The New Sports game development studio and MGM Resorts International recently expanded their partnership. As a result, competitive video gaming is coming to the casino floor.
Suite Series gaming competitions to run on MGM properties
MGM properties will host special events called the “Suite Series.” These “will pit athletes, celebrities, and influencers against each other as they represent a variety of MGM Resorts-owned properties.”
“Suite Series is the first of many new innovative content concepts, and shows Foundry IV and MGM Resorts’ commitment to experiential entertainment for the community. Future events in creation are going to be centered around national amateur participation.”
The first Suite Series will center on a newly developed battle royale genre game. The game will run on a competitive gaming system created specifically for gameplay on the casino floor.
The runaway success of the Epic Games title Fortnite helped quickly popularize the battle royale game genre.
MGM Executive Director of Interactive Gaming Development, Lovell Walker, said:
“One of our company’s current goals is to have a larger stake in the sports and entertainment industry. Partnering with Foundry IV gives us an opportunity to accomplish that goal while contributing to, and playing a prominent role in, the New Sports space. We are open minded in our approach to New Sports projects currently under development and believe they will inspire growth and innovation within our company.”
What are New Sports?
Sherman coined the term New Sports to describe the focus of his company. The name hopefully differentiates the vision from that of other pure game studios.
Sherman explained the concept to PlayUSA:
“A New Sports build is a build with the intention of creating an ecosystem or platform that shares revenue across the board, that is sustainable, that isn’t bound to a single game. We go to other publishers and say, look, we’ll be your turnkey esports solution, which grants you great marketing for your game, relevancy, wonderful competitive celebratory culture that comes along with that.”
Sherman was brought up loving poker. His father regularly took him to the annual WSOP in Las Vegas. There he got to meet legendary WSOP founder Jack Binion from whom he received support for his new categorization of the space “New Sports.”
“Anecdotally, when I was talking to Jack Binion about New Sports, he said, “that’s a much better name,” and I’m thinking here’s a guy that was part of inventing the WSOP, which was one of the greatest… I think it was an amazing celebration of competitiveness within a community, so when he said that it really tickled me because, he’s a childhood hero of mine so that was something special.
New game designed for the casino floor and beyond
Sherman took a different approach to create the new game. Development has been very open. It even featured input from all the potential future stakeholders, including big brands.
He sees the battle royale genre games being at the beginning of their maturity cycle and ideal for the casino environment:
“When I saw the battle royale genre, I saw poker. I saw a very powerful version of poker that maybe speaks more to millennials and younger than what poker may do now.”
After the success of Fortnite, many other game developers have put out battle royale versions or are including battle royal modes in their new releases. Some examples include Call of Duty Black Ops 4 and Battlefield 5. Sherman insists that Foundry IV’s game will still stand out against the competition:
“The difference between our battle royale game and everyone else’s is the fact that you can play it on the casino floor and there’s going to be an entire wagering ecosystem around the contests…. The way in which we’re going to integrate brands into the genre is going to be transformative…. The way in which you can play this battle royale will be unique within the genre.”
Partnership with MGM is transformational
Sherman sees the partnership with MGM as being a critical success factor. Notably, MGM was an early investor in Foundry IV.
“Putting it on the casino floor and having it as a competition, as a game of skill, is a key differentiator, and we could not do that without MGM. The expertise that MGM has brought to this especially Lovell Walker, he’s fantastic. Our first day working together, he just knocked my socks off with basically, how do we delight the customer, how do we make sure the customer is having a fantastic experience. That really resonated with me.”
The new game is still in advanced development Foundry will release it in phases. The first phase? MGM casino floors:
“The first iteration of the game will hit the casino floor initially. It will then transcend out into the wild. We do plan for it to ubiquitous as many of the other games you see, meaning whether it’s console, PC, Mac, whatever, IoS, Android, we want to get it into as many hands as possible.”
To that end, when the game goes out to the public it will be, like Fortnite, free-to-play:
The first New Sport will be free-to-play
Sherman wants to overturn the esports/video game business model. The one where games are expensive and games are artificially forced into a competitive esports mode which wasn’t part of their original conception:
“We have always said our games will be free to play, and the reason is because we are about giving everybody an opportunity to celebrate and compete in esports.”
“It’s more important to get it into the hands of people that want to compete than it is to set up any barrier to entry with a price tag.”
Unlike the most successful titles currently on the market, Sherman is determined that his game will be something that will unite rather than divide kids from parents. This is a key element to his New Sports concept:
“When we slip into the New Sports gear, it becomes about how do we lessen the tension between parents and kids? One way is our games have no replica weaponry, it’s not a war mod. It doesn’t deal with red blood real world violence. You are not killed, there are no AR 15s, none of that.”
