Aug 6 2014 - 7:18 pm

YouPorn gives first interview on esports sponsorship deal

On July 11, one of the most successful porn aggregation sites in the world announced it was interested in sponsoring a professional gaming team
Richard Lewis
Dot Esports

On July 11, one of the most successful porn aggregation sites in the world announced it was interested in sponsoring a professional gaming team. The tweet from YouPorn immediately became a hot talking point in esports circles, receiving more than 4,600 retweets and rising to the top of Reddit's influential Dota 2 subreddit.

The tweet sparked quite a public discussion regarding what is and isn’t acceptable in the esports space. Some suggested that pornography was a far less harmful sponsor than some of the other industries that had already become part of the esports landscape, be it energy drinks or computer companies that employ cheap labor overseas.

Others claimed that the move would be a collective step backwards for the industry. Such a partnership, after all, is unprecedented in mainstream sports. And team contracts for Riot’s League of Legends Championship Series, the largest league in Western esports, explicitly forbid sponsors from the adult industry from appearing on apparel.

Are they serious? How practical could such a partnership be?

We reached out to YouPorn to find out.

We talked at length with the company's PR and marketing manager, Matt Blake, about what this sponsorship could mean for both industries, what YouPorn thinks about esports, and whether the community is ready for a dialogue about adult material.

Oh, and yes: They are very, very serious.

First, right off the bat, I think most people felt the tweet was either a joke or a marketing ploy to feel out the esports demographic. What were the intentions behind the sudden interest in esports?

Definitely wasn’t a joke, when we really sat down and considered this, our thought process was that porn and video games are a pretty natural, complementary pairing when you think about it. These days, all consoles come with browser access, so people can consume both in one destination—we’ve seen it in our own traffic data. Huge spikes.

But on another note, the esports demographic is steadily on the rise, especially with Twitch becoming more popular, it’s giving audiences easy access to tune in to esports events and tournaments. Thing is, we’re huge video game nerds here too (I’ve clocked a ton of hours into DayZ and Minecraft at this point), so I think we have something to offer the team that wants to move forward with us in terms of financial backing, and in turn we get to catch the attention of gamers around the world.

The concept of a pornographer sponsoring anything might seem strange to some. Can you give us some examples of other partnerships you guys have been involved with prior to this?

While we haven’t done anything similar in the scope of the esports industry, some of our past partnerships initiatives include a YouPorn song with [R&B musician] Brian McKnight, movies like Sex Tape, a contest with the Cloud Media streaming media player and the Are You Hardcore club tour.

Were you at all surprised by the number of people that expressed an interest in working with you? Who stood out as the most interesting candidates?

Not at all surprised actually. We were prepping ourselves for a bit of backlash from the gaming community, but really the general response was largely positive. Seems gamers are more receptive to partnering with a porn company than we originally thought—which is great news since that’s a community that’s always plugged in to what’s going on digitally. We’ll be here to provide a little respite come break time after hours of competition.

We had a number of different candidates that expressed interest. One of those people was Kelby May, the general manager of [Counter Logic Gaming], a very well known League of Legends team (currently ranked no. 4 in North America).

There's a tendency in esports for organisations to use anything they can to raise brand awareness. This can lead to some pretty cheap and cringeworthy attempts at generating publicity and/or drama. Any concerns you are being inundated with timewasters?

Not concerned at all. Like I mentioned above, we’re in the middle of final talks with a team that stepped up and was willing to legitimately take us up on our offer. We had our concerns at first, but that’s all been put to rest.

Esports and pornography are both industries that have stigmas attached to them, albeit very different ones. I feel both have a history of seeking mainstream legitimacy through the years. Do you think anyone should be concerned that a “marriage” between the two has the potential to derail the current altering perceptions about both?

I don’t think I do. This is a match that’s beneficial for both parties. Breaking it down, the esports demographic is generally thought to lack social skills and maturity, while the adult entertainment industry is thought of as a seedy collection of filth.

The brilliance of the digital age, however, is the accessibility and plasticity of public opinion. I’m sure you’ve seen that we here at YouPorn (and the rest of the Pornhub Network) have been taking huge leaps and bounds in terms of our marketing strategy—all in the hopes of breaking some of the taboos and lessening the stigma associated with the adult entertainment industry. We want to make it possible for people to talk about porn without worrying about guilt or shame.

The esports industry is entering a similar phase. Esports has already gone through great lengths to lessen the breach of established rules, eliminate trolling and profanity, and actually make maintenance of personal hygiene a requirement for participation (as crazy as that sounds). I think it’s paid off.

