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People

This K-pop single by a group composed entirely of video game characters is No. 1 on the Billboard charts

Video games are coming for your ears.

K/DA band members

As video games become a lingua franca of global culture, top game properties can extend fully into other forms of entertainment on their own terms.

Image: Riot Games

It's not unusual to find a K-pop single at the top of Billboard's World Digital Song Sales chart, but a K-pop single by a virtual group that exists mainly as stylized versions of online video game characters is a bit less common at No. 1.

In fact, it's only happened twice, most recently as "The Baddest" now tops the list two weeks after its release by K/DA, what could be described as an augmented reality girl group created by Riot Games. A changing cast of humans provides the basis for the voices of the group's four members, while their appearances represent the characters Ahri, the Nine-Tailed Fox; Akali, the Rogue Assassin; Evelynn, Agony's Embrace; and Kai'Sa, Daughter of the Void from League of Legends, Riot's core product and one of the world's most popular online games.

The only time it's happened before was two years ago when Riot introduced the group with its debut single "Pop/Stars," which has also attracted more than 370 million views on YouTube.

Parts of the video game business, in particular sports games, have long been an effective marketing vector for the traditional pop music industry. Placing a song, or even a snippet, into a popular video game can expose that artist to millions of potential new fans.

But Riot's continuing success with K/DA (which refers to kills, deaths and assists — statistics tracked in many competitive games) points in a different and potentially more interesting direction. As video games become a lingua franca of global culture, top game properties can extend fully into other forms of entertainment on their own terms. In other words, you don't have to be a League of Legends fan or even know the game exists to get an earworm like "The Baddest" in your head or on your device. And the song doesn't necessarily have to have anything to do with the game.

Despite the well-earned popularity of "Video Games Live," the term "video game music" is justifiably associated with beeps and boops, explosions and overwrought orchestral cringe. But Riot's experiments in brand-extension may be demonstrating that perceptions can change.

In this part of its ambitions, Riot's ownership by Tencent, the Chinese media conglomerate, may give Riot an advantage over its independent Western competitors. Even before K-pop swept the world, South Korea was leading the way in developing Asian online game culture. China's official approach to K-pop appears to continue to evolve, but one thing appears sure: Riot and Tencent are beginning the League of Legends world championship tournament in two weeks in Shanghai.

Transforming 2021

The future of retail is hiding in an abandoned mall

The warehouse is moving closer to customers' houses as ecommerce eats the world of retail.

Microfulfillment centers could help retailers compete with the largest ecommerce companies.

Photo: Scott Eisen/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The American mall has been decimated by the rise in ecommerce. But soon, it may also be their savior — sort of, at least.

Long before the pandemic kept people at home in front of their computers, buying everything they needed to see out lockdown online, malls were on the decline and ecommerce was on the rise.

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Mike Murphy

Mike Murphy ( @mcwm) is the director of special projects at Protocol, focusing on the industries being rapidly upended by technology and the companies disrupting incumbents. Previously, Mike was the technology editor at Quartz, where he frequently wrote on robotics, artificial intelligence, and consumer electronics.

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The future of computing at the edge: an interview with Intel’s Tom Lantzsch

An interview with Tom Lantzsch, SVP and GM, Internet of Things Group at Intel

An interview with Tom Lantzsch

Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Internet of Things Group (IoT) at Intel Corporation

Edge computing had been on the rise in the last 18 months – and accelerated amid the need for new applications to solve challenges created by the Covid-19 pandemic. Tom Lantzsch, Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Internet of Things Group (IoT) at Intel Corp., thinks there are more innovations to come – and wants technology leaders to think equally about data and the algorithms as critical differentiators.

In his role at Intel, Lantzsch leads the worldwide group of solutions architects across IoT market segments, including retail, banking, hospitality, education, industrial, transportation, smart cities and healthcare. And he's seen first-hand how artificial intelligence run at the edge can have a big impact on customers' success.

Protocol sat down with Lantzsch to talk about the challenges faced by companies seeking to move from the cloud to the edge; some of the surprising ways that Intel has found to help customers and the next big breakthrough in this space.

What are the biggest trends you are seeing with edge computing and IoT?

