On today’s episode of the Brand Story Inc. podcast, Jay talks to Jeff Eisenband, eSports broadcaster for NBA 2K League and MSG Networks, about the world of what’s happening in the world of eSports, Twitch, and gaming during the Coronavirus quarantine. “You’re seeing this crazy form of innovation that wasn’t exactly by choice, but everyone’s adapting to it right now.”

Jeff Eisenband NBA 2K

Brand Story Inc. with Jeff Eisenband

Jeff Eisenband: I’m excited. For those who don’t know, Jay, I am one of your former interns. So, I’m glad to be on the other side that I might actually have something of use for you right now.

Jay Sharman: Yes, very much so because I think I represent a pretty significant portion of media executives who know just enough about eSports and gaming, but really don’t know much at all. So, I get to ask all the dumb questions. But obviously, interesting times, I think we’re in the veil of states locking down, I’m here in Illinois, you’re currently in New Jersey and Coronavirus disrupting everyone’s lives. And as it relates to content on a much less serious note, it’s interesting times there, too. And I’m curious to just get a sense of what you’re seeing, as the days unfold as we tape this in late March, what’s going on in the gaming industry, in the eSports industry, from your perspective right now?

Jeff Eisenband: Yeah, well, it’s an interesting time whether by choice or not, that you’re seeing so much emphasis, such a focus right now on the eSports and gaming world. And it’s funny because, right when everything started happening, people started sending me messages and saying, “Isn’t this an amazing moment for eSports?” And I kind of said, “Wait, hold on one sec.” And, I don’t know, there’s a big difference that we can get into with eSports and gaming because I said, Overwatch League, Call of Duty World League, they just put themselves on pause, the NBA 2K League would eventually postpone, which wasn’t supposed to start until March 24, but now that’s postponed.

So, immediately a lot of the big leagues were trying to do a lot on the road this year and that sort of got shut down. But then, what you’re seeing is an emergence on the actual streaming and gaming side right now, which is incredible, Call of Duty happen to come out with their battle royale game, Warzone right on March 10, which indirectly ended up being the perfect time for that. You’re seeing a lot of professional sports teams now putting their own players, or getting streamers within their communities out there playing their own games. You’re seeing some teams just literally simulating actual games. The Wizards and Capitals Monumental Sports & Entertainment is literally putting the actual matchups up in video games and just letting them simulate on TV. So, you’re seeing this crazy form of innovation that wasn’t exactly by choice, but everyone’s adapting to it right now.

Jay Sharman: Well, you used a couple… Let’s start with some basics. And yeah, that announcement came out today from Monumental which I think is, to your point, great example of innovation going on. But let’s start with some of the basics, definitions, terms, what it means.

Jeff Eisenband: Yes.

Jay Sharman: Let’s start with eSports versus gaming. How do you differentiate the two?

Jeff Eisenband: Yeah, so I consider eSports to be the actual organized competitive form of video games as opposed to gaming, is more of the industry in itself. If you’re talking about the companies from a business side, the game producers, the streaming community, that’s more of the gaming world. The eSports side is more of the competitive, what mirrors a bit of traditional sports in terms of competition but isn’t the full-on. Because I think people get confused, Ninja is a name that we hear so many times fall under eSports. And Ninja himself was a competitive video game player which would make him fall into eSports, kind of in a different life, he was actually a Halo player, and he emerged more as a streamer. He was streaming on Twitch, and then, that was where he made himself kind of the top streamer especially with Fortnite, the sort of Fortnite craze really helped the streaming world.

And streamers are entertainers, streamers are people who might not necessarily be the best at the video game, Ninja is very good and they’re usually very good, but they’re not out there grinding from a competitive sense, they’re trying to entertain an audience, have fun. It might be that a new addition has been added to a game and a streamer goes on and for the next 48 to 72 hours, they’re just playing with that new addition because they know the fans are interested. They’re trying to have some fun, they’re entertaining, they’re engaging with fans, and that streaming category to me, that’s a third word we’ve now said, eSports, gaming, streaming. I think streaming is actually closer to the gaming world than the actual eSports world. That isn’t to say that streamers also have their own competitions.

