ESports – the multi million pound industry that shows no sign of slowing down

When some of Europe’s biggest soccer clubs become involved, it’s a sure sign that there is money to be made. Soccer’s voracious appetite for money is legendary and when it comes to exploiting market segments, few sporting organisations are better than soccer clubs.

Paris St Germain, Santos, Manchester City, West Ham United, Ajax, Besiktas and Schalke are just some of the clubs involved. When leagues begin partnerships, it’s a sign of more investment to come.

City signed their first eSports player others are ahead of that curve. For the clubs, it’s all about brand exposure. Tara Warren, executive director of communications at West Ham, explained that digital and tech are the club’s priorities as far as brand awareness is concerned. eSports and the professional game enjoy a symbiotic relationship.

So too do other sports and the burgeoning eSports, which is of little surprise when the market is estimated by some analysts to be worth $1bn in 2018. Global sport finance specialists, Deloitte, offers more caution, predicting significant – but smaller – growth, a point with which the Financial Times agrees.

It’s clear that some areas of eSports are more established than others. While the winners of the Interactive FIFA World Cup receive £20,000, the winning team at the International Dota 2 Championships get £6.7m. To put it into context, the winner of the Men’s Singles at Wimbledon 2017 will walk away with a cheque for £2.2m. According to the BBC, the total prize money won globally in 2016 was a staggering $93.3m.

Premier League involvement may see the FIFA money increase; 600m players worldwide mean that each year’s new version of the game pulls in more money than the previous edition.

And if you’re still not convinced eSports is the real deal, consider this. An ESL Gaming initiative, in co-operation with NADA and working toward WADA recognition, is to outlaw the use of Performance Enhancing Drugs (PED) which blight other sports. eSports has arrived.

Taking Advantage Of The Tools To Hand

All this from humble beginnings when groups of players met at conventions for multi-player tournaments. Now, most online bookmakers offer a full market on events, while Betway Sports made the headlines last year when they became lead sponsor of Ninjas in Pyjamas, one of the world’s most famous eSports teams.

Despite the money involved, there’s still a perception in the wider world, that eSports is a fad, a new toy whose novelty will soon wear off. Nothing could be further from the truth; eSports will evolve in the same way other professional sports did.

It wasn’t until the mid-1980s that the UK bought into American football. Since then, it has grown through a path of two steps forward, one back. Now more popular than ever, the Super Bowl is becoming an ‘event’ in its own right in these green and pleasant lands.

eSports is unlikely to follow a similar trajectory. It’s very nature puts it front and centre of the technological world we live in today. Any advancements are likely to pull eSports along with them, giving it an immediate advantage on those which went before.

There’s little sign of the growth stalling. It may slow down in coming years but with studios producing games deliberately designed for the eSports, as well as the domestic markets, the signs are that there is much more to come.

Perhaps the biggest danger is the internal perception. With prize money commanding staggering sums, there is bound to be a schism at some point. Those who want the ‘purity’ of their eSports retained will reach a point where the mainstream popularity is too much for them. A bit like fans of a band who after years of working the club circuit make it big but some resent their ‘precious’ being popular.

The Future’s Bright, The Future’s Unlimited

That won’t matter much in the overall scheme of things. As eSports gains in popularity and the additions outweigh the churn of players, there is no problem. BI Intelligence reported that 300m people “tune in” to eSports today, with projects of 500m by 2020. With that kind of reach, the cliff edge seems some way off.

It’s important to remember that as an industry, professional eSports is less than a decade old. Amateur level occupies the same level as Comicon, where the participants are viewed as obsessives. Professionalism confers a different status and in a young industry, there are still plenty of revenue streams to exploit.

Indeed, there are more games to exploit. The genres may be well defined but the games themselves are limited by technology and human imagination. So long as the studios come up with original ideas, as well as iterations of games which capture the imagination of the players, there is a market for eSports.

Theatre Review “Million Dollar Quartet” Kansas City, Missouri

“Million Dollar Quartet”
Starlight Theater
Kansas City, Missouri
May 22, 2015

Our score: 4.5 out of 5 stars

On December 4, 1956 the stars aligned as they never would again. That day, Carl Perkins and his band walked into Sun Records, located at 706 Union Avenue in Memphis, Tennessee, with the intent on recording a new hit. Carl’s choice of song was a rocking version of a song called “Matchbox.” Sun’s owner, Sam Phillips, had his latest act, a young boy named Jerry Lee Lewis, sit in to play piano during the session. Later that day, Johnny Cash rolled in to see Perkins (though in his autobiography Cash maintains that he was the first one there that day). Even later, the studio is graced by Elvis Presley and his current girl. As the musicians relaxed they began what turned into a (46) song jam session. Rumor is that Phillips called a friend at the newspaper, who came by and captured a legendary photo of the session. The next day that photo appeared in the paper, dubbing the boys the “Million Dollar Quartet.”

