eSports & The Spoons

This episode was largely about Michael’s infatuations: eSports and Sandy Horne of The Spoons. eSports evangelist and investor Genevieve Roch-Decter schools Alan on just how big the business is, while Michael is tongue tied about meeting legendary 80s Toronto New Wave band The Spoons bassist Sandy Horne.

Part 1. eSports

eSports might seem like a buzzy new thing, but earning big bucks playing games is a well-established industry.

by Amber Healy

Since the dawn of Atari, people have been bragging about their video game playing skills. How many times have you bragged about quickly beating all levels of Mario Kart or defeating Donkey Kong?

It makes sense, then, that as technology and the games improved, and the internet made it possible to take those competitions from living rooms and arcades to desktops connected around the world, people from thousands of miles away started playing head-to-head.

It was inevitable that someone would find a way to cash in.

“eSports is global industry supported by sponsors, teams, leagues, fans and, of course, the professionals who compete at the highest levels and make a living from prize winnings and endorsement deals,” Dot eSports explains.

“Competitive video games… are already among the fastest-growing forms of entertainment today, and most signs suggest that the category’s explosive popularity is just getting started,” added The Motley Fool, a big-time serious financial publication.

How big is big?

A broadcast competition, League of Legends, drew some 43 million viewers, with 14.7 million people watching at any given time. By comparison, Game 7 of the NBA Finals had 44.5 million eyes glued to the action.  An estimated 22% of millennial males in the U.S. watch – not participate in, but watch as a spectator – other people playing games.

eSports revenue will top $906 million in 2018 and is projected to exceed $100 million in 2019, according to research firm Newzoo. Brands will invest some $694 million in esports ventures.

And people who watch these gaming competitions are engrossed and engaged – “43% of surveyed esports viewers indicated that they always appreciate when brands reach out through the gaming world – and another 42% indicated that they usually appreciate brand marketing through gaming channels. Authenticity is important in advertising and even more so with the often-selective video game-playing audience.”

In 2010, tournaments awarded nearly $6 million to top players, with the most popular games including Counter-Strike, Halo 3, StarCraft2, StarCraft: Brood War and WarCraft 3. By 2015 that pot of winnings was eight-times higher: $45.5 million.

In May 2018, the addictive and ubiquitous Fortnite had taken over the world. Its developer, Epic Games, put up $100 million on its own to fund tournaments and prizes, nearly tripling the $38 million the company shelled out the year before for Dota 2 tournaments, CNBC reported.

“We’re getting behind competitive play in a big way but our approach will be different — we plan to be more inclusive, and focused on the joy of playing and watching the game,” the company said.

That’s easily the biggest and most audacious offer in esports.

“By dedicating $100MM to fund prize pools competitions, Epic has made Fortnite the biggest esports in the world in terms of prize money,” analyst Bethany Lyons told CNBC.

Epic Games set itself up for this type of massive event, and success, when it added a battle-royale mode to the game, allowing up to 100 players to square off until only one remained.

Living the dream?

But is it all as fun and easy as it seems? Who hasn’t dreamed of getting paid serious cash for a hobby?

“Over time, it’s become more and more of a job… It isn’t as fun anymore, I see it as more of a job now,” said one player, known as Santorin in the League of Legends world. Each day, he plays for more than 14 hours and told the Washington Post he only sees his friends “once a year, for five to eight hours” due to his esports obligations.

But he also said he’s been able to travel the world to play and that fans recognize him in real life, which has been “pretty awesome.”

Courtesy: The Esports Observer

Number of esports tournaments per year

“League of Legends Championship Series (LCS) players … routinely practice for more than 12 hours per day, usually with one day off per week,” the Washington Post reports. “Players also have ancillary obligations, such as being available to sponsors and the media as well as a contractually stipulated number of hours they must stream their gameplay online. This figure varies, but a person with knowledge of player scheduling from Team Liquid, a top esports organization, said the team requires about 30 hours per month.”

