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How Ader Is Making Video Gamers Into Promotional Rock Stars

Through a series of creative activations with Twitch streamers and YouTube creators, Ader has helped build strong promo awareness with unique engagements.

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Ader, a Los Angeles-based esports marketing firm, is building a Who’s Who list of star clients in the digital space.

The company works with brands to help them navigate live-stream environments and engage with global gaming audiences through connective strategies. In turn, brands can then leverage individual communities already built with key esports influencers. Currently, there are more than 1.2 billion people playing video games worldwide; the staggering number of eyeballs on those screens is hard to ignore. 

Ader made waves this past spring when the company helped Disney develop branded content and product integrations. Specifically, it engaged esports fans and designed an activation for the box-office hit “Black Panther” by promoting #WakandaWeekend during its Blu-ray and digital release.

So, how did this upstart reach nearly a million unique engagements during this time? The team utilized Twitch as its core vehicle to connect viewers. Thanks to top esports athletes — like Myth and Daequan playing “Fortnite” — and influencers such as popular gamer DrLupo, artist RossDraws and BlackNerdComedy, these accounts consistently draw big viewership numbers.

“Fundamentally, live-streaming is extremely engaging,” said Justin Warden, CEO of Ader. “If you think about traditional sports, when we want to engage with athletes, we follow them on Instagram or Twitter. With a Twitch star, suddenly you can watch them live for five, six, seven, eight hours a day.”

With live-steaming and Twitch, fans are now able to interact more extensively with people and personalities that share these common interests. Video games typically were very niche when streaming first became popular. With the explosion of titles such as “Fortnite” and “League of Legends,” it’s made it viable to make a living competitively.

“The social awareness of gaming and being culturally accepted is worth noting,” said Andrew Temkin, chief revenue officer of Ader. “Over the years, gamers have been viewed as guys with pimples and braces living in their parents’ basement; that’s not the case now. Kids are growing up and looking at these people as celebrities, athletes, and role models.”

Professional athletes and musicians are getting in on the live-stream craze, which only fuels the marketplace for digital firms. Still, while the industry is growing leaps and bounds, it’s relatively new in the digital space.

Ader started from the ground up two years ago with some initial investors, which led to a deal with Audi and an expansion of its sales efforts. Temkin was previously working for ESPN, and took a leap of faith on the new agency. He wanted to drive the awareness and promotion of esports and felt that the untapped market was worth the risk. Since teaming up with Warden, the company has worked with over 100 advertisers and is considered one of the fastest-growing agencies.

One of Ader’s most recent campaigns surrounded “The Avengers” and integrating the promotion in real time during a “Fortnite” stream. Using fun and organic ads that tie into the authenticity of a channel allows a brand to get in front of large audiences, while not disrupting the game flow.

“We’ve taken, essentially, a live environment and created a very high-converting audience where ads are not all up in your face,” Temkin explained.

An example of how Ader creates this unique type of content was demonstrated by Twitch gamer Myth. While he played “Fortnite,” a live chat scrolled along the right side of the screen; viewers and new subscribers were rewarded with a GIF of “Ironman” — portrayed by actor Robert Downey Jr. — thanking them, which transpired into a fun and unique engagement.

Ader also builds custom emojis for live chats, making the experience authentic to the streaming community.  

“This is one of the first times you’re seeing a lot of mainstream brands really see success with this. It’s important because in the future you’re going to see a lot more of content like this,” emphasized Warden.

For every video game franchise release, there are peaks and valleys. No one title is a for-sure blockbuster hit, which can make advertisers weary. However, the number of people watching YouTube videos (in live time or recorded broadcasts), in addition to Twitch streams, keeps trending upwards.

“Gaming is going mainstream. When you see famous soccer players doing ‘Fortnite’ dances, it’s a cultural phenomenon,” Warden shared. “There’s a bar here in L.A. called the E Sports Bar and it’s packed every single night. People come to watch others play video games, not your traditional sports.”