Heavy on classic songs and buoyed by the energy of it’s cast, the current touring production of “Million Dollar Quartet,” which played at Starlight this weekend, is a show that will have you out of your seats and into your dancing shoes. The enthusiasm is brought on by the strong performances of the cast. As Carl Perkins, Gabe Bowling carries the bulk of the musical load, with his outstanding guitar playing and vocals. He gives Perkins a small chip on his shoulder, one brought about by Presley having sung “Blue Suede Shoes” (which Perkins wrote and which was his first big hit) on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” Scott Moreau does a fine job mimicking Johnny Cash’s musical style, though his vocals seemed uneven on some spots. As Presley, young Jacob Rowley nails the King’s vocals and mannerisms perfectly. I was shocked to learn that he is only 19 years old. For someone who wasn’t born until almost two decades after Presley passed, his performance was amazing. The highlight performance, for me, Colte Julian as the precocious Jerry Lee Lewis. Playing the piano in Lewis’ patented “let it all hang out” style, Julian hit all the right notes, both musically and with a great sense of humor. In a non-musical role, Bryan Langlitz, as Sam Phillips, keeps the show moving through his narration.

Where as a lot of the music sung during the original get together was Gospel (both Presley and Cash were very spiritual and released several successful albums in their career) the show is made up of familiar songs from all of the artists. That the music is being played live (all of the performers play their own instruments) makes the show even more exciting. The backing band (stand up bass player Chuck Zayas and drummer Patrick Morrow) keep the beat moving throughout. If you’re in the mood for some good, old-fashioned rock and roll, I urge you take in the “Million Dollar Quartet.”

The show heads to Tulsa, Oklahoma for shows beginning on May 26th and then continues throughout the summer. For more information head to http://milliondollarquartetlive.com/tour-info.html

Blu-ray Review “A Million Ways to Die in the West”

Starring: Seth MacFarlane, Charlize Theron, Amanda Seyfried, Liam Neeson, Neil Patrick Harris, Giovanni Ribisi
Director: Seth MacFarlane
Rated: Unrated
Studio: Universal Studios
Release Date: October 7, 2014
Run Time: 116 minutes

Film: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Blu-ray: 4 out of 5 stars
Extras: 2.5 out of 5 stars

“Ted” is a very funny film and a real tough act to follow for Seth MacFarlane. “A Million Ways to Die in the West” tries its best and really succeeds. The film is also a Western, so right off the bat, that is a really hard act to sell. The film is funny as hell and also extremely raunchy. My only issue is that it is falls into the category of running about 30 minutes too long. It features an amazing cast including Seth MacFarlane himself along with Charlize Theron, Liam Neeson, Amanda Seyfried, Giovanni Ribisi, Sarah Silverman and Neil Patrick Harris. Honestly, I enjoyed the second viewing is more enjoyable. I recommend this for some great laughs.

Official Premise: Seth MacFarlane directs, produces, co-writes and plays the role of the cowardly sheep farmer Albert in A Million Ways to Die in the West. After Albert backs out of a gunfight, his fickle girlfriend leaves him for another man. When a mysterious and beautiful woman rides into town, she helps him find his courage and they begin to fall in love. But when her husband, a notorious outlaw, arrives seeking revenge, the farmer must put his newfound courage to the test.

“A Million Ways to Die in the West” comes in a great Blu-ray from Universal. The 1080p transfer in 2.40:1 looks amazing. The location outdoor shots are gorgeous and totally unexpected from this film. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is also great and delivers well on Joel McNeely, perfectly themed Western score. The special features are nothing special. There are commentary tracks on both cuts with Director/Producer/Co-Writer Seth MacFarlane, Co-Writers and Executive Producers Alec Sulkin & Wellesley Wild and Star Charlize Theron. This is worth checking out if you enjoyed the film.

There is an Alternate Opening and Alternate Ending, along with about 10 minutes of Deleted / Extended / Alternate Scenes and a Gag Reel.  There is a basic EPK making of look with “Once Upon a Time, in a Different West” with package’s EPK, with some fun behind the scenes footage and interviews. The Blu-ray also includes an Extended cut of the film which runs about 2 hours and 15 minutes but honestly, it is way too long. I love comedies but they honestly need to be around 90 minutes.

