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Jan 26, 2018

1.5 Billion Reasons to Care About eSports


The Rise of a Multi-Billion Dollar Online Gaming Industry.

In the late 1990s, Marcus Graham was trying to make it as a professional gamer.

Known by his gaming tag as djWHEAT, Graham would travel to LAN tournaments across the country for varying sums of prize money.

It was a tough gig. For gamers in the early days of eSports, tournaments were few and far between with limited rewards. In an interview with CNN, Graham said he would spend $1,500 and travel more than a thousand miles for a tournament where he’d only win $800.

Fast forward about 20 years and the eSports landscape has drastically changed.

Graham is now a well-known eSports commentator (he still goes by the name djWHEAT), and eSports has moved from a pipe dream of gaming enthusiasts into domestic and international leagues worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Major League Audiences and Payouts

Online gaming is now one of the world’s fastest-growing sports, with booming audiences in North and South America, Asia, and Europe.

Where other sports are generally defined by regional interests, online gaming has a major advantage. For instance, football is the most popular sport in the United States. In Europe and South America, soccer – a different kind of football – is king.

In comparison, eSports has followers all around the world, and the internet has given these fans a platform to connect and engage, which they are doing in extremely large numbers.

Consider this stat: More than 36 million people streamed the League of Legends World Championship match in 2015. That’s a larger audience than the number of people who watched Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals when LeBron James led the Cleveland Cavaliers to the city’s first professional sports championship in more than 50 years.

And eSports payouts aren’t cheap. In 2017, the International Dota 2 Championship in Seattle played to packed crowds at the Key Arena. The total purse was more than 20 million dollars – approximately double the total prize money of the Masters golf tournament.


Growing Corporate Backing and Investment for eSports

The meteoric rise of eSports is quickly catching the eyes and pocketbooks of interested investors.

There’s no better example of this than Blizzard’s Overwatch League. Created in 2017, the league has teams based on three continents who will eventually utilize “home” arenas in their local markets. The Overwatch League has garnered support from sports icons, such as New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft who recently purchased an Overwatch League franchise in Boston.

And Kraft isn’t alone. The NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers own two eSports teams, and several top European soccer clubs are also investing in online gaming.

Corporate sponsors are also taking note of the eSports phenomenon. Since the start of 2016, more than 600 sponsorship agreements have been signed (including one by INAP as the title sponsor for the 2018 Hi-Rez Expo). These sponsorships range from startups in smaller events to major corporations such as Red Bull, McDonald’s, and Coca-Cola for some of the world’s most popular competitions.

The Next Steps for eSports

It won’t be long before you see colleges and universities getting on the eSports bandwagon.

In 2014, Robert Morris University – a small private institution outside of Chicago – became one of the first schools to offer eSports scholarships for League of Legends gamers. The scholarships covered up to half of tuition and room and board, adding up to about $19,000 per student.

Just three years later, gamers can earn eSports scholarships at as many as 60 universities. Most of these schools are smaller or private colleges, but the University of Utah made headlines in 2017 when it became the first university in a Power Five athletic conference to announce a varsity eSports team. The team is sponsored by the school’s Entertainment Arts and Engineering Department, which The Princeton Review consistently ranks as one of the top video game design programs in the nation.

Beyond collegiate and world championships, gamers may soon have their eyes set on a more prestigious prize. Olympic officials are expected to discuss adding eSports as a medal event at the 2024 Summer Games. There’s been no indication if the Olympic International Committee will take this proposal seriously, but if eSports is added, it would legitimize online gaming as a global sport.

The Necessary IT Backing

Competitive gaming requires significant IT resources to operate. Networking and hosting must provide reliability, high performance, low latency, and scalability to match inevitable growth. Any disruption of service during a professional tournament would be completely unacceptable.

HorizonIQ’s online gaming infrastructure is built to withstand the rigorous demands of competitive gaming. With solutions in colocation, managed hosting, cloud, and network services, INAP has provided exceptional online gaming experiences for gamers and developers around the world.

If you’re searching for high-performance IT solutions to meet your eSports or online game development needs, contact us today.

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Jan 17, 2018

5 Things We Learned at HRX 2018


There’s a lot to be excited about.

A sold-out arena. Screaming fans. The best talent in the world.

No, we’re not describing a concert or even a playoff football game – although this event definitely had the same vibe.