New Sports will be a franchise opportunity
Overwatch successfully created an esports franchise model where people bid to win regional Overwatch team franchises. The multi-million dollar franchises generated massive revenues too. However, Sherman believes there is a better way to create a New Sports ecosystem.
To this end, Foundry IV is establishing a New Sports Federation (NSF). This federation’s core purpose is to inspire growth in digital competitive entertainment and create products that increase its value with gamers, brands, and media. The NSF will also aid other publishers wishing to enter into the competitive gaming market with a turnkey new sports solution.
The federation will include eight mainstream sports teams/leagues. Sherman explains that the idea will “flip the franchise model:”
“We create our own games, for the federation of sports teams. They have a stake in every game we create, now and in the future, across the platform, so they actually benefit from the game revenues, and unlike what’s on the market today where it’s just a share of the league, and then they also have the league arm attached, where they generate revenue from the league as well, which they own outright. That’s a big departure from what’s in the market currently.”
Sherman hopes sports team owners get in the game
According to Sherman, involving sports teams creates a new space between the cost-intensive approach they are currently taking and their traditional business model:
“Sports team owners are at a crossroads right now. They are not used to paying somebody else to participate in their IP. They are used to owning the IP…. We’re giving them something that’s a little more familiar to them. I’m saying look, you’re going to own the game, you’re going to own the IP and you’re going to be able to exploit that, and at the same time you’re going to own the league 100%. That’s your league. We now create tools for you that you tell us you need, if that’s a brand integration, if that’s an overlay, if that’s a new media distribution play, if that’s you know, something you want to experiment with, great, you are the league, we’re the tools.”
Unifying sports and esports in the New Sports space
Foundry IV wants to act as more than just the game creator. Sherman aims to take on a larger role as a unifier within the competitive entertainment space.
“Our job is to marry the future and what the kids are consuming, what they’re passionate about with the competitive expertise that exists in the [sports team] ownership world.”
“We’ve talked to sports teams, separate sports teams in five different markets, we’ve also talked to sports leagues directly, and what I can tell you right now is the problem isn’t going to be are we getting eight, the problem’s going to be what eight, because everybody wants exclusivity.”
“When they hear that there’s no weapons in the game, that mirror red blood violence, it’s all in a fictitious vibe that is centred around competition, they know that’s incremental income they can capture from their sponsors.”
He is confident that the composition of the federation will be strategically valuable to drive New Sports forward:
“The issue I’m currently having is picking the right sports team owners that do contribute strategic value, meaning they want a seat at the table, they want to be part of that.”
Sports betting will change with the influence of New Sports
On top of the moneymaking opportunity Sherman offers, he believes that sports betting will itself be enhanced by the unification offered by New Sports:
“New Sports will drive traditional sports innovation, because there are going to be bets and ways to bet that are born out of the New Sports space that really go ahead and permeate, and are maybe slightly adjusted, but still, were born out of this digital sphere that traditional can borrow from.”
Traditional metrics are the wrong way to predict financial success
One preconception that Sherman is working hard to overcome is that viewer figures are the most important metric for esports and traditional sports:
“The problem right now, and I’m really passionate about this point, is everybody is so used to looking at metrics like viewership as a success make or break. Stop doing that! You know what it’s about for NBA2k, do you know what they do great? They celebrate basketball, you know what else they do great? They have engagement with their fans. Focus on those things.”
The partnership between the NBA and the esports title NBA2k demonstrates the point:
“Is the viewership there? No! Who cares? Who says that the best metric to do an NBA2k league? The best metric is look at the engagement they’re getting, look at the incremental income they can generate from the sponsors.”
Journalists are part of the problem
I asked Sherman what was it that I don’t know as an industry observer that I should know. What should I be looking at that as a journalist I am missing? Sherman jumped on the question:
“Right now the problem is that the traditional reporting is handcuffed, and it’s creating a false narrative and contributing to inflation and hype around things that just don’t really sustain. But it’s funny, because if you do just a little bit of research, you can really find that just beneath the surface, there’s a ton, there’s paydirt there that a lot of people aren’t reporting on.”
As an example, he talked about the importance of amateurs:
“It’s a massive market that’s way underserved.”
And Sherman plans to do something about it:
“We are going to be doing a nationwide amateur even that does celebrate competitive entertainment, or as I call it, New Sports and your going to have a city champion which I think is great. What better way to celebrate your achievement than somebody in Pittsburgh being crowned as city champion. Somebody in Chicago, or in Dallas, and then you get to celebrate at our world championships in Las Vegas, I mean that story writes itself.”