Stories of Turmoil & Leverage

Gm, welcome to the lobby.

The war over DLC continues, OpTic Gaming hosts Call of Duty Champs, Middle School & Collegiate Esports are on the rise, and more!

Grab your coffee, ready up, and let’s drop in 🪂
Here’s what we have for you today:

  • Why Star Wars fans are upset (again): season pass controversy 🌌 

  • COD Champs coming to Dallas with OpTic Gaming as host 🏆

  • The Future Of Collegiate Esports: eFuse x NECC 🎓 

  • Middle School Esports: PlayVS launches new program 🎮

  • Xbox blends gaming and learning with audio learning journeys 🚌

  • GameSquare Holdings Inc. reports record revenues of $52m for 2023, net loss of $31.3m (LINK)

  • AC Milan footballer Kjaer launches esports organization, signs Counter Strike 2 roster (LINK)

  • ESL FACEIT Group launches FACEIT League, an Overwatch team league for players of all skill levels (LINK)

🌌 Why Star Wars fans are upset (again): season pass controversy

source: Pepsiman (1999)

Ubisoft’s Star Wars Outlaws, its first foray into the Star Wars universe, has drawn widespread criticism and disappointment over its recent pricing announcements. Users are mainly taking issue with the fact that there is a paid season pass for a single-player game and that this season pass includes an entire Jabba The Hutt side mission. The season pass (A bundle price for current/upcoming DLC, not the same as a “Battle Pass”)can be purchased separately or as a part of the Gold ($110) or Premium ($130) editions of the game. It’s important to note that these pricing tiers are commonplace for Ubisoft, and this type of tiered pricing extends to the greater games industry overall. It’s not unheard of for games to launch with higher-priced bundles that include cosmetics, bonuses, or content. That said, it doesn’t mean gamers are okay with it, and the response to Ubisoft’s news says it all.

This particular instance of cut content being locked behind a paywall is upsetting to many people for two key reasons. Firstly, this mission is complete content that is in the game pre-launch being deliberately cut out to try and entice users to spend more. Secondly, Ubisoft chose to lock away a mission featuring one of Star Wars’ most iconic characters, who plays a core part in the general Star Wars “bounty hunter” world. This is a much different situation than intentionally developing DLC after launch and charging for something new.

Ubisoft Responds:

Ubisoft came out to issue a statement in an attempt to quell concerns and address confusion. It read: 

“To clarify, Jabba the Hutt and the Hutt Cartel are one of the main syndicates in Star Wars Outlaws and will be part of the experience for everyone who purchases the game, regardless of edition.”

While the clarification is appreciated, Ubisoft’s statement failed to address what many feel are anti-consumer practices despite not being new in this instance.

What the People Are Saying:

  • “While this clears up that other Jabba missions will still be part of the game, it still doesn't stop it from being any less bogus.” - GassoBongo

  • “It still doesnt change the fact that they cut content from the game to sell it as extra.” - Dealric

  • “This is still shitty. There will still be specific day 1 content removed from the game that isn't cosmetic just to make their premium versions more appealing. Even by Ubisoft's standards this is ridiculous.” - pimpwithoutahat

  • “Walling off launch content as DLC is always a little scummy but I'm baffled by the recurring sentiment of "A season pass? In a single-player game?!" I've seen surrounding this. Season passes have been in singleplayer games since season passes have been a thing.” -Lil_Mcgee

👀 Our POV 

As a massive Star Wars fan and lifelong enjoyer of Ubisoft’s games, this is a tricky topic. On one hand, I consider what Ubisoft is doing to be anti-consumer and needlessly harmful to the image of a product so many talented people have worked on. On the other hand, premium-priced games having season passes and day-one DLC isn’t new at all. Ubisoft isn’t doing anything that hasn’t been done before to spark unique outrage. I think game publishers must carefully consider if squeezing those extra dollars out of consumers is worth torching their reputation. Ubisoft’s reputation has declined in recent years, and I’d encourage them to consider ways to win back their fans. Releasing a feature-complete Star Wars game with a banger story and no monetization would be a very fast way to build more fan favor. But they just couldn’t help themselves, could they?

