Overwatch League strikes a milestone deal with Disney and ESPN

If you’re sick of hearing about esports, you need to get over it. The space continues to grow, inching its way into the traditional media landscape. Today, in fact, Activision Blizzard announced that the Overwatch League playoffs will be aired on ESPN and Disney XD.

The Overwatch League in itself is a huge step for esports, as it’s the first true city-based league for a competitive video game. While most esports leagues consist of privately owned teams with little or nothing to do with geography, Overwatch League is a pro league made up of city-based teams such as the Dallas Fuel or the San Francisco Shock. Many of these teams are owned by big names in the traditional sports world, such as Robert Kraft (CEO and owner of New England Patriots, who owns the Boston Uprising) and Jeff Wilpon (COO of the New York Mets, who owns the New York Excelsior).

The agreement, which also includes a recap/highlights package from 2018 Grand Finals coverage on ABC on July 29, marks the first time that live competitive gaming has aired on ESPN in prime time, and will be the first broadcast of an esports championship on ABC. Activision Blizzard said in the announcement that this is just the start of a multi-year agreement.

That said, EA’s Madden NFL 18 did broadcast an esports tournament on ESPN2 and Disney XD earlier this year.

Overwatch League playoffs begin tonight at 8pm ET, and will culminate in the Grand Finals, taking place in the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, on July 27 and July 28.

Here’s what Justin Connolly, EVP of Affiliate Sales and Marketing at Disney and ESPN, had to say in a prepared statement:

The Overwatch League Grand Finals is by far our most comprehensive television distribution for an esports event over a single weekend: 10 total hours over four networks and three days. This overall collaboration with Disney/ABC, ESPN and Blizzard represents our continued commitment to esports, and we look forward to providing marquee Overwatch League coverage across our television platforms for fans.

The rise of Twitch stars, like Ninja, and the growth of the competitive gaming scene have paved the way not only for a new type of sports media, but for a growing new economy. While challenges remain around monetizing the content, the pieces of the puzzle are slowing coming together to create an audience large enough to incentivize advertisers to spend big money.

In fact, sponsorship revenue and ad spending revenue are expected to hit $655 million and $224 million, respectively, by 2020, according to Newzoo. That doesn’t sound like much when you think about the NFL, which raked in $1.3 billion in revenue in 2017 alone. But, like this deal proves, the esports space is growing and working its way into the mainstream, hoping to get the attention of young men between 18 and 34 who have become increasingly difficult to reach via traditional advertising.

Alongside the live TV broadcast of the Overwatch League playoffs on ESPN and Disney XD, the playoffs will also be live-streamed via Twitch, MLG.com and on the ESPN app and DisneyNOW.

PlayVS CEO Delane Parnell to talk high school eSports at Disrupt SF

The gaming world is evolving at a rapid clip. No longer is the idea of the lonely gamer a reality. Twitch and Discord have brought gamers together and given everyone the opportunity to see just how talented some of these young players are. Meanwhile, publishers and eSports organizations have built out an infrastructure.

But there is plenty left to do, and PlayVS founder and CEO Delane Parnell is well aware of this.

We’re amped to announce that Parnell is joining us at TC Disrupt SF in September to talk about how high school esports could pave the way for even more growth in this industry.

PlayVS is a startup that has partnered with the NFHS to bring esports to the high school level, providing infrastructure around scheduling, refs, rules, and state tournaments. Not only does this allow high school students to get extracurricular experience doing what they love (playing video games), but it offers a new way for esports orgs and colleges to look at the bright young talent coming up through the ranks.

PlayVS launched in April after securing its partnership with the NFHS. Through this partnership, the company will be able to bring organized esports to more than 18 states and approximately 5 million students across 5,000 high schools.

The company has since raised $15 million in Series A, and the inaugural season begins in October of this year.

We’re absolutely thrilled to get the chance to sit down with Parnell to discuss the launch of the platform and hear about how high school esports could set the tone for the industry as a whole.

Tickets to Disrupt SF are available here.

Here’s what it was like to stumble into Netflix and Lyft’s activation for GLOW at ‘Muscle Beach’

Today at “Muscle Beach” in Venice, Calif., Netflix and Lyft joined forces for a promotional campaign in support of the streaming media site’s (really excellent) dramatization of the origin story for the women’s wrestling league — GLOW (or the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling).

