Video game makers have been pushing hard for professional gaming to be considered a legitimate sport – few companies harder than Santa Monica’s Riot Games Inc. But as the publisher discovered earlier this month, professional gaming carries some growing pains.
Riot’s “League of Legends” is heading into the fourth season of its professional tournament and has rolled out some new rules. Among them was a stipulation in players’ contracts that barred them from streaming themsel-ves playing rival titles.
Professional gamers typically make money by streaming their play on sites such as YouTube or Twitch. These online broadcasts are wildly popular and top players can command audiences in the millions and earn six-figure incomes -through sponsorships and endorsements.
Riot has heavily invested in a tournament league and fostering throngs of professional players. Unsurprisingly, the company has grown a bit territorial about its athletes.
As originally written, the new contract singled out massive multiplayer online games including “Defense of the Ancients 2” and “World of Warcraft” as verboten.
News of the restrictive rules was first reported on gaming blog OnGamers and later confirmed by the Riot’s director of e-sports, Whalen Rozelle.
Rozelle explained on message board Reddit that the rule was an effort to protect the company’s brand. To Riot, having a professional “League of Legends” player stream a competing game would be no different than “an NFL player promoting Arena Football or a Nike-sponsored player wearing Reebok on camera.”
That reasoning didn’t placate players and fans who commented in droves that the restriction is Draconian. Worse, it was totally not cool.
Hours after the news broke Dec. 6 and the complaints poured in, Riot pulled a reverse ferret. Rozelle returned to Reddit to offer an explanation.
“The way we chose to deal with this was clearly an overreach,” he posted. “It hit our goal of preventing companies from advertising through (professional League) players, but it also encroached on pros’ ability to have fun and entertain viewers during long Challenger queues – and we realize that’s not cool.”
Professional gaming has grown considerably in the past few years, especially “League of Legends.” Riot has built a separate department of e-sports, run by Riot Chief Executive Brandon Beck’s younger brother Dustin. The league’s 2013 championship tournament was held at the Staples Center with an online audience that was estimated in the tens of millions.
While professional gaming has grown into an economic force that can lobby the U.S. Department of State to issue foreign players special athlete visas, the gaming companies are also forced to reconcile their roots in the underground. Gaming might be a sport, but it’s difficult to recall a time when, say, National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell backed off a league ruling because players complained it wasn’t cool.
Top executives at Rubicon Project might avoid talking about it, but the ad tech firm is continuing an inexorable march toward an initial public offering. The latest development is that the Playa Vista company has hired investment banks Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. to lead its IPO, according to a report from Bloomberg.
This is among a series of recent moves from the ad tech company, which offers a real-time bidding platform that automates the exchange of banner ads on websites. Earlier this year, it hired two top-level executives, including a chief operating officer and president, to work alongside co-founder and Chief Executive Frank Addante. Forbes reported that Rubicon’s 2012 revenue was $292 million and multiple executives have maintained the company is profitable.
A few years back, Addante would freely discuss plans to take his company public, and he’s had experience with the process in previous ventures. But Rubicon executives later backed off the topic amid a public market that seemed unwelcoming to tech IPOs.
That changed in the latter half of this year. Twitter Inc. had a successful offering in November and, more significantly, so did San Francisco ad tech firm Rocket Fuel Inc., which went public in September.
Car pricing information site TrueCar.com has announced a $30 million capital infusion. The round was led by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s venture firm Vulcan Capital and brings TrueCar’s total financing to $352 million, according to investment tracking site Crunchbase. The Santa Monica company, which helps users estimate the lot price of new and used cars, was rumored to be circling an IPO in 2014, though Chief Executive Scott Painter “flatly denied it” in response to a query from the New York Times.
Staff reporter Tom Dotan can be reached at email@example.com or (323) 549-5225, ext. 263.
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