EWD: News for Week of 1/24/22-1/30/22
Updated: Apr 25, 2022
Key topics: Partnerships, ESL, Activision, Monumental Sports and Entertainment
Bad Moon Talent x SPORTFIVE
Sportfive, a global sports marketing agency, and Bad Moon Talent, a gaming-focused talent agency, announced a new strategic partnership this past week. The partnership will bring together each agency’s resources and experience to better serve its brands, rights holders, and talent in the industry.
Sportfive recently increased its own investment in global esports strategy when they added Ryan Polun and other staff this past November. Sportfive has become the agency of record (AOR) for prominent esports properties such as Immortals, T1 Entertainment & Sports, Fnatic, and Riot Games. Across the global esports and gaming industry, the agency was responsible for over $50 million in partnership revenue in 2021.
Bad Moon Talent (BMT) was founded by former COD pro player Brice Faccento and Activision Blizzard executive Andrew Drake in 2019. Since then, they've spearheaded their way to becoming a prominent talent agency filled with notable commentators, analysts, content creators, and even pro players. BMT also has a deal in place with Matrix Keyboards, which signed a sponsorship deal last year with T1 through Sportfive
Together, I think this partnership will prove both agencies worth in the North American esports ecosystem. As Andrew Drake said, this partnership will take BMT "to new levels." By combining the incredible knowledge and resources of both agencies, it creates vast opportunities for them long-term. I'm excited to see what future deals come to fruition from BMT and Sportfive going forward.
G2 Esports x Kingston FURY
Kingston FURY, the gaming division of Kingston Technology Company, Inc., announces a partnership with a leading entertainment and esports brands, G2 Esports. Kingston FURY will be the official gaming memory and storage provider of G2 Esports.
Along with the designation, Kingston FURY will provide G2’s players with its high-performance DRAM and SSD drives. According to the release, both brands will also collaborate on a range of content.
G2 Esports CEO Carlos 'Ocelote' Rodriguez said this about the partnership:
Kingston has been with me for the longest time, both as partner and hardware I have religiously used to game and work with for years. I love the brand, their people, and the forward-thinking attitude they seem to have with everything they touch.”
Since selling off its long-standing HyperX brand to HP, Kingston Technology has partnered with 4 big-name esports organizations in Virtus.pro, Cloud9, Team Liquid, and now G2. Kingston FURY appears to continue their strategy of expanding their commercial portfolio within esports just like they did with HyperX. This is a solid sponsorship plan as they now promote their memory and storage product line to esports fans worldwide.
Version1 x eFuse
Version1, a professional esports organization headquartered in Minnesota, announced a multi-year partnership with eFuse to support its Rocket League Championship Series (RLCS) team, Rocket League properties and content creators. eFuse is designated as Version1’s Official Competitive Discoverability Platform.
The partnership establishes eFuse as the first sponsor with brand integration on a Version1 vehicle in-game. Additionally, the platform’s promotional rights have been extended to Version1’s Rocket League content and live streams. This news comes on the same day that Psyonix Games announced that new 'away kit' esports decals would be available for purchase. These decals are cosmetic add-ons to the in-game car. The Version1 Rocket League team showcased these Away Kits for the first time in this past weekend's second North America Regional event of the 2021-2022 RLCS Winter Split qualifier.
Although this isn't the first time that sponsors have been integrated in a game before, I still think it's really cool to see. I feel that there would be so much more buy-in from prominent brands to partner with properties if more esports publishers and developers added product placement features in their games. These in-game skins provide a new method of activating sponsorships and will further please their partners in cultivating brand recognition. Brett Diamond, COO of Version1 said this regarding brand integration in-game:
The ability to include a brand partner in game is a critical point of growth for the esports industry and the opportunities we can offer to brands.
HBCU Esports League x House of Hoops by Foot Locker, Nike
HBCU Esports League and Cxmmunity have announced a partnership with House of Hoops by Foot Locker and Nike. They had a video put out on the HBCUesportsgg page, along with the cxmmunity.co and houseofhoops Instagram where the HBCU Esports NBA 2K League rocked some Nike kicks. So far, I haven't seen anything else put out regarding the details of the partnership. However, the video was really eye-catching and really well-produced. The caption read:
We’re bringing HEAT back to the stage for the HBCU Esports NBA 2K League 🔥 House of Hoops partnered up with the HBCU Esports League to get these ladies the best of the best.
Which one are you going with? Dunk Lows or Cool Grey’s?? Place your vote in the comments.
HBCU Esports League provides collegiate players at Historically Black Colleges & Universities with opportunities to develop their careers in gaming, esports and entertainment. So far, the HBCU Esports League has provided competition across multiple popular game titles including Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, Fortnite and NBA 2K. It's currently made up of over 15 HBCU institutions. They even provide opportunities ranging from live panels with popular gaming influencers to resume advice and 1-on-1 conversations with notable HBCU alumni.