The outlook is still unknown as far as growth and the reach for digital players. Ader is optimistic that user-base figures will continue to expand, and people’s favorite TV shows, for example, will begin to incorporate advertising into streaming platforms.

“People are cutting the cord, and ad-blockers allow users to push themselves away from promotions,” Temkin said. “If you want to be in esports and get in front of the right audience, we’re the agency to do that organically.”

Michael Silver is a journalist and photographer covering the NBA, NFL, MLB, MLS, Action & Combat sports. A TV-Radio-Film Master’s grad from the Newhouse School at Syracuse University, he resides in Southern California. Tips and pitches: Michael@frntofficesport.com

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Riot Games Wants Non-Endemic Brands That Buy Into Creative Approach

Despite League of Legends’ rapid growth, Riot Games waited to push for non-endemic brands. Now, the brand is bringing in partners in unique ways.

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Photo Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Riot Games held the first League of Legends World Championship in 2011. Instagram was eight months old. Twitch debuted that month.

The event brought in 1.69 million unique viewers. The winning team earned $50,000.

In the eight years since, League of Legends has ballooned as a competitive esport. The 2018 World Championship was watched by 74.3 million viewers. The winning team’s prize: $2.42 million.

With rapid growth comes fertile sponsorship opportunities. Naz Aletaha, Head of LoL Partnerships at Riot Games, is behind that operation. In her tenure at Riot Games – which started in 2012 before a promotion to her current role in 2013 – Aletaha has taken time to introduce the product to non-endemic brands. Now, her team is bringing on these brands with unique sponsorship opportunities.

“The priority for us was building out a global sport to service the very global audience that we have,” she remembered of the early days, centralizing LoL’s esports product. “It was about building up our capabilities as a sports operator, a broadcaster, a live event producer, a governing body.”

The narrative changed in 2016. That year, Riot Games hosted its World Championship in the United States, and sold out Madison Square Garden and Staples Center for the LCS semifinals and finals.

“We were able to look at the groundwork we had laid and the infrastructure that we had built,” Aletaha recalled. “We had an ecosystem that was really robust and primed for partners, where we can actually offer to come in at the regional level, national level, global level, event level and team level.”

Global esports such as League of Legends have glaring business differences than traditional North American sports leagues. While traditional sports leagues sell their broadcast rights to TV platforms, Riot Games holds on to LoL broadcast rights.

LoL has separate leagues by countries and regions. Aletaha and her team can pitch sponsors with domestic and international layers, becoming a chameleon market-to-market.

“If you go look at China, you see Nike is sponsoring the LPL (top Chinese league),” Aletaha said. “In Europe, you have Kia. In Brazil, Gillette.”

The way these brands present themselves depends on the region. In an ever-changing field, mode of consumption is not static.

“In the U.S., we’re not on linear,” she notes – NA LCS, LoL’s top North American league is broadcast on Twitch, YouTube and ESPN+ in the U.S., with ESPN+ coming after a fallout with BAMTech. “We are in some other markets where that’s how viewers consume esports. I think linear is interesting to date in the U.S. We haven’t seen that it has been necessary because our fans are so digital first. Digital platforms offer the engagement factor. You’re no longer just sitting at home on the couch by yourself with the remote control. You are engaging with like-minded people and that’s fun and exciting in a different way.”

In terms of the actual ticketing strategy, Aletaha said Riot Games keeps prices low to appeal to young fans who have less disposable income than an average fan of traditional sports. For decades, sports revenue has been about TV rights and ticket sales. While expanding in those two categories may come in the long run, Aletaha and her team would rather control and build for the time being – that is what they pitch sponsors.

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At the start of the 2018 season, State Farm became a major non-endemic sponsor for NA LCS.  This May, the brand announced an extension through 2021, which includes the brand becoming the presenting sponsor of the League of Legends College Championship.

Meanwhile, Mastercard became the first LoL esports global partner last September, signing on as the exclusive payment services partner for League of Legends Global Events.