I mean, the Staples Center sold out for the League of Legends tournament last year, and clocked a record 8.5 million online viewers. Another example was the Dota 2 event [The International], which was aired on ESPN. The grand prize set a world record, topping $10 million. I think that alone is a sign of evolution.

This partnership is a milestone for the growth of both industries.

As someone who has also done mainstream sports reporting for a number of years, I struggle to think of a pornography business sponsoring a team or athlete—not because they wouldn’t want to, but because mainstream sports reject that association. Do you think esports should have a different set of values?

I think it’s just a sign of the times. Esports is a relatively new industry vertical in professional competition, and its core audience is a product of the digital age. They’re more receptive to change and open-minded in terms of adapting to new trends. That said, I think the real comparison is the difference in old-school mindsets vs. new-school in terms of partnership integration. Traditional sports organizations have a certain presence in the collective conscious that they’ve established over many years, while esports is more of a fledgling institution finding its voice – which in the digital age, is constantly shifting and adapting with the times. It’s more fluid.

Several esports leagues and tournament organizers already stipulate that teams cannot display sponsors on their apparel or mention them in promotional material. Would you be willing to work around this? Any plans to try and engage with those parties to try and alter their minds?

We totally plan on working around this. The concept of the partnership and contract is what’s important, and we completely intend on operating within the organization’s rules and stipulations. This isn’t a cheap attempt at parading our name in front of everyone—we don’t want to be a cop-out.

The demographic for esports obviously has a significant number of people that are not old enough to view pornography. Do you have any concerns about that? Would there be any protective stipulations placed into the sponsorship, such as age restrictions?

The team we’re currently in final talks with is composed of players that are all of legal age. Of the hundreds of team that initially expressed their interest, only teams comprised of players that were all 18 and over were considered. Several of the major tournaments or leagues already have legal age restrictions in place.

As far as protective measures, we’re well aware that  gaming is a space comprised of all age groups, and that’s definitely taken into consideration in all aspects of the sponsorship deals we make. We wouldn’t think about moving into this space in an overly sexualized manner, which means that all decisions we make will be made with the audience in mind, and will be appropriate for said demographic.

If you do still go ahead with this it wouldn’t be esports' first brush with the world of pornography. The Championship Gaming Series held their 2007 draft in the Playboy mansion. There was also a lot of talk of Playboy coming in to sponsor esports team in 2010 and it didn’t generate any negative responses. Are immune from criticism, that they have somehow become accepted as part of the landscape?

I don’t think it’s so much that brands are immune to criticism. Again, I’d say that it ties back to what I mentioned earlier that a demographic more in tune with the changing landscape of the digital era is just simply more receptive to adaptation when it comes to out-of-the-box brand associations. It also has to do with the approach companies take. If partnerships are done tastefully, and aren’t simply a cheap attempt at brand exposure; if a company actually cares about the partnership and evolving the industry then everything is copacetic.

Your parent company, Mind Geek, owns a lot of pornography outlets including Reality Kings, Brazzers, and the top five websites for pornography on the Internet, of which you are one. Why is YouPorn the brand that is testing the esports waters?

We decided to go with YouPorn because of the brand message that property exudes. We typically market and promote YouPorn as a tamer, more couple-friendly entity compared to the rest of the sites within our network.

What would you consider a successful period of sponsorship or foray into esports?

While nothing has been finalized just yet, any deal we establish would likely run from six months to one year to start.

The esports business can be quite childish, not just because it is a fledgling industry but also because of the average age of the people that make it up. There aren’t many sectors where you will encounter 23 year old “CEOs.” Do you think we’re ready for a serious dialogue about pornography and its place in society?

I think just like any fledgling industry, there will always be certain hiccups, but with the recent measures esports has put into play, it’s clearly a sign that they’re trying to not only grow up, but legitimize their presence in the professional competitive space.

The dialog surrounding porn in society has been going on since the inception of the adult industry. I’d say that the times we live in have done a lot in terms of opening up dialog around that can be free of judgment and helps to slowly decentralize what used to be thought of as a universally accepted stigma. It’s not. Many of the initiatives that our company has put into place has been in the pursuit of continuing that conversation and eliminating those taboos.

Finally, can you tell us how the talks and potential deals are progressing? Any regrets so far, or is this still going to go ahead?

As mentioned earlier, we’re in final talks with a team as we speak, and once everything’s finalized contractually, we’ll make sure to put the word out. So nope, we have no no regrets!

Photo by theducks/flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0) (remix by Fernando Alfonso III)

Today - 8:57 am

Cloud9 and FlyQuest soar in NA LCS openers

After a weekend of exciting games, two teams remain undefeated.
Callum Leslie
Weekend Editor, Dot Esports.
Photo via Riot Games

Cloud9 and FlyQuest found themselves on top of the NA LCS heap after the first weekend of play of 2017.

