially killing off the Oculus Rift line

Facebook is officially killing off the Rift.

The company showed off its latest headset at its newly renamed Facebook Connect online event today, but they also revealed that they would be ending sales of the PC-based Oculus Rift S early next year. Facebook will soon only be selling the new Quest 2, and pushing users interested in PC VR to tether their headset to a PC using the Oculus Link software, which the company debuted last year.

A statement from an Oculus spokesperson to TechCrunch fully confirms the shuttering of the PC VR line, “…we are fully focused on the Quest platform as the best of both worlds for all-in-one and PC gaming, so we will not be making any future Rift or PC-only headsets.”

Image Credits: Facebook

After a hyped Kickstarter campaign, a Facebook acquisition, several developer kits and a few delays, the original Oculus Rift began shipping its first units in early 2016. In the years since, the hardware strategy of Facebook’s virtual reality arm has weaved dramatically.

Since CEO Mark Zuckerberg showcased the company’s three distinct product lines back in 2018 (the Oculus Go, Oculus Quest and Oculus Rift), the company has moved to contract its product offerings and go all-in on its standalone offering that does not require a PC or smartphone to operate. This year, Facebook has announced the end of both the Go and Rift lines. The shrinking of device offerings comes among an expansion of features for the latest Quest 2 headset, but also comes after months of crippling product shortages for the company’s entire line of VR headsets, including its heavily hyped Quest headset, which has been unavailable or in low stock for most of 2020.

Back in 2018, TechCrunch reported that Oculus had abruptly canceled the internal development of the Rift 2 and that Oculus co-founder Brendan Iribe was leaving the company, in part, over his frustrations with the direction of the company’s PC-based hardware and the shelving of the “complete redesign.” We later reported that Oculus was planning to release a more modestly updated headset called the Rift S, which would adopt the Quest’s inside-out tracking capabilities.

When Facebook unveiled the Rift S months later, they shared that, unlike the Quest, which is developed wholly in-house, the PC-based headset had been designed and developed with Lenovo. At the time, Oculus co-founder Nate Mitchell, who has since left the company, classified the device as “more of an evolution of Rift than a revolution,indicating that the device was not a full sequel.

It’s clear from today’s announcement that Oculus intends to fully double down on standalone VR, while allowing users with gaming PCs to continue to access existing content and titles built for platforms like SteamVR.

It’s unclear how important Oculus sees PC-based virtual reality to the future of the company. While the Quest 2 can be tethered to a PC via its Oculus Link software (which will soon exit beta), it seems unlikely that the company will continue to invest in PC-based content at the same pace it has in the past. When asked during a pre-briefing whether the company planned to scale back investment in PC VR content, Oculus Head of Developer Strategy Chris Jurney pointed to ongoing development of previously announced PC titles, while highlighting that creating games for Quest “has kind of taken the lead from developers.”

How to hire your first engineer: A guide for nontechnical founders

For founders who have a startup idea — but few engineering skills to make it a reality — making the team’s first technical hire can be a daunting task.

Nontechnical founders will face greater challenges when it comes to sourcing and recruiting engineering talent, but another factor that raises the stakes: They must often act quickly to find someone who could very well end up with co-founder status.

We interviewed a handful of startup founders and technical leaders to get their thoughts about how nontechnical founders should approach the hiring process for engineer no. 1.

Their advice spanned how to handle technical interviews, sourcing technical talent, how to decide whether your first engineering hire should become CTO — and how to best kick the can down the road if you’re not ready to start worrying about bringing on an engineer quite yet. Everyone I spoke to was quick to caution that their tips weren’t one-size-fits-all and that overcoming limited knowledge often comes down to tapping the right people to help you out and lend a greater understanding of your options.

I’ve broken down these tips into a digestible guide that’s focused on four areas:

  • Sourcing technical candidates.
  • How to conduct interviews.
  • Making an offer.
  • Taking a nontraditional route.

Sourcing technical candidates

Knowing what you’re looking for obviously depends a good deal on what you need. Founders have more flexibility if they’re just aiming to get engineers on board so they can get an MVP out the door, but technical expertise is only part of the equation if you’re aiming to hire for someone that may end up being a co-founder or CTO.

Apple lays out its messy vision for how xCloud and Stadia will work with its App Store rules

Apple laid out some interesting updates to its App Store rules this morning, the most headline-grabbing of which was a section dedicated to cloud gaming platforms like Microsoft’s xCloud and Google’s Stadia.

This comes after very public complaints from Microsoft regarding xCloud’s rejection from the App Store, which Apple denied because its App Store rules fundamentally did not allow game-streaming platforms on it. The outcry from gamers was notable given how hyped this launch is to the future of the Xbox platform. This saga was also timed alongside Epic Games’ broader complaints about in-app purchases on the games store.

It was clear that Apple’s antiquated App Store rules needed an update, but now that we see their solution, it’s clear that things are going to be very messy for platform operators and game developers that were hoping for an easy solution.