Film Review #2 “A Million Ways to Die in the West”

Starring: Seth MacFarlane, Charlize Theron and Liam Neeson
Directed By: Seth MacFarlane
Rated: R
Running Time: 116 minutes
Universal Pictures

Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars

There are actually some lofty expectations for “A Million Ways to Die in the West”. Weird, right? Two summers ago Seth MacFarlane put out the comedy sleeper hit, “Ted”. It combined his “Family Guy” style of random, filthy humor with the likeable personas of Mila Kunis and Mark Wahlberg coping with the next step of their relationship. Once again MacFarlane throws everything and the kitchen sink from his bag of humor in the hopes of pulling a throaty laugh from his audience and for the most part he succeeds. “A Million Ways to Die in the West” also stirs up a worthy farce of Western movies.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves and hail the second coming of “Blazing Saddles”. MacFarlane is the lead, which deters him from drawing some of the biggest laughs in the movie. As Albert, a spineless sheep farmer, he does have some very good quips, but the supporting cast padding is what makes “A Million Ways to Die in the West” a comedy gem. Friends of Albert, Edward (Giovanni Ribisi) and Ruth (Sarah Silverman), are a Christian couple who are waiting until marriage to make love; which is constantly complicated by the fact that Ruth is a prostitute with customers who continuously find more unique ways and inopportune times to tell her to get upstairs and bang them. Louise (Amanda Seyfried) is Albert’s ex-girlfriend who is the butt of jokes, but is now dating the master of mustaches, Foy (Neil Patrick Harris). NPH is an absolute pleasure in every scene, selling every moment more than anyone else in this movie.

Then there’s the warm and beautiful Anna (Theron). A smart, quick trigger gal who finds her way into Albert’s slice of hell town called Old Stump. Upon meeting and slowly falling for each other, she fails to mention to Albert that her husband, Clinch (Neeson), is one of the most dangerous and deadly outlaws in the west that has a sadistic code of ethics when choosing who to kill. Anna and Albert complement each other with their smartass remarks and craving to be with someone who appreciates them for who they are. MacFarlane and Theron sport some decent on-screen chemistry which probably comes as a shock for the thousands who were up in arms over MacFarlane’s “We Saw Your Boobs” at the 2013 Oscars.

The characters in this movie have an odd, child-like approach to plenty of crudeness which makes it all the more humorous and ridiculous. Comedic scenarios feature a combination of sight gags, one-liners and a visually gross punctuation. Also slip in the unnecessary violent death to further accent the title of the movie. With such a palette of absurd and juvenile humor, there’s something for everyone in this rapid fire executions of jokes, at least anyone who isn’t afraid of a little inappropriate, sexual and racial provocation. Some of my more favorite scenes feature a hyper violent bar fight and the interactions between Albert and his aging father who speaks his emotions through expletive hyperboles.

While “Ted” was a perfect blend, cast-wise, “A Million Ways to Die in the West” feels incomplete. The lengthy running time starts to show as we continue to wait for the climactic showdown between Albert and Clinch. Also I can’t quite heap on the same amount of praise to MacFarlane that everyone else got. He isn’t admirable enough to be the improbable hero. He has a low level of smugness that ruins the high octane levels of every-guy so we don’t quite see him as amiable. NPH would have been miles better in the lead role and it’s a puzzle as to why no one pointed this out to MacFarlane when the script was being read. Regardless, “A Million Ways to Die in the West” is the comedy to beat so far this summer.

Film Review “A Million Ways to Die in the West”

Directed by: Seth MacFarlane
Starring: Seth MacFarlane, Charlize Theron, Amanda Seyfried, Neil Patrick Harris, Giovanni Ribisi, Sarah Silverman, Liam Neeson
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 116 minutes

Our Score: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Seth MacFarlane is easily one of the best comedic minds in the business right now. He has taken over the animation world with his shows “Family Guy” and “American Dad” and recently crossed over into film with the huge summer hit “Ted”. “Ted” was a great film that had a heart and yet was still extremely raunchy and also very funny. “A Million Ways to Die in the West” really had some big expectation shoes to fill. Fans are going to be looking for more of what “Ted” delivered and in my eyes it delivers that and more. When I saw the trailer for “A Million Ways to Die in the West”, I just knew I was going to love it. One of the problems I had with the film was that it shows quite a bit of its key jokes in the trailer. There is still much more fun to be had but I would imagine that people that haven’t seen many of the trailers will enjoy this a bit more. Nonetheless, I was hollering out loud for this film and I wasn’t alone either, if people compare this to “Ted”, they are going to be disappointed because they are two very different films but if you look as a stand alone you will have a blast watching “A Million Ways to Die in the West”.

