May 6 2014 - 1:00 pm

Inside the looming battle over esports streaming

Last month, superstar Call of Duty: Ghosts player Matthew "NaDeSHoT" Haag announced he was leaving streaming site Twitch for its young rival, MLG
Cody Conners
Dot Esports

Last month, superstar Call of Duty: Ghosts player Matthew "NaDeSHoT" Haag announced he was leaving streaming site Twitch for its young rival, MLG.tv. In the streaming world, where gamers broadcast matches live online, this was like LeBron James declaring he was leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat.

The announcement, which came in the form of a YouTube video, has generated nearly 300,000 views and over 5,000 responses since it was posted on April 7.

"Twitch is better than MLG but i will watch you anyway," wrote one user. "OpTic NaDeSEllouT,” wrote another.

In 2014, the fiercest competition in esports likely won't be between players or teams, but between streaming platforms fighting to broadcast them.

In the last several months, the streaming landscape has changed completely. Twitch, a service that served an average of 12 billion viewer minutes per month in 2013, spent most of last year with no competitor. The one company that might have challenged it, Own3d, went bankrupt at the beginning of the year. In 2014, however, Twitch will share its den with two new lions: recently launched MLG.tv and recently relaunched Azubu.

Despite the new faces, Twitch’s chief operations officer Kevin Lin still sees Twitch’s numbers rising over the course of the year. He expected to see “a lot of growth in 2014" as Twitch rides the success of new titles such as Blizzard's Hearthstone, Lin told the Daily Dot.

“At a high level, I don’t think we’ll see any slowdown," he said, referring to the exponential traffic boom the company has seen for two years running.

When I visited the company’s small first office in 2011, you had to enter from an alley. “We had like 20 people then,” Lin recalled. That number has since grown to over one hundred, and they've had to move to new commercial spaces twice. “I’m always kind of shocked at how big we're getting.”

Does Twitch see MLG.tv or Azubu as serious competitors? They all have a different angle, Lin said.

“I think if you look at the core, [when it comes to] live streaming companies that allow gamers to make money on their streams, at the core there is some competition there,” he acknowledged. But he maintained that the approaches and services were different.

For many in the industry, however, this distinction isn't as obvious. When a team or player switches platforms it's significant enough news to make rounds on the esports talk show circuit and get coverage on esports news sites.

Major League Gaming, a company that was primarily known for hosting offline esports tournaments, launched its own streaming service in November of last year. MLG.tv would differentiate itself by providing what it called “premium content." On Twitch, anyone can set up a stream. MLG's goal was to cut out the noise of the masses and only sign on proven talent. That way, online channel surfing would be both easier on the consumer and more attractive to advertisers.

“To be clear, the MLG streaming platform isn’t for everyone," MLG explained at the time. "We have no intention of opening it up to the masses." 

MLG imposes a daunting set of criteria for potential streamers. You've either got to be on a professional team or have a huge fanbase already. Though those criteria have occasionally been ignored, for the most part the service has lived up to its promise: Professional gamers (Call of Duty: Ghosts players more often than not) playing to large audiences.

The move seems to have paid off. MLG.tv saw an exposive 1,367 percent growth in viewership during the first quarter, buoyed in part by an exclusive agreement with Activision to stream its Call of Duty Championship. The platform now boasts 51 partnered streamers, a number it plans to increase as it adds more gamers and organizations as partners. For MLG, a big emphasis is spent on making sure that their partners are happy so they can deliver the best stream experience.

“We collaborate with our partners to optimize their streaming, help them monetize, create and sell merchandise and build their brands,” MLG’s CEO and cofounder Sundance DiGiovanni said. “And we have an open dialogue with our partners to optimize and evolve the platform with new features that will benefit them and our viewers.”

Shortly after launching its streaming service, MLG reported  it was EBITA positive, or profitable before taxation, for the first time in its 12-year history. That may be part of why MLG has done so much moving and shaking in recent months. Last week, it announced a partnership with cable giant ESPN to broadcast a Call of Duty tournament from the X Games. That was followed by news it was launching a dedicated esports arena in China.