Another player admits he thought being a professional gamer meant just that—getting paid to play games.

“I didn’t really know how much effort and time you actually have to put in to compete at the highest level. A lot of the general public thinks that pro players are just having fun, making money and playing video games and it’s very easy, but I don’t think that’s the case at all,” said the player, who goes by the name “WildTurtle.”

Wait — they make HOW MUCH?!

Notes Forbes: “Esports companies are constantly buying and selling teams and players to compete in the best leagues and build audiences on Amazon’s Twitch and Alphabet’s YouTube. Facilities are being built where gamers can train. It’s a shootout to see who can build the biggest and baddest brand.”

These companies are franchising, too, selling off branches for $10-$20 million for Riot Games (League of Legends) and Activision Blizzard (Overwatch League), but League of Legends franchises can be worth much more, up to $50 million.

Esports is pretty much a self-filling pot of money.

More from Forbes: the number of esports enthusiasts worldwide will reach 165 million in 2018, which translates to year-over-year growth of 15%. Esports revenues will grow 38% this year, to $906 million, and reach $1.65 billion by 2021. Most of the business will come from North America (38%) and China (18%). Sponsorship is the biggest revenue stream ($359 million this year), followed by advertising ($174 million), media rights ($161 million), game publishing fees ($116 million) and merchandise and tickets ($96 million).”

Courtesy: The Esports Observer

Esports prizes awarded, through 2015.

Some players are coming out from behind the console and are making a name for themselves in the world: Tyler Blevins, better known as Ninja, told ESPN he brings in seven figures a month, in addition to having 3.5 million Twitter followers and 19 million YouTube subscribers. He’s got sponsorships with Samsung, Red Bull and Uber Eats.

Life on the other side of the screen

There’s a dark side to all this fame and glory, of course.

In August, a competitive gamer shot and killed two other gamers during a Madden tournament in Florida before killing himself. Eleven other people were injured, including nine who were shot.  The perpetrators of other mass shooting events have been described as having an interest in video games going back to Columbine in 1999.

It’s easy to point blame at the games themselves for glorifying violence, reinforcing antisocial behavior, making players feel isolated, etc., but there’s no scientific evidence to back up any kind of relationship between gaming, even long hours playing violent first-person shooters, and making real choices to hurt other people.

In the meantime, this is a multi-billion-dollar industry. Amazon’s Twitch was established just to allow people to watch others play games. Professional gamers are getting sponsorship deals like professional athletes, sometimes by the same real sports they play online. There’s no turning back, just turning on the channel and the headset and following along in a whole different world.

Part 2. The Spoons
And to think, Spoons might never have started if Gord Deppe had become an architect.

by Amber Healy

Still touring and about to release a new album, “New Day New World” in March, Deppe and bassist Sandy Horne stopped by to chat with Michael and Alan during the Music Fan Expo in Mississauga.

In celebration of both the new album and the band’s upcoming 40th anniversary, Deppe and Horne discussed some of their touring memories, including a tour with Survivor and the Human League that ended with bunny outfits and a mini Stonehenge.

There was also the time that Spoons opened for Flock of Seagulls in the 1980s: the crowd for Spoons was big and energetic, a boisterous mood that quickly dissipated when Flock of Seagulls came on stage without their trademark hairstyle and sounding far more industrial than their signature synth-pop sound.

Deppe has come full circle with the Flock, as it were, touring with them as a guitarist for more than a year.

Horne, meanwhile, is a legend in her own right: Not only was she one of the only female bassists for a major band in the 1980s, she’s the longest tenured Spector bassist, a line she was introduced to by Chic guitarist Nile Rodgers.

And speaking of the legendary virtuoso, Rodgers is responsible for several big moments in Deppe and Horne’s lives.

 

It’s also probably a safe bet that this will be one of Michael’s favourite interviews.

 


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