We’re talking about Hi-Rez Expo – an online gaming conference and eSports world championship held each year by Hi-Rez Studios. This year’s event was sponsored by INAP.

image of HRX 2018 Powered by INAP

For four days in early January, thousands of fans packed into Atlanta’s Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre to watch the world’s best PC and console gamers battle it out for SMITE, Paladins and Hand of the Gods supremacy. Tens of thousands more fans watched the action live online.

And for the very first time this year, Hi-Rez executives held a keynote address to announce the studio’s plans for 2018 and beyond.

Here are five things we’re excited to see in the next year.

New SMITE Gods and Conquest Map

This news shouldn’t come as a surprise to SMITE gamers. Hi-Rez has been adding playable characters to its signature game on a fairly regular basis.

This year we’re seeing at least three new additions – Cerberus (a three-headed servant of Hades) and two unnamed gods from new pantheons, Slavic and Voodoo.

SMITE also revealed changes ahead of the fifth season of its pro eSports league. The conquest map is getting a makeover. Most notably, a new symmetrical design will mean that lanes and jungle paths will have the same layout, regardless of the side on which you start. Players will also notice new environmental artwork changes.

And possibly the most anticipated change for players is the return of jungle fog, which hides monsters and opposing gods from view if you have no characters in that area.

Paladins: Battlegrounds

At the beginning of the year, PC Gamer predicted more battle royale-style games in 2018.

Just days later, we’re introduced to Paladins: Battleground, a new game mode that calls itself the first hero shooter battle royale.

The game features 100 players battling to the death in a massive map that shrinks as the game progresses. Matches last for 20 minutes, during which players will team up to find weapons and kill other teams. Think Paladins meets the Hunger Games.

The best news? The new mode will be available for free to all Paladins players when it’s released later this year. And if the crowd reaction after seeing the trailer provides any indication, Paladins: Battlegrounds will quickly become a fan favorite.

Paladins Goes Mobile

Perhaps overshadowed by the Paladins: Battleground reveal was more news about the iOS and Android multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) Paladins Strike.

Fans have been testing a development version of the mobile game for a few months. Now the general public is able to sign up to try it out prior to the game’s still unannounced release date.

Bot Smashers

Speaking of mobile, Hi-Rez gave us a sneak peek at its latest game, an iOS and Android strategy battler called Bot Smashers.

The presenters didn’t share much information about this game, other than users would be controlling robots to build their own bases and destroy their opponents. One key takeaway is that Bot Smashers is all about quick gameplay so matches are intended to be short.

No word on a release date, but fans can sign up now to test the game when a development version is made available.

Nintendo Switch Rumors

There was no mention of Nintendo Switch by any of the presenters during the keynote address. But when speaking to bloggers and reporters during the event, Hi-Rez CEO Erez Goren teased a project in development to bring one of its titles to the popular Nintendo platform.

Goren would not give a definite answer, opting to just say “maybe” when asked about the plans. So for now, we’re left wondering if the studio will try to port one of its existing games (after all, SMITE and Paladins are available on Xbox One and PS4) or will be planning something new for Nintendo’s more family-friendly demographic.

Hi-Rez Studios is Powered by INAP

Without a reliable and scalable IT infrastructure, Hi-Rez Studios wouldn’t be able to host such an incredible event and seamless gaming experience.

That’s where INAP comes in. For the past 10 years, we’ve been supplying high-performance, ultra-low latency managed hosting and network solutions to keep Hi-Rez games running smoothly with no lag time. Our scalable and flexible solutions provide 100 percent uptime, even during peak periods, which keeps Hi-Rez gamers happy and coming back for more.

We can provide the same level of service and quality for you too. Contact us to learn more about INAP’s solutions to power your gaming environment.

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Jan 3, 2018

4 Online Gaming Trends You’ll See in 2018


Game On!

In the world of online gaming, 2017 brought its own surprises, accomplishments and achievements.

From the explosion in eSports participation and viewing to growth in virtual and augmented reality gaming, 2017 set many of the trends that will likely continue to grow in the new year.

Here are four patterns you need to pay attention to in 2018.

1. The Growth of eSports Leagues

The first trend is incredible growth in eSports and eSports leagues.

What was once a pipe dream of gamers has become a multimillion-dollar industry. In fact, industry experts predict that eSports could generate more than one billion dollars by 2020.

Hi-Rez Studios runs one of the more successful eSports leagues and championships for its popular SMITE game. Now in Season 4, the SMITE Pro League includes teams from around the world competing on both PCs and consoles. Every match is streamed live on the internet, and fans have the option of purchasing season passes which grant them access to see every event.

