“Welcome back to the Xfinity desk.”
The lights and cameras illuminate the panel of commentators sitting behind a table with an Xfinity logo on the side. The audience cheers as the cameras pan toward the Xfinity post-match show. While the stream and the fans watch the analysis and highlights, the true star is the collaboration between mainstream media and esports.
During the Halo World Championships 2017, the partnership between Electronic Sports League (ESL), Comcast (Xfinity) and Evil Geniuses (EG) was spotted in very subtle places—a post-game segment, a sponsored analytic table, and an Xfinity player’s section. Although these additions were small, the true positives from this alliance were gigantic. Matt Lederer, the Executive Director, Sports Brand Strategy for Comcast Cable, understood the necessity behind partnering up with two of the biggest names in esports. It wasn’t good enough to just jump into a brand-new space if success wasn’t immediate.
“We consider esports a sport and looked into it holistically,” Lederer said. “We wanted to cover all platforms with this and that meant ESL and EG. EG represented passion and a team element that also used our products at the team houses. ESL was a wider portfolio of esports teams, games, and leagues. ESL provided on-site access, branding opportunities, and eyeballs on the product.”
The product in question is Xfinity’s high-speed internet. The dive into esports makes sense for a company that specializes in both the internet and an online network. ESL’s wide variety of games and leagues allow Xfinity an immediate impact in exposure, while EG provides the company with a recognizable esports team to back. For Xfinity, it makes perfect sense to blend the two together. But, for the casual audience, it can be interpreted as a negative. Both ESL and EG’s grassroots and player-first approach may be jeopardized by a large corporation. Ryan James Towey, the EG’s Halo division manager and former professional Halo player, experienced first-hand just how wrong that impression was. Towey’s scope with EG is with the player and talent’s perspective in mind.
“It’s been incredible for us,” Towey said. “It’s been a dream come true to work with such a prestigious brand like Xfinity. They have a faith with the organization and support for the infrastructure within EG. I couldn’t be more impressed and excited for the future with the partnership with Xfinity.
“The training facility has multi-gig internet with some of the fastest speeds anywhere. Their speeds were comparable with the speeds I used when I was a high-frequency trader in Chicago. The renovations and the personal customization was made for the gamers themselves (specific heights, table weights, equipment provided, etc.).”
Xfinity renovated and customized EG’s training houses in Chicago and San Francisco. In addition to formatting each room with its latest internet services, the company made sure to furnish the house with custom-made furniture for each player’s specification. It’s the attention to detail that impressed both Towey and EG the most.
ESL was already familiar with EG with its numerous partnerships in tournaments and leagues. The Halo World Championships was a nostalgic combination for both companies. Both were involved with the other since the Pro League for Halo and during Microsoft’s involvement during the Halo 2: Anniversary Edition days. The familiarity of the two companies made this partnership easier; there was a respectability and preference to work with each other between ESL and EG. What grew from cordial beginnings became a professional relationship that could be used as a blueprint for future connections. Paul Brewer, Vice President, Global Partnerships, Turtle Entertainment, America (ESL) made it clear that the company wanted to be associated with sophisticated blue-chip brands if the fit was as snug as EG.
“Xfinity wanted to establish itself as an internet service provider in the esports space,” Brewer said. “It’s important to be the first brand for the ecosystem and Xfinity is in there early, establishing itself as a crucial piece. Xfinity is making a case study for large endemic brands in esports—breaking barriers. I’m surprised with how open and willing Xfinity was with the partnerships and accepting advice. It helped establish them the right way.”
The negatives with a big-time company is whether or not it’s purely a money grab, and if they’ll try to change the culture and nature of the sport. With Xfinity, the consensus with its partners was unanimous—it was authentic. Xfinity left an open passage to both ESL and EG for conversation and adjustment on all decisions. In addition to being a presence in tournaments like the Halo World Championships, the company’s reach spread to conventions like PAX East and larger tournament experiences like IEM Oakland 2016. When explaining how Xfinity won over the respect of often skeptical esports players, Towey emphasized that it was the company’s “attention to detail.”
“I can tell that they are very committed with growing the platform of esports,” Towey said. “They wanted to hear our ideas for growth and content creation. They’re not satisfied with being like every other involved big brand. What we do is at the core of the Xfinity service. We are the team that uses the technology and creates high-quality content to keep in tune with the audience.”
It’s not a negative. With more investment to esports, there will be more benefit to the ecosystem. The overall reach for audiences makes sense to market these kind of groups,” Brewer said. “The biggest positives is the expansion of audience due to Xfinity’s cross-promotional reach. Through the market sophistication of Xfinity’s many partnerships ESL’s brand awareness will only increase.”
In the future, events like the Halo World Championships will continue to exist. More companies will want to stake their claim in esports. This one company is already here now, though, and as Lederer tells it, they have more invested than just money.
“A lot of our employees are hardcore gamers. Our employees knew our product and the interest was off the charts. It was the most interaction out of all our partnerships,” Lederer said. “When you see brands, big spenders, it provides legitimacy. The passion from esports mimics sports and this sport has a young and passionate audience. We’re coming in an authentic manner.”
Timothy Lee is a content writer and reporter that specializes in esports event coverage and feature writing. He’s been published on ESPN Esports, Kotaku and IGN. You can find his rants about the latest fighting game tournament or sporting event on Twitter @SHBL_Tim.