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Major Changes For Valve’s Major

On Tuesday we will see a major sporting event kick off in Ohio, with hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of people watching online. No, it’s not MLB opening day or the Columbus Crew (but has a soccer fan, I would love to see a crowd of that size for a domestic game). No, I’m talking about the first ever Valve-sponsored Major for Counter-Strike:Global Offensive here in the United States, Major League Gaming’s Championship: Columbus.

While not the first Major, it’s the first one held in the States — all previous Majors have been held in Europe. The location isn’t the only notable change to the Major, as this also represents a record of four teams from the North American region qualifying, though a team from Europe — in particular, Fnatic — seem likely to take the championship. In addition to the solid North American representation in Columbus, Brazil is represented in team Luminosity Gaming, and if any team could challenge the EU region heavyweights, it might be LG. On top of the diverse lineup, the prize pool has been quadrupled from a notable $250,000 in previous Majors to an impressive $1,000,000 up for grabs, with $500,000 going to the first place team. Beyond the massive increase in the cash, Valve has also made changes to the gameplay, specifically the clock, and it is something that could play a role — for better or worse — in the upcoming matches.

While the nature of CS:GO is quite different than any traditional sport, the teams of five simultaneously playing offense and defense lend at least a quick comparison to basketball. Rather than outscoring the enemy team when the game clock reads 0:00, CS:GO instead is a race to be the first side to win 16 rounds. A maximum of 15 rounds per half will be played, so one could consider it a best of 30, in a manner of speaking. The first half consists of the Counter-Terrorists (CT) side defending two bomb sites while the Terrorists (T) attacks and attempts to plant a bomb. CTs can win by

A. Holding both sites for the full 1:55 each round (an uncommon way to win)
B. Eliminating the T’s before they can plant the bomb at one of the sites
C. Defusing the bomb once it has been planted

While that’s the quick and dirty comparison, Valve — developers and sponsors of this Major — have decided to toy with what effectively is the “shot clock” in CS:GO. For years and years, heck, even since I played Counter-Strike 1.5 and 1.6, the universal standard* for each individual round was 1:45, or if the bomb was planted, a 35 second timer would begin. Last December, Valve implemented a significant change, shifting to the longer, previously mentioned 1:55 round and increasing the bomb detonation timer from 35 to 40 seconds. The key thing is that neither planting the bomb nor defusing is instantaneous. It takes approximately three seconds for the T side to plant the bomb, and for the CT side, defusing it varies based on whether or not the CT purchases a defuse kit. Without the kit, it’s a full 10-second defuse but with the kit it’s cut in half to five seconds.

*Valve had a 45-second bomb timer in their official matchmaking until the December change, however this article is aiming to address competitive play.

While leagues such as ESL/ESEA Pro League have adopted the longer round time and 40-second bomb detonation time as have DreamHack tournaments, the change could absolutely affect rounds and thus matches. For example, imagine if the NBA changed a similar 10-percent increase in the shot clock, rather than 24 seconds it would get bumped to 26.4 seconds. Or overall game length from four 12-minute quarters to four 13:15 quarters. It isn’t hard to see just how drastically this would change things like player substitutions, shot selection, timeout usage and team fouls. Just like basketball, CS:GO is heavily reliant on the clock to force action. By changing what forces the action, I would argue the game has been changed as well.

Rather than worry about player substitutions or shot selection like in basketball, the thing being juggled — especially on the CT side of things — in CS:GO is the in-game economy. Instead of needing to purchase a defuse kit, now the CTs can opt to spend that cash elsewhere, be it an upgraded weapon, grenade, body armor etc., and still have what almost equals the same amount of time. By choosing to not purchase a kit, there is no real difference between a full 10-second defuse on the 40-second bomb timer versus buying a kit to cut the time in half to five seconds on a 35-second timer. The kit itself a relatively small price to pay, just $400 in-game dollars, yet that same amount of currency is the same as two flash bangs, one smoke or one high explosive grenade (with $100 left over). As one would suspect, this type of equipment can absolutely have a huge affect on how a round plays out as the longer bomb time opens up the CT arsenal considerably.

On top of the in-game currency falling under scrutiny, the million dollar prize pool is something to cover in detail as well. To be honest, the $1 million is technically correct for the tournament itself, but it fails to account for one thing: stickers. No, not actual, real life stickers, instead these stickers allow the purchaser to place the stickers on weapons if they so desire. The stickers cost just $0.99 with the money being split 50/50, half going to Valve and the other half to the teams.

teamstickers

For a glimpse of an older Cloud9 sticker, here is a screenshot of C9’s Jordan “n0thing” Gilbert in action in the MLG Columbus Qualifiers. The full highlight video can be found on Cloud9’s YouTube page.

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Count on yours truly among those watching the streams as 16 teams representing 18 countries decide who will take home the title.

(Header image via MLG)

To Fill A Mocking Board

Spring training is happening in Florida and Arizona and as baseball players shake the rust of the off-season from themselves, so do fantasy baseball players. Fantasy drafts — be it snake or auction — will be happening soon (hopefully yours didn’t already occur!) and as such, some level of preparation would be expected. Believe it or not, there is more to fantasy baseball than mere spreadsheets, and I say that knowing full well it could cost me my job here!

The truth is perception, hype, momentum or whatever you’d like to call it can play a huge factor in determining where or for how much any given player goes for. One way of getting a firmer grip on the fantasy baseball community’s collective value on a player is to conduct a mock draft. There is no shortage of mock draft platforms around, but for the purposes of exposure to a great crowd, I’ll be overlooking the ESPN, Yahoo! and CBS mock draft capabilities. Instead we’ll be looking at some premium (read: paid membership required) websites, specifically Mock Draft Central, Couch Managers and RT Sports. And just to get in front of this, no, this isn’t a sponsored post, I promise! Now with any of these three websites you don’t need a paid membership to join a draft, but you may need one to create a custom draft.

Contestant No. 1
Mock Draft Central
Premium Options: $4.99 monthly (auto renew) OR $24.99 annually

If nothing else, MDC has an incredible pre-purchase walk-through and example of options. For example, if one opts to go for the annual package, you’re given just about any level of access that a commissioner would have in a real draft. That is to say moving picks, editing or fixing picks, etc. A full breakdown of the differences are listed in this helpful chart from MDC, though it should be noted the highlighted areas were my doing.
Note: Click to embiggen any picture in this piece.

MDC

The ability to join unlimited mock drafts is great, however one per day (for a maximum of three in a week) seems like more than enough, even for the most addicted fantasy baseball player around. MDC’s “Coach Karma” is basically a way of the site protecting their users from one another. For example if you join a mock draft, but fail to show up, leaving the other mock drafters to wait while your slot gets auto picked, you’ll lose Karma. Similarly, rudeness and other poor behavior can lower your Karma as more and more users report you. There is a threshold of low Karma that if reached, will not allow you to participate in a mock draft. So basically, just follow Wheaton’s Law and you won’t have to worry about your Coach Karma. I really like the user interface at MDC, something that can’t be overstated enough as it’s intuitive and straightforward. Mock Draft Central’s ADP is currently limited to the top-255 picks, though that number can float depending on the recent qualifying mocks.

Contestant No. 2
Couch Managers
Premium Options: $2.99 monthly (auto renew) OR $9.99 annually (auto renew)

My enthusiasm for the MDC user interface doesn’t carry over to CM here. Couch Managers, despite also color coordinating things similarly to MDC, just doesn’t have the same level of eye candy.

CM1

The notes section is helpful when typing on the fly, but for me, I have my spreadsheets open during the draft and can make notes or highlight things there. One thing I really enjoyed was the Good Pick/Bad Pick voting system on CM. Unfortunately during the draft you can’t see who voted for which pick, however after the draft is wrapped up there is a section to see the full break down with Good Pick votes on the left and Bad Pick votes in the right column. The ADP is limited to the top 265 picks at CM, similar to MDC where deep leagues or 14-teamers could be left out in the cold a bit.

CM2

For example, the picture above shows three Good Picks casted on the Marcus Stroman pick at 7.76 pick.