It’s hard to commit to the narrative of “Ubisoft Bad,” even though I agree. I think this upheaval of criticism shows that consumers are still wary of how monetization in gaming is handled. Gamers will pay when value is added! However, taking content away to justify a higher price point is sure to upset gamers at large.

- Brendan Valentine (Private Lobby)

🏆 COD Champs coming to Dallas with OpTic Gaming as host

Just weeks after “canceling” the live audience portion of the Call of Duty League Major IV that was to be hosted by the Carolina Royal Ravens, the Call Of Duty League & OpTic Gaming have officially announced the location for Champs 2024.

Just 30 minutes north of Downtown Dallas, Champs will take place July 18-21 at the Credit Union of Texas Event Center. The top 8 teams in the league will battle it out for millions, crowning the end-of-season champion.

For the first time in Call of Duty League history, the event is being hosted by someone other than Activision themselves with OpTic Gaming/OpTic Texas becoming the first organization to host the final event of the season.

One notable detail from the announcement was the floorplan, featuring the main stage right in the middle surrounded by the crowd. A common layout in games like Dota & Rocket League, however this will be the first time Call of Duty is using this layout.

At the time of writing on Tuesday April 23rd, all VIP & Reserved Seating tickets are sold out, with just a few General Admission tickets remaining.

👀 Our POV

OpTic hosting Champs in their backyard in DFW is great for the league when it comes to the fan experience. OpTic’s event team (Shoutout Corey Dunn & co) is one of, if not, the best events team in the league. The OpTic event team understands that there’s more to events then just putting players up on a stage.

The last event hosted by OpTic was one of the best events hosted in the CDL era, mainly because of the on-site activations, elevating the fan experience. Not only could you watch matches, but there were multiple sponsor booths to get free goodies, a playable basketball court & soccer pitch to get some energy out, and a live area to join the Scump Watch Party.

Making the event more than just watching COD, makes it worth coming to the event for the fans. If events just have the matches up, what’s the point in traveling if you could save the time & money of travel and just watch the game from home?

- Justin Palacios (Private Lobby)

🎓 The Future Of Collegiate Esports

source: eFuse

eFuse & the National Esports Collegiate Conference have announced that they are partnering together to help support collegiate esports.

Before the partnership, eFuse was running the Collegiate Carball Association (Collegiate Rocket League) and College COD. Currently, NECC helps out over 500 colleges and universities in running esports events for them.

Together it seems as if eFuse will take over livestream production and league logistics, while NECC will leverage its network to help provide opportunities to college students across North America.

“Our vision has always been to elevate collegiate esports and change lives through gaming. By combining NECC’s operational excellence with eFuse’s IP and support, we are poised to offer unprecedented opportunities to collegiate athletes and fans across North America.” 

 - Matthew Benson, CEO of eFuse (via Esports Insider)

👀 Our POV

Through my experience in collegiate esports as a player, one of the primary issues was the number of leagues. Because of how new the scene is and the lack of an “NCAA” administering and controlling the sport, there’s been a plethora of businesses and leagues trying to be the go-to solution for students and schools to participate in. This caused scheduling conflicts, an oversaturation of matches, and just too much to handle and coordinate as a college student.

Hopefully, this partnership between eFuse and NECC can help solidify and create a more consistent go-to spot for students of all levels, whether they’re a fully funded varsity program offering scholarships to students or just a small club formed by a few students on campus.

- Justin Palacios (Private Lobby)

🎮 PlayVS Launches Middle School Esports Program

source: PlayVS

In March, PlayVS announced it is launching free-to-play middle school esports leagues across the U.S. for the Fall 2024 season. These leagues focus on team play and aim to foster student growth and fun.

Structured with a preseason and regular season, students will compete over three months, culminating in an end-of-season record. The expansion aims to provide students with opportunities to learn leadership, teamwork, and STEM skills, preparing them for high school competition.

A survey indicates positive impacts on student socialization, mental health, and academics from esports participation. Safety and privacy are prioritized, and COPPA compliance and certification are planned.

Registration is open for students over 13, with a parent registration portal for younger students coming soon. Schools, coaches, and parents can schedule meetings to learn more about PlayVS and the upcoming middle school season.

Exciting updates, including game lineup announcements and parental involvement details, are forthcoming.