“It took us over two years to explore and educate ourselves on the esports industry to determine the best path that would enable us to connect with this passionate community in an authentic way and early on, it became very evident that partnering with League of Legends was the biggest and best opportunity to do this,” said Emily Neenan, Mastercard vice president of global consumer marketing & sponsorships.

“What really stood out to us was Riot’s community-first approach, leadership and scale, which helps to create opportunities to connect with our cardholders in new ways,” Neenan said.

However, there is some concern in the esports industry as to how long Riot Games has taken to attract major non-endemic sponsors. In such a fast-moving world, LoL’s rise is not as fresh as it once was.

“They should be the top of the expectations list,” said esports consultant and journalist Rod Breslau. “They are the most-viewed game in the world. From a sales perspective, they should be the best. With LCS as a prime example, because that’s the one in North America, they have not done as good of a job as they should have considering the position they’ve been in.”

After FOS’ interview with Aletaha, another non-endemic sponsor: Rocket Mortgage, joined the fold for LCS. Meanwhile, Dr. Pepper, Puma, BMW, AT&T, Honda, Monster Energy and Nissan are among non-endemic brands partnering with specific LCS teams.

Before State Farm and Mastercard came on board, Coca-Cola and American Express both were on Riot Games’ payroll, albeit with lesser deals helping to create brand name legitimacy in the esports space. That had led to non-endemic brands with less name recognition being front and center for the property – for example, sandwich chain Jersey Mike’s was a 2018 Summer Split sponsor for LCS.

“Jersey Mike’s makes some solid-ass sandwiches, but if you’re going to tell me Jersey Mike’s – no disrespect to Jersey Mike’s – is the premier sponsor of the biggest game in the biggest region money wise, and it’s Jersey Mike’s? No,” he said.

Breslau tips his hat to Riot Games’ sales success at the global level and domestic level, outside of the U.S. He thinks LCS should look to one particular country as the standard for success.

“Nike sponsors the LPL,” Breslau said. “The LPL outclasses the LCS in terms of sponsorship, the sales of the league, it’s already a city-based thing in China. The stadiums are packed there. LPL has the best localized league in the world.”

Riot Games is a subsidiary of Tencent, the holding company, which officially owns LPL, meaning Aletaha does not have the same jurisdiction she has for the LoL World Championship and most of the other domestic leagues. But wherever she is pitching sponsors, Aletaha has the same mentality; it’s not just about writing a check. It is about creativity.

READ MORE: ‘Locked In’ Goes Behind the Curtain With NBA 2K League Players

“The right partners want to come in and learn more,” Aletaha said. “The right partners want to come in and say, ‘We understand that we can’t take the exact formula that we use in the traditional sports world and apply it here and net the results that we’re looking for.’ We want partners to bring that expertise they have from traditional marketing, but that want to collaborate with us and create something that’s custom for the gaming audience.”

Breslau is excited but skeptical to see Riot Games dive hard into the non-endemic marketplace. He believes Overwatch League has done a stronger job bringing in non-endemic sponsors in just two seasons.

“Its popularity is nowhere close to the amount of international appeal as LoL, and despite this, Activision/Blizzard – and Bobby Kotick has a lot of power and pull – they have people there who make s*** happen.”

Aletaha claims Riot Games is now in a position to build the deepest non-endemic sponsorship roster in the world. League of Legends is not the only video game set up for financial success, but with a world championship that bring in massive viewership, Riot Games holds the rights to the most lucrative esports branding opportunities at this moment.

Slowly, but surely, traditional commercials powers are loading into the space.

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‘Locked In’ Goes Behind the Curtain With NBA 2K League Players

For Season 2, the NBA 2K League is diving into the lives of its players in the content series “Locked In,” hoping to attract new fans.

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Walking through New York City’s Guggenheim Museum, Brian Traynor discusses his love of art and opens up about his life’s hardships, giving NBA 2K League fans a glimpse into the lives of esport athletes rarely seen — until now.