Contestant No. 3
RT Sports
Premium Options: N/A, it’s free, though regular season (non-mock draft) packages are available

Given I picked nits with the draft lobby from Couch Managers, I’ll do the same thing to RT Sports. I’d say that RT is even more boring and less visually appealing as it’s all white board with no color coded positions. The drafting itself is nice and safe in that you have to click the blue “+” sign either in your player queue or from the primary board, then click the blue draft button. Think of the “+” sign as a way to take a closer look at a player before immediately drafting them, and RT even calls the preview window.

RT

Unfortunately, along with their minimal design, RealTime Fantasy Sports also limits you to the standard 5×5 categories with no customization. That said, one of my favorite features RT Sports offers is probably the post-draft analysis. I drafted (first overall, of course) against a slate of bots and somehow didn’t manage to project to win the hitting categories, though the system loves my pitching staff.

RT1

There is a FAQ section for the numbers their projection system spits out, and I encourage you to check it out. I’ll leave the selling points of RT Sports to those lovely folks, but know that you can create mock drafts with a free, basic account, albeit only standard 5×5 format. For custom league settings, you will be required to upgrade. Really the biggest drawback to RT is probably their top-300 ADP is shown in PDF form, a sub-optimal viewing format if you’re attempting to export and compare ADP’s across different websites.

The Pick
It should be clear there are more mock draft platforms out there — many more — but I only felt comfortable discussing the ones I use semi-regularly to frequently. If I had to pick one, I like RT Sports the most, even accounting for their lack of customization. Second place would be Couch Managers, with Mock Draft Central coming in with the bronze placing.

Now, who’s up for a mock draft?

(Header image via my RT Sports post-draft board. Bots are mostly easy to pick against!)

TechGraphs News Roundup: 10/16/2015

The baseball playoffs have been narrowed to four teams, the number of undefeated college football teams continues to shrink every week and of course, this past week’s news cycle was filled with no shortage of information and rulings in the Daily Fantasy Sports market. Here are the stories we found interesting this week.

IBM’s supercomputer, Watson (of Jeopardy fame), could help optimize DFS lineups in the near future. TechInsider learned of an upcoming IBM partnership with baseball stat company Ariball where Watson will choose which players to own and which to avoid. Similarly, a generator is also in the works for fantasy football thanks to IBM teaming up with Edge Up Sports. Of course, with the FBI investigating the goings-on of both FanDuel and DraftKings, the Watson-chosen lineups may become irrelevant. The state of Nevada — where gambling is somewhat popular, so I’ve been told — just banned DFS as it was ruled “unlicensed gambling.

Soccer star Thierry Henry will be speaking at TechCrunch’s Disrupt London Conference. The all-time goal scoring leader at Arsenal as well as for the French National team, Henry’s long career has allowed him to see the development and growth of sports as technology allows. The event will be held December 7 and 8 and Henry, among other guests, will be speaking at the Copper Box Arena.

Many advanced technology has unlocked in the athletic world has come to benefit the players in the form of improved safety measures. One player, former Seattle Seahawk Michael Robinson, is helping develop a smart mouthpiece. Robinson is teaming up with SMRT Mouth to develop a biometric device to monitor a player’s hydration, respiration and perspiration levels. The former fullback still recalls losing one of his best friends to heat stroke back in high school, and is now setting out to prevent another tragic loss of life. From concussions to exhaustion and heat stroke, seeing former players step up to help current and future generations is grand.

As YouTube continues to wade into the live-streaming market of esports, they appear to be taking a cue or two from current industry leader Twitch.tv. YouTube recently launched their “$3.99 Sponsorship” option for streamers, identical in all but name and price to Twitch’s “$4.99 Subscription” option, where the respective amount is sent from the sponsor or subscriber to the streamer.

More esports investors are flocking to the digital realm as ESL, probably the largest Western esports organization, announced a multi-faceted partnership with data service provider Sportradar. ESL will give exclusive data to Sportradar, who will in turn provide analytics as well as fraud detection. With so much money — both hard currency and in-game items — on the line, match fixing is an issue in esports the same as it is in traditional sports.

While tracking digital property from esports is certainly a concern, so is the digital property of various sports leagues. Recently Deadspin’s Twitter account, along with Sports Blog Nation’s, was temporarily shut down due to a DMCA notice from the NFL. Deadspin and SBN were suspended from Twitter for a handful of hours. Those sites, like many other sites and people, use GIFS (or more accurately GIFV or HTML5 videos) to help convey points, show impressive plays or just have, you know, fun.

Hopefully this week’s TechGraphs News Roundup went well as I stepped in for it. I’d like to think it went better than Josh Lyman’s press briefing from The West Wing.

As always, be excellent to each other.

 

 


TechGraphs’ Monthly Streaming Device List — October 2015

Much like Futurama’s Lrrr (ruler of the planet Omicron Persei 8) in the episode When Aliens Attack, many are getting upset at their current television situation. At this point it isn’t just the millennial crowd versus traditional TV package customers. Certain companies who have helped bring cord cutting to the forefront of people’s minds are now splintering.

Recently Amazon, creators of the Fire Stick and Fire TV, announced they will no longer sell Google’s Chromecast or Apple’s AppleTV. Via Bloomberg, Amazon has not offered new listings for said devices nor will the online retailer continue sales of the Google or Apple products after October 29th. As the linked article notes, it is curious to see Roku among other stream devices, unaffected by these events. Both Google and Apple still have various options for purchasing in stores or online, but seeing the the streaming options battle each other rather than the likes of Comcast, Charter and AT&T et al is disappointing.

For now, the table below is as up-to-date as possible, though again, any Amazon price listed for Chromecast or AppleTV is a deal with an October 29 expiration date. I’ve also separated the table to separate apps based on cost, determined by whether they are a monthly recurring cost, one-time payment, free, or needing a cable subscription.

Streaming Devices
Box/Dongle Opening Price Point Recuring Cost Apps Notable Free Apps One-time Cost Apps Cable TV Subscription Required
Amazon Fire Stick $39.00 HBO Now, Hulu, Netflix, SlingTV, GaiamTV Twitch.tv, YouTube MLBtv, NBA League Pass, Amazon Video WatchESPN, Fox Sports Go
Amazon Fire TV $99.00 HBO Now, Hulu, Netflix, SlingTV, GaiamTV Twitch.tv, YouTube MLBtv, NBA League Pass, Amazon Prime WatchESPN, Fox Sports Go
AppleTV (Revision A) $73.28* HBO Now, Hulu, Netflix, SlingTV, GaiamTV CBS Sports, 120 Sports, Twitch.tv, YouTube NFL Game Pass, MLBtv, NBA League Pass, NHL Gamecenter, MLS Live, Amazon Prime, Fox Soccer 2Go HBO Go, Watch ESPN, Fox Sports Go, USA Now
Google Chromecast $35.00 HBO Now, Hulu, Netflix, SlingTV, GaiamTV 120 Sports, Twitch.tv, YouTube NFL Game Pass, HBO Go, NBA League Pass, NHL Gamecenter, Fox Sports Go, Fox Soccer 2Go, MLS Live HBO Go, Watch ESPN, Fox Sports Go
Google Nexus Player $49.99 HBO Now, Hulu, Netflix, SlingTV, GaiamTV 120 Sports, Twitch.tv, YouTube NFL Game Pass, HBO Go, NBA League Pass, NHL Gamecenter, Fox Sports Go, Fox Soccer 2Go, MLS Live HBO Go, Watch ESPN, Fox Sports Go
Microsoft Xbox One $349.99 HBO Now, Hulu, Netflix, SlingTV, GaiamTV 120 Sports, Twitch.tv, YouTube MLBtv, NFL Game Pass, NBA League Pass, NHL Gamecenter, ESL, Major League Gaming HBO Go, Watch ESPN, Fox Sports Go
Nvidia Shield $199.99 HBO Now, Hulu, Netflix, SlingTV Twitch.tv, YouTube MLBtv Fox Sports Go, Watch ESPN
Roku Stick $46.99* NFL Now, HBO Now, Hulu, Netflix, SlingTV, UFC TV Twitch.tv, YouTube, Vevo, PBS NFL Game Pass, MLBtv, MLS Live, NBA Game Pass, NHL Gamecenter NBC Sports Live Extra, Watch ESPN
Roku 3 Player $97.95* NFL Now, HBO Now, Hulu, Netflix, SlingTV, UFC TV Twitch.tv, YouTube, Vevo, PBS NFL Game Pass, MLBtv, MLS Live, NBA Game Pass, NHL Gamecenter NBC Sports Live Extra, Watch ESPN
Slingbox M1 $129.99* N/A N/A N/A Steam any currently subscribed channel
Sony Playstation 4 $399.00* HBO Now, Hulu, Netflix, SlingTV, GaiamTV YouTube, PlayStation F.C. MLBtv, NBA League Pass, NFL Sunday Ticket, NHL Gamecenter, Amazon Video HBO Go

*Limited to Amazon Prime members


Streamable Introduces Brand New Extension

We here at TechGraphs are pretty big fans of Streamable — one of the latest, and in my opinion best ways of sharing media clips, and they’ve just given us a reason to like them even more. Yesterday the company unrolled a new feature for Google Chrome users, an extension that allows users to clip video (and audio if so desired) directly from YouTube as well as Twitch.tv, and a number of smaller sites.

