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The Meta, a training platform for gamers, builds on Kovaak’s FPS Aim Trainer

By Jordan Crook

As esports grows and creates opportunities for gamers to level up to the pro or streamer level, there is still a huge barrier in the way. There is not a wealth of training options for gamers. If you can’t get better within the environment of the game itself, then you’ve peaked. Practice makes perfect, but what if there’s no such thing as practice?

The Meta is looking to change that with the launch of a new training platform that builds off the success of KovaaK’s FPS Aim Trainer. Kovaak is a former Quake pro, known for his hyper accurate aim, who built Kovaak’s FPS Aim Trainer out of personal need. He wanted a way to grind out his mechanical aiming skills, and built out various scenarios across 10+ major titles to practice.

The Meta cofounders Duncan Haberly and Chris Olson had been working on their own training platform that focuses on guided trainings around specific skills, with physics and gun mechanics identical to popular titles, to let gamers learn from their mistakes and train better habits.

After the two esports entrepreneurial teams met, they decided to join forces and offer what they believe to be the ultimate training tool.

It’s comprised of two parts. The first is The Meta’s self-guided training platform, with various branches that focus on a different skill set in FPS gaming. The second is Kovaak’s Sandbox, the aim trainer that lets users test the skills they’ve learned by playing through more than 2600 user-generated scenarios.

For now, the Meta guided training focuses on flicking (otherwise known as click timing), with plans to introduce tracking and scoping skill branches soon. The self-guided training side of the platform feeds users insights about their deficiencies — maybe they tend to miss their shots when enemies are in the upper left quadrant of the screen — so they can dedicate time and energy to improving that part of their game in the aim trainer.

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The Meta is available on Steam for PC players, with plans to launch for consoles in the future.

The Flicking trainer has more than 40 sub-levels, with support for Overwatch and Fortnite. Kovaak’s Sandbox, as the FPS Aim Trainer is now known, has more than 2600 user-created scenarios and supports titles like Overwatch, Fortnite, Quake, Call of Duty, Apex Legends, Paladins, CS:GO, Battlefield, and Rainbow 6.

The Meta is $9.99, as a single-time payment, and the company says it’s currently averaging 20k units sold per month. The gaming startup has raised $2.5 million in funding from investors like Village Global, Canaan Beta Fund, Courtside VC, AET Fund (Akatsuki Entertainment Technology), betaworks, and GFR Fund (GREE).

There is movement in the esports space around training and improvement. In 2018, Epic Games introduced Playground Mode to allow players a chance to experience the Fortnite environment without dropping in alongside 99 other gamers. PlayVS, the startup looking to take esports infrastructure to the high school and college level, is investing heavily in data, reporting stats and analysis to players, coaches, fans and recruiters. StateSpace, a direct competitor to The Meta with $4 million in funding, uses neuroscience to help gamers train, hoping to create a standardized metric by which gamers’ skills can be measured.

Esports is growing across almost every metric, from viewership to awareness to revenue, and with that, we can only expect to see more startups dive into the space and stake their claim.

German football league Bundesliga teams with AWS to improve fan experience

By Ron Miller

Germany’s top soccer (football) league, Bundesliga, announced today it is partnering with AWS to use artificial intelligence to enhance the fan experience during games.

Andreas Heyden, executive vice president for digital sports at the Deutsche Fußball Liga, the entity that runs The Bundesliga, says that this could take many forms, depending on whether the fan is watching a broadcast of the game or interacting online.

“We try to use technology in a way to excite a fan more, to engage a fan more, to really take the fan experience to the next level, to show relevant stats at the relevant time through broadcasting, in apps and on the web to personalize the customer experience,” Heyden said.

This could involve delivering personalized content. “In times like this when attention spans are shrinking, when a user when a user opens up the app the first message should be the most relevant message in that context in that time for the specific user,” he said.

It can also help provide advanced statistics to fans in real time, even going so far as to predict the probability of a goal being scored at any particular moment in a game that would have an impact on your team. Heyden thinks of it as telling a story with numbers, rather than reporting what happened after the fact.

“We want to, with the help of technology, tell stories that could not have been told without the technology. There’s no chance that a reporter could come up with a number of what the probability of a shot [scoring in a given moment]. AWS can,” he said.

Werner Vogels, CTO at Amazon, says this about using machine learning and other technologies on the AWS platform to add to the experience of watching the game, which should help attract younger fans, regardless of the sport. “All of these kind of augmented customer fan experiences are crucial in engaging a whole new generation of fans,” Vogels told TechCrunch.