A few years ago, there was a notion that the edge was going to be a simplistic model, where we were going to have everything connected up into the cloud and all the compute was going to happen in the cloud. At Intel, we had a bit of a contrarian view. We thought much of the interesting compute was going to happen closer to where data was created. And we believed, at that time, that camera technology was going to be the driving force – that just the sheer amount of content that was created would be overwhelming to ship to the cloud – so we'd have to do compute at the edge. A few years later – that hypothesis is in action and we're seeing edge compute happen in a big way.

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Saul Hudson
Saul Hudson has a deep knowledge of creating brand voice identity, especially in understanding and targeting messages in cutting-edge technologies. He enjoys commissioning, editing, writing, and business development, in helping companies to build passionate audiences and accelerate their growth. Hudson has reported from more than 30 countries, from war zones to boardrooms to presidential palaces. He has led multinational, multi-lingual teams and managed operations for hundreds of journalists. Hudson is a Managing Partner at Angle42, a strategic communications consultancy.
People

How Chess.com built a streaming empire

Twitch users watched 18.3 million hours of chess content in January, nearly as much as they consumed throughout 2019. Last week, chess even surpassed League of Legends, Fortnite and Valorant as the most-watched gaming category.

To date, Chess.com has over 57 million members.

Photo: William West/Getty Images

There's something inherently perverse in calling chess "open source." It's a bit like saying France "pivoted" from monarchy to republic, or that indoor plumbing was a "10x idea."

Nevertheless, it's true: Anyone has free rein to make a chess game.

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Hirsh Chitkara
Hirsh Chitkara (@ChitkaraHirsh) is a researcher at Protocol, based out of New York City. Before joining Protocol, he worked for Business Insider Intelligence, where he wrote about Big Tech, telecoms, workplace privacy, smart cities, and geopolitics. He also worked on the Strategy & Analytics team at the Cleveland Indians.
Transforming 2021

Blockchain, QR codes and your phone: the race to build vaccine passports

Digital verification systems could give people the freedom to work and travel. Here's how they could actually happen.

One day, you might not need to carry that physical passport around, either.

Photo: CommonPass

There will come a time, hopefully in the near future, when you'll feel comfortable getting on a plane again. You might even stop at the lounge at the airport, head to the regional office when you land and maybe even see a concert that evening. This seemingly distant reality will depend upon vaccine rollouts continuing on schedule, an open-sourced digital verification system and, amazingly, the blockchain.

Several countries around the world have begun to prepare for what comes after vaccinations. Swaths of the population will be vaccinated before others, but that hasn't stopped industries decimated by the pandemic from pioneering ways to get some people back to work and play. One of the most promising efforts is the idea of a "vaccine passport," which would allow individuals to show proof that they've been vaccinated against COVID-19 in a way that could be verified by businesses to allow them to travel, work or relax in public without a great fear of spreading the virus.

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Mike Murphy

Mike Murphy ( @mcwm) is the director of special projects at Protocol, focusing on the industries being rapidly upended by technology and the companies disrupting incumbents. Previously, Mike was the technology editor at Quartz, where he frequently wrote on robotics, artificial intelligence, and consumer electronics.

EA wants to take esports mainstream

Todd Sitrin on EA's unconventional competitive gaming strategy.

EA's esports strategy is driven by traditional sports games, such as the immensely popular Madden NFL and FIFA titles, and the TV show "The Sims Spark'd."

Image: EA

Todd Sitrin's been in the gaming industry for close to 30 years, and he's got a confession to make: "I don't understand League of Legends."

Sitrin, who heads up EA's competitive gaming entertainment group, is far from the only one. Despite its immense popularity among both players and esport spectators, League is a notoriously complicated game. For League, as with most esports, Sitrin thinks that "in order for you to enjoy it, or even understand it, you have to be a player of that game — or certainly a pretty darn hardcore player of video games." That, Sitrin thinks, limits many esports' potential. "Their audience is capped by the size of the popularity of their games," he said. "There is a huge population that finds what the entire industry is doing as completely inaccessible."

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Shakeel Hashim

Shakeel Hashim ( @shakeelhashim) is a growth manager at Protocol, based in London. He was previously an analyst at Finimize covering business and economics, and a digital journalist at News UK. His writing has appeared in The Economist and its book, Uncommon Knowledge.

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