Being able to grab media files directly from Twitch.tv via a Chrome extension isn’t a particularly new option as Oddshot.tv has specialized in that area for months now, however support for web sites other than the esports-streaming site is a welcome sight. Unfortunately traditional sports sites haven’t caught on just yet — which should not surprise — however I’m looking forward to being able to grab a plate appearance or pitch sequence, or perhaps an incredible soccer cross and goal in near real-time.

The maximum length of the clip is 60 seconds, which is mostly enough time to capture whatever in-game moment you’re attempting to save. For the walk-through, I’ve grabbed a clip of my beloved A’s winning their 20th consecutive game, courtesy of MLB’s YouTube Channel. Before getting too far of ourselves, make sure to install the extension. It’s available for free at the Chrome Web Store and can be found by clicking here.

Once you’ve got it installed, make sure to see the Streamable icon/the infinity symbol. It will pop up on any page that is compatible with the extension, in this case the MLB channel.

streamable2

Now, after finding the clip you want — say, the glory days of seasons past — simply click on the Streamable icon and you’ll open a new page, specifically the editing page for Streamable.

streamable3

The extension allows users to re-name the clip (YouTube vids retain their name, but you can change it), crop, adjust the speed (as slow as x.50 or s fast as x2 with .25 increments) and to nail down a specific clip to one-tenth of a second of accuracy.

Note the picture below, at first glance it seems like I’m just ripping the clip, but I’ve cropped the black bars out of the original YouTube video and I’ve typed in exactly where in the video I want the clip to begin and end.

streamable4

Once the clip is finished, you’re given the direct URL or you can use an HTML embed code to share. Within the embed code options you can mute the clip, something I prefer doing because loud (not to mention auto-playing) clips are pretty terrible if you’re not expecting it. Don’t worry, muting the clip within the embed code doesn’t lose the audio. It’s just like a Vine or Instagram video where you can tap the speaker icon for the sound and full experience.

Armed with the perfect clip of the video, observe the final product:

Grab the extension and play around with it. You’ll be sharing priceless moments in non-terrible formats in no time.


DraftKings Joins The Esports Betting Ranks

DraftKings, the daily fantasy site that has saturated the TV airwaves with commercials lately, has just launched their newest wing: esports. As of right now their esports division consists solely of League of Legends matches, however I wouldn’t be surprised to see Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Dota 2 and more titles added. It should come as no surprise to see those three games be the most watched of August for Twitch.tv.

DraftKings isn’t considered gambling, but more of a skill game  — though Arizona, Iowa, Louisiana, Montana and Washington consider it online gambling and prevent their residents from playing it — and esports, the same as in in the traditional athletic world is unfortunately no stranger to gambling and match fixing. From bans in CS:GO due to match fixing last year to StarCraft banning numerous player in 2010 due to a network of match throwers, sadly once money gets involved, people tend to have their morals become a bit more flexible.

While DK may or may not be considered gambling, they are just the latest website to offer payouts based on investments. Ranging from websites such as CSGO Lounge to CSGO Loot, Gosu Gamers and plenty more, there is money to be made — or lost — by wagering your weapon or player “skins” depending on the game. They’re nothing more than digital pixels, but they carry real world monetary value, sometimes in excess of the tens of thousands of dollars.

In the Counter-Strike realm, the sponsoring of so-called gambling sites — not DraftKings, but the others — has been banned in ESEA, a top competitive league. Citing a conflict of interest, insider knowledge and general professionalism, ESEA is making a stand against gambling. Of all the leagues to take the moral high ground on an issue, it’s interesting that ESEA does it, given their shady history. Regardless of previous transgressions, it is likely for the best to see gambling sites being barred from team sponsorship.

An entirely different issue is when people under age-21 wager their skins. These items are worth lots of money, just look at some screencaps from Steam’s Community Market page. Steam is the software distribution portion of Valve, creators of CS:GO and Dota 2. Some of the items for sale on the Valve Community Market are going for $400 dollars, while other third party marketplaces are trading and betting items worth much more money than that.

dota2
While this is certainly an exciting time to be an esports fan — the prize pools have never been bigger, corporate sponsorships are flowing in and possibly a major television league and broadcast deal in the works — seeing as DraftKings sees League of Legends on par with traditional sports, we can’t get too far ahead of ourselves. We’ve already seen entire organizations get taken down for throwing matches, some for cheating and with yet another website now offering to exchange cash (not just weapon skins with value tied to them) based on esports results, the cynic in me fears the worst.


Serie A to Premiere Brand New Soccer Streaming Service

I personally believe the old saying “all roads lead to Rome” tends to embody “different means to the same end” and in the case of online streaming versus traditional cable subscriptions, money as always, is the bottom line. In regards to the streaming cash flow, once again Rome — okay, all of Italy — is front and center in accomplishing the end of collecting revenue, this time by means of streaming. Today the top league of Italian soccer, Serie A, announced a service that beginning on Saturday, will stream three fixtures per weekend.

The price for viewing access is 3.99 for the weekend or €2.00 per individual match. In addition to the games themselves, each will have both pre- and post-game shows for analysis and news for the matches and around the league. It’s a huge move away from the old school television broadcasts, and for here in the United States, where beIN Sports holds the broadcasting rights. Serie A is the first major European league to offer a service of this kind and this could bring about a huge boost to their fandom abroad.

Via Statista, as of 2013, Serie A held the second highest broadcast revenue, trailing only the English Premier League.

statistic_id284787_total-broadcasting-rights-revenue-per-season-european-soccer-leagues--big-five--2013

An argument could be made that Italy’s top league isn’t the powerhouse it once was, however the league has posted solid results in UEFA Champions League play, the top continental league in Europe. Even after Serie A lost one of their bids to Germany’s Bundesliga following the 2011-12 season, they’ve posted respectable results. Since being limited to three teams receiving bids to the Champions League, Italian powerhouse Juventus has managed a runner-up finish in the CL last year and both Roma and Milan have made appearances in the Group Stage of the tournament as well. Even with four teams (Juventus, AC Milan, Inter and Napoli) in the top-20 most valuable soccer clubs as of 2015, Serie A has some catching up to do if they’d like to match the brand value of the titans of European soccer.

statistic_id300578_professional-soccer-clubs---teams-ranked-by-value-2015

If this streaming agreement opens up the first of many more casual soccer fans here in the US, all the better. The individual game price is well worth testing the waters of Serie A, but the model of online viewing is the most important part. If other leagues — namely the Premier League, Bundesliga or Ligue One — are able to find a way to offer streamed soccer, it will be another huge win, much like Fox Soccer 2 Go, for cord-cutting soccer fans.


TechGraphs’ Monthly Streaming Device List — September 2015

With the NFL season kicking off tomorrow, MLB in the middle of the playoff hunt, and of course college football and other sports already going on, it’s time to kick off a monthly series highlighting some of the best cost efficient ways of catching sports broadcasts and more. From set-top boxes to HDMI dongles to consoles, count on seeing an updated list here at TechGraphs every month. As more and more devices and channels are released, count on this list changing, especially as we approach the holiday season. It feels weird saying “holiday season” in September, but some of my local stores are already posting Black Friday store hours.