Your intrepid reporter was taking a walk on the beach and stumbled upon the marketing stunt (which was kind of genius).

For those of y’all who don’t know, Muscle Beach is sort of a mecca for weight lifters and body builders — including, back in the ’80s, a young Ah-nold Schwarzenegger. A history that made it an ideal spot to celebrate Netflix’s (pretty terrific) ode to all things new wave-d, hair metal-ed, neon accented, high-waisted, cocaine addled and muscle-bound.

Members of the cast posed for pictures, and wrestlers engaged in training sessions and ’80s-themed exercise classes throughout the day.

The activation will be up for the next week and included a Reebok pop-up with limited-edition ’80s styles; a photo booth and costumes for pictures; free copies of Paper Magazine and trading cards emblazoned with the pictures of each of the most popular characters from the show.

The day wasn’t without incident. Some Muscle Beach-goers got into a war of words with security over the event’s unannounced takeover of the basketball courts adjacent to the “beach.”

The second season of “GLOW” dropped today on Netflix.

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Uber is looking to buy the bike-share company behind Citi Bike and Ford GoBike

Uber is reportedly looking into buying Motivate, the company that makes Ford GoBike’s in the San Francisco Bay Area and Citi Bike over on the East Coast. This comes following reports of Lyft getting close to purchasing Motivate in a $250 million deal.

Uber bought bike-share startup JUMP, a dockless, electric bike-share service, earlier this year, for about $250 million. In April, Motivate deployed electric bikes in San Francisco. Once JUMP’s 18-month pilot program with the city is up next June, we can expect to see companies like Motivate, Lime and others apply to deploy their own dockless bikes in the city.

I’ve reached out to Uber and will update this story if I hear back.

Just this week, both Uber and Lyft applied to deploy electric scooters in San Francisco. You can read more about that here.

Google is taking a Home-branded putt-putt course on a US tour

If you’re in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles or Atlanta, you’ll soon be able to play mini golf (or putt-putt, as some people apparently like to call it) and learn about the Google Home product range in the meantime. Sounds like a corporation’s idea of a good time.

“We wanted people across the country to feel the magic of what Google Home can do in an environment that’s slightly more exciting than your typical living room,” a Googler connected with this project says in the announcement video. “Everything you can do here, you can do at home,” another Googler says. “We just took your home, and put it into a mini-golf course.”

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Unsurprisingly, part of the gimmick here is that you have to talk to the Google Homes spread across the course to navigate the obstacles. You can also “win stuff,” which seems to involve lots of Google-branded socks and Home Minis. And it’s all family-friendly, of course.

The New York course is now open for business, with the other cities following in short order. You can reserve your tee time here.

All joking aside, Google is clearly riding the positive news around Home right now, which includes the fact that Google Homes are now outselling Amazon’s Echo devices. It still doesn’t want to talk about its creepy Duplex Google Assistant demo at I/O earlier this year, but feel free to ask the Google Home devices at the Google Home Mini Golf course about that.

Bonus: If you live in Portland, just come to Twin Pines Country Club and play some putt-putt without all the corporate branding, because that place is about as Portland as it gets — and it’s free, too.


Watch these robotic soccer players play a nail-biter of a match

As a hater of all sports I am particularly excited about the imminent replacement of humans with robots in soccer. If this exciting match, the Standard Platform League (SPL) final of the German Open featuring the Nao-Team HTWK vs. Nao Devils, is any indication the future is going to be great.

The robots are all NAO robots by SoftBank and they are all designed according to the requirements of the Standard Platform League. The robots can run (sort of), kick (sort of), and lift themselves up if they fall. The 21 minute video is a bit of a slog and the spectators are definitely not drunk hooligans but darn if it isn’t great to see little robots hitting the turf to grab a ball before it hits the goal.

I, for one, welcome our soccer-playing robot overlords.

COSMIQ maker Deepblu launches a booking platform it calls the “Airbnb of diving”

After it took James Tsuei a month of research and emails to plan a dive in Indonesia, he decided it was time for his startup, Deepblu, to launch a booking platform for divers. Planet Deepblu bills itself as “the Airbnb for diving” and is the latest piece of the diving ecosystem the Taipei-based startup is building.