The gist is that Apple will allow game-streaming platforms like xCloud and Stadia to operate, but each game in their library will need to have its own separate App Store listing and each title will have to be “downloaded” from the Store. Each of these games will be discoverable inside the App Store, potentially meaning that the same game will exist inside multiple pages for multiple streaming platforms. In addition, xCloud and Stadia will be able to house their own “catalog” apps, but they will still have to kick users to the App Store when they want to score a new title.

The end result is that this solution is incredibly less plug-and-play for game developers, and developers will have to integrate their payment systems with Apple’s in-app purchase frameworks. It also means that developers are going to have to balance the in-app purchases cut for Apple with whatever deals they have worked out with the streaming platforms. It’s complicated, but iOS is such a massive platform that these developers don’t have much choice but to comply, especially given how heavily Microsoft is pushing xCloud.

It’s far from the ideal solution for the cloud gaming platforms also, but this is likely as good as it was going to get. This will likely strengthen the popularity of these platforms by having multiple entry-points to buying a subscription, something Apple will assuredly highlight amid any complaints, but it will also increase the likelihood that a consumer purchasing a subscription may be doing so from Apple, thus paying the Apple tax on said subscription. It seems like users will likely be downloading the app for free and then being prompted to either subscribe or enter their login info for their streaming platform of choice.

Let’s get to the letter of the law, as Apple is a stickler for precision when it comes to these rules:

4.92 Streaming Games
Streaming games are permitted so long as they adhere to all guidelines — for example, each game update must be submitted for review, developers must provide appropriate metadata for search, games must use in-app purchase to unlock features or functionality, etc. Of course, there is always the open Internet and web browser apps to reach all users outside of the App Store.
4.9.1
Each streaming game must be submitted to the App Store as an individual app so that it has an App Store product page, appears in charts and search, has user ratings and review, can be managed with ScreenTime and other parental control apps, appears on the userʼs device, etc.
4.9.2
Streaming game services may offer a catalog app on the App Store to help users sign up for the service and find the games on the App Store, provided that the app adheres to all guidelines, including offering users the option to pay for a subscription with in-app purchase and use Sign in with Apple. All the games included in the catalog app must link to an individual App Store product page.

Triller CEO Mike Lu to talk taking on TikTok at Disrupt 2020

Several months ago, before the world became so much more complicated, it was still crystal clear that TikTok was a force to be reckoned with and that its massive growth signaled big things for both Silicon Valley and the global tech scene. As the ByteDance-owned social media app has been drawn into a political crisis after the Trump administration made aggressive moves to force the app under new ownership, the conversation around the future of the app has grown even more intense.

As tech giants mull bids for the app, competitors in the space see room to swoop in and capture its momentum, convincing users to embrace what they’ve built. The usual suspects are pushing clones, including new features inside Snapchat and Facebook’s Reels product, but plenty of venture-backed startups are making their case as well. Perhaps the most convincing seems to be Los Angeles-based Triller, which is itching to capitalize on the uncertainty and claims that its own app has more than 65 million monthly active users.

We’re excited to share that Triller CEO Mike Lu is joining us at TechCrunch Disrupt in September to discuss his company’s ambitions and how social media is finding new ways to transform the music industry.

As TikTok’s geopolitical theater plays out, Triller is aiming to reach the throne by nabbing more outside investment. The company has been aiming to raise a round of funding valuing it at $1 billion, even as it sues ByteDance, claiming that TikTok’s app design violates patents that Triller owns. Triller’s existing backers include institutional firms like Lowercase Capital and Pegasus Tech Ventures, but also musicians like Snoop Dogg, The Weekend, Marshmello and Lil Wayne.

Hear how it all got started, and what’s next for Triller, from Lu at Disrupt 2020 on September 14-18. Get a front-row seat with your Digital Pro Pass for just $245 during our Labor Day Flash Sale  or with a Digital Startup Alley Exhibitor Package. Prices increase next week, so grab your tickets today!

Triller CEO Mike Lu to talk taking on TikTok at Disrupt 2020

Several months ago, before the world became so much more complicated, it was still crystal clear that TikTok was a force to be reckoned with and that its massive growth signaled big things for both Silicon Valley and the global tech scene. As the ByteDance-owned social media app has been drawn into a political crisis after the Trump administration made aggressive moves to force the app under new ownership, the conversation around the future of the app has grown even more intense.

As tech giants mull bids for the app, competitors in the space see room to swoop in and capture its momentum, convincing users to embrace what they’ve built. The usual suspects are pushing clones, including new features inside Snapchat and Facebook’s Reels product, but plenty of venture-backed startups are making their case as well. Perhaps the most convincing seems to be Los Angeles-based Triller, which is itching to capitalize on the uncertainty and claims that its own app has more than 65 million monthly active users.

We’re excited to share that Triller CEO Mike Lu is joining us at TechCrunch Disrupt in September to discuss his company’s ambitions and how social media is finding new ways to transform the music industry.