Jay Sharman: I want to go back to eSports for a second, right? The way you described it, was the competitive nature of it, which conjures up images, people like me who don’t know squat about eSports, right? And I talked to other media execs and I remember one of the execs at Turner Sports five years ago said, “Sharman, you got to be in eSports, man, these things are filling up the Staples Center, we get 20,000 people.” There’s this image of arenas being filled and players being in person and competing. But when those events aren’t happening, just clarify for me from an eSports perspective, what’s going on? Other than the championships, but leading up to-

Jeff Eisenband: Yeah, I mean, the day-to-day is much more on the gaming side, people simply watching, streaming, and watching people play the video games, or just experimenting themselves playing games. I think the video game industry in itself, which was a natural progression over time as younger generations played video games. The average age of a gamer continues to get older. But then from it, there are definitely lower-level competitions, the Overwatch League is the top level of Overwatch, but that doesn’t mean that there are smaller, more underground Overwatch competitions going on all the time, whether those are in person, some of them are online, you see charity tournaments, there is more competition than just the highest level going on at a time. And those fall under eSports if they’re smaller competitive tournaments that might not be for the same amount of money, it might not be in front of the same amount of eyeballs, but there are still tournaments out there.

Jay Sharman: Okay, so right now, I’m on twitch.tv/nba2k and there are 115 concurrent viewers watching two guys playing, the Celtics against the Raptors, right? It’s got 16 million views but 126 are concurrently watching. So, walk me through Twitch, how does it work? And we’ll use NBA 2K, which is the National Basketball Association, so it’s actually licensed, the actual players and the teams that you’d expect from the NBA for those of you that aren’t sports fans, but let’s use NBA 2K as an example.

Jeff Eisenband: Yeah, and so right now, what you’re actually watching is… So, for those who don’t know on Friday, on the actual NBA 2K, not the NBA 2K League, so this is NBA 2K, this is the developer, this is Take-Two Interactive game, NBA 2K, their Twitch channel, they’re running right now. Ronnie2K who was, I guess, originally kind of the community head for NBA 2K and he’s evolved more into… I think he’s basically out of promotion, that his title is bigger than that. He’s basically, the guy who’s the face of the game, dealing with all the NBA players, dealing with the celebrities, dealing with fans directly on Twitter. He’s got over a million followers, I’m pretty sure, and so he’s playing against Sheck Wes, who is a rapper.

And since the NBA shut down, Ronnie has been playing against a celebrity every day. So, around this time, usually, late afternoon, early evening, he’s playing these games that people are tuning in. And now, these are not necessarily, the two best 2K players in the world, Ronnie’s very good and I’m sure Sheck Wes plays a lot, but it’s the entertainment value of, look at these two guys who I know, who I follow, who I’m involved with, and I just want to see them, you’re having fun with competition. And then, on top of that, well, people don’t necessarily… Unless you’re in the Twitch world, you don’t maybe quite get it. The difference between linear TV and Twitch is the chat feature and other features going up around the broadcast. So, Jay, well, you might be watching right now, you’re seeing the chat, people continuously talk and there are people talking about, I got Ronnie, I got Sheck, and things along those lines. And they’re making friends with each other and gaining followers kind of through the internet just having a conversation.

For a lot of people right now who are stuck at home, this is social engagement right here. And then on top of that, you could have polls, you could have other features that you can’t necessarily have on linear TV but you can have in a Twitch broadcast, or we could talk about other platforms as well.

Jay Sharman: Yeah, I think it’s a good thing. I think most people would get it, you’re looking at two inset boxes of the guys actually playing and communicating with one another. You’re seeing on a big screen the Celtics playing against the Raptors being controlled by these guys. And to your point, on the right, there’s a text thread or a comment thread that’s not too dissimilar from seeing Facebook comments where people are engaging and interacting. And I guess maybe let’s pull back for a second. And you’ve created quite a niche for yourself as it relates to NBA 2K, walk us through your job in what you do for… Let’s assume someone maybe has heard of the NBA but knows nothing else other than that, it’s a crazy world that you’ve become one of… Not one of, the face of… On behalf of NBA 2K.

Jeff Eisenband: Yeah, let me paint a little broader picture for you. So, I graduated from Northwestern in 2015. And I went right into a job working as an editor for a website called ThePostGame.com, which was a Yahoo Sports site at the time. And I would be going around to a lot of events covering a lot of the athlete appearances and things in New York City. And people would say to me, “You’re young, get into eSports. People are selling out the garden, people are selling out Staples Center. You play video games? You should get into eSports.” And I looked into things and at the time, really, a lot of the big eSports were games like League of Legends, or CS:GO, which are PC based combat games, which is not by any means what I… I had always played console sports games.