“We started as a competitive league,” MLG’s CEO Sundance DiGiovanni said. “The success of MLG.tv and being able to stream via our own platform has opened up new opportunities and enabled us to collaborate with major mainstream partners to create world-class, first of their kind.”

The third horse in the race is the newly relaunched Azubu.

The company, which formed in 2011, recently relaunched its streaming service amidst news it had secured more than $34 million in venture capital. In a video welcoming the world to the new Azubu, an employee named Jordan Spence left no question as to how the company would set itself apart: “You’re used the casual stream, the accepted monopoly, but have you ever tasted a premium product?”

It's no mistake that both MLG.tv and Azubu use the word "premium."  Both companies differ in vision and practice from Twitch, and neither company seems keen trying to tackle Twitch head on in raw numbers.

At Azubu's helm is Ian Sharpe, formerly a senior producer at Electronic Arts. “What I really hope we do is bring to life the potential in esports,” Sharpe said in an interview with OnGamers. As he sees it, esports has moved past its tipping point and is now a truly global phenomenon connecting millions of people.

Azubu's challenge to the streaming status-quo became much more serious when it secured $34.5 million in venture capital in March. But with the flurry of positive PR that followed the announcement also came some unwanted attention. In April, journalist Richard Lewis dug into the dubious past of Sapinda, one of Azubu's largest investors, whose founders have been convicted of multiple financial crimes including fraud, embezzlement and breach of trust. Despite lingering questions about this connection, the streaming company has had no problem courting teams and players to stream or staffing up for their relaunch.

“We’re taking a talent first approach," Matthew Gunnin, Azubu's director of content, and former CEO of esports encyclopedia Leaguepedia, wrote in an email to the Daily Dot. "We want to help our broadcast partners grow their profile and brand, bring them new opportunities and support them in all areas.”  

The company's list of partners now include esports giants like Dan “Artosis” Stemkoski and Nick “Tasteless” Plott, along with teams Fnatic, Counter-Logic Gaming, Team Curse, and Team Roccat.

To manage these relationships and keep partners happy, Azubu looked to the esports community while hiring what they internally call “esports Managers.” The company brought on Tricia Sugita, a former high profile StarCraft community member and event host, and Eric Brinkley, an advocate for esports who held several positions at PC case-maker Thermaltake.

Azubu’s facelift and the influx of fresh faces won't guarantee success. On most days, when you navigate Azubu’s list of channels you'll notice that a majority are marked “OFFLINE.” MLG.tv fares similarly. In both cases, the lack of content can be attributed to the platform’s own business model and emphasis on exclusivity. Twitch, which allows anyone to broadcast, boasts 5,000 to 8,000 active streamers at any given time, with only a fraction of those able to earn ad revenue.

Azubu has internal traffic projections that Gunnin described as “aggressive targets to hit." But he insisted the company was confident it had invested in the right talent and employees to reach them. “So far we’ve been very happy with the progress made."

“Competition is the essence of the human experience,” Sharpe added about the suddenly crowded streaming business.“I think that consumers, I think that the publishers, want choice.”

Illustration by Jason Reed

Today - 12:04 am

The new LCK meta: Singed top?

LCK Season 7 kicked off last night, giving us an early look at the new 10-ban meta.
Xing Li
Dot Esports
Image via Riot Games

Competitive League is back. Most professional leagues kick off the Spring Split later this week, with League of Legends Champions Korea getting the ball rolling last night. After a crazy offseason, we finally get to see what the pros make of the meta, how they’ll play around overpowered tanks, and what they’ll do with jungle plants.

One of the key questions going into this season was what the new draft phase would look like with the implementation of 10 bans (5 per team). We saw some of the effects of that last night. The first match involved a fascinating storyline with the ROX Tigers facing former top laner Song "Smeb" Kyung-ho for the first time.