As TikTok’s geopolitical theater plays out, Triller is aiming to reach the throne by nabbing more outside investment. The company has been aiming to raise a round of funding valuing it at $1 billion, even as it sues ByteDance, claiming that TikTok’s app design violates patents that Triller owns. Triller’s existing backers include institutional firms like Lowercase Capital and Pegasus Tech Ventures, but also musicians like Snoop Dogg, The Weekend, Marshmello and Lil Wayne.

Hear how it all got started, and what’s next for Triller, from Lu at Disrupt 2020 on September 14-18. Get a front-row seat with your Digital Pro Pass for just $245 during our Labor Day Flash Sale  or with a Digital Startup Alley Exhibitor Package. Prices increase next week, so grab your tickets today!

Apple will now allow developers stuck in App Store jail to push bug fixes to their apps

Apple’s App Store policies have gotten quite a bit more attention in the past few months, and while it seems likely that Apple’s team will fight tooth and nail to avoid dismantling any of the core pillars of their Store economy, the company did announce a small policy change today that will hopefully keep users from getting caught in any crossfire.

In a short announcement today posted to their site, Apple shared that they have updated the App Store’s review policy guidelines to allow developers to continue to push big fixes even if they’re currently in a standoff with the app review team. As Apple seems to get even more aggressive in forcing developers to integrate in-app purchase frameworks into their apps, this change sets Apple up to avoid upsetting users.

The text of the announcement reads that, “bug fixes will no longer be delayed over guideline violations except for those related to legal issues.” Developers won’t be able to submit updates with new features or content updates, the focus of this rule change is firmly on the security/usability front.

This change was previously announced in June.

This change is unlikely to satiate critics hoping for more sweeping changes. In many ways this change helps Apple avoid being painted as the villain in new developer skirmishes. The stars were aligning for Apple to shoot itself in the foot by not allowing a developer to fix any vulnerabilities in their app while they were in standoff with the company.

The pandemic has probably killed VR arcades for good

A lagging trend of the past few months has been witnessing startups that COVID seemed poised to kill end up scaling back some of those deep cuts and taking off again. Not all spaces have been quite so lucky, in particular, lately we’ve seen a host of location-based virtual reality startups shut their doors.

Virtual reality arcades weren’t exactly crushing it pre-pandemic, the small industry was already a bit of a Hail Mary for the virtual reality market which has failed to push consumers to adopt headsets on their own and saw arcades as a way to warm up the general public to VR’s role in entertainment. Lackluster consumer interest and the throughput difficulties associated with quickly moving users through experiences were among their biggest challenges facing VR arcades.

This week following a report from Protocol, Apple confirmed its acquisition of Spaces, a virtual reality arcade startup which had been forced to close its in-person arcades amid COVID and had attempted a pivot to creating virtual environments for video chat software. An Apple acquisition is hardly a mark of failure, but it is unlikely that the company has any interest in reviving the startup’s arcade business.

Earlier this month, The Wall Street Journal reported that the US subsidiary of Sandbox VR had filed for bankruptcy. Sandbox VR raised quite a bit of money on the promise that they could revamp several industries at once. The idea was that mall operators on the decline would give great deals to some of these startups to set up physical storefronts as a loss leader to bring in a younger generation of consumers, while they could capitalize on mixed reality social media video to bring a level of viral growth to their VR offerings.

In July, UploadVR discovered documents that suggested Disney had terminated the lease of virtual reality startup The Void’s Downtown Disney location following months of COVID-related closures.

It was impossible to forecast the current pandemic when many of these investments were being made, but virtual reality arcades had already shown they were far from a sure bet. In late 2018, IMAX shut the doors of the last of its seven virtual reality arcades after investing tens of millions into its VR efforts.

With the future of in-person entertainment unclear, the question is whether virtual reality arcades have any chance of a rebound.

The fact is many of these startups were pushing up against current realities on multiple fronts and were attempting to seriously shift the landscape of 21st century digital entertainment, attempts that seemed daunting from the start.

As massive movie theater chains struggle to see how the pandemic will affect their industries in the long-term, it isn’t surprising that many of these startups have failed to see a light at the end of the tunnel and have shut down operations or been sold off. I suspect investors will be reluctant to back new efforts in this space and that the time horizon of COVID-19 will force current entrants towards pivots that look dramatically different from pre-COVID era business models. (One caveat is that the VR arcade market certainly looks differently in the United States compared to markets in countries like China and Japan where virtual reality arcades seem to fit a bit more snugly into popular gaming culture.)

If VR arcades survive or are reborn, it will be due to some pretty massive shifts in consumer behavior and VR adoption.

Virtual reality, as an industry, is in a tough spot. In the United States, it’s essentially only Facebook keeping the space alive in a meaningful way and while the company seems to be barreling ahead in its efforts to build a mainstream future for the technology on its own terms. Earlier this summer, Facebook announced that it was pulling its top-selling title Beat Saber from arcades for good by August. Since buying Oculus back in 2014, the ecosystem that sprang up around Facebook’s VR efforts have receded meaningfully leaving the company in a lonely position once again.