Our story takes place in a small Frontier town called Old Stump in the year 1882. We meet Albert Stark (Seth MacFarlane), who is a sheep farmer that loses his beautiful girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried) due to not having enough courage to face a gun duel. While Albert tries to win her back he ends up meeting a newcomer to the town named Anna (Charlize Theron) and the two hit it off. She helps Albert discovers his missing confidence and courage. After spending time with each other they seem to develop feeling for each other but Anna doesn’t let Albert in on the fact that she is the wife to the infamous outlaw Clinch Leatherwood (Liam Neeson). When Clinch arrives in the town, he is looking to call out the man that wooed his wife and it is up to Albert to stand up to him.

I think we have to blame Judd Apatow for running the comedy genre since I feel that he set the path for 2+ hour comedies. I feel that all comedies work best when short and to the punchline. 90 minutes, tops, is what a comedy should be. This film nears the two hour mark and could have easily been trimmed to be much tighter. “Ted” was the same way as well, the film was great in a whole but there were certain parts that dragged major ass, same happens here. You got to give it to MacFarlane though because this is his first film with him in the spotlight, in the leading role, and not hiding behind a voice role. I felt that he really nailed it. He turned out to be a great leading man. I thought he still had great comedic timing and really nailed his jokes. I hope he plans to act more in the future for sure. Charlize Theron was also a nice surprise, I haven’t been a huge fan of her recently but this film really gives her a chance to let loose and have some fun and her performance benefits from it. I like to think that every role can’t be a Oscar winner.

To be completely honest, the rest of the supporting cast including Amanda Seyfried, Neil Patrick Harris, Giovanni Ribisi, Sarah Silverman and Liam Neeson are really just background in the film and don’t contribute anything major to the film. NPH is always a riot an,d of course, he sings and dances in this film. I still can’t get that mustache song out of my head. There are also a handful of super quick cameos throughout the film including Alex Borstein, Ralph Garman, Gilbert Gottfried, Ewan McGregor, Ryan Reynolds, John Michael Higgins, Jamie Foxx and Bill Maher. So see if you can catch them on the screen because they are there and gone before you know it. Great Scott, I almost forgot keep an eye out for the great Christopher Lloyd, who pops in for a great cameo as well.

When it comes to Western films, they are a honestly just a hard genre to pull off. People usually don’t come out in droves to see film’s like this but MacFarlance has the balls to try and essentially nail it. I couldn’t help but compare “A Million Ways to Die in the West” to the classic Mel Brooks film “Blazing Saddles”. That film is celebrating it’s 40th anniversary this year and I remember the first time that my father watched it with me. This film reminded me a lot of what that film and what it would have been like if it was made today. This is raunchy, racist, over-the-top and generally offensive. There plenty of foul language, fart jokes and animals getting knocked over. I would be curious to hear Mel Brooks’ comments on the film as well. The locations where this film was shot were also absolutely amazing. Having this be a comedy, you don’t expect amazing visuals but this one really caught my eye and delivered a nice view of the Frontier. This might not be the best comedy ever but I definitely laughed more than not and definitely will be recommending this film!

Film Review “Million Dollar Arm”

Starring: Jon Hamm, Aasif Mandvi and Alan Arkin
Directed by: Craig Gillespie
Rated: PG
Running time: 2 hours 4 mins
Walt Disney Pictures

Our Score: 4.5 out of 5 stars

In 2008, sports agent J.B. Bernstein, struggling to keep his firm afloat, devised an idea that, he proposed, would bring “a billion, with a ‘B’” fans to the game of baseball. Inspired by watching a few games of cricket, Bernstein (Hamm) proposes a competition known as “Million Dollar Arm.” To those who participate, the two that can throw a baseball the fastest wins a chance to come to America and be signed by major league scouts. Of course, things aren’t as easy as they sound.

Based on a true story, “Million Dollar Arm” is an uplifting and inspirational tale that invites the audience to put themselves in the culture of another person. When Rinku (Suraj Sharma, the young man from “Life of Pi) and Dinesh (Madhur Mittal from “Slum Dog Millionaire”) impress J.B. enough to warrant a trip to the states, the two must adapt to an entirely new way of life.

First all, it’s so nice to see Jon Hamm on the big screen. I’ve enjoyed his work for a couple of years and he’s never disappointed. Here he reveals the smooth talking J.B. to be much more than the slick hustler others think him to be. The two young actors who portray the “winners” are equally good. Lake Bell has a nice turn as J.B.’s rental tenant. But the prize here goes to Indian actor Pitobash. As the boy’s interpreter and all around baseball guru, he gives a portrayal the glows with enthusiasm. As the boys learn the game, fueled by Power Bars and pizza, their culture is almost lost. The Indian actors are well cast and the audience is made to feel what they feel. Only a short period where the film becomes “Jerry McGuire” slows the story down. That and the fact that the boys always seem to be throwing from the “stretch.” If they went into the windup they’d add a few MPH to their velocity. Just saying.