So to me, this wasn’t… I recognized the value of the industry, where it was going, but I didn’t necessarily see myself as fitting in that sort of norm, and on top of that, I don’t think people understood that traditional sports fans were not the people who were consuming that. So, there was a hope that you could put it on ESPN, that you could put things on traditional avenues like that and oh, sports fans will just love it. But those weren’t necessarily, the games that sports fans were playing. So, I kind of had my eye on sports for a while, was following and reporting a little bit on it.

And then, one thing led to another, met some people from the NBA, started hosting content for the NBA Twitch channel, which was basically me playing NBA 2K with an NBA player or an NBA influencer or someone, and just asking questions for the chat, best job I’ll ever have in my life. Could not have been more fun, easy, just messing around with usually a B-list NBA player for two hours.

And then, when the NBA 2K League starts… So, the NBA 2K League is a 50% owned by Take-Two Interactive, the producer of the game, the developer, and 50% owned by the NBA itself. And so, the same people that were doing the NBA Twitch channel started to do the NBA 2K League and I said, “Hey, is there any way I could be a part of this from the coverage standpoint?” Again, recognizing that here’s a game that I actually know, enjoy, have played my whole life, played socially with friends, and just fits with everything that I’m doing. And they told me, “Here we’re going to give you a microphone and put you on the red carpet with a camera. You’ll be in the backstage carpet after all the players get drafted. It’s not going to be live but ask some questions, figure out what you can find out, and best stuff we’ll put in the stream or we’ll put on social.”

And I start interviewing these guys in the question. I think there were 102 players drafted that day and probably 75 to 80 in person, so I did a lot of interviews that day. And I started to ask things like, “What were you doing before this?” And guys were saying, “I was a truck driver. I worked in an Amazon plant. I was actually a successful financial advisor and I’m getting paid less to do this.” And the stories that I started to uncover, I said to myself, I cover so many professional athletes and it’s so hard to get a new story out of anyone. Or if you’re trying to get anything, you got to cross through agents and team executives and all of that stuff. And here we are uncovering these never before told stories. We didn’t know anything about these guys other than their name, basically, before. And that was what kind of piqued my interest there.

And then, over the last two seasons, this would have been the third season, would have been starting this week or next week, I was deemed insider at one point. I’ve been the social media reporter, I’ve also filled in as an on desk doing analyst color commentary sideline reporter, so I’ve done a lot. I’ve been to Korea for a tournament, I was on desk as the analyst for the draft this year. So, I’ve been, I guess, a jack of all trades for League so far.

Jay Sharman: So, paint the picture, how many people play in the NBA 2K League? How many games do they play? What kind of money? Can you make a living? Paint the big picture of the… You started going into the individuals and the human interest stories, but give us the overview.

Jeff Eisenband: Yeah. So, you said you’re watching the NBA 2K channel, we talked about that, Ronnie2K versus Sheck Wes game. They’re playing one on one right now, which is one of the standard play now forms of NBA 2K, but the way that the NBA 2K League works is actually Pro-Am, which is five on five. So, I mean, literally, you have five players versus five players. One guy is the point guard, one guy is the shooting guard, one guy is the small forward, and so forth. And they’re communicating as teammates, they’re trying to stick to their spot on the floor to accomplish the task of scoring baskets.

So, everything is manual on that regard. Every team has six players, one player doesn’t… For the first two seasons, one player would sit out every game, they’ll actually be substitutions for season three, or that’s at least what they’re experimenting with right now. And I think that is also one thing that has led to eSports succeeding a little bit more, is that in the last couple of years, eSports that are more team based have popped up, which I think as a fan, you just get more excited to root for a team than one individual. I think that’s a struggle that tennis and golf has always had, how can we get someone to be just a person fan as opposed to a team fan?

So, you have in the NBA 2K League right now… Season three would have been 23 teams, 22 are owned and operated by NBA franchises. So, Adam Silver has called the NBA 2K league the fourth NBA League after the NBA, WNBA, G League, and now the NBA 2K League. And so, you have 22 teams that are playing in there, they train and live in their home markets and then travel to… Most of the games have taken place at a studio in New York City. They take a plane to New York to play but train in their home city, go to community events in their home city, engage with the NBA, WNBA, and G League teams.