Each season ends with the world championships at the Hi-Rez Expo held annually in Atlanta, which also includes competitions for Paladins and Hand of the Gods. (Shameless plug: INAP is the title sponsor at this year’s event.)

With more eSports leagues and competitions on the way, 2018 will likely see further increases in audiences, revenue and market share.

2. Virtual and Augmented Reality

The next trend is a continued push toward virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technology.

While the initial buzz and hype behind VR have begun to subside, several publishers and manufacturers are making significant strides towards bringing the technology to a wider market through increased investment and more content.

And while still small by standards of the wider video game industry, VR technology continues to move into expanded markets and has sales figures to prove it. Oculus’s Gear VR recently shipped over five million units, and the PlayStation VR sold more than a million headsets in less than a year.

While developers continue to experiment with creative ways to implement VR into gaming, it’s more likely we’ll see advancements in AR technology in the next year. There hasn’t been a major AR gaming breakthrough since 2016’s Pokémon Go (Remember when everyone was running around your neighborhood trying to catch digital creatures?), but retailers have discovered unique ways to add AR into the consumer experience. In fact, IKEA has been doing it for years.

Since AR does not require the use of expensive equipment like headsets nor the need for as significant an investment compared to VR, it’s just a matter of time before an AR developer comes up with the next big online or mobile gaming sensation.

3. Diversity and Inclusion

Boys aren’t the only ones playing video games. More than 40 percent of all gamers in the U.S. are female, and this change in audience is being reflected on the screen.

More games are being developed that feature minorities, women and other underrepresented communities. We Are Chicago has earned critical praise for its unique storyline and depiction of an African-American growing up in the city’s South Side. Nintendo Switch’s highly anticipated Seasons of Heaven will tackle unique character viewpoints in a puzzle adventure game based on a protagonist with Asperger syndrome. And writers revealed in an Overwatch comic series that popular character Tracer is gay.

Expect this diversity and inclusion trend to continue in 2018 as an audience eager for roles that no longer play on stereotypes is influencing publishers and developers to craft stories that include more voices and perspectives than ever before.

4. Make Way for Indie Game Developers

Independent game publishers and studios are expected to take a big step in 2018. Independent game makers have been on the rise for the last several years, but their growth has accelerated with new trends and technology sharing to foster a democratization of game development.

One of the top reasons independent game makers can compete with industry giants is due to digital downloads. Independents create and publish games without being forced to make deals necessary to secure shelf space in retail stores. This has leveled the playing field and allowed smaller game makers to sell directly to their consumers and target audiences.

And it appears to be working, as more games are published every year. A 2016 study of all the games on Steam ­– a digital distribution store for online games – revealed nearly 40 percent of available titles on the service were released that year.

Full Speed Ahead in 2018

As the world of online gaming moves into 2018, the industry will move to adapt to its changing circumstances and environment. But some things will remain the same.

At the heart of every online gaming experience is a powerful and robust infrastructure that gives gamers a seamless adventure with no lag. Contact INAP today to learn how our high-performance IT infrastructure solutions and data center services can provide your users an optimal gameplay experience with low latency, even during peak periods.

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Jul 2, 2013

Three keys to success for online game developers

Ansley Kilgore

success for online game developersFor game developers and publishers, launching a new game into the market and creating loyal fans takes a lot of work. Whether you are an established gaming company or a new publisher entering the highly-competitive marketplace, having the right IT Infrastructure in place is critical. Your game must deliver the availability, performance and scale that online gamers have come to expect on their digital quests. Internap solutions help set game developers up for success by providing the right environment for testing, development and deployment of online games.

High-performance cloud services
When the Massachusetts Digital Games Institute (MassDigi) needed a server to host their new online game, Internap’s AgileCLOUD provided a cost-effective way to spin up virtual servers that could support their development and collaboration needs. MassDigi was able to continuously test their online game with live users, and scale dynamically up to thousands of players as needed. With cloud hosting solutions, game developers have more flexibility to test, develop and deploy without worrying about the limitations of technology.

When introducing new games into the market, speed and performance are key aspects of high-quality game delivery. No matter how awesome your game may be, users will abandon it if there is too much latency. With route-optimized Performance IPTM, Infinite Game Publishing (IGP) can provide gamers with a flawless online experience during the initial game launch and beyond. Meeting the expectations of online gamers is the first step to creating a loyal customer base. This is especially important in the free-to-play revenue model, which is less predictable than a subscription-based model.

