Level Up Media talks UK eSports, online communities, and the future of video

Level Up Media recently announced the launch of two new sites – The Gamer and Go Gamer – alongside it’s eSports focused on demand video portal Ding It. We spoke to Adam Simmons, Head of Content and Marketing, to ask about the future of gaming video platforms, the UK eSports scene, and the mainstream media’s approach to pro gaming.

Talk us through the recent announcements from Level Up/Ding IT.

Ding It was launched back in 2015 as a premium based live streaming platform which was predominantly there to showcase the video distribution technology that we’d developed, and then later on video monetisation. We’ve seen a big pick up in our audience in terms of watching VoD (Video on Demand) and specifically shorter form VoD in the form of highlights, and that’s got a lot of positive reception from our viewership, our partners, and content creators. So as we refined that model, back in November we completely discontinued live. So we’re now fully fledged in the premium on demand video segment.

You describe what you’re putting out as premium gaming content, which is mainly short form VoD – what can users get specifically different that they can’t get on say YouTube?

In terms of what’s different, it’s curated content. So something like YouTube is a user generated environment, and it’s a fantastic opportunity for creators to put up their content, reach their very large audience, and really build a fan base of their own.

Now there’s obviously lots of plus sides to user generated content, but there’s also areas we think that by focusing on premium only content you’re able to provide a great experience for viewers, for the creators and for advertisers.

So on YouTube where there is a huge library of content, not everything is appealing. It’s very diverse, and it’s a wide range of both quality and content within those videos. Whereas with Level Up, we’re targeting purely gaming and premium content only. Now what we regard as premium is well edited, brand-safe content that is entertaining to viewers.

When we look at a traditional user generated environment of content, you’ve got three options of what you can do to find content. You can go to something that you subscribe to or already know, in which case you find their new content but don’t necessarily find more, or you can look at what’s trending and what’s popular, but again that doesn’t necessarily help you find new and entertaining content, or you can sit there and just search through the entire library. But then you’ve obviously got an incredibly large amount of videos to watch, and no human could possibly find all of it.

It’s also great for advertisers, because they know that when they are buying inventory on our network that they are going to be advertising against something that’s brand-safe. There’s been some stuff in the news recently where even some of the top UGC (User Generated Content) creators are producing content that not all advertisers want to be associated with.

eSports is growing in the UK, but it’s on a different scale in other parts of the world. How far are we behind?

I think there’s lots of things that are coming along and building up very nicely in terms of UK eSports. There’s leagues tailoring just to the UK, there are a couple of companies who are putting together arenas, putting together different locations for UK communities to build locally. In some ways it’s very effective to look at local communities, like the UK, like South Korea, like any national league and try and value them – but one of the joys of eSports is that it’s not necessarily bound by territory. eSports transcends those traditional barriers that exist within normal sport in many occasions.

I can play Overwatch with friends all over Europe even in different continents, whereas if I want to play football with some friends who live in four different European countries, our weekly travel bill to get to the pitch is going to be a lot more expensive.

So there’s definitely a part of building up a national community and a following there, but I think there’s also something to be said for looking at communities as a much wider angle, and the joy of the internet means building them regardless of geographic location.

That’s a fair point, but a visible difference is the sheer size of the stadiums that are getting filled out in Asia and the US – what do you think would be needed to get that level of popularity here? Do you think that’s even possible?

I think anything can be possible. There’s a lot of growth in those areas. It’s one of the reasons we launched these owned and operated sites. Maybe it’s not the volume of people that’s the problem, It could potentially be that they’re not being given the outlet that they want or the type of environment that they want to express that interest within video gaming.

When the mainstream media, TV specifically, covers games, I’m not sure it’s always taken seriously, or that the tone has changed much in ten years. With eSports that could be seen as an even larger issue, would you agree?

I think it’s a very new industry as well. I wouldn’t necessarily agree that the tone hasn’t changed, if you go back years there was still a lot of press that may not have been representative of how people in the eSports community viewed the industry. In more recent times there’s definitely been more interest. There’s also more pick up by mainstream brands. You’ve got major TV networks investing in eSports content, you’ve got a lot more people becoming more accepting of it, and the industry is growing up as well. Even in the next couple of years there’s things coming along that are getting a lot more mainstream appeal, but there are processes within the industry that allow a lot more professionalism, and for it to be taken a lot more seriously. As that continues to evolve, I think we’ll get a lot more positive coverage and maybe the stereotypes that evolve around what an eSports fan or athlete is within mainstream media will be challenged, and hopefully will be positively changed.

Explain the financial model of Level Up, compared with other video platforms like YouTube.

We do work a lot differently to traditional video distribution sites within gaming, looking at the content creator side of things. Rather than operating on a revenue share model, which the majority of platforms do, we actually operate on a license fee. And that’s non-exclusive as well. The big reason we are doing that is that we are not trying to force our way in, we’re trying to create a cultivated library which is compelling to our viewers, but that is also able to offer reassurance to our creators that they’ve got a steady income coming through over the month based on the quality of their content. And that’s really separating in our minds the partnerships into two forms. In a traditional revenue share, it’s combing both the quality of content and the ability to market it.

So you think more video platforms will go this way?

I think we’re already seeing that come across in some models especially in eSports. There’s a lot of discussion on video rights, especially. For major tournaments, there’s been some big players entering the market either investing or buying up image rights, which is something we’ll continue to see.

As creators, if you don’t know how much money you are going to make at the end of the month, it makes it very difficult to plan for a longer period of time and invest into that content.

And that’s something we want to encourage all levels of creatives to do, and hopefully the industry as a whole will also see models like that as being very beneficial for them in trying to promote a stable environment that grows across the board.

Tell us about the last year for Ding It, what can you say about the number of videos, viewers, revenue?

In terms of overall numbers we’ve seen quite a big pick-up in growth. As an entire network we’re up to over 30 million unique monthly users, which is allowing us to get quite a lot of scale in terms of what we’re doing. We’ve seen a big pick-up in revenues as a whole, I can’t go into numbers of exactly what they are but they are definitely notable and we’ve seen a big increase this year compared to last.

We’ve massively increased our video library and we intend to keep doing that. While we are firmly committed to quality over quantity in our library, we’re already seeing that go into the thousands of individual clips that we license directly with the creators, and by the end of the year we’re hoping to reach the 25,000 plus mark of individual clips.

And what are your ambitions for The Gamer and Go Gamer in that regard?

It’s worth looking at the library as Level Up media. So we’re not necessarily creating separate libraries for each of our owned and operated sites, but rather creating a central library where content is then distributed to where it’s most relevant.

Ding It is going to remain as our eSports and competitive gaming focused site, so your League of Legends, your Counter Strikes, and any competitive environment around them.

Whereas the The Gamer is going to be focused much more on mainstream titles and more casual gaming and console gaming. So things like Call of Duty, FIFA, GTA, Assassin’s Creed – triple A titles.

And then finally Go Gamer which will be launching towards the end of the year is targeting the youth audience – so under 13’s. And again that’s targeting a different segment of the gaming audience and a different demographic that watch gaming content for different reasons. So someone who’s watching Minecraft videos on Go Gamer is going to be very different to someone who’s watching competitive Counterstrike. And rather than trying to put them onto a single owned and operated site, we see splitting them out and creating and editorial tone and a narrative on that site that suit those communities and those niches in gaming. It’s going to create a much tighter knit community.

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