And then, the other aspect that basically, I think answers a little bit of your question is, the way that the NBA 2K League has approached things is having a regular season along with extra tournaments that I almost would compare it to Premier League Soccer, the way you have the FA Cup and the Champions League along with the Premier League, that there’s some other tournaments to make money. But there is a regular season in the playoffs, which mirrors and makes the NBA fan understand what’s going on a little bit more than if it was say just a tournament format all the time.

Jay Sharman: So, how many games do these guys play?

Jeff Eisenband: So, season two… And I believe season three was going to be 16 regular season games, you’re talking about… The original plan was three other tournaments and then a fourth tournament being the playoffs. So, the average team, I would say, is playing maybe 20 to 30 games a year.

Jay Sharman: And they’re traveling all over the place just like their NBA counterparts? To your point, whether it’s to New York or-

Jeff Eisenband: Yeah. So, season two was… All of the regular season and one of the tournaments and the playoffs was all in New York, we also had… one tournament was in Las Vegas and one tournament was in Orlando. So, if you’re the Jazz Gaming team, you’re living in Salt Lake City, that’s where your team plays and practices. But you’re getting on a plane roughly, every two weeks to fly to New York to play probably two games each time you show up. And again, this is season three, we haven’t seen any competition in Salt Lake City, but that’s where that team has practiced.

Jay Sharman: And I’m getting in the weeds here a little bit, but five guys on a team or six guys on a team, but then there’s a ton of fans following their play on Twitch and other places outside of where they get together and have the competition. How does that work? How do you become a fan?

Jeff Eisenband: Yeah, so the NBA 2K League streamed on its own Twitch channel, the first two years, and YouTube in season two. So, right now, we have Twitch and YouTube channels that everything’s aired on. A lot of the teams have their own Twitch channels where sometimes they’re even airing practices. Right now, some of the teams in the preseason before all of this hiatus and stuff, had been actually airing their own scrimmages against other teams. So you could basically watch an open scrimmage of two NBA 2K League teams in the preseason.

So, they’re also creating their own content, trying to engage with their local fans and also create fans obviously, outside the local markets. It’s not like the NBA 2K League has explicitly said this, but I think for all eSports, there’s that flow of creating a situation where you’re able to have your team, maybe three years from now, maybe 10 years from now, play in the home market and have a home fan base that shows up for games. And have a situation where the Wizards district gaming is playing all of their home games at maybe a thousand person facility in Washington, DC.

Jay Sharman: So, now I’m going to pull it back, right? So, we went in on NBA 2K, there’s a lot of different sports games, eSports models that are kind of similar but different, right? Similar in terms of, they may be using a license in the name recognition of known brands, but how they compete are different in each sport, et cetera, et cetera. But from a big picture perspective, now think about yourself, you’re sitting across from a vice president of marketing as a brand and you’re trying to convince them, hey, look, here’s why you should get involved. And here’s how you get involved. What are some interesting brand integrations that you’re seeing whether it’s with an NBA 2K or eSports or gaming in general?

Jeff Eisenband: Yeah, to use NBA 2K as an example of a non-endemic sponsor. Bud Light was actually sponsoring a VIP area for the NBA 2K League this year in the New York studio. So, we’re talking about Bud Light, what does that maybe have to do with gaming? Obviously, Bud Light has its target audience, maybe it’s trying to get people in their ’20s to recognize the brand, but I think it’s so simple of just having… The VIP access is Bud Light, and it just feels like… I wouldn’t say Bud Light is necessarily, known as the classiest beer in the world, but it’s got this sort of, oh, yeah, that’s where the booze is, basically, at the NBA 2K League.

I think that Louis Vuitton had a deal with League of Legends, for example, this year, and it’s kind of, why would you even think about that? Well, there’s a lot of people around the world, especially not in the US, who are watching League of Legends and it’s creating that as a luxury brand to go along. eSports are not people just in front of their computers in their own room, it’s a lifestyle. So, lifestyle brands are getting in, in that sort of way. And then, you’re going to see your classic endemic sponsors. I think HyperX is a name that maybe people outside of eSports don’t know as well. But if you’re in eSports, it’s almost… They do an amazing job of sponsoring a ton of eSports leagues where everyone’s wearing their headsets, and kind of making that your feel of, oh, you really want to be serious about gaming? You need our specific headset.