A Fun, Safe, & Rewarding Experience

PlayVS highlights the benefit of their program on their website:
“Through the benefits of middle school esports, students will be able to learn leadership and teamwork skills, be able to access STEM fundamentals and prepare themselves to be better players at the competitive high school level.

Benefits of middle school esports through PlayVS include:

  • Social Emotional Learning: Students build character and develop discipline, self-esteem, and sportsmanship through practice and team play.

  • Increased Student Engagement: Esports are co-ed, inclusive, and engages students who might not otherwise participate in other school activities or athletics.

  • STEM Skill Growth: Esports is rooted in technology. Research has found a large crossover between esports players and STEM interests.

  • Socialization Skills: Many students are already passionate about gaming. Esports provides an environment where students can come together and bond over a shared interest.

  • Scholastic Improvement: Teachers and parents both report renewed interest in schoolworks and an improvement in student grades as a result of participation.

  • Safety and Parental Involvement: Through the PlayVS platform, parents can be a part of their child's esports journey and have control of their students accounts and personal information.”

👀 Our POV

I’m glad to see PlayVS rolling out a free-to-play program, considering past controversies around partnerships with schools. In 2022, The Washington Post outlined how PlayVS was operating in bad faith, attempting to claim exclusivity it didn’t have and pushing other operators to shut down. While they aren’t free of criticism, I applaud their efforts to improve and support students without significant cost to the schools. The current state of esports in education is still in flux so providing accessible options that lower the barrier of entry is an important step to enabling esports at more schools.

While PlayVS isn’t the only operator in this space, they’ve made a name for themselves and are a company to watch. We’ll have to wait and see how this plays out, but I’m optimistic for the future of middle school esports. We’ve seen significant support for collegiate and high school programs roll out in recent years and it only makes sense that it extends to middle school as well.

- Brendan Valentine (Private Lobby)

🚌 Xbox blends gaming and learning with Xbox Field Trips audio learning journeys

source: Xbox

Xbox Field Trips is a series of “audio learning journeys” based on seven popular Xbox Game Pass titles, such as Minecraft and Sea of Thieves.

“Not all skills are learned in the classroom, and not everyone learns the same way. Research suggests that gaming can play a big role in helping children develop important life skills by creating engaging and immersive learning experiences that foster young minds.” - 

Xbox Field Trips introduce children to family-friendly games on the Xbox Game Pass. The goal behind Field Trips is to “blend immersive gameplay with audio prompts that reinforce cognitive skills and learning – but most importantly, the development of soft skills like creative problem solving, teamwork and collaboration.”

You can find the series on Spotify as ‘Beyond Xbox: Field Trips’. Each Field Trip is also available as a downloadable e-book.

  • Episode 1: Problem solving & analytical thinking with Grounded

  • Episode 2: Teamwork with Sea of Thieves

  • Episode 3: Motivation & prioritization with PowerWash Simulator

  • Episode 4: Creativity & innovation with Minecraft

  • Episode 5: Focus & diligence with Microsoft Flight Simulator

  • Episode 6: Planning & adaptability thinking with Cities: Skylines

  • Episode 7: Strategy & decision-making with Age of Empires IV

👀 Our POV

These “audio learning journeys”, essentially guided, educational gameplay experiences through the form of podcasts/audiobooks are a fun way of introducing kids to family-friendly games on the Xbox Game Pass while educating them (and their parents) on the cognitive and soft skills you can develop playing video games.

The potential with guided gameplay experiences for both education and pure entertainment purposes is really interesting and not something I believe has truly been explored as a way of promoting games or highlighting the educational and developmental value that they have.

What if a popular Fortnite streamer passionate about Fortnite creative and UEFN were to release a series like Xbox Field Trips where they guided their audience to build a basic UEFN map? This could create a super engaging tutorial that introduces an entire new audience to game development.

Taking it further and into the entertainment-sphere rather than education, with audiobooks there has been a trend towards celebrity-read audiobooks that add value to the reading/listening experience. Similarly, what if a star from a film were to create a guided gameplay experience? Maybe Timothée Chalamet and Zendaya create a Dune: Awakening experience or Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey create a The Last of Us experience.

I’m excited about the potential with audio experiences like these, especially considering how it’s still largely untapped in gaming which could present some compelling opportunities.

- Zach Eller (Private Lobby)

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Disclaimer: our views are ours and in no way represent those of our employers.