Based in Taipei and backed by Silverlink Capital, Deepblu was founded in 2015 to bring resources for divers into the mobile, cloud-based era. Its products included a Bluetooth-enabled dive computer called COSMIQ and a social network where users share dive logs. Dive computers are small devices, often worn like wristwatches, that let divers track and calculate important information, such as when they need to take a decompression stop. COSMIQ automates a lot of the process and enables divers to wirelessly sync dive logs to Deepblu’s social network, which the startup claims now has more than 40,000 members, 500 dive shops and 300,000 dive logs.

Deepblu drew on its community for Planet Deepblu, integrating their dive logs, reviews, videos and photos to help users plan diving trips. There are already several dive booking sites out there, but Tsuei, Deepblu’s co-founder and chief executive officer, says they operate more like Agoda or Booking.com, while Planet Deepblu’s Airbnb-like approach means divers can use it to communicate directly with dive operators instead of relying on agencies.

Tsuei claims this can save them up to 25% on the total cost of a trip. By serving as a centralized database for dive planning, Planet Deepblu also wants to save its users time.

Part of Deepblu’s mission is to give scuba diving the same visibility and cultural prominence as golfing by making it more accessible to beginners as well as advanced divers. Though it’s a niche market, diving has a lot of financial potential. Tsuei says there are currently about 6 to 8 million active divers, or people who make three or more diving sessions each year, and dive trips are big investments. Divers spend an average of $1,000 on equipment and certification, and then even more money on dive shops (businesses run by expert divers who provide training and tours), flights and accommodation. For passionate divers, it’s more than just a hobby.

Deepblu CEO James Tsuei

“It’s like golfing,” says Tsuei. “There’s a higher barrier to entry because it takes time and money, but it also becomes part of your lifestyle.” Out of the 40,000 members of Deepblu’s social network, the company says about 40% have uploaded their own dive logs, which is a very high level of engagement for any online community (Deepblu also syncs with Bluetooth-enabled dive computers from major diving gear brands like Scubapro and Tusa or lets members enter data manually).

For service providers, one of Planet Deepblu’s value propositions is reaching younger divers. Although scuba divers are passionate about what they do, Tsuei says that in many key markets, including the Caribbean, divers are aging into their sixties, but their kids aren’t following them into the sport. Instead, younger people are turning to surfing and extreme sports. Emerging markets like China and Southeast Asia, however, are seeing an increase in young divers.

Planet Deepblu can help dive shops around the world reach them (about 60% of its users come from in the United States or Taiwan, but 20% are based in China and the rest are mainly in Korea, Southeast Asia and Europe). Part of Deepblu’s future plans include creating a “LinkedIn for Divers,” with features like verified profiles for people who upload a copy of their license, which can help freelance professional divers find more clients.

Google will make real-time Final Four predictions this weekend, air them as halftime TV ads

Google wants to put its data science chops to the test – in real-time. This weekend, the company is going use data analytics techniques and machine learning during the Final Four in San Antonio to figure out what it thinks will happen next in the live games. And after doing so, it will hand off its predictions about the game’s second half to be aired as a halftime TV ad.

The company detailed its plans in a blog post this morning, explaining how the idea grew out of the existing relationship it had with the NCAA regarding statistical game and competition data analysis using Google’s cloud technology. Google then decided it wanted to challenge itself further to see what else it could do with NCAA data.

A team including data scientists, technicians, and basketball enthusiasts was assembled, and Google built a data processing workflow using Google Cloud Platform and technologies like BigQuery and Cloud Datalab. It was able to uncover all sorts of insights, like who blocked the most shots per minute or whether teams with animal mascots caused more upsets. And then Google decided it wanted to try to predict what happens during a live game.

This weekend, it will analyze the data from the first half of the Final Four games in real-time, and turn that prediction into a television ad in a matter of minutes.

The way this works is that Google Cloud team will be on site during the games, and will feed in the data from the first half into its workflow where it’s analyzed against NCAA historical data. When halftime begins, the team will crunch the data and come up with its predictions. The technical teams regarding its workflow have been shared here, on the Google Cloud Big Data and Machine Learning blog.

Before halftime ends, Google will hand off a newly created TV ad to CBS and Turner that will air right before the second half starts.

“This is likely the first time a company has used its own real-time predictive analytics to create ads during a live televised sporting event,” notes Google.

