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Jan 26, 2018

1.5 Billion Reasons to Care About eSports

INAP

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

INAP

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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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.

Performance
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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Jun 13, 2013

CCP Games achieves high availability with Internap’s Flow Control Platform (FCP)

Ansley Kilgore

Flow Control Platform (FCP)Gaming companies that develop massively multiplayer online games (MMOG) require highly reliable connectivity for a consistent gaming experience. To meet consumer expectations and avoid outages, game developers must have an IT Infrastructure in place that allows them to assess network availability and performance across multiple carriers. The ability to deliver your game across the optimal network path helps reduce the risk of disruptions and slowdowns that would otherwise result in lost gaming subscribers and lost revenue.

CCP Games is one of the leading companies in the field of massively multiplayer online gaming. But when subscribers began reporting issues with inconsistent performance and outages during game play, CCP Games needed a way to quickly identify and resolve network problems. With a large global subscriber base and game play that involves integrated voice and chat features, the end user experience relies heavily on the ability to automatically route traffic across the best network path.

With Internap’s Flow Control PlatformTM (FCP), CCP Games can prevent network problems from affecting the experience of their online gamers. FCP provides the ability to analyze IP network-bound traffic in real-time, identify which networks to send traffic by measuring round-trip times and bandwidth usage and optimize all traffic for performance and high availability.

Real-time visibility – FCP provides visibility into performance and network availability across numerous network and carrier providers and then analyzes the data to automatically route traffic across the most optimal network paths.

Management and reporting – FCP delivers insightful metrics and reporting tools that can be used to understand the condition of providers’ networks at any time. This can significantly reduce the need for manual troubleshooting.

Automatic traffic routing – Instead of waiting up to several days for network engineers to address issues with poor performance, FCP automatically detects network problems before they affect the customer. The result is higher availability of CCP Games’ platform and increased customer satisfaction.

For online gaming companies and other industries that rely on optimal online performance, having the ability to automatically navigate around network trouble spots is critical. All carriers experience outages, and a solution like Internap’s FCP helps alleviate these problems without manual troubleshooting. Whether your goal is to maintain competitive advantage, improve customer satisfaction or grow your business, you need a consistent, reliable platform that end users can trust.

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May 21, 2013

Bare-metal cloud accelerates online gaming

Ansley Kilgore

Hi-Rez Studios Case Study  LogoBare-metal cloud has helped Hi-Rez Studios achieve higher economic efficiencies and superior online gaming performance.

Have you ever wondered how online gaming companies meet end user demands for high performance and low latency? Fast-paced MMOGs have unique challenges regarding IT Infrastructure, and providing an exceptional user experience is critical. During a global launch, your new game could see a huge influx of users, and providing a high-quality gaming experience depends largely on scalability and performance.

As the winner of the Technology Association of Georgia’s 2012 Excalibur Award, Hi-Rez Studios uses Internap’s bare-metal cloud to efficiently achieve an exceptional user experience. Located just outside Atlanta, Hi-Rez requires a scalable, secure and reliable technology platform to support their growing needs. Successful online gaming infrastructure is composed of several factors, including low latency, the best network and the most efficient route.

Download the complete Hi-Rez Studios case study here.

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Mar 28, 2013

Support multi-region game launch initiatives with colocation

Ansley Kilgore

Apterra global connectivityToday’s online game developers face an increasingly global marketplace that is no longer restricted to just a few prominent regions. As consumers around the world embrace online video games, developers and publishers must deliver games to a variety of regions at launch. This presents a wide range of logistical and technological challenges which can be resolved with colocation services.

Considering the dynamics of a multi-region launch
A console generation or so ago, most games were released in Japan, nearby parts of Asia, the United States and, to a lesser extent, in the rest of North America. In the past decade, activity has increased in the United Kingdom, Europe and Australia, where video games long held a place in the subculture but are now prominent. People in South America and even parts of the Middle East and Africa have also embraced video games to some degree. Within the span of 10 or 20 years, the video game industry has progressed from a popular type of toy that represented a cultural niche in the developed world to a universal mainstream media. As a result, game publishers must take a global approach to releasing new games.

When games were mostly a niche in much of the world, and released on disks or cartridges, games would often release at different times in various areas to spread out the burden. For example, a title may hit store shelves in Japan in May and become available in the United States at the end of June. With the rise of online video games and a global video game marketplace, these kind of delays are not as feasible. It is possible to restrict game use based on the location of a user to stagger the release, which is still done in some cases, but video game enthusiasts increasingly expect a game to be launched simultaneously, or close to it, around the world.