There is no shortage of options available, but I’ll be limiting the list by two criteria: they have to be available in the United States, and there has to be separate hardware involved (I’m looking at you, SlingTV, Pluto and Plex). I’ve also specifically chosen Google’s Nexus Player, though there are many more other Android TV boxes. Some streaming options such as WatchESPN, HBO Go and NBC Sports Live Extra require a cable subscription, however all devices can be more than adequate for those looking to cut the cord. Given the rising demand of streaming, particularly among Millenials, all of these devices can play in a role in fulfilling your entertainment needs, be it sports or other stream options.

Streaming Devices
Box/Dongle Opening Price Point Notable Channel/App Compatibility
Amazon Fire Stick $39.00 MLBtv, HBO Go/Now, WatchESPN, FOX Sports Go, Twitch
Amazon Fire TV $99.00 MLBtv, HBO Go/Now, WatchESPN, FOX Sports Go, Twitch
AppleTV $62.99* MLBtv, NBA League Pass, NFL Game Pass†, NHL Gamecenter, MLS, HBO Go/Now, WatchESPN, CBS Sports, MLS Live
Google Chromecast $28.99* MLBtv, HBO Go/Now, NFL Game Pass†, WatchESPN, La Liga TV, 120 Sports, MLS Live
Google Nexus Player $69.99** MLBtv, HBO Go/Now, NFL Game Pass†, WatchESPN, La Liga TV, 120 Sports, MLS Live
Microsoft Xbox One $349.99 MLBtv, NFL Game Pass†, NBA League Pass, NHL Gamecenter,ESL, Major League Gaming, HBO Go
Nvidia Shield $199.99 FOX Sports Go, CBS Sports, HBO Go/Now†, Twitch†
Roku Stick $49.99 MLBtv, NBC Sports Live Extra, WatchESPN, MLS Live, NBA Game Pass, NHL Gamecenter, Golf Channel
Roku 3 Player $99.99 MLBtv, NBC Sports Live Extra, WatchESPN, MLS Live, NBA Game Pass, NHL Gamecenter, Golf Channel
Slingbox M1 $139.99* Any currently subscribed TV channel
Sony Playstation 4 $399.99* MLBtv, HBO Go/Now, NBA Game Pass, NFL Sunday Ticket, NHL Gamecenter


*Amazon Prime price
**Best Buy Online price
†Coming soon
Also of note, the Amazon Fire TV is currently off of the market apparently due to selling the entirety of the stock. There is speculation it could be relaunched in a 4K resolution shortly.

With the national mean cable bill at nearly $100 per month according to Leitchman Research Group, up 39 percent from 2010. The soaring recurring costs of TV make one-time payments for top boxes and streaming services such as MLBtv or NBA League Pass more and more enticing. Between my MLBtv and Fox Soccer 2 Go via Chromecast (plus Netflix and Amazon Prime), I’m personally spending less than the near $1,200 per year that I might with cable. I’m admittedly in the minority as a cord cutter, but our numbers are rising, and for good and simple reason. It makes sense.

(Header image screencapped from my season 2 DVD of The Simpsons, specifically episode 13, Homer vs. Lisa and the 8th Commandment)

Player Two Has Entered The Esports Streaming Game

YouTube Gaming launched last Wednesday and after nearly a week of observations, the Google powered streaming service has left several big impressions. Before fully diving into the details, it should be noted that YTG represents the first real challenger (sorry, Major League Gaming TV) to the currently undisputed streaming service of Twitch.TV. Last year Amazon purchased Twitch after Google reportedly backed out despite tentatively agreeing to a price tag upwards of $1 billion. Amazon ended up paying approximately $970 million to acquire Twitch, representing an investment — and presumably a belief — in the continued success of streaming esports and video games.

Other than huge difference in viewership numbers, something not particularly unexpected given YTG is still in its infancy, there are some differences in the layout and execution of the two platforms. For the duration of this look-in, YTG will be on the left-hand side with Twitch being on the right. Pictured below is the same moment (as close as I could get) in a StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void beta game between two pairs of professional players that has been paused. The screenshot was a VOD (Video On Demand) rather than live as I couldn’t quite grab the right timing during each live broadcast. The match up took place at Red Bull Battlegrounds, something YTG labels in the upper left whereas Twitch does not during a full screen pause.

comparison1It isn’t a deal making feature for YouTube, however it is a nice feature that normal YouTube videos have that has carried over to the streaming side of things. Another big chip in YTG’s favor is their pausing the VODs. YouTube grants the ability to navigate away from a specific spot in a video and being able to hit the back button and go right to where the video was paused. Twitch on the other will send you back to the beginning of the VOD rather than save a spot. For anyone who’s ever played a video game for more than a few minutes, misclicks or the wrong hotkey being hit are bound to happen, so this pause-and-return feature is another great feature from standard YouTube.

The game search options for both options each leave much to be desired as both sport autocomplete options, but neither are particularly great.

comparison2After clicking the game, in this case Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Twitch welcomes you to a page featuring the top streams rated by current viewership sortable by specific maps. This is a big contrast from the generic YouTube landing page where it shows a video from a year ago as its top result and zero live streams. After browsing the various YTG videos, most turned out to be previously uploaded videos rather than live stream VODs. As it gains a more extensive VOD library I expect this to change, but it’s somewhat surprising to see two of the top six YTG search results be from more than four months ago.

comparison3Another issue I routinely saw with YouTube that I’m willing to chalk up to it still being new is the lack of moderators for the stream chats. Of the two dozen or so YTG streams I was in, the chat was running rampant with a mix of memes, ASCII characters and the like. Obviously Twitch chat is nothing to brag about, but at least a majority of the ridiculous fluff was removed by mods in the Twitch channels I frequent. To be honest, my friends have nicknamed Twitch chat — and by extension most stream chats — as YouTube comments in real time, something that is not a compliment to anyone who has delved into the depths of said comments.

Despite the flaws, I remain optimistic YouTube Gaming will get up to speed and soon give Twitch a real live streaming threat in the esports realm. As someone who has dealt with streaming issues since Justin.TV and an esports fan who grows weary of Twitch issues — specifically video stuttering or freezing and frame-rate drops despite a strong internet connection and computer — hopefully the competition YTG brings to the table will bring out the best in themselves and in Twitch, resulting in the best possible outcomes for the users. While I remain unimpressed with YouTube Gaming at the moment, I’m eager to see what the coming months brings for their viewer options. I can’t see this becoming Google Glass or Google+; this is one project that seems incredibly likely to succeed if for no other reason than that the market and demand is already in place.


Recent esports Tournaments Show Promising Attendance Numbers

Over the past weekend we saw two titans of esports, League of Legends and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, hold major tournaments. On Sunday the European and North American League of Legends Championship Series summer finals concluded with the Counter-Logic Gaming team taking first place for North America, $50,000 in prize money, and a ticket directly into the 2015 World Championship, and Fnatic taking home the trophy for Europe. Fans of CS:GO were entertained from Thursday to Sunday with the ESL One: Cologne tournament, a tournament partially sponsored by CS:GO developer Valve, with $100,000 going to the winning team and $250,000 overall up for grabs. The weekend was filled with teams from all over the world aiming to take the top prize.

Both esports events captured a huge number of fans, and CS:GO set a sixth month high for Twitch.tv view hours in a single day. Via Gamoloco, CS:GO averaged more than seven million hours per day across the for the four day event, peaking at 8.9 million view hours on Saturday. It should be noted the number of hours is likely skewed by users logging in with multiple CS:GO accounts in order to raise their chances to receive a free in-game item drop, so these numbers should be taken with a grain of salt. The infographic below displays the game itself rather than the specific ESL One Twitch channel, which is to say there were other streams being watched for CS:GO and League of Legends beyond just the official ESL One and LCS streams.

gamoloco

By specific channels with each game, Gamoloco rates ESL One compiling 24.4 million hours (with another one million hours on the official “B Stream”) compared to Riot Games, developer of LoL, totaling just over five million hours over the past week. These numbers represent the English speaking channels only, with the Russian channel covering ESL One accumulating nearly three million hours, plus Polish and German broadcasts for each game.

gamoloco2The crowds at both live venues were impressive as well, with the League of Legends NA Summer tournament filling up Madison Square Garden with a reported 11,000 fans. Europe was no slouch either as ESL looking as though the Lanxess Arena drew a fair crowd as the header image would indicate, along with a large crowd at the EU LCS at Stockholm’s Hovet Arena. While it’s hard to compare a single tournament to the long grind of a sports season, the NA Summer event pulled a crowd comparable to the NHL’s Florida Panthers and more than the MLS’ Chivas USA, though both the Panthers and Chiva rank last in attendance for their respective leagues.