Traynor, or “NachoTraynor” for T-Wolves Gaming, is one of two subjects in the fourth episode of the league’s new behind-the-scenes series, “Locked In Powered by AT&T.”

A fine arts graduate, NachoTraynor rarely had access to museums growing up and now uses his NBA 2K League trips to New York City to visit as many as he can. This also helps clear his head before games. His story is complemented by Cameron “KingCamRoyalty” Ford, a player for Magic Gaming and rapper who uses studio time in a similar fashion.

READ MORE: Allied Esports Recognizes Opportunity in Mexico With New Partnership

“This is one of my favorite episodes because it takes it so far off the court,” says Matt Arden, NBA 2K League head of content and media. “This is the first piece of content we created that honestly has very little 2K League footage and truly is about these two incredibly unique individuals.

“We’ve found that we’re scratching an itch. We feel like highlighting this side of the league is so important to grow league awareness and grow the personalities.”

“Locked In,” is bringing to esports the same sort of access HBO’s Hard Knocks and “24/7” have brought to traditional sports.

Arden joined the NBA 2K League five months ago to help get these types of broadcasts off the ground and help tell stories around the league’s personalities. He believes this type of content is key to attracting more basketball and casual sports fans beyond hardcore gamers. The new series is built on the foundation of “Draft Hopefuls,” a content series that went behind-the-scenes with NBA 2K League prospects behind the Season 2 draft this past March. Arden says that series performed well and affirmed the craving of creative storytelling. This set in motion “Locked In.”

As the NBA 2K League’s second season progresses, having that storytelling beyond the Xs and Os was important. For Roger Caneda, an esports consultant and former Mavs Gaming general manager, he feels hiring Arden and the introduction of behind-the-scenes content will be important for the NBA 2K League’s success and longevity.

“Season one happened so fast, the league wasn’t able to grasp how starting something like the 2K League needed content to be successful,” Caneda says. “Esports is an industry where people are curious, and providing this behind-the-scenes insight is big, not just for 2K but the industry as a whole.

“Diving into content will be huge for everyone.”

Now a fan on the outside, Caneda feels “Locked In” makes him more compelled to watch the games. He might not be alone, according to the NBA 2K League, it has gained 20,000 followers on its YouTube and Twitch channels this year. Total minutes watched has experienced year-over-year growth of 36%. All of NBA 2K League’s live and on-demand content has also generated 25 million views across social channels since the start of Season 2.

With “Locked In,” Arden is doing what he was brought in for, but he is also quick to point out the series is helped immensely by the league’s partnership with AT&T.

“They can’t go unnoticed,” Arden says. “They’re truly looking to build connections and share stories and elevate our game. The conversations we’ve had aren’t about their logo, but they’re invested in the next story we want to tell.”

A simple logo placement would likely be plenty for many partners, but Shiz Suzuki, AT&T AVP of Experiential Marketing and Sponsorship says it is in the company’s best interest to help make the content the best it can be.

“Anything we can do to help bring fans closer to the sport they love is what our NBA partnership is all about and why we’re thrilled to help the NBA 2K League make these stories and this original content series happen,” Suzuki says. “Those who follow the action know how multifaceted these players are, and this series brings that to life with a riveting approach to storytelling that even those unfamiliar with the league can look forward to watching.”

Finding the next players to feature is not difficult for Arden and his team. The production team often comes across stories in broadcasts and then tries to execute an episode with a 10 to 12-day production schedule.

“We have some incredible, multi-dimensional personalities from diverse backgrounds in our league, so it actually hasn’t been that difficult to identify good stories, frankly it’s been difficult to cross some off the lists,” Arden says. “These stories and personalities have emerged naturally on their own and we’ve been trying to be very organic in taking those stories when we see them bubble to the surface and taking them and running with them.”