Hybrid infrastructure
Gaming companies that use Internap services have the ability to mix and match different infrastructure offerings, including public and private cloud, bare-metal, managed hosting and colocation. As the gaming industry continues to grow and more businesses enter the market, the successful gaming publishers will be those who can seamlessly deliver their game to end users with low latency, high availability and high performance. The ability to establish and maintain your competitive edge depends on having the right gaming infrastructure in place.

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Ansley Kilgore

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Apr 4, 2013

Back to GDC: Trends in the online gaming industry


stock-mobile-gaming_devices_300x150We were back at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco last week! It was an interesting and educative journey; GDC is a great opportunity to experience the many facets of the gaming world, from developers and publishers with big household names to indie developers and the different tools that enable them to enter the market. Throughout the sessions and while walking and talking on the expo floor, there was a lot to be experienced, including big reveals like Battlefield 4 and the impressive Unreal Engine 4 demo.

I noticed a few big takeaways:

CDN is still king
In our current era of patching and DLC (downloadable content), having a reliable and efficient content delivery network (CDN) has become a necessity due to the frequency and large file size needed for patching. Since delivery via a CDN is at least 5x faster than no cache and origin delivery, this is a no brainer for the gaming industry. One can’t expect to have a newly-released patch take too long or keep a significant portion of your players out because they don’t have the latest version without bracing for significant backlash.

This was very evident after attending Arenanet’s session about their successful MMO Guild Wars 2 (MMOs are notorious for their reliance on patching both to apply critical fixes and to add new content). Arenanet needed a custom CDN solution (something our CDN ops team regularly provides to gaming customers) to ease their patching woes and enable players to obtain the latest patch from either Arenanet or the CDN as soon as the patch went live.

Time for indie?
Even though the rise of the indie developer has been a long time coming, this year’s GDC heavily showcased a number of new SDKs (software development kits) specifically tailored to lower the barrier of entry for them. These tools were focused mostly on HTML5 and JavaScript, allowing developers to easily import their web-ready content or games to new platforms.

Also interesting is that this new direction is apparent on consoles, too. Nintendo showcased their Web Development kit that allows developers to transfer content to the Wii U, which isn’t surprising given the rise of sales in the online store for each of the three consoles. Another development in this area was the strong showing of the Unity game engine, given their Indie support community and lower cost (free for the basic version). What does this all mean? There’s already an increased demand for hosting services across the industry, and these tools help not only to continue but to increase that trend.

What about cloud?
There was a lot of talk about cloud as well, from recent offerings to new improvements and updates from cloud providers. One recurring theme, however, was that developers were looking for smoother and easier ways to spin up cloud instances globally depending on peak game times. We agree that automation is key for the gaming vertical – rapid game development cycles and notoriously fickle players demand infrastructure agility. Our Hosting API allows developers to spin up instances as peak times occur throughout the day and through different geographical regions, and our monitoring tools allow developers to keep track of when and where new instances should be spun up.

See you next time at GDC! In the meantime, check out our online gaming success kit.

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Sep 20, 2012

Online gaming continues to explode — and not because of a grenade


Online gamingNot surprisingly, there continues to be a growing library of online games. What may be surprising, however, is the rate of its growth — how quickly and how much. According to a new market report published by Transparency Market Research, the global gaming market was worth $70.5 billion in 2011 and is expected to reach $117.9 billion by 2015. Market research firm eMarketer, recently reported that there will be approximately 76.5 million social gamers in the U.S. by the end of 2012, of which 48% will be social network users.

In the Massively Multiplayer Online Game (MMOG) category, even with limited amounts of time, many U.S. gamers migrate from one new MMOG to the next, although Blizzard Entertainment’s World of Warcraft has managed to keep 10.5 million subscribers and a top spot in the U.S. for years. In fact, there is much hype about the company’s highly-anticipated fourth expansion of the world’s most popular subscription-based MMO role-playing game. The release of World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria is scheduled for next week – with official launch parties planned, literally, all around the world. Here are some other articles containing staggering stats about the gaming industry:

Looking for an IT Infrastructure to support your worlds or realms? Check out the instant replay of our recent webinar: Online Gaming Infrastructure Trends — Capitalizing on a growing industry. Or read the Online Gaming Industry Handbook Online Gaming Industry Handbook for an in-depth look at this market today.

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