These impressive numbers aren’t even counting Dota 2’s yearly tournament, The International that was held from July 27 to August 8 to decide the world’s champion where we saw the single largest prize pool for an esports tournament. With the growing prize pool, interest level and time commitments being dedicated to esports — not to mention push notifications the ESPN app and score tickers (cap tip to HeyCJay from Reddit) and streams on ESPN 3 — it may be time to pick your favorite esports organization just the same as a football or baseball team. 

(Header image via ESL Twitter)

YouTube’s Live-Streaming Potential for Sports is Growing

After representing Middle Earth in the Lord of the Rings films, New Zealand is once again the epicenter for fantasy and hopes sprung to life. Yesterday, YouTube secured broadcasting rights to the Bundesliga and will begin showing its soccer matches on Friday in real time from Germany. Time zone differences will be awfully tough on the Kiwis as a 2:30 Friday afternoon game goes live at 12:30 am in New Zealand. Ruined sleep patterns aside, merely seeing Google take live streaming so seriously could open up a new competition for sports broadcasting rights.

The Latest_Bundesliga Twitter account was among the first to break the cord cutter friendly news:

Sports Business Daily (subscription required) noted YouTube — and by extension Google — is also allowed to show additional games and highlights from the league, but as replays and not live.

YouTube previously streamed the opening match of Bundesliga season here in the United States, a matchup between three-time reigning champ Bayern Munich and Hamburg last Friday. With Fox Soccer owning the broadcast rights here, the game was streamed via their soccer page.

It’s hard to imagine YouTube not being interesting in the broadcast world, as they’ve been in the live streaming business for some time now, really kicking things off with their stream of the 2012 London Olympics. With events ranging from traditional sports to extreme and esports, as well as general content creators also getting in on the live broadcast game, YouTube already has a massive user base, huge infrastructure behind it, as well as name recognition and familiarity.

Further emphasis has been placed on YT’s trend of embracing esports as they streamed Dota 2’s largest yearly tournament, The International 5. At TI5, 16 qualified teams from around the world competed for a prize pool of over $18.4 million, with more than $6.6 million going to the winning team. Factor in the soon to be released YouTube Gaming platform, an aptly named area specifically for the broadcast of esports, speed runs, Let’s plays and more, clearly Google has taken a keen interest in bringing live content to people. Google securing the rights in New Zealand with their ~5 million residents could be a guinea pig or stepping stone of sorts for bigger things on the horizon here in the US. According to their second quarter 2015 report, Google increased revenue to $17.7 billion and revenue growth of 11 percent year-over-year. Ruth Porat, Google CFO commented on the revenue, specifically noting YouTube, said:

Our strong Q2 results reflect continued growth across the breadth of our products, most notably core search, where mobile stood out, as well as YouTube and programmatic advertising. We are focused every day on developing big new opportunities across a wide range of businesses. We will do so with great care regarding resource allocation.

Unfortunately it’s impossible to distinctly separate YouTube’s revenue stream from Google’s numerous other ventures, however it isn’t hard to imagine YouTube comparing similarly to traditional networks. Given that other broadcasting network reports don’t separate their revenue streams channel by channel, these numbers for sports networks should be taken with a grain of salt. CBS’s Q2 2015 report disclosed a $3.2 billion, increasing 1 percent compared to last year. Disney, owners of sports giants ESPN and ABC amongst other channels, reported Q2 earnings at $2.1 billion this season. Time Warner, controllers of TNT, and TBS et al. posted $7.3 billion, up 8 percent compared to 2014.

With plenty of money, a desired market for more streamed sports and clear goals moving towards streaming live broadcasts, Google and YouTube could once again transform the way the every person consumes their favorite sports, news and other media.


GameOn Releases Sports Social Networking App

In a continued effort to personalize and curate the world of sports to each person’s preference, the GameOn app — developed by GameOn Technologies — recently secured funding for additional expansion across the iOS and Android platforms. Among the backers who helped raise 1.5 million dollars was Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana as well as West Indian cricket player Dwayne Bravo. In addition to Montana and Brave a number of other athletes have signed on to give exclusive content — ranging from USWNT striker Sydney Leroux, former USMNT midfielder Cobi Jones and current Denver Broncos safety T.J. Ward.

The app itself ties news feeds from other sources in one convenient place called The Five. Think of The Five like an aggregator or RSS for all sports.

gameonthefive1

From browsing GameOn — drawing articles and tweets ESPN, Grantland, SB Nation, BBC, CBS Sports and others, — there is plenty of reading material for the major sports teams. Unfortunately there is not a way to customize what appears on The Five, it seems to pick whichever articles or tweets are currently getting the most attention. The good news is just about anything else can be tweaked to show which teams you’d like to follow.

It’s a personal preference, but when opening a story from The Five, it does not give the option to open in Chrome — I don’t have an iOS device to see if Safari was an option — as tapping a link simply opens up the story within GameOn. It isn’t a hindrance or particularly inconvenient, I just like opening links in new tabs and windows. Call it a hangover effect from years of opening links in Chrome with my Mouse3 button.

In addition to specific teams and featured articles, there are individual “Featured Public Huddles” where fans can join and debate with each other, related links are posted, and a host of emoji-like stickers can be used.

gameonfeaturedhuddle
For an example of a what can only be assumed to be a clearly unbiased opinion, user Cristiano The Beaut (presumably named for Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo) calls Lionel Messi a “dirty and overrated player.” I’d recommend a spoon to take all those grains of salt with that opinion.

gameonfanbanter

Huddles is just the name GameOn gives team or game threads, and in addition to the public “Featured” ones, any user can create private Huddles as well.

As I find myself more and more interested in following the German soccer league, the Bundesliga, I decided to create a pair of Huddles for their upcoming fixtures against Hoffenheim and Hannover. From my phonebook or friends within the GameOn app, I can invite people to join in the Huddle.

gameonprivatehuddle

The stickers — there are hundreds if not thousands of them — are a unique feature and I really like the multi-site integration and aggregate feed. But really, the stickers are awesome.

gameonstickers

Even with the fun and smack-talk-integration the stickers offer, GameOn really doesn’t differentiate itself from other sports apps, specifically Fancred. Additionally, Twitter’s influence on the sports social network scene, despite not being marketed as a sports-centric app, looks as strong as ever given numbers from their second quarter of this year. According to the financial report, Twitter increased their average active monthly user base from 308 million in Q2 2014 to 316 million Q2 2015. GameOn has a solid beginning, however with a modest 50,000 or so downloads in its first year of Beta testing, it has a long way to go to reach the top of the sports social network world.


Bundesliga Gaining Traction in Attendance and Streaming Services

Things are on the rise in the top German soccer league, the Bundesliga. Not just the level of play, but the depth of teams as well as popularity have been trending upwards for several years now. The Union of European Football Association (UEFA) noticed the league’s rising talent as well, increasing their bids to the UEFA Champions League — the highest level of international club play in Europe — to three automatic slots plus one playoff bid.

