Star appeal and sports crossover
This celebrity interest in esports is already happening, and it’s increasing the amount of investment coming into the space. Esports has drawn the interest of big-name footballers and sportspeople, like Mesut Özil, Gareth Bale and Ronaldinho – all of which have launched team organisations.
Meanwhile, several esports businesses are acquiring funding through venture capital firms or investors, like Tej Kohli, who invested some €20 million into Team Vitality in late 2018, while esports jobs site Hitmarker secured more than £500,000 from hundreds of investors around the world. Others are now looking at crowdfunding. UK-based organisation Fnatic raised more than £2 million via Crowdcube last year.
Arguably the one that generated the most headlines is David Beckham – investor of London-based Guild Esports set up in 2020. Guild fields professional players in titles like Rocket League, FIFA and Fortnite. With Beckham behind the brand and other big partnerships signed, it could help propel Guild – and other esports teams – into the mainstream in the future.
“With traditional sports and physical events hampered throughout 2020, an entirely new audience was able to find a home within esports,” says Guild Esports’ Executive Chariman Carleton Curtis. “Not only that, but major mainstream brands have enhanced their investment in these spaces, with many taking stock of the current ecosystem and seeing esports as an obvious entry point.
“Sponsors and media rights holders are also excited by the size and passion of the esports community, and we are confident this interest will continue to the benefit of the industry. We signed our first major sponsorship deal, a £3.6 million three-year agreement with a leading European fintech group, and some of the biggest tournaments are attracting big-name corporate sponsors.”
Tournaments that saw growth during the pandemic in 2020 included not only endemic competitions like the League of Legends European Championship (see ‘Lessons from the LEC’ below), but also sports-related ones like the ePremier League, the F1 Esports Series and Virtual Grand Prix.
The F1 Esports Series 2020 drew a record number of fans, with a total of 11.4 million live stream views across all digital platforms (up 98% year-on-year), while participation increased 117% to 237,000 players.
These initiatives have attracted traditional sports fans who may not have previously been aware – or understood the appeal – of esports.
John Clarke is CEO of Gfinity, tournament operator for the F1 Esports Series, ePremier League, V-10 R-League and Cadbury Heroes League. He says: “The lockdown brought gaming into the mainstream with linear broadcasters embracing gaming, and they saw that when done well, it resonated with a broader audience.
“The F1 Virtual Grand Prix series showed that by mixing young F1 drivers with sports stars from the world of football and entertainers from bands such as One Direction, the audience size can grow significantly.
“The opportunity is massive. Over a seven-week period, more than 35 million viewers on ESPN 3 tuned in to the V-10 R-League, a made for broadcast virtual racing format not seen before.”
Other examples of sports and gaming crossovers include Manchester City teaming up with FaZe Clan for a Fortnite tournament, and sporting brand Adidas signing a deal with G2 Esports as a major partner and sports apparel provider. The International Olympic Committee has also been looking into gaming as a side activity at Olympic events.
Beyond sports, the world of entertainment is jumping into esports, too. DJ Khaled performed at the Overwatch League finals, Riot Games enlisted musicians to perform as its virtual pop group K/DA (which has amassed hundreds of millions of views and listens), and the ownership team at London Royal Ravens and Rogue parent company ReKTGlobal includes artists like Steve Aoki and Imagine Dragons.