Vindex raised $60M last fall and now they’ve signed a deal with IMAX to create “esports events and experiences” for IMAX’s over 1500 screens in 81 countries worldwide. There are very few details around the partnership at this point, yet Vindex expects to broadcast esports content and events in IMAX theatres.
The team behind Vindex (vindex.gg) includes Mike Sepso and Sundance DiGiovanni, the co-founders of Major League Gaming. While this is a strong gaming team, I do not think Vindex is going to be successful in driving regular in-person viewership to IMAX theatres for esports. Maybe for one-off events, but not more consistently than that.
This idea has been tried before in movie theatres, yet it hasn’t worked. Vindex will have to bring more revenue per minute for esports viewing events than a traditional movie, or IMAX will cut this program. IMAX just ended their VR business in 2019, less than 2 years after launching the idea. They are certainly open to trying new things, yet also quick to cut them.
I’ll end with this thought: do you go to the movie theatre or IMAX to watch the NFL? No.
To watch competitive entertainment socially, we go to a friend’s house, the bar, or the stadium. Esports isn't any different. This initiative by Vindex with IMAX is wishful thinking at best and I expect (just like VR) that they'll cut it.
Back in 2016, I was a player of Pokemon GO while living in NYC. It was only for a brief stint and then I decided to move on (churned). Even though I was in the majority, this game is not only still around but just closed out a record ~$900M in revenue in 2019. Niantic must be thrilled, yet this is also a signal that location-based games do have a part to play in the gaming ecosystem going forward.
Even with this success in location based gaming (geocaching), this tech is not a new arrival to the gaming scene. Given that it’s been around for over a decade and still isn’t a meaningful trend in gaming, I don’t envision this category becoming more than a niche genre in the next few years.
It is more of a novelty and a sub-par gaming experience vs other mediums like PC, console, mobile, or even VR. Either way, $900M for Niantic is quite an achievement as they will likely own this small niche for a while longer.
In video gaming, the rise of competitive entertainment is most clearly seen in the acceleration of esports. Each video game has its own competitive scene (i.e. esport). As we’ve seen in traditional sports, the best forms of competitive entertainment draw an audience in person as well as digitally.
This audience, at the professional level, is best monetized through media and broadcast rights. In esports, we’re seeing that same trend repeat itself across the world right now. The latest evidence of this is with Maincast and ESL.
This week, Russia based broadcasting company Maincast won the rights for the broadcasts of ESL events in Russia. While it hasn’t been officially approved, the estimated deal is set to be between $11 million to $15 million. It will be a three-year contract. The tender includes broadcasts’ rights for all ESL Dota 2 and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive events for 2020, 2021, and 2022 years, including The Rio Major.