Making a multi-region launch possible in an era where almost every game includes online content, regardless of whether it’s hosted on the web, hinges on having web servers in geographically diverse locations to support solid performance in a variety of markets. Establishing multiple global data centers can be a major cost burden. Managing the logistics of each data center system, localizing the services and distributing the workforce properly can also be difficult. Turning to a colocation provider can be the answer, especially since scalability is a critical factor when releasing a new game.

Using colocation to support global release processes
Colocation eases the burden of a global game release by allowing developers and publishers to host content in third-party data centers located around the world. As a result, they do not have to invest in the actual facility space and instead can simply purchase the infrastructure they need, configure it and let it work to support end-user functionality. Many colocation vendors also offer managed services as an option, alleviating the various maintenance challenges of handling a distributed data center architecture.

Having services available in a variety of locations is necessary to support a global game release because distance can contribute to latency. Furthermore, spreading out the work load can balance performance and ensure enough space for gamers trying to find a server that works for them. Supporting this kind of infrastructure without the help of a third-party service vendor can be an overwhelming challenge, but colocation offers a cost-effective solution to the global launch of online games.

To learn more, download our white paper, Five Considerations for Building Online Gaming Infrastructure.

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Jan 30, 2013

What does an online gamer look like?

Ansley Kilgore

online gamerIt’s well-known that the online gaming industry is evolving quickly, and is poised for exponential growth within the next few years. For online game publishers, the key
to success involves more than just brilliant new ideas for games, characters or superpowers. It’s also essential for online gaming companies to establish the IT Infrastructure required to deliver the optimal user experience, and to have a clear understanding of the constantly-changing market demographics. Overlooking either one of these can spell doom for your competitive advantage.

The evolution of the online gaming industry goes hand in hand with the evolution of technology. Online gaming infrastructure must be able to support the demands of mobile gaming, and meet the expectations of gamers’ “anytime, anywhere” mentality. With the right gaming infrastructure in place, online video game providers can create more than games – they can also create an exceptional user experience and strategic competitive advantage.

Know your audience
What do these gamers look like? Just as the gaming industry is advancing, the characteristics of online gamers are changing rapidly as well. It’s important to stay current on the demographic trends of players within the massively multiplayer online RPG (MMORPG) genre, so that new games and products can be designed for the right audience. Game developers who understand the preferences of their players will have the best chance of success and sustainability for their business.

The characteristics of online gamers may not be what you think. To learn more about their attributes, check out our infographic on the Changing Face of Online Gaming.

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Dec 14, 2012

Hi-Rez Studios achieves performance and platform flexibility

Ansley Kilgore

How do online game developers make sure their players get the best user experience possible? Challenges such as latency, scalability and increased competition within the gaming industry can have an adverse effect on player retention and the number of daily active users.


Hi-Rez Studios, Inc., a recent winner of the TAG Excalibur Award, relies on Internap’s Performance IP, cloud hosting and Content Delivery Network (CDN) services to address these challenges. As an independent studio that creates online interactive entertainment, they have successfully launched two massively multiplayer online games worldwide while scaling seamlessly to support traffic growth from 100 gigabits per year to 1.6+ petabytes per month.

Learn more about how Hi-Rez Studios drives player loyalty and stays competitive with a high-speed scalable IT Infrastructure.

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Oct 16, 2012

GDC in Austin and catching up on the latest trends in gaming

Ansley Kilgore

Game Developers Conferece OnlineWe were at Game Developers Conference Online in Austin last week to catch up on the latest trends in one of our key customer verticals. The time we spent deciphering T-shirts with arcane game references and investigating the ubiquitous affinity for 8-bit game art notwithstanding, this was a really informative and useful conference. We had the opportunity to meet more than a few talented game developers, project managers, writers, and artists, all ready to discuss their craft. I’ve summarized some takeaways we thought were worth passing along below.

Free-to-play game monetization

Different platforms generate vastly different in-game monetization yields. Tommy Palm at King.com mentioned that their mobile users were much more valuable than web users (3x higher). Why? Mobile gamers are willing to pay more because micro transactions happen more smoothly on mobile devices than on a website. Also there is an “everything is free” mentality on web which isn’t the case for mobile.

Teut Weidemann at Ubisoft offered up industry monetization conversion rates (paying active players/total active players) by distribution method: for social network based games (1-3%), browser based games (5-15%), and client-based games (20-30%).