The experiment is a clever way to advertise Google Cloud and other technology, but it’s not the only tech company doing Final Four predictions.

All the virtual assistants are making their own predictions too, including Google’s own Google Assistant, Alexa, Cortana, and Siri. But their answers are sometimes more like editorialized opinions and not true data science.

You can keep track of Google’s NCAA experiment on the dedicated site, cloud.withgoogle.com/ncaa.

YouTube TV becomes first-ever presenting partner for the NBA Finals, following similar deal with MLB

YouTube TV announced this morning it will become the first-ever presenting sponsor of the 2018 NBA Finals as the result of a multi-year partnership focused on raising consumer awareness of YouTube’s streaming TV service. In addition to becoming the presenting sponsor of the NBA Finals, the deal will also see YouTube TV becoming the presenting sponsor of the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) Finals and the NBA’s minor league, the NBA G League.

The deal is now one of many YouTube TV has forged in recent weeks. It has also partnered with the Los Angeles Football Club, Seattle Sounders FC, and most notably, the MLB, on similar promotional efforts.

With the Major League Baseball partnership, YouTube TV again becomes the presenting sponsor of the World Series for the next two years. That means the game will be referred to as the 2018 “World Series presented by YouTube TV.” The arrangement includes on-air callouts, national TV spots featuring players, and in-stadium ads, as well.

Similarly, the NBA deal will see the game referred to as “The Finals presented by YouTube TV.” The YouTube TV logo will also be featured on the court and in the area. Plus, YouTube TV will get on-air callouts, and be featured in ABC commercial spots, as well as across the NBA’s social media channels and digital assets.

ABC has aired the Finals since 2003, but today, more people are cutting the cord with traditional broadcast and cable television, and losing access to some sports programming as a result – unless they install an antenna. One firm, eMarketer, estimated there are 22.2 million cord cutters in the U.S., but combined with the “cord nevers” who never sign up to begin with, there are 56.6 million U.S. consumers going without pay TV.

In particular, the younger demographic is giving up TV in greater numbers, as other entertainment options – like the internet itself, mobile apps, and YouTube – have gained their attention. This has led to sports leagues trying to find new ways to attract this audience. Other efforts over the years have included streaming games through social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, and doing deals with Snapchat to produce original shows, among other things.

The NBA previously worked with Twitter on original programming, for example.

Amid all the cord cutting, a new crop of streaming TV services have been trying to bring back TV – including major channels like ABC, Fox, NBC and CBS. YouTube TV is one of several services in this space, where it competes with Dish’s Sling TV, AT&T’s DirecTV Now, Hulu with Live TV, PlayStation Vue, and fubo TV.

The oldest, Sling TV, is the largest of the bunch, with 2.21 million subscribers, followed by the AT&T’s 1 million. YouTube TV is battling with Hulu for third place, which Hulu currently holds.

Going directly after sports fans will all these partnership deals is one way YouTube TV getting the word out to those who don’t yet know the service even exists.

The Finals will air on ABC starting on Thursday, May 31, and will also be streamed on YouTube TV through ABC. The streaming service is currently available in nearly 100 U.S. markets, or over 85 percent of U.S. households.

The deal also follows an expansion of the YouTube TV service, which saw additions of Turner-owned networks, NBA TV and MLB Network, and a price increase of $5, bringing YouTube TV to $40 per month.

In addition, YouTube itself has worked with the NBA for over a decade. The NBA was the first league to launch its own YouTube channel in 2005, and joined YouTube’s “Claim Your Content” program in 2007. Its channel now has over 4.6 billion views.

“The NBA and ESPN have a history of creating innovative sponsorships, and this certainly qualifies,” said Wendell Scott, Senior Vice President, Multimedia Sales, ESPN, in a statement. “YouTube TV is a next generation partner for an ascendant league and we look forward to working with them to maximize the impact of their investment across ABC and the ESPN platform.”

YouTube TV will be all over the World Series for two more years

 As promised last month, YouTube TV is today launching the MLB Network on its streaming TV service, and with it, comes the announcement of an expanded promotional partnership with Major League Baseball. YouTube TV will again serve as the “presenting” sponsor of the World Series for two more years, and will debut a season-long sponsorship as well. In addition, YouTube TV subscribers… Read More