Highlights from Day 2 of Web Summit 2023

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A person (Sega COO Shuji Utsumi) standing, pictured from the waist up. They are wearing a headset mic and gesturing emphatically with both hands. They appear to be speaking. The Web Summit logo is visible in several places behind them. This is Centre Stage at Web Summit.

Sonic the Hedgehog, TV stars turned tech commentators, and the esports revolution. All this and more from Day 2 of Web Summit 2023.

It was yet another busy day at the Altice Arena in Lisbon, as attendees, startups, investors and media returned for Day 2 of Web Summit.

We caught actor turned crypto sceptic Ben McKenzie, Sega COO Shuji Utsumi, and the co-CEO of global esports giant ESL Faceit Group, Craig Levine.

Here are just some of the highlights from Day 2 of Web Summit 2023.

Has Sonic come to life?

Sonic the Hedgehog is a film, television and video game star, and is as well-known to many people as any actor or celebrity. Soon, the blue blur might be stepping off the screen and into your life.

“We’re planning to expand transmedia initiatives to our major IPs,” said Shuji Utsumi, COO at Sega and keeper of the Sonic brand. “We firmly believe it plays an important role, allowing us to strategically expand the values of numerous IPs in innovative ways.”

Japan is a content pioneer, with gaming at the forefront. Nowhere is this witnessed more than in the world of ‘VTubers’ – Japan’s virtual gaming YouTube streamers who are breaking a new frontier by bringing gaming characters to life.

They use virtual, computer-generated avatars with real-time motion-to-capture technology for streaming.

Of the top VTubers, just 10 percent are actual, real human beings. And it’s big business. “They’re some of the most-subbed and superchatted livestream influencers of both the real world and virtual,” said AKA Virtual CEO Jia Shen.

“In Japan, they’re now everywhere, appearing on TikTok, streaming platforms and live television. They’re so mainstream that you can find them in your local convenience stores adorning your favourite snacks,” Jia continued.

According to Jia, this is a trend that is also beginning to catch on in the West, particularly as younger audiences gravitate towards self-curation of their content diets on TikTok, YouTube and Twitch.

Technology also means that brands can now bring these VTube characters into the real world, and feature them in marketing and brand-based content creation.

Jia’s company has partnered with Sega to bring its stable of characters – including Sonic and the Street Fighters – off-console and into the real world.

Founders’ mental health should be a priority for VCs

The current downturn in funding has placed a strain on startup founders. Amid this turbulent period, the VC community is realising the need to support founder mental health.

Three people sitting in chairs onstage. The person sitting on the left is speaking expressively, using their hands. Web Summit logos appear on the stage wall in the background.
From left, D14.AI founder and CEO Melda Akin, Unconventional Ventures venture partner Vera Baker and Fertifa director Eileen Burbidge on Centre Stage during Day 2 of Web Summit 2023 at the Altice Arena in Lisbon, Portugal. Image: Sam Barnes/Web Summit (CC BY 2.0)

“VC is so much about ‘go fast and get shit done’, as opposed to mindfulness and meditation. But I do think that investors are much more mindful about what’s happening with founders today,” said Vera Baker, venture partner with Unconventional Ventures.

Explaining that some funds offer in-house therapy and mental health subsidies, Vera emphasised that it’s up to investors to ensure that founders can access services.

Eileen Burbidge, director of Fertifa – a startup offering reproductive health benefits for employers – agreed, arguing that investors have a “duty of care” for founders’ well-being.

The director reflected on Monzo founder Tom Blomfield’s resignation due to mental health issues – something the founder has been outspoken about – calling it a “failing on our part, and the board, to not recognise that with him sooner”.

“As investor shareholders, if we’re not looking after founders’ wellbeing … then we’re not going to see them bring their best selves to work,” added Eileen.

The democratisation of esports

The combination of high-speed 5G networks and global access to smartphones has solidified mobile gaming as esports’s largest sector.

According to Craig Levine – co-CEO of one of the world’s leading esports gaming groups, ESL Faceit group – 2.6 billion of the 3.2 billion global gamers play on mobile devices. That’s a whopping 80 percent of users. But why?

Craig claimed this is down to three factors: richer, more exciting games; a wider range of options available at your fingertips; and a more diverse audience.

“When you look at the entire market, on top of seeing richer, more immersive games, there are so many different types, and that’s really creating a more diverse audience,” said Craig.

And, while mobile gaming has been around since the popularisation of Nokia’s Snake in 1997, there has been a huge jump in the number of users in recent years.

According to Qualcomm CMO Don McGuire, “mobile platforms have been delivering console-level gaming experiences … for the past five years”.

But the major difference is the cross-platform accessibility of those games. “You can now game between devices, like the case of an esports player playing against someone in a BMW off a 31-inch screen,” said Don.

Crypto is a ‘study in manias’

Actor Ben McKenzie has gone from being one of TV’s most prominent stars to one of crypto’s biggest sceptics. Ben’s stinging criticism of FTX and Sam Bankman-Fried has recently been vindicated by the American judicial system.

“Crypto is the newest iteration of multi-level marketing in many ways,” said Ben, “and studies show that 99 percent of people lose in multi-level marketing”.

However, while the OC star may be highly critical of crypto in its current form, “[he’s] not sceptical of the problems crypto purports to address”. Crypto went from the latest financial innovation to the latest financial crisis in just a few years, “speedrunning the last half a millennium of financial mistakes”.

And while crypto has firmly positioned itself in the ‘bust’ category, the boom in AI leaves Ben far more optimistic, with the suggestion that the technology is much more “substantive”, and that “the ‘doomerism’ around AI can become overwrought”.

Money, trust and the key to good storytelling

According to Tilo Bonow, founder and CEO of Piabo Communications, storytelling is vital to any brand’s success. It’s what separates successful companies from competitors, driving consumers to spend exponentially more on products and services.

“A great communication strategy and good storytelling can help you as a founder in many, many dimensions. Of course, it helps with your valuation. But it also relates to big parts of your story; to your narrative,” Tilo said.

Communication and trust go hand in hand, according to the founder. And, regarding trust, Tilo doesn’t just mean getting customers on board with your company’s messaging: “When we’re talking about trust, it also relates to investments. When money is the currency of transactions, trust is the currency of interactions.”

There’s still lots more to come from Web Summit 2023. Catch further highlights by following #WebSummit across Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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