Multi-platform game production

Unity’s Adam Gutterman discussed the challenge of multi-platform game production amidst fragmenting game markets, authoring tools/game engines, devices (particularly Android but also Apple), distribution platforms (Game Center, Facebook, Gree, etc.), and third-party technologies (e.g., Tapjoy, Flurry, Playnomics). He also contended that HTML 5 isn’t a great option for multiplatform yet because: (1) it lacks digital rights management standards and code is often completely exposed; (2) discovery/rediscovery methods for game aren’t fully baked; (3) it’s very difficult to optimize for different browsers. Interesting to note however that there is some big investment going into HTML 5 gaming companies and some of the largest games in the world have already ported their games to an HTML 5 platform including Bejeweled and Angry Birds. HTML 5 isn’t currently supported by Unity so perhaps that explains some of the near-term skepticism.

Online gaming infrastructure (a topic near and dear to our hearts)

CDN/IP

We heard more than a few developers and tech ops speakers advocate for the use of a CDN to reduce bandwidth costs, improve performance, and distribute load (both friendly and malicious). Of course we would argue that IP route optimization can benefit dynamic elements of any online game – avoiding trouble spots to specific geos that arise across the Internet every day.

Jesse Willett and Hao Chen with Zynga talked about the need to verify your CDN cache policies to make sure users are getting the right file. (Quick Tutorial: CDNs store static files at edge servers around the world so users far away from the origin server can quickly retrieve files, thereby making an object/page load faster.  When the source files are updated at the origin, you need to make sure that those users served by the edge don’t continue to get the old file because it has the same name/URL). Unlike some CDNs (e.g., Amazon’s CloudFront), Internap provides a “wildcard purge” feature that eliminates all old copies of files stored in edge caches to ensure files pointing to a URL are the latest. Even with this feature, the Zynga guys advocated for changing the URL itself every time a file is changed. This ensures that old copies don’t slip through the cracks via 3rd party reverse proxies or files cached in the browser itself (which can’t be addressed by a wildcard purge).

BioWare’s Dave Moore talked about how the tech ops team for Star Wars the Old Republic (STWOR) used their CDN to direct a portion of gamers (~10% at peak concurrence) to a waiting room to ensure the game servers weren’t overloaded on the go-live day (exhaustive load testing couldn’t predict the huge demand they saw day 1).

Servers/Storage/Cloud

STWOR, as well as several other MMOs that we spoke with hadn’t yet started to use public cloud for their production environments. Many well established social games (often cross platform) were also using custom infrastructure environments rather than IaaS. Public cloud with Hadoop and other MapReduce implementations plus My/NoSQL, however seemed to be widely used by many of the mobile, asynchronous game publishers we talked with. Some of Internap’s gaming customers are also using the fungible capacity of our AgileCLOUD to dynamically increase the load they can take at launch.

Some of the many recommendations we heard for lowering latency and improving game performance included: aggressive minimization of disk i/o (via replication and caching), iterative fixes of design bugs, effective load balancing across servers, racks, data centers and geos, separation of production environments (e.g., forums and authentication servers independent of game servers) and old-fashioned equipment scaling.

 

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Sep 6, 2012

Video blog: IT Infrastructure for online gaming

INAP

From the age-old arcade favorites like Pac-Man, Donkey Kong and Pong to the lovable Nintendo Mario Brothers or the highly addictive World of Warcraft, the culture, technology and business of video games has slowly filtered down into your living room, your PC and even to your mobile phone. If you haven’t touched a joystick in a while, you might be in for a surprise. The technology, graphics and budget behind blockbuster game titles mimic those of their Hollywood counterparts — and that’s not all that has changed. The face of gamers has changed too, and it’s not just because their acne cleared up when they hit 35. Games like Farmville and Words with Friends have attracted more girl gamers than ever before. Gaming demographics have also expanded to include children and their parents playing games together — and it’s not happening at the family fun centers of the old arcade days. Today’s gaming is done online.

To keep up with this growing demand, online gaming companies must contend with latency, availability and high infrastructure costs. Taking your IT Infrastructure to the next level to deliver a consistent experience for finicky gamers requires coordination on all fronts — and not just hand-to-eye.  Our own Adam Weissmuller, director of product management for our managed hosting and cloud division, sat down to answer some of the tough questions. Check out what Adam had to say in our vblog about the challenges, optimal infrastructure designs and what to look for in an IT Infrastructure services provider.

Looking for an IT Infrastructure to support your worlds or realms? Check out the instant replay of our recent online gaming webinar, then be sure to read the “Online Gaming Industry Handbook.” for an in-depth look at this market today.

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