Cloud9, who dispatched TSM on the opening day in convincing fashion, secured a second win over Team Dignitas on day three.

The match was a close affair, impressing many fans who were unsure what to make of the new Dignitas lineup. Cloud were able to record a 2-1 victory with Dignitas winning game two in just 33 minutes, showing that this may well be a match we see down the road in the post-season.

Dignitas did manage to pick up a win on their return to the LCS, knocking off Pheonix1 2-1.

Cloud9's former sister team, now known as FlyQuest, turned heads on their debut with a pair of strong wins. After beating EnVyUs on day two, they faced a team who have made four playoffs in a row—Team Liquid.

It looked like experience would count for Liquid after they took FlyQuest apart in game one, but the rookie side rallied hard. After levelling the series, FlyQuest took the third game in a lightning fast 25 minutes. In the final two games they kept Liquid to just six kills in each.

TSM rebounded from their loss to Cloud9 with a thrilling victory over Immortals. After two gruelling 50+ minute games, in which both teams topped 90,000 gold, the teams were locked at 1-1. Game three saw a much more assured TSM performance, cleaning up the objectives and taking a decisive win inside 40 minutes.

Counter Logic Gaming also opened their account for 2017, winning against EnVyUs 2-0. That loss and the loss to FlyQuest leaves EnVyUs struggling at the bottom of the table alongside Echo Fox, who were unsuccessful against both Pheonix1 and Immortals.

Jan 21 2017 - 10:55 pm

Contractz shines as Cloud9 topples TSM

Cloud9’s rookie jungler made a big splash in his LCS debut
Xing Li
Dot Esports
Photo via Riot Games

Cloud9’s Juan "Contractz" Arturo Garcia didn't just make an impression in his LCS debut. He blew away all expectations, and showed himself to be a force to be reckoned with.

Contractz was the last cut from the Players to Watch list we wrote before the League Championship season. We weren’t sure how much priority Cloud9 would give him, especially with so much talent elsewhere on the roster. Still, we felt uneasy--someone not on the list was almost guaranteed to break out.

We just didn’t know that it would happen in the very first series.

In a rematch of last summer’s LCS Finals, Cloud9 and TSM clashed on the rift. And despite the star power that this matchup brings, much of the focus was on Contractz. He was a major focus for C9, almost a win condition in themselves.

Let’s see how he did it.

Jungle Priority

Due to the changes Riot made to the jungle in the offseason, priority has risen for junglers. More experience and more ganks means a good jungler can more easily carry a game. Cloud9’s coach, Bok “Reapred” Han-gyu talks about priority all the time.

Priority is a League term that indicates which lane has a strong matchups and should be a focus for jungle ganks. The player or lane with priority gets earlier picks and more attention from the rest of the team.

In a bit of a role reversal, C9 picked jungle to have priority in game one. That meant C9 players actively played around Contractz’ Kha’zix and made plays to get him ahead. In one telling instance, AD carry Zachary “Sneaky” Scuderi burned his Ashe ult so that Contractz could invade and secure red buff.

Contractz rewarded that allocation by killing TSM ADC Jason “WildTurtle” Tran for First Blood. Cloud9 picked a risky comp that required Contractz and mid laner Nicolaj Jensen (playing Fizz) to snowball. Aided by some questionable team play from TSM and baffling itemization from WildTurtle, they accomplished that.

How would TSM react in game two?

A Lee Sin God

Cloud9 continued to give Contractz priority by first-picking Lee Sin for him (only one jungler, Rengar, was banned). This time, he lived in TSM’s red side jungle, playing around pressure from Jensen and top laner Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong.

A well-executed gank gave C9 First Blood again, this time on Soren “Bjergsen” Bjerg. C9’s duo lane kept their own red-side safe, allowing Contractz to clear and run to the top lane to kill Kevin “Hauntzer” Yarnell.

For much of the series, Cloud9 exhibited superior team play and coordination, and Contractz was at the center of big plays. He is an aggressive, carry-oriented player and C9 enabled that aggression extremely well. Even when TSM jungler Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen and the rest of the team was there, it was often C9 making the right moves, faster. Following a decent TSM dive in the bot lane, Contractz responded with kill after kill.

It’s still very early in the season, but this team has come together very fast. Their communication was superb as was the shot calling. TSM had poor performances from Turtle and Svenskeren, but this victory was still more about C9's macro-oriented team play, rather than individual performances. They will have chances to come back, just like C9 will have to keep their play high by continuing to aid their jungler.

Contractz just dominated what was the best team in NA. Keep this performance up, and he’ll find himself on another one of our lists: the end of split awards.