Jay Sharman: Can these guys make a living doing this?

Jeff Eisenband: Yeah, so, going back in the NBA 2K League, so we’re talking about, in season two, base salaries of $35,000-$39,000, depending on where you were drafted. And then a $1.2 million prize pot that was spread among those tournaments I mentioned. That prize pot is up to 1.4 million in season three-

Jay Sharman: And the League is paying them, just like the regular League?

Jeff Eisenband: Well, the Leagues are paying… I mean, obviously, contributing to this, so those sponsor dollars that we talked about. As I said, I was just an analyst for the NBA 2K League draft, which was the NBA 2K League draft delivered by Panera this year, and we actually had Panera deliver to us on desk. And they’re planning on doing for… I don’t know the exact terminology, but it’s sort of the rookie performance of the week delivered by Panera. So, they have attached themselves as being basically the sponsor of rookies in season three of the NBA 2K League.

Jay Sharman: God, I’m starting to sound and feel old. I mean, these guys are making 35 to 40 grand. I mean-

Jeff Eisenband: And I didn’t mention… By the way, so, those are for a six month contract, so you can do whatever the heck you want in those other six months, and then, you can look it up for the exact numbers. But the Fortnite World Cup which was at Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York City last year, we were talking… I can’t remember, I think it was around $2 million, I don’t want to botch it, for the winner, which was one individual who was 16 years old or something like that.

Jay Sharman: That’s crazy.

Jeff Eisenband: And a lot of people put the numbers in line, it’s kind of similar to the masters or one of the four majors in tennis. Obviously, the Fortnite World Cup is once a year. It’s not like tennis or golf, which might have… Golf has a tournament every week, tennis roughly every two weeks. But still crazy numbers.

Jay Sharman: That’s crazy. All right. So, talk about the… In this world where right now in the heart of it, habits are forming, things are changing. It’s a moment in time for digital media adoption, right? I’d be pretty nervous as a television executive, I think, for the longtail based on what’s going on now. And eSports and gaming in general have been ahead of the curve in terms of innovation, community building, all the true essences of things that brands aspire to have. You mentioned earlier today the announcement came out that Monumental Sports which is kind of the sports regional for DC is actually airing simulated video games on their linear television network.

Our guys at La Vida Baseball which is a Latino baseball lifestyle company, Ozzie Guillen Jr. is playing the show with actual MLB players, NBA guys are doing some stuff. What are you seeing right now that’s catching your eye in the larger eSports/gaming space that you see to be innovative, and some things that are popping up that are catching your eye?

Jeff Eisenband: And kind of sticking with the sports realm, I guess, one of the things that’s really catching my eye is, you need this consistency. And sometimes, there’s a lot of, let’s try to do one big thing that gets a ton of views or a ton of engagement or whatever, or how about 10 things that we know people will know and kind of cumulatively, those 10 things will actually be more valuable than that one. So, I have a story that hasn’t come out yet, but this for the most part is public information that the Phoenix Suns were one of the first teams as the NBA went on suspension to stream in the slot that they would have played an actual game. So, they were they would have played against the Mavericks, and what they did was they set up a stream with them. Actually, a former NBA 2K League player who lives in Phoenix, they had him play for them and they had an influencer for the Mavs played for Dallas. And they streamed the game and it was this first sort of, here’s what we’re going to do without sports on right now.

And what the Suns have done since is they’ve continued to stream out the schedule. But what they’re doing is they’re doing the stream for the hour before their game would have gone on Fox Sports Arizona. And basically, in that sort of way they can use it with one of their partners as a way to direct people to the games that they’re airing on Fox Sports Arizona that come from earlier in the year with the Suns.

So, it’s something that I think you’re going to see next year from a lot of NBA, NHL, maybe MLB teams this year, maybe soccer teams will use FIFA, NFL teams can use Madden, you can use it as a complement to what you’re doing as a team or an organization and obviously, brands have [inaudible] if they want to play with the teams before as sort of a same day sort of thing. And just kind of spurring interest and getting people excited about that particular game, it’s an easy marketing tool and Twitch is free. If you can figure out the technology, which is not a given, I want to make sure people understand it’s not like you flip the switch and everything works with no lag, then you can be part of the celebration around that day.