With local fans already showing up to more Bundesliga games in person more than any other sport save for the NFL in the world, it’s hard to understate the league’s current impact and potential growth. Via Statista, the graph below displays the 2013-14 average game attendance for the 11 top ranking leagues.

statistic_id270301_average-attendance-of-major-sports-leagues-around-the-world-2013-14

Not even the English Premier League juggernauts of Manchester United, Arsenal Man City or Liverpool nor Spanish La Liga one-two punch of Barcelona and Real Madrid could draw more fans than the Bundesliga’s top draw in the 2013-14 season. Somewhat surprising, Borussia (there is a typo in the table below) leads all soccer clubs in Europe for attendance.

statistic_id382940_european-football-clubs-average-attendance-2013-14

Beyond local fans and UEFA, Fox Soccer has also taken note of the German league. The broadcasting network already streamed some Bundesliga fixtures on the Fox Soccer 2Go platform, but never all 306 matches. In addition to streaming every single league match, Fox has doubled down on the league by adding televised games as well. A total of 58 matches will be shown on TV on the Fox Sports 1, 60 on Fox Sports 2 and the final 188 games being shown on Fox Sports Plus.

The United States Men’s National Team (USMNT) has also seen an increased presence in Germany as six active members are currently on Bundesliga squads, with three more US players currently on clubs rating in Germany’s second tier. The German league is has the most US players in foreign leagues, barely edging out the Championship, England’s second tier, and trailing only Mexico’s Liga MX that boasts seven US capped players.

According to the Fox Soccer schedule, the opening match will be three time reigning champion Bayern Munich against the near-relegated Hamburg side. The match is set to be broadcasted on Fox Sports 2 at 2:30 pm eastern on Friday, August 14. While up-and-coming 20-year-old USMNT member Julian Green is under contract with Bayern until 2017, it’s possible, albeit unlikely, he could make an appearances and further boost the Bundesliga’s profile in the United States. If you happen to be busy on that Friday, tune in the next day as Werder Bremen just signed USMNT striker Aron Johannssen. Werder is set to kick off at 9:30 eastern on Saturday the 15th. While causation does not determine correlation, the United States has seen the the profile of the national men’s team rise in recent years, possibly due to Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan all crossing the ocean to play in the Premier League. Hopefully a similar level of fan interest will happen with the Bundesliga.

(Header image via Wikipedia)

Independent Baseball’s Newest Umpire Isn’t Human

A simple Twitter search of #RobotUmpsNow or #UmpShow will show fans have been clamoring for an electronic umpire for the strike zone — among other things — for some time. While major league baseball isn’t quite ready to make that jump just yet — nor are any affiliated minor league clubs — there is one hero ball club we can turn to. The vaunted San Rafael Pacifics of the Pacific Associate of Professional Baseball are set to debut a strictly PITCHf/x umpire for tonight’s and tomorrow’s game.

SportsVision, creators and owners of PITCHf/x, are working alongside the Pacifics in handing off the task of calling balls and strikes to the system, though former major league player Eric Byrnes will be on hand for assistance should either team object to the system’s judgement. The two-game affair is designed to raise money for the Pat Tillman Foundation and for each called ball or strikeout, Byrnes will donate $100 to the foundation. If either coach disagrees with the strike zone, Byrnes has the option to eject a player or manager, and in doing so would then donate $10,000 to the foundation for each person tossed from the game.

Given PITCHf/x’s enormous popularity among statistically-inclined baseball fans — including but not limited to Brooks Baseball, Baseball Heat Maps, Texas Leaguers and Baseball Savant — seeing progression towards a computerized  strike zone, even in a charitable role, is amazing. The three camera system on hand for the Pacifics is set to capture a triangulated zone, and since three cameras are better than two eyes, we’ll see an automated strike zone for the first time in organized baseball.

The need for an automated zone is pretty clear, especially when we have the technology to review missed calls in near real time. For example look no further than Jeff Sullivan’s posts on The Worst Called Strike/Ball of the First Half, or more recently, let’s observe one of Sunday’s games. Danny Salazar of the Cleveland Indians started the game, and according the PITCHf/x system over at Texas Leaguers, he may have been robbed of a handful of calls at a very important point in the game.

salazar

It looks as though three pitches touched the strike zone that were called a ball with an additional trio of pitches in the zone that were called balls. It’s hard to boil down a game to a single pitch, however one pitch can be the difference between walking back to the dugout after the third out or being lifted with two outs and runners on. The latter situation actually happened, and thanks to MLB’s Gameday, we can see the events unfold.

salazar1

Salazar gets ahead of Tyler Saladino 0-1 before the second and third pitches, both appearing to be in the strike zone get called balls. Salazar does well to even things a 2-2, however he probably should have been out of the inning with the score still tied at one apiece. The calls don’t go his way and Zach McAllister comes on to relieve Salazar, who was at 113 pitches, and promptly gave up the tying run. Again, it’s one pitch, but it was arguably the sequence of events that decided the game.

The Indians and the White Sox are both likely outside of the playoff picture at this point, however that shouldn’t be the focus. Given that we have the technology to get the calls correct, it’s awfully disappointing to only see Independent baseball willing to go with an automated system. As Ken Jennings once wrote, I for one, welcome our new computer overlords.

(Header image via the Pacifics’ website)

Is Yahoo! Daily Fantasy the Third Wheel?

The two titans of daily fantasy sports (DFS), DraftKings and FanDuel, have new competition. Recently, Yahoo! has joined the daily fantasy goings on in addition to their traditional fantasy sports leagues. The market growth of DFS sites has taken off on a meteoric rise, and according to Forbes there was an 847 percent rise in participation from September 2013 to September 2014. As the newest option in a popular area, Yahoo!’s approach is slightly different than both DraftKings or FanDuel.

Right off the bat, the aesthetics of Yahoo! appears similar to FanDuel. From left to right, we have the Yahoo!, FanDuel and DrafKings interfaces (click to embiggen).

dfs

Beyond the layout, Yahoo! has seemingly drawn influence from both FanDuel and DraftKings for the gameplay itself. Just like in DK, Yahoo! allows users to draft up to 10 players rather than the nine of FD, the difference being two pitchers in the former and one in the latter. Despite the identical rosters to DK, Yahoo!’s player prices are much different than anything we’ve seen before.

Rather than use the $50,000 or $35,000 salary allotment of DraftKings and FanDuel respectively, Yahoo! has a $200 scaled budget. As a percentage, the prices aren’t terribly different, but I found myself having a surprisingly difficult time adjusting. Of course, the prices are different because the scoring is different as well.

With the same left to right as before, the following picture shows the scoring differences between the three sites.

scoring

Where both FanDuel and DraftKings have negative stats for batters — -0.25 points for any out on FD or -2 points for a caught stealing on DK — Yahoo! doesn’t have a way of punishing poor batting or base running performances. Pitching statistics are even more varied as wins are very heavily valued in Yahoo! at eight points compared to four points for DK and FD. Yahoo!’s only negative pitching category is giving up earned runs, same as FanDuel, to the tune of -1 point per earned run surrendered. For example, let’s say a pitcher costs 20 percent of your budget in any of the three site ($40 in Y!,$ 7,000 in FD and $10,000 in DK) . He records a win after going seven innings, gives up two runs on a pair of solo shots, plus two other hits, two walks and strikes out seven batters, his point totals for each site are:

Yahoo!: 30.6 points
FanDuel: 16 points
DraftKings: 23.35 points

Thanks to the numerous negative pitching stats in DratfKings (hits and walks in this example specifically), you get hands down the least bang for your buck with pitchers compared to FanDuel and Yahoo!. The latter in particular places a massive emphasis on wins at eight points. Such huge upside in pitches in Yahoo! with minimal downside — no negative points for any hitter outcomes and only being penalized on pitcher earned runs — makes stacking your Yahoo! lineup with the best pitchers in line for the win is hands down the best option. This isn’t a flaw, a strength or a weakness on Yahoo!’s behalf, but it is certainly something to exploit.

The biggest issue I have with Yahoo!’s current layout is the lack of weather information for each game. DraftKings at least displays weather info at the top of the screen when you enter a contest.

weatherdk

FanDuel leads the way with a full weather forecast for each game, including chance of rain by percentage and if the game will be played in an open stadium, retractable roof or dome.

weatherfd

I’d always recommend cross checking the weather for the games as in any DFS format it hurts to lose a batter to a rain out and losing a starting pitcher is like throwing money away. Adding in weather seems like something fairly easy, as Yahoo! already has an entire page dedicated to weather around the world.

