South Korea esports network OGN to invest at least $100 million in North America, plans big partnership with battle royale giant PUBG

Key Points
  • OGN, whose parent company is based in Asia, will partner with PUBG Corp — the publisher of the hit title PlayerUnknown Battlegrounds — and will pour a nine figure investment into the North American market.
  • As the exclusive partner for PUBG's North America events, OGN will be live streaming and helping to produce the new National PUBG League (NPL), the very first professional North American league for the game.
PlayerUnknown Battlegrounds
Source: OGN

Electronic sports producer and network OGN is making its way across the Pacific, announcing on Wednesday it plans to launch in the U.S. — and will spend upward of $100 million to produce live events and other esports content.

As part of the new expansion, OGN, whose parent company is based in South Korea, will partner with PUBG Corp — the publisher of the hit title PlayerUnknown Battlegrounds — and will pour vast sums into the North American market. PlayerUnknown is the second most-watched "battle royale" title in the world, notching just over 500 million total hours of content watched via both Twitch and YouTube Gaming from January to September, according to data from research firm Newzoo. The popular battle royale format refers to survival-oriented games that result in one sole surviving player.

As the exclusive partner for PUBG's North America events, OGN will be live streaming and helping to produce the new National PUBG League (NPL), the very first professional North American league for the game.

When its games begin in January 2019, the NPL will be the largest official PUBG tournament in the U.S. to date with a prize pool of $1 million.

As a division of CJ E&M, one of Asia's largest entertainment companies, OGN has also produced over 500 global esports leagues and events in over 150 countries since launching in 2000. To this day, the broadcaster and producer still creates over 3,000 hours per year of esports and gaming-related content, which generate about 200 million total live stream views annually.

The tremendous popularity of battle royale games has led to an explosion of the genre's esports scene, with competitors now vying to be the last man standing in multi-million dollar prize pool tournaments. With OGN's arrival on U.S. shores, the stakes are now even higher.

Many North American esports fans discovered OGN during the heydays of competitive StarCraft 2 and, in more recent years, through the broadcasts and tournaments of the League of Legends Champions Korea league (LCK).

PlayerUnknown Battlegrounds
Source: OGN

California dreams

The weekly live matches will be played in OGN's new battle royale studio arena in Manhattan Beach, which can seat up to 100 competitors on the main stage, and features a 270-degree LED screen to view gameplay. The 35,000 square foot space seats about 500, making it the largest esports studio arena on the West Coast, and the first battle royale-focused arena in the U.S.

But the arena's modular capabilities will also allow it to accommodate for two other competitive esports-related events run by OGN. Esports fans will also have the chance to view the OGN Super League (OSL), a weekly competition that will feature a rotation of the biggest trending game titles. The OGM Super Match (OSM) events, on the other hand, will also feature its own rotation of games, but will be invitation-only to the best of the best in each title. Both OSL and OSM are also expected to launch next year.

Ultimately, OGN sees the PUBG partnership as the first of many to help the evolve the esports scene in North America, the company told CNBC in a recent interview.

"We were the first to formulate broadcast for a linear TV channel entirely dedicated to esports, and based on that experience and expertise we always look at the global market," Gary Kim, head of production at OGN, told CNBC.

"So far our content has been translated to different languages [and to different countries] all over the world, but we never had the chance to input a structure in the U.S.," he said. "To expand into the global market, we need North America," he added. "Many prominent game developers in are in the U.S., and we want to work closely with them."

While esports have long been popular in Asia, the North American scene has seen explosive growth over the last few years. Newzoo projects that the North American region will have generated $335 million in industry revenue, and as a result will account for over a third of global esports revenue.

Still, OGN's director of partnerships, Dennis Yi, believes that much of the potential for growth remains untapped.

"You can look at the reports coming out and see that there's still a lot of room for growth, so it's important for us to grow the pie together [with other companies rather ] than to take the pie for ourselves," he said. "We want to work with established brands that are trusted by the community and audiences, [and that means] entering into as many partnerships as possiblem and growing esports as a whole."

Ultimately, Yi and Kim emphasized that OGN's goal is to bring esports into the mainstream, and to use their expertise as both broadcaster and producer to help the industry reach a bigger audience.

Yi stressed that in addition to their live tournaments and events, the company will be creating original content geared towards the North American viewer. According to OGN, this includes upcoming game shows, docu-series on the biggest names in the esports space, virtual reality shows and matches between American celebrities, and well-known esports professionals.

While OGN has produced similar content for South Korean audiences, Yi said that localizing is key to appeal to a wider set of North American viewers. He believes that given the company's experience back in Asia, OGN has "the luxury to attract everyone from core enthusiasts to someone that doesn't necessarily watch."