Jay, you’re big on college football, I know, if NCAA Football was around in Saturday morning, you could wake up, and I don’t know how much kids want to watch college game day, but they might want to see, oh man, Clemson against Florida State, let’s see how this plays out on NCAA Football. Or here’s the top Clemson student against the top FSU student at 11:00 AM before the 1:00 PM game or something like that, this stuff can really boom in that way in the sports world.

Yeah, it’s interesting, it’s hard for people to get their heads around that aren’t experiencing it, right? It’s like, how do you explain social media to somebody who’s not on social media?

Can I try to make the explanation here?

Jay Sharman: Yeah, by the way, side note, Fortnite to pool 250 million global players since the game launched, but the pool for the World Cup was $30 million for the event that you talked about at Arthur Ashe stadium last year.

Jeff Eisenband: Yep, pretty legit.

Jay Sharman: $15 billion valuation for Epic Games, the creator of Fortnite.

Jeff Eisenband: Yeah, they’ve made some money in the last three years. And by the way, they’re making a lot of money right now just because of the in-app purchases that people are doing. But I want to make just one… This is the pitch that I make, or not the pitch, but the explanation that I make to people. So, I’m 26, I’ll be 27 in May, which now I sound old saying I’ll be 27. But in the gaming world… I’m not as young as I used to be. But when I go back to when I was around 13 years old, 2006, Madden Nation was a show that ESPN put on. And what they did was, they had this thing called the Madden Bus where some of the top Madden players in the world rode around in sort of an RV, and they would play in different cities. And basically, they’d stop, they’d play a tournament, and a guy would get knocked out.

And it was a reality show that when you lost, you were off the bus, and one guy is going to be left. And I remember being so excited because Madden was the game at the time. And that was my big game. And I was like, I want to see what the best people are actually like. And I would tune in and now seeing this from the other side, I totally get it. They had it scripted for 23 minutes of television. And so, you would just get… They’d show the last 20 seconds of a game, or one interesting play, and it was much more narrative based in that sort of way. But you never actually got to see the guys play because there was no platform for that. And I was like, “Well, I’m not as interested as I thought I was going to be.”

Now that that show came about just a couple years before YouTube and Twitch would take off. And I know that when I was 13, what I wanted to see was the best players, the best gamers playing at the top level. And now… Or not now, I should say, starting, let’s say around 2008, 2010, if you wanted to see the best highlights of video games, you just search it on YouTube. If you want to see the best people playing right this second, right now, you just go to Twitch or one of the other streaming platforms. And so, now that these kids grow up that sort of way, it’s the same way that you want to see the best basketball game, the best NBA game, that’s just how they grow up. So, it’s an interest… And on top of that, the barrier for entry is so low you don’t have to be seven feet tall.

I say that I see these guys come to the NBA 2K League studio, kids, and they can relate to the gamer who’s playing the game that they already play, more so than the 6’8 small forward in the NBA.

Jay Sharman: It’s fascinating, we’re talking with Jeff Eisenband, broadcaster for NBA 2K League and MSG Networks. Twitter follow the great one @Jeff Eisenband, as in get on the Eisenband wagon. Jeff, I think, you really pulled back the curtain and again, we’ll use NBA 2K since you’re an expert on it. When you look at the influencers, right? The star players of the game and the community element of that. If you look at the collective social media followings of the actual NBA 2K team players and then, their engagement factor, it’s a pretty big number. It’s an extremely big number of a highly engaged community.

But there is a sense for brands thinking about this, hitting that tripwire of being inauthentic. What advice would you have for… You mentioned a couple of brands like Panera, people who just… I mean, I’ve heard it five years ago. Brands be like, “We got to be in eSports, we got to get in there.” But you got to get in there in the right way because it could backfire big time if you’re not authentic to the core players and influencers. So, what advice would you have for brands who may not be well-versed like me, or like you, I should say? I’m more like the brands.

Jeff Eisenband: Let me take one step back. So, one thing that you kind of mentioned there was that NBA 2K has grown in the community aspect of it. So, one of the reasons that NBA 2K has been so successful, and more successful than even some other sports titles, is what 2K did, I believe 2K17, but maybe it was a little in 2K16, they introduced something called, the Neighborhood. And what they created was, you could basic customize your player or my player, and engage with other people in an actual fictional virtual, sort of just community of a few blocks of an urban setup. And there’s a barbershop, there’s a tattoo parlor, there are streetball courts that you can play on.