Beyond the weather related issues, Yahoo! has a bigger concern when it comes to attracting players to its new daily fantasy area. During its launch, Yahoo! promised a $22,000 prize pool, guaranteed even if the contest wasn’t filled. At a $1 minimum entry for the 10,000 player league, it sounded like a good way to gather new DFS players. Unfortunately the wording tripped up many players and saw the $22,000 guaranteed prize pool would be split up if the contest wasn’t filled, and not the way Yahoo! broke it down. The way $22,000 was guaranteed was awarding $2 to the 29th-10,0000 place finishers. So, if it the contest was full, then yes, the full $22,000 would have been handed out. Unfortunately calling a prize pool $22,000 and then not delivering the full amount flies in the face of every other DFS league or entry I’ve ever entered.

For now I’ll stick with DraftKings or to a lesser extend FanDuel to fulfill my DFS cravings. I know they pay out what is advertised, I’m familiar with the scoring, and having to open one less tab for immediate weather reports makes it convenient.


Esports Players turn to Adderall for Competitive Edge

Over the previous weekend the 2015 Electronic Sports World Cup Counter-Strike: Global Offensive finals took place in Montreal. Multiple countries were represented and competed for the $75,000 prize pool, with $30,000 going the champions. Aside from technical setbacks, other controversy arose due usage of Adderall as well as in-game communication advantages. In a bit of a surprise, North American team Cloud9 won their group and advanced to the finals, though former Cloud9 member Kory “Semphis” Friesen gave a candid interview with Mohan “Launders” Govindasamy where Friesen said how common it is to find Adderall usage. In a separate interview, current Cloud9 member Ryan “fREAKAZOiD” Abadir had strong comments regarding other teams listening in to the Cloud9 in-game strategies.

Transcribing and editing the interview, Friesen said the following:

Friesen: Ha, I don’t even care. We were all on Adderall. Like, I don’t give a [expletive]. Like, it was pretty obvious if you listen to the comms. People can hate it or whatever, but.

Govindasamy: So everyone does Adderall on ESEA LAN, right?

Friesen: Yeah.

Govindasamy: Just throwing that out there, so you’re good.

As someone who has played Counter-Strike (and other games) in a relatively high level for a number of years — as well as someone who has taken their fair share of Adderall, this topic hits pretty close to certain times back in my younger days. While dealing with working part-time or going to school, plus a practice schedule that took up at least two hours per day, it was clear that time was in short supply. A teammate at the time suggested I go for an Adderall subscription. However, living in a college town I soon found out that it wasn’t that easy to get my hands on the pills without my own prescription.

The effects of being on Adderall didn’t seem big like much at first, but then about four hours passed and I hadn’t really noticed. It really did help me focus — almost to the point of tunnel vision — and in the context of esports, managing your tasks and focusing on the matters at hand is critical. For example, at big LAN event or venue, it’s a really loud atmosphere. With your in-game sounds turned up to hear every footstep, your teammates calling strategies, the announcers shouting and the crowd going bonkers, it’s incredibly easy to get distracted. In fact, recent controversy arose over communication. In somewhat recent events, more and more tournaments have been tapping into team’s in-game communications with so called Point-of-View streams, showing gameplay alongside the team’s comms.

Ryan “fREAKAZOiD” Abadir said in an interview how it’s unfair to English speaking teams. To quote Abadir:

Interviewer: What are your thoughts on it [POVs]?

Abadir: I think it’s great honestly. I love POVs, but, if you’re releasing it [live] and we can’t speak their language, then, how can we use it to our advantage when they [opposing teams] can use it [POVs] to their advantage? So release it after we’re done playing.

ESWC had teams from Ukraine, Sweden, Germany, France, China, Brazil, South Africa and Australia, along with Canada and the United States, so a multitude of languages could be found. Abadir’s interview was actually in regards to the previous weekend’s Electronic Sports League tournament, but that also boasted an international lineup where French, Swedish, Polish, Finnish, Portuguese and of course English were spoken. League of Legends releases post-match communication highlights, and tends to be careful to limit the amount of strategy given away at any time.

Is the ability to listen in on other teams’ communications cheating? Is it unfair for players to be taking Adderall? There are some fuzzy lines being skirted by major esports brands. Without pressure from sponsors or an overarching governing body, it doesn’t seem like any significant policy change will be in place for Adderall usage or POV streams. Despite the rapidly rising popularity, esports still have a long way to go when it comes to rules and regulations.

(Header image via ESWC)

Brentford FC’s Stats-Friendly Owner

Brentford FC has been making waves in the ocean of soccer nerds over the past several seasons, most notably due to their owner — Matthew Benham — being a leading advocate for mathematical modeling in soccer. Benham is a nerd after my own heart, a man who studied at Oxford and eventually created his own betting company, Smartodds. Prior to Benham’s purchasing the team after the 2011-12 season, Brentford had been a third tier league, finishing in the middle of the pack of League One, two levels of competition below the English Premier League.

Since taking over ownership duties, Benham has influenced the club’s overall philosophy with his statistical stylings, including publicly acknowledging a head coaching change was partly due to philosophical differences. The coach in question, Mark Warburton, was at the helm as the club ascended from the third tier to the second tier of competition. Despite the success, Warburton found his contract was not to be renewed after the 2014-15 season. With Benham influencing the decision making process and Warburton handling the field level duties of a manager, Brentford managed to escape the third tier after being there for five seasons (2009-10 through 2013-14). The Bees broke through to the Championship, England’s second tier behind the EPL. More success followed in the 2014-15 season as Brentford finished fifth in the Championship and thus found themselves in the playoffs for the right to join the big clubs in arguably the best league in the world. While their playoff run ended earlier than The Bees would have liked, their overall success is not to be discounted.

Though the Bees fell short in the playoffs, their rapid ascent has made people take note, including their fans. Benham made time for a Q&A session last year on the Griffin Park Grapevine fan forum, and some of his answers were on point. In order to read the entire session you’ll have to register a free account on GPG, however below are just a few snippets of the Q&A (click to embiggen each picture).

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As one would suspect, Benham is reluctant to give any details about the models and math at work, however his pasta preference is certainly concerning given penne reigns supreme.

qa2

Benham again doesn’t give away anything telling, but he quick to give traditional scouting and reports respect.

qa3

The context behind this answer is quite interesting given the history between Benham and Comolli. Damien Comolli came up as a scout with Arsenal, then worked his way up to director of football for Tottenham, in a similar way a baseball scout would climb the front office ladder. Comolli was dismissed after being at Tottenham for three seasons, landing as sporting director at Saint-Étienne. By the time he was relieved of duties there, Liverpool beckoned and he was appointed director of football strategy in November of 2010. After catching criticism regarding his negotiating abilities more than his scouting talents, Comolli and The Reds parted ways with the club near the end of 2011-12 season. The story, as written in Calvin’s book, is that Benham met with Comolli and was not impressed by any of the numbers Comolli showed him. Benham was also shocked at how Comolli asserted that his numbers and nothing else could be correct. Disagreements among analysts is nothing new, just look at the Red Sox and Mike Gimbel. He served as a specialist and consultant to then general manager Dan Duquette before Gimbel was, in his own words, used as a whipping boy.

Benham has generated his wealth using the best tools available to create the model in order to most accurately project outcomes. The best publicly available stats still leave much to be desired, however given Benham’s background, perhaps he and his team of analysts at Smarodds have broken down some of the walls surrounding statistics in soccer. While not a general manager or coach, as owner of a second-tier English soccer team, he certainly could be a pivotal character in the soccer realm. Just as Billy Beane came under fire for a number of his decisions, Benham has also been a target of the media. As the line near the end of Moneyball states, the first guy through the wall always gets bloodied. Always.

(Header image via Wikipedia)

A La Carte Sports Watching Is En Route

The NBA Finals have been wrapped up for just one week, but already the association is looking to the 2015-16 season. Even before the Golden State Warriors were crowned champions, the NBA announced a major change to their streaming League Pass service. Beginning next season, you’ll be given the option to purchase individual games or team packages, provided you’re out of the team’s local market.

