When Microsoft abruptly pulled the plug on streaming service Mixer back in July, many perceived the move as a retreat from the esports ecosystem. Several months later, it’s been revealed that Microsoft has acquired tournament organizer Smash.gg for an undisclosed price, and we’re getting a sense of what the company’s true ambitions around esports may be.
It’s no coincidence that Microsoft revealed the news via its brand-new MSN Esports hub, which essentially curates Twitch live streams (as the saying goes, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em), news, scores, and an events calendar. A “Compete” button on the hub’s top navigation links directly to Smash.gg now, allowing esports fans to visit one hub for both viewing and playing in esports competitions.
Moreover, the acquisition news did not come from the Xbox division, but rather Smash.gg is joining the Content Services Team, meaning Microsoft likely is aiming at a widescale push to solidify Smash.gg as the backbone of esports tournaments – a space that has been fragmented with the likes of Battlefy, Challonge, and Facebook Gaming’s tournament platform. With its Azure cloud technology, which is already assisting teams like Cloud9, Microsoft can now offer solutions to both esports teams and tournament organizers. The Smash.gg acquisition fits perfectly within the larger corporate strategy of providing enabling platforms for a variety of industry verticals.
That doesn’t mean Smash.gg won’t benefit Xbox players though. It’s easy to imagine the same infrastructure being embedded within the Xbox Live dashboard to easily facilitate tournaments for Halo, Forza, Gears of War, and more titles. According to Interpret’s NMM: Global Profiles®, 18% of Xbox owners worldwide have played in an online tournament or esports event in the past 3 months, and 11% competed in an esports tournament in-person, although that’s likely down because of the pandemic.