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Right now, “Locked In” is still ironing out the logistics of filming and how to go to market and Season 1 is not even complete — the league hopes to release 10 episodes. Still, Arden’s happy with the product so far and would love to see a second year of “Locked In.” More so than anything, he’s happy with how the storylines are coming full circle to be included in tournament broadcasts.

“The more stories we uncover, the more we talk about individuals, learn about them, the more other players notice, the more fans notice,” he says. “We’re providing a real nice 360 communication around all our communication and broadcast touch points. It’s achieving the goals we wanted  to achieve, no matter the amount of episodes we produce.”

Deeper behind-the-scenes content has helped further engage fans with traditional sports. While the verdict is still out on the new NBA 2K League content, there is plenty for the esports industry to learn from here.

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Allied Esports Recognizes Opportunity in Mexico With New Partnership

Partnering with TV Azteca, Allied Esports hopes to tap into an underserved esports market in Latin America, particularly Mexico.

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Allied Esports is seeking to grow its presence in Latin America with a strategic partnership with TV Azteca.

The partnership gives Allied Esports direct access to 95 percent of the Mexican market with TV Azteca’s digital channels and 40 local and regional free-to-air stations. With the partnership, TV Azteca is also launching its newest platform, Azteca Gaming, which will debut Allied Esports’ newest production, “Nation vs. Nation.”

Allied Esports CEO Jud Hannigan says TV Azteca’s position as a broadcast leader in Mexico provides them a great foundation for potential growth in Latin America, a relatively untapped market in the esports industry.

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“We’re excited about this first event in a new format as a kickoff,” Hannigan says. “They’re launching Azteca Esports and we’re coming in with this first event, and have plenty of others planned. They’re the top sports broadcaster in the region, so we couldn’t be more excited.”

“Nation vs. Nation” is the company’s first event and broadcast in Latin America, and it features four U.S. players against a Mexican team of 40 players in PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. A trophy and cash prizes were on the line yesterday in Mexico City.

“The transformation process of TV Azteca, to bring the best television, has led to set an eye in new markets, towards an audience that consumes esports,” says Benjamín Salinas, CEO, TV Azteca. “Sports are part of our strength, and now with esports, we find a way to connect with a growing market in Mexico.”

Broadly speaking, this expansion for Allied Esports encompasses Latin America, but there’s a strategic importance specifically to Mexico, Hannigan notes. The country will be a primary driver of the region’s esports growth in the coming years.

According to eMarketer, Goldman Sachs projects the esports industry will bring in revenues of $2.96 billion in 2022. Latin America will make up $100 million of that.

The article reported the slow growth curve in Latin America is based on a lack of fixed broadband, but significant growth is expected in both Brazil and Mexico. Esports and video game revenue in Mexico jumped from $1.2 million in 2014 to an estimated $10.4 million in 2019 and is projected to rise to $20.3 million in 2022, according to Statista.

“Latin America represents a massive and transformative opportunity for Allied Esports,” says Frank Ng, co-CEO, Ourgame Holdings International – the current owner of Allied Esports. “By combining our live events experience with TV Azteca’s unequaled reach as the No. 1 sports network in Mexico, this crucial esports ecology partnership will be a major driver in building out the offline-online environment at the core of Allied Esports’ global strategy.”

The Allied Esports partnership with TV Azteca comes on the heels of sister company World Poker Tour reaching an agreement with the Latin American broadcaster to carry the poker tour’s library of content in March and develop poker-related products for the region’s audience.

As the World Poker Tour develops its localized content, Hannigan said the partners explored opportunities and landed on looking to grow esports in the region.

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The approach to Latin America through strategic partnerships will mirror how Allied Esports has tackled other regions of the globe, including Asia, Europe and North America. Along with Latin America, Australia is also in this year’s expansion plans.

“From our perspective, as Allied Esports grows, we’re looking at new regions and to affiliate with strong regional partners,” Hannigan says. “They’re really content-driven partnerships.”

Latin America might lag much of the rest of the world in esports popularity, but with the dearth comes opportunity. At least that’s what Allied Esports is banking on.

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