As presently designed, the new League Pass will be compatible with computers — Windows and Mac — as well as Android and iOS devices. For those with Fire, Windows, Blackberry or other operating systems, you may be on the outside looking in. The NBA Game Time app (which is required to view League Pass on mobile devices) does support Amazon Fire devices, but support for Game Time was dropped for Windows devices in July of last year.

The importance of the NBA deciding to offer a more a la carte style cannot be understated, as now more light is cast on other sports leagues, particularly the NFL. As Engadget notes, the NFL is currently fighting a lawsuit from a fan regarding the limits of their Sunday Ticket service, specifically being forced to pay hundreds of dollars to see their favorite team 16 games per year even though they live thousands of miles away from the team’s location.

The murky waters of territorial or cable blackouts has been explored before, just ask a local Dodgers fan, and as Time Warner continues to lose money, it seems possible the 25-year and $8.3 billion dollar deal could get reworked. With sports fans and non-sports fans alike clamoring for an a la carte service, the answer could come not from a cable provider, but rather a group who knows a few things about entertainment in Sony.

During the Electronic Entertainment Expo this year, Sony announced an option purchase specific channels on their Playstation Vue services. It is an ambitious undertaking and perhaps Sony is simply dipping their toes in the water rather than diving right in the streaming market. Right now their Vue service is available in just five cities in the United States: Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Philadelphia and New York. Playstation 3 and 4 owners in those cities who are tired of the paying a cable bill can pick up a number of individual channels — or a more traditional package — including Fox Soccer, Showtime and Machinima for prices ranging from $3.99 to $14.99.

Given the push for a la carte services, a recent poll conducted by DigitalSmiths and posted via DSLReports shows an interesting trend. If sports fans are the driving force of streaming or pay-as-you-go streaming options, the survey had an interesting way of showing it.

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ESPN ranked 20th among preferred channels, behind non-sports channels such as Animal Planet, Food Network and the History Channel. ABC and CBS ranked first and third respectively, however it would be a stretch to call those sports channels given their diverse programming. The same could be said for NBC (4th), Fox (7th), TBS (15th) and TNT (17th). Where ESPN was the first sports exclusive channel, both Fox Sports 1, NBC Sports, NFL Network, MLB Network plus the Golf Channel and Tennis Channel managed to make the list.

Kudos to the NBA for seizing an opportunity to gain new fans after a strong ratings performance in the finals. Perhaps more professional leagues or streaming service options will follow suit and offer a more personalized option.

(Header image via Wikipedia)

MLB Network Announces New Streaming Option

Major League Baseball gets a lot things right. Their Advanced Media department, the group in control of MLB.com and MLB.TV, have now updated their At-Bat app. In addition to watching games — which are still subject to local blackouts — the app now allows for constant viewing of the MLB Network’s round the clock channel. Unfortunately unlike Pinocchio, there remain strings attached to this deal.

A qualifying cable subscription is required to view the MLB Network live stream. The stream is available on iOS and Android phones or tablets as well as Mac and PCs. As noted by the crew over at Awful Announcing, the initial group of cable providers who have agreed to support the stream does not include Comcast. In addition to missing what Wikipedia calls the number one (by subscriber count) provider in the United States, those who use Charter Communications — number six by subscriber count — such as myself, are also left out.

After logging into my app, I was sad to see I was one of the million of baseball fans left out of the ability to stream the show.

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The upshot is this means people on the go (or at work) have the option to view MLB Network shows, interviews and even out-of-market games while away from their televisions. Perhaps even more importantly is the inclusion of playoff and preseason games. Being able to catch a spring training game after a long winter or watching a potential series-defining game when not at home and without paying for any extra add-ons is a great move for baseball.

Last season MLB Network claimed two playoff games, Game 2 of the NLDS between the Dodgers and the Cardinals and Game 3 of the NLDS with the Nationals and Giants. In 2013 there were also two DS games shown, one from the NL and another from the AL. The same format of MLB Network getting two DS games stretches back to 2012. Given that MLB, ESPN, Fox and TBS came to an eight-year, $12.4 billion broadcast agreement that runs through 201, count on continuing to be able to see at least two playoff games per year via MLB Network’s online stream.

Even with the blackouts and the restrictions due to cable companies, this 24/7 streaming of a major sport offering represents a first in the world of sports. Yes, the NBA, NHL and NFL all have their own channels however none are simulcast in the same way MLB Network is. This move seems like a way to meet the old crowd and the new generation in the middle. More traditional TV subscribers may not find a ton of use for it and dedicated cord cutters will likely wish MLB Network didn’t require a cable package. Of course, with such a lukewarm offering, it’s hard to imagine this move generating a lasting effect. Perhaps as the NFL embraces the online streaming realm and as more and more people cut the cord, eventually a non-subscription version may arrive at some point.


Blackout Policies and Their Consequences

Few topics are so regularly discussed among my baseball circle of friends and colleagues as local blackout policies. While I am certainly biased in that I watch and talk baseball more than any other sport, I — among plenty of others — have found numerous flaws in MLB’s way of blocking local fans from their favorite teams. By no means is baseball’s governing body alone in limited television access for regional fans, as the NFL, NHL and MLS have a blackout policy of some sort in place, however given the sheer number of MLB games played each season, more baseball games are blacked out than the other sports combined.

To be fair, the NFL did lift local blackouts for the upcoming 2015 season, however as the linked article notes, zero games were blacked out in 2014. NFL games are only subject to local TV blackouts if the game isn’t sold out 72 hours before kickoff rather than the constantly blocked games in other sports. Professional hockey has seen its share of blackouts in TV, though a recent development for the Tampa Bay Lightning may be expanding the definition of “local blackout.”

Via CSN Chicago (warning: auto-playing video), Tampa is following in the footsteps of St. Louis and Nashville hockey teams in making it difficult for visiting (read: Chicago) fans to see the game in the stadium. The policy also affects actual Lightning fans living in other states. If fans have the time and the means to follow their favorite team from another state, tickets may not be available for them. A screenshot directly from the Lightning Ticketmaster describes the situation:

lightningBuilding a home field advantage or looking for any competitive edge is all well and good, but at what point is a line drawn? How far will fans go to avoid the blackout issues, both on TV and in-person? Going back to baseball, there are massive numbers of people who can’t watch games based on their geographic location. One of my friends was recently accepted to graduate school at Iowa State University, located in Ames, Iowa. The sole downside for him thus far, other than the workload, has been being subjected to blackouts for his favorite team — the St. Louis Cardinals. According to Google Maps, Ames is nearly 370 miles away from Busch Stadium, yet he is still blocked off from their games. Running the Ames 50010 zip code through the MLB blackout finder, the Cardinals aren’t the only team subjected to broadcast issues. Both clubs in Chicago, the Twins, Brewers and Royals are blacked out for him. Even if he were a more broad baseball fan without ties to a specific team, his location alone blocks him off from 20 percent of MLB teams.

The lengths organized sports are going to block off fans from games has only been surpassed by those same fans looking for a way to circumvent the blackouts. Last week a free and popular virtual private network (VPN) came under criticism not from any league or association, but its own userbase. The Chrome and Firefox extension Hola! or Hola! Better Internet was denounced as a potential botnet to be used for malicious attacks on websites, to which they responded to Monday. Danger comes in the form of Hola! using other people’s idle bandwidth — and vice-versa — in order to circumvent geo-blocked content. By granting access to your Internet connection, it can be taken over and re-routed, potentially as part of a DDoS attack on a site or IP address. Be it accessing Canada’s or Australia’s Netflix or someone over there accessing the United States selection of TV and shows, Hola! provided a free and easy way to get around geographically-blocked content. Despite it no longer being available in the Chrome Store, the extension is still downloadable straight from the company’s site. I’d urge caution before a download of Hola! is considered, as the recent allegations have once again shown there is no such thing as a free lunch.

According to the Hola website over 47 million people have downloaded the extension to enhance their web browsing, despite the clear risks involved. That such a number of people would be willing to risk their idle connection in order to open the Internet for their browsing or entertainment needs shows the measure of their resolve. Whether companies like Netflix and HBO or leagues such as MLB or NHL open up their blackout restriction policies on their own accord may not matter. As long as people have a workaround — questionable or not — the market will find a way to access the desired content.

(Header image via BizOfBaseball)