And what it created was, it was basically… To a much more micro level, what Mark Zuckerberg once saw, was people liked the social network, they like to create, show off their own profile… Look at my guy who I’ve created with this hair, this jersey and all of that stuff. So, that was, I think, one of the things that really helped 2K and kind of is part of the reason why NBA 2K knocked NBA Live out of the market. So, Take-Two Interactive knocked EA out of the market, because you had to be in on that for more of a cultural lifestyle standpoint than just, oh, I want to play the basketball video game with my friend. So, that’s one thing I want to touch on, in terms of the sponsors, you’re right. I hear so many times people say, “Oh, I hear I got to get into eSports, what do I do?” Well, first of all, you got to do some research because you got to figure out too, where you want to go with your product and what you want to do with it.

Like I said, League of Legends, CS:GO, Overwatch League, these have massive, massive audiences, but they might not necessarily be the audience for your individual. Those games that I mentioned, not everyone who watches those games are traditional sports fans. So, I know Nike does have a League of Legends sponsorship, and I think Nike is on a different level. But if you’re, say a New Balance, or sort of maybe not quite on the worldwide level as much from that way, I don’t know if you want to get really involved in that. I don’t think Powerade is necessarily the best sponsor for some of those games that those fans just aren’t used to the kind of the sports, don’t have sports as a complimentary part of their lifestyle.

Now, Powerade, for example, they might see a FIFA audience that might be a little smaller than a League of Legends audience, but that might be much more of their bread and butter, their traditional person who’s watching FIFA, but he’s also going to go play soccer or other sports outside, and might be more inclined to be interested in Powerade than the bigger audience that just doesn’t have that same [inaudible 00:36:30]. So, I think it’s important to kind of figure out the demographics of each game, who is watching, as opposed to just pure numbers. Because I think there’s been too much of pure excitement in pure numbers, from a pure numbers standpoint. I actually, listened to you and Joe Favorito, I think it was, talk about… Joe mentioned UFC and how at the beginning of UFC, they wouldn’t go to the same location every time.

And I think people say “Oh my god, eSports sold out the Staples Center or Madison Square Garden.” Well, that doesn’t mean they could do it for games a year like the Knicks can, even when the Knicks aren’t even playing at their best, they can sell out Madison Square Garden, it’s not like that. So, I think that it’s just understanding, what is the actual situation? Kind of, you have to do your research, you have to get around just kind of the surface level and find out, what are the actual numbers? Who are the demographics of the people who are actually watching? And what’s my activation like? Is it just a 30-second ad that plays while people are doing something else, while they have Twitch on in the background? Or is it a sponsored segment? Like I said, the Panera Bread Rookie of the week. So, it’s figuring all those things out.

Jay Sharman: Awesome insights there. So, final homestretch here, so two final questions. Number one, crystal ball in the next 30, 60, 90 days, God knows when quarantines are going to relent and people will be able to congregate in person again. But crystal ball on how you see things evolving. I mean, you talked about what’s being done right now and some innovation that’s been done, what’s possible in the next 90 days?

Jeff Eisenband: I think people, first of all, have to understand because this isn’t going to come up in the next 30 days, maybe it’ll come up in 90 days. There is a lot of value in eSports to having the in-person experience. I think that was sort of how everyone jumped the last few weeks. It’s like, well, these eSports leagues should just keep going. Well, if you’re watching two teams play each other from their home facilities with no audience, it doesn’t have the same sort of feel, from the viewing standpoint, as if you’re watching the two teams play with even just 250 people around them. Because when we have these NBA 2K League games and one team… The 76ers and the Timberwolves teams played in the finals last year, and the 76ers had a bunch of people coming up from Philly, some fans, their staff. And on the other side with the T-Wwolves, they had people fly out.

And every time someone scored a basket, there’s a split second in the game where it takes a second for the guy to inbound the ball, and the teams turn around and hyping up the fans, and the place is going bonkers. And that’s part of, why would you watch people play video games? So, why would you watch people play sports? If you’re a fan of the team and you enjoy the players and their personalities, which they exhibit through social media or even when they’re sitting right there, it’s something that fans get into. So, I think that the long term product is still a fan, there’s still an in person element to it and a local element, where people have… I always tell people this, one day you’re going to have… Here in Chicago Jay, there’s going to be… The United Center right now has the Blackhawks and the Bulls, and what is it? There’s the other… Allstate Arena has a few teams and stuff like that, you’ll have eSports venues that hold maybe 2000 to 2500 people that maybe four eSports teams consider their home venue, and they just come in and plug in their esport. And everyone uses that facility, and it has all the technology setup.