But from a meta perspective, the more interesting match started after Smeb and KT walked off with a win. That’s when Longzhu Gaming and Samsung Galaxy both busted out pocket picks.

Wait, what? Singed top?

The craziness started in game one, when Samsung, playing on the red side (and picking second), inexplicably left Rengar available. That allowed Longzhu to first-pick the terrifying jungle assassin. In return though, they got Ezreal, Poppy, Zyra, and Viktor, strong picks themselves and ones that Samsung is familiar with.

Then with the last pick, top laner Gu "Expession" Bon-taek went with Singed.

Singed is fun and unique champion who can push minion waves in a way few champions can match. His mechanics have led to some pretty ridiculous strategies. But he’s not known in professional play because of his low overall damage and uselessness in team fights. Singed players typically play with a one-versus-five mentality, something that usually doesn’t agree with the typical Korean focus on team cohesion.

For Longzhu, Singed was honestly an afterthought for most of the game. That’s because Rengar took over. Lee "Crash" Dong-woo was all over Kang "Ambition" Chan-yong’s Lee Sin from the start, taking over the blue side jungle and enabling his bot lane to push with impunity.

That can be risky against Samsung’s strong solo laners, but it paid off as the Longzhu duo roamed around for turret after turret. Kim "PraY" Jong-in’s Jhin was absolutely incredible, pushing people off turrets and sniping them from range.

Samsung tried to turtle and defend, but that’s where Singed came in. Having built Zz’rot portal, he made life hell for Lee "CuVee" Seong-jin’s Poppy. Poppy wants to teamfight, but with Singed constantly pushing, CuVee had no priority and Longzhu romped.

We are not sure that Singed will continue to be a popular pick; he’s too easy to camp if there isn’t pressure elsewhere. But we’re also excited to see more team strategies being built around previously off-meta champions. 

More pocket picks to come

Image via Riot Games

Samsung responded in game two with a new champion: Camille somehow made it through the first ban phase. But then Longzhu came back with a counter pick of their own: Jax.

This game was what 10 bans was all about. It was incredibly fun watching these two top laners duel. At first, Camille had the upper hand, taking on Jax and then Song "Fly" Young-jun’s Ekko, beating both. But after Jax got a couple items, he became the stronger bruiser, getting a solo kill back. Stuns, dashes, and ults combined in a terrific dance. It was an incredible display of skill from two players and everything we hoped 10 bans could be.

Game 3 was a more straightforward Samsung win, but we got even more champions. New jungler Kang "Haru" Min-seung picked Kha’zix, and a level one invade got him first blood. In the mid lane, Lee "Crown" Min-ho picked Corki, someone we hadn’t seen in a some time. His range advantage kept Fly pushed in and Samsung played a steady game to win.

Three games, full of creative strategies and pocket picks. This is likely what Riot envisioned when they moved to the 10 ban system. But of course, these are the highest skilled players in the world—can players in Europe and North America, perhaps with smaller champion pools, recreate the success we saw last night?

In just a few days, we’ll find out.

Jan 17 2017 - 11:07 pm

How to Watch the ESL Hearthstone Trinity Series: Players, Format, Times, and More

It's the biggest team league the game has seen in over a year.
Callum Leslie
Weekend Editor, Dot Esports.
Photo via Blizzard Entertainment

It's been well over a year since Hearthstone last had a major team league in the West—something fans have been crying out for. Tomorrow the wait ends, and the ESL Trinity Series begins.

Eight trios, flying the banners of some of the biggest franchises in esports, will compete in best-of-11 matches until Mar. 2. The top teams will advance to a live finals at the ESL studios in California, with $75,000 up for grabs for the winning team.

This is a big moment for Hearthstone esports. After growth slowed in 2016, this league could get 2017 off to a big start as the major players in the scene attempt to stabilize and consolidate their positions.

Here's everything you need to know about the league, the teams involved, and how the matches will play out.

What is the format?