He adds that this kind of experience simply wasn’t possible until recently because the technology didn’t exist. “These things were impossible five or 10 years ago, mostly because now with all the machine learning software, as well as how the [pace of technology] has accelerated at such a [rate] at AWS, we’re now able to do these things in real time for sports fans.”

Bundesliga is not just any football league. It is the second biggest in the world in terms of revenue and boasts the highest stadium attendance of all football teams worldwide. Today’s announcement is an extension of an ongoing relationship between DFL and AWS, which started in 2015 when Heyden helped move the league’s operations to the cloud on AWS.

Heyden says that it’s not a coincidence he ended up using AWS instead of another cloud company. He has known Vogels (who also happens to be a huge soccer fan) for many years, and has been using AWS for more than a decade, even well before he joined the DFL. Today’s announcement is an extension of that long-term relationship.

Fortnite just officially became a high school and college sport

By Jordan Crook

Fortnite, one of the world’s most popular games, will now be an official high school sport and college sport thanks to an LA-based startup called PlayVS .

The company has partnered with Epic Games to bring competitive league play to the collegiate and high school level. This also marks PlayVS’s entry into colleges and universities.

PlayVS launched in April of 2018 with a mission of bringing esports to high school, with a league akin to traditional sports like basketball or football. Though a partnership with the NFHS, high schools (or parents, or the students themselves) can pay $64/player to be placed in a league to compete with neighboring schools, just like any other sport.

But PlayVS partnerships go deeper than the NFHS (the NCAA of high school sports), as the company is also partnering with the publishers themselves. This is the part that puts PlayVS a step ahead of its competition, according to founder Delane Parnell .

While other companies are setting up paid competitive leagues around video games, very few if any have partnerships at the publisher level. This means that those startups could be shut down on a whim by the publishers themselves, who own the IP of the game.

PlayVS is the first to score such a partnership with Epic Games, the maker of the world’s most popular video game.

These publisher partnerships also allow PlayVS to productize the experience in a way that requires almost no lift for schools and organizations. Players simply sign into PlayVS and get dropped into their scheduled match. At the end, PlayVS pulls stats and insights directly from the match, which can be made available to the players, coaches, fans and even recruiters.

For PlayVS, the college landscape presents a new challenge. With high school expansion, the NFHS fueled fast and expansive growth. Since launch, more than 13,000 high schools have joined the waitlist to get a varsity esports team through PlayVS, which represents 68% of the country. PlayVS says that just over 14,000 high schools in the United States have a football program, to give you a comparison.

The NFHS has a relationship with the NCAA, but no such official partnership has been signed, meaning that PlayVS has to go directly to individual colleges to pitch their technology. Luckily, they’re going in armed with the most popular game in the world, and at a time when many colleges are looking to incorporate esports scholarships and programs.

And it doesn’t hurt that PlayVS has quite a bit of cash in the bank — the company has raised $96 million since launch.

Unlike the rest of the PlayVS titles, the first season of Fortnite competition will be free to registered users, courtesy of the partnership with Epic Games. Registration for the first seasons closes on February 17 for high schools, and February 24 for colleges and universities. The season officially kicks off on March 2.

The format for competition will be Duos, and organizations can submit as many teams of two as they like. The top teams will be invited to the playoffs with a chance to win a spot in the championship in May.

Where FaZe Clan sees the future of gaming and entertainment

By Jonathan Shieber

Lee Trink has spent nearly his entire career in the entertainment business. The former president of Capitol Records is now the head of FaZe Clan, an esports juggernaut that is one of the most recognizable names in the wildly popular phenomenon of competitive gaming.

Trink sees FaZe Clan as the voice of a new generation of consumers who are finding their voice and their identity through gaming — and it’s a voice that’s increasingly speaking volumes in the entertainment industry through a clutch of competitive esports teams, a clothing and lifestyle brand and a network of creators who feed the appetites of millions of young gamers.

As the company struggles with a lawsuit brought by one of its most famous players, Trink is looking to the future — and setting his sights on new markets and new games as he consolidates FaZe Clan’s role as the voice of a new generation.

“The teams and social media output that we create is all marketing,” he says. “It’s not that we have an overall marketing strategy that we then populate with all of these opportunities. We’re not maximizing all of our brands.”

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