So, that’s long term. In terms of the short term, like I said, I think that we’ve now seen a situation where a lot of game developers and professional sports teams have innovated from sort of a way to use video games and streaming as an accessory to what they’re trying to accomplish. That Call of Duty game I mentioned Warzone that happened to come out on March 10, they’ve had tournaments that have gone on with celebrities, and not all run by Call of Duty, other organizations have run things, and it’s been sort of this spectacle, especially with people home, of ways to have tournaments that aren’t necessarily the elite, not necessarily the best players, but we’re talking about celebrities that people want to just watch and see what happens when they’re in this fictional universe.

And then sports teams, I think that now there’s this big glimpse of people who are just interested. And it’s such a simple concept. They’re just putting the two teams up against each other. And listen, we know Ted Leonsis is all in on betting, I’m sure that’s part of what’s going through his head when he’s doing this. And there’s so many opportunities in the simplest form, you don’t have to get crazy with it. You can just have your teams have an official… I think, eMLS is an example where each MLS team has a player that competes in tournaments, but the New England Revolution in Portland Timbers on Tuesday had those two players play against each other, and you have a player who’s attached to your team, I think MLS has done a good job in that.

Jeff Eisenband: So, I think in the next, like we said, 30 to 90 days, we’ll see a lot of organizations set up a streaming element or even sort of smaller competitive areas where they can set up a long term situation, where I think when the NBA comes back… The NBA will come back this season, and I really do think they’ll play playoffs this season. But after that, in the fall, or in December whenever the league starts again, don’t be surprised if you see teams playing every night against each other in the hour before the game starts as a compliment to what’s going on.

Jay Sharman: All right. Last question for you, Jeff, and I appreciate your time here. Walk us through kind of your business to business daily roundup, where do you go and where should people go if they’re trying to enter this space from an education standpoint? What are the trades? What are the Twitter followers, or your sources of content to stay on top of things?

Jeff Eisenband: I thought you were going to say, what’s your day to day like? Where do you work? And I joke because someone said to me a week ago, he said, “If people are working from home, what are you going to do, not going on the office?” I said, “Office? My office is my living room in the freelance world.” But I mean, I’d say that, I use Twitter a lot, and Twitter is… Maybe some people think Twitter is dying like it is in sports, in eSports, Twitter is big. Just because it’s that opportunity for viral potential and a way for people to get things out there in the masses. Twitter does a really good job. I want to shout out Rod Breslau, he deems himself the top marketing consultant in eSports. And I kind of laugh at it but he’s an awesome follow just if you want to stay up to date on a lot of the eSports stuff.

Esports Observer, I think, is on top of things from a traditional journalistic level, and I love Cheddar Esports as… Maybe people don’t watch the live product, but I’ve been a big fan of Cheddar, also Cheddar Big News. Cheddar Esports do a great job just conglomerating an hour of Esports news for the day, and then popping out the top stories as social content that if you really just want to digest three and a half minute interview with a top executive from a game or a top executive from a team or a league, they do a great job getting those interviews, which is still a field. eSports is still a field that so much has been untapped into and isn’t… People think it’s getting saturated, but there are definitely areas of eSports that have not gotten saturated yet.

Jay Sharman: Awesome. Well, Jeff, thanks so much for taking the time during these crazy times to educate and inform Brand Story Inc. listeners about, how to help connect with eSports and think about eSports as well as gaming, and kind of debunk some myths in one on one, everything for us, and we look forward to following you as you continue your great social media content on NBA 2K.

Jeff Eisenband: Thank you so much. Thanks for having me. Good luck with everything. Obviously, Jay, you know I’m a big fan.

Jay Sharman: Thanks, Jeff. Thanks for listening to Brand Story Inc., we’ll be back next week with another conversation digging into the ways companies are becoming like media companies. Be sure to subscribe wherever you get your podcasts, and give me a follow on Twitter @_jaysharman and on LinkedIn.

To see the list of Brand Story Inc episodes, click here.

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