For each match, the teams will submit nine decks—one for each class in the game. Each team will ban out two of their opponent's decks, leaving seven decks from which the teams pick a final lineup of six.

The teams then play a best-of-11 match in the Last Hero Standing format—once a deck loses a game it is locked for the rest of the match, and you lose when you have no decks left. Unlike the Archon Team League Championships where each player was assigned a couple of decks to play, all six players will be playing every game of every series. They will do so with open communication, which viewers will be tuned in to throughout the broadcast.

The format requires a huge amount of strategy, deckbuilding skill, and team work. The teams will have to argue out each individual play, make their move within the short timeframe of a turn, and try not to fall out in the process. Matches will be long, and real-life fatigue will play a part.

How will the league be broadcast?

The broadcasts will be presented from ESL's studios in Burbank, California, with TJ Sanders and Brian Kibler slated to call the action.

The players themselves will be playing from home, adding another level of difficulty to the communication, until the league reaches its final stages.

The matches will be played on Tuesdays and Wednesdays starting tomorrow, with two matches per day. Games will start at 1pm ET (10am PT) for the duration of the seven week season and will be aired on ESL's Hearthstone Twitch channel.

Who are the teams?

The lineup features some of the biggest brands in esports. Two Hearthstone world champions, over a dozen tournament winners, and some wildcards too.

G2 Esports are easily the favorites to win it all. The trio of Dima "Rdu" Radu, Thijs Molendijk, and Adrian "Lifecoach" Koy is the most decorated in the game, with the Archon Team League Championships title also under their belt. The weight of expectation is firmly upon this European trio.

Although the team is relatively new, having just brought on a third member in time for the league, Alliance will be one of the teams to watch. The Swedish organization picked up a trio of players to represent the team and their country in three-time major winner Jon "Orange" Westberg, 2015 world champion Sebastian "Ostkaka" Engwall, and consistent journeyman Harald "Powder" Gimre.

Virtus Pro will be a force to be reckoned with. After starting out as rivals at the 2016 European Winter Championship, Artem "DrHippi" Kravets, Ole "Naiman" Batyrbekov, and Raphael "BunnyHoppor" Peltzer have formed a formidable unit. The team has been represented in countless major tournaments this year, with DrHippi finishing second in the world championship.

CompLexity will be looking to turn potential and underdog determination into results. Jan "SuperJJ" Janssen was impressively consistent throughout 2016, but did not win a major title. Simon "Crane" Raunholst has long been considered one of the best minds in the game but he has also not borne this out with results, while perennial prospect Tugay "MrYagut" Evsan will be looking to show just why he was so highly touted for so long.

The only all-American lineup in the tournament, Luminosity Gaming will also be hoping to live up to their billing. Branded a U.S. "super team" when they were formed last year, DreamHack Austin winner Keaton "Chakki" Gill and the experienced Paul "Zalae" Nemeth will be partnered by top young talent Frank "Fr0zen" Zhang.

The experienced but somewhat out-of-favor hand of Peter "Gaara" Stevanovic will look to guide Tempo Storm's young prospects David "JustSaiyan" Shan and Victor "Vlps" Lopez to success, while the veteran Team Liquid trio of David "Dog" Caero, Jeffrey "Sjow" Brusi, and Yevhenii "Neirea" Shumilin will aim to prove the value of experience.

Speaking of veterans, 2014 world champion James "Firebat" Kostesich, early leader Cong "StrifeCro" Shu, and 2014 World Esports Championship winner Andrew "TidesofTime" Biessener will round out the lineup for Cloud9. With Firebat having casted more than competed in 2016, StrifeCro having made just the odd appearance and TidesofTime having spent the past two years struggling with whether or not he loved the game anymore, this lineup will now have to deliver on a big stage.


Though 2017 is only a few weeks old, the ESL Trinity Series promises to be one of the most entertaining and competitive events of the year. The players will be tested to the limits of their skills—and Hearthstone fans will finally have another team league to get invested in.