Facebook is determined to become the next big platform for broadcasting esports, today announcing another exclusive partnership with a popular competitive title.
Hi-Rez Studios and the World Esports Association is launching the Paladins Premier League this autumn and will broadcast all league content solely through Facebook Live. It follows the $350,000 Paladins Global Series announced in July.
The deal comes after similar partnerships where Facebook has secured 5,500 hours of ESL's tournament coverage, 1,000 hours of Wargaming's esports content, and four monthly broadcasts from PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds.
It's a remarkable start given that Facebook's esports entrance only began last year with MLG streaming and the tech to enable people to stream from their PC/laptop to Facebook profiles went live in March. Leo Olebe, director of global gaming partnerships, says this is just the beginning.
"We're all in," he tells GamesIndustry.biz. "We're putting all of our cards, all of our chips on the table. We fundamentally believe that games are an incredible way to connect people to each other and videos are an incredible way to do that too. With our understanding of those two concepts, we're going to invest and invest. Some things will work, some things won't."
Hi-Rez cites various reasons for partnering with Facebook rather than a platform more attuned to video games content - Twitch being the obvious alternative.
For one thing, the Paladins Premier League and Global Series essentially arose from the studio's discovery that members of its 15m-strong community were using Facebook to form teams and arrange matches - something the developer now assists with via an official Paladins Facebook Group. For another, Hi-Rez points to the "tremendous reach" of Facebook.
"It's really not comparable [to anything else]," co-founder and COO Todd Harris tells us. "It's also very global, and Paladins is a very global game. We've seen the Facebook statement and actions around enabling communities and powering video - both of those concepts are forged into our DNA. That's the way we think about marketing our games. Having a partner that shares that gives us optimism."
Olebe is also quick to stress that while Facebook is an all-encompassing social network rather than one designed specifically for fans of video games, the active audience that uses its platform to share gaming interests is, to say the least, extensive.
"We're putting all of our cards, all of our chips on the table. We fundamentally believe that games are an incredible way to connect people"Leo Olebe, Facebook
"We have 800m connected Facebook gamers every month," he says. "The scale is there, so through great partnerships like this one we can help gamers find each other, create meaningful connections and provide a great experience for [games like] Paladins.
"The volume is there, the passion is there, the people are the. Gamers are on Facebook, there's a hell of a lot of gamers on Facebook and they're having a good time. There are so many gamers active in groups that we don't even know about... so it's a real opportunity. If anything, the world just doesn't know exactly how many core gamers are out there. We just know they're all there. We just love to do great stuff for gamers. It's great fun for us."
Harris cites Paladins as an example of studios can create "comprehensive esports ecosystems" on one site. Players can use Facebook Groups to find fellow fans, form teams that can compete in the Paladins Global Systems, broadcast their matches and through doing so potentially be discovered by one of the Premier League teams.
"It's a pretty comprehensive vision and we need a pretty comprehensive platform to accomplish it," he says.
Patrick Chapman, esports and gaming partnerships manager at Facebook, is particularly keen to explore the possibilities afforded by live tournament coverage and the ways in which the players themselves can help to spread that content.
"It's the equivalent of Manchester United having a game broadcast on NBC Sports but Wayne Rooney is also broadcasting it from his Facebook page"Patrick Chapman, Facebook
"What gets me very excited about publishing content and broadcasting esports on Facebook is the ability to use every participant in an esports event as a distribution channel for that media, using the power of sharing and the ability to use a new publishing product that we call cross-posted video," he says.
"It's the equivalent of Manchester United having a game broadcast on NBC Sports but Wayne Rooney is also broadcasting it from his Facebook page. It's a very powerful distribution mechanism."
The exclusive broadcast partnership also ties in with Facebook's wider strategy of hosting more gaming video content, whether that's esports competitions, content by YouTube-style influencers, or even trailers and interviews posted directly by developers and publishers.
"When people have the opportunity to share experiences through video, they're more connected, they're more engaged, they in turn are going to share more and build even better communities. As a company, we changed our overall mission to give people the opportunity to build better communities and bring the world closer together."
"At Facebook, we always talk about building amazing things first and then figure out how to turn it into something economically viable at the end of the road"Leo Olebe, Facebook
Olebe also stresses that Facebook's entry into the esports space is not commercially driven - at least, not yet.
"Yes, we have an amazing ads business and all of these incredible things happening around Facebook, but we approach the challenge of building incredible communities around games extraordinarily altruistically," he says.
"We're building great video technology, entering as many amazing partnerships as we possibly can, and we're looking to see what really works on the platform and then we'll lean into it. We're invested because we want to give gamers an incredible experience and help them build communities."
And Facebook is on the hunt for more. The firm had a strong presence at Gamescom last month, no doubt reaching out to more developers and publishers to arrange similar partnerships, and it's keen to find the next game that its users love to watch.
"It's got to be a great game," Olebe says. "Something that everyone's going to fall in love with, that 15m people are already playing. If you don't have a great game experience to begin with, you can't force anything from that moment on.
"We're looking for great developers. There needs to be a willingness to think deeply about where can this stuff go. This isn't a partnership where we're focusing only on today. We're thinking about new technology, new ideas, and the opportunity to get feedback from the Hi-Rez team about what we do well and what we could work on. That's invaluable, priceless to us.
"At Facebook, we always talk about building amazing things first and then figure out how to turn it into something economically viable at the end of the road."