HBCU Esports League works with Cxmmunity, a platform that is committed to increasing the representation of minorities in esports through "STEAM development." They state that their mission is "to increase the participation of minorities within the esports and video game industry so that there is an equal opportunity as new jobs and professions are being created." They aim to increase participation, involvement, and skills of minority youth with access to video game publishers, film productions, sports and entertainment executives, professional athletes, and world-renowned artists.
To be quite honest with you, this is the first time I've seen HBCU Esports get recognized. I just found out they are also partnered with Verizon and Discover Financial Services! This is disappointing to both myself and the broader esports audience because they are putting out great content, providing educational programs, and equipping minority students with the necessary skills and opportunities to launch successful careers in the gaming and esports industry. This is an incredible partnership as they've gotten the most popular sports brand in the world with Nike. The fact some of the biggest esports news sites didn't cover this partnership is ridiculous.
ESL Gaming and FACEIT Merge, Acquired by Savvy Gaming Group
ESL Gaming and FACEIT, two of the biggest esports tournament organisers, have announced a merger as part of a $1.5B USD sale to Savvy Gaming Group (SGG), a company backed by the Saudi Arabian government's Public Investment Fund (PIF). SGG is considered a ‘long-term investor’ formed to drive the growth and development of esports and the wider games industry worldwide. Both FACEIT and ESL Gaming will be merged under a new entity called the “ESL FACEIT Group." This is the biggest deal in esports history,
ESL Gaming CEO Craig Levine said this about the deal:
Our mission remains unchanged: to create a world where everybody can be somebody. Our merger with FACEIT, along with the backing of SGG, will give us more know-how, capabilities, and resources than ever before to deliver on this vision. Whether you are competing or watching, doing so socially or at a professional level, every stage of the pathway will be improved through this merger.
The added capital should certainly be beneficial to the industry. However, many are questioning about Saudi Arabia's involvement, particularly given the country's human rights record. The Saudi Crown Prince, who's serving as chairman, has been criticized for human rights violations, the country’s mistreatment of LGBTQ+ citizens, imprisoning political rivals and activists, and some questionable foreign policy decisions.
Considering this, along with the backlash that Riot and tournament organizer BLAST got for partnering with NEOM (a city development initiative inside Saudi Arabia and backed by the government), I can't imagine the amount of backlash this will get from the esports community going forward. And rightfully so. These are the biggest tournament organizers in the world and are tied to basically every major esport as they have worked with the biggest gaming entities and rights holder out there (Activision Blizzard, Riot, Tencent, EA, Epic Games, Microsoft, etc.). On top of community backlash, workers at these companies will have a lot to say about it. However, rights holders such as Activision Blizzard and EA also have significant investments from the same PIF fund, which makes things really weird.
Overall, this deal will really help the middle east grow its presence as an integral competitive region in the global esports ecosystem. There's no denying that it is the biggest, most impactful deal in esports history and will make waves throughout the industry for years to come if it gets past foreign investment reviews.
Monumental Sports & Entertainment Announce Plans for Esports Center
Monumental Sports & Entertainment (MSE) today is announcing its plans to construct District E Powered by Ticketmaster, a 14,000-square foot live-event theater and gaming center focused on esports, music, event programming, and community events. This will be located adjacent to Capital One Arena (Gallery Place in downtown Washington D.C), along with "pre- and post-event activations for fans attending Capitals and Wizards games or events."
This space will entertain hundreds for independent events, offer an extraordinary culinary experience, create "best-in-class" competition, and become a training venue for MSE esports franchises which it owns, operates, and invests in. This includes Wizards District Gaming, Caps Gaming, the amateur gaming community in D.C., and will even be an East Coast satellite office for Team Liquid. The plan for this space is to also attract gaming influencers/streamers with their own streaming pods.
MSE is operating the facility in its entirety and has a long-term lease for the space. Ticketmaster is serving as presenting partner and Aramark is an operating partner in the Food and beverage part of the business. MSE was a relatively early investor into esports when they invested in esports ownership group, aXiomatic, in 2016. Since then, they have rapidly grown its esports portfolio. Zach Leonis, President of Media & New Enterprises and plays a role within Team Liquid (board of directors) and NBA 2K Leagues (Executive Committee) decision-making, said this:
Given the rapid rise in the popularity of esports and the growing audience for gaming in general, we believe the time is right to build an esports-centric venue that serves as a rallying point for the gaming community in the Mid-Atlantic. The wide-scale, international appeal of esports brands is well documented. We believe that developing deep, grassroots-level connections within our local community is the natural next step for esports as the genre develops into a major league aside other traditional sports. We are so proud to build a best-in-class esports venue featuring our globally recognized esports team, Team Liquid, our back-to-back NBA 2K League Champion, Wizards District Gaming, our leading Caps Gaming NHL initiative, and much more to come in the future.
Nielson and Fnatic Create 'The ROI of Esports Whitepaper"
North American data analytics and insights company Nielsen Sports & Entertainment has collaborated with European esports organization Fnatic to publish "The ROI of Esports Whitepaper." Conducted by Nielson, the whitepaper is a 14 page downloadable document for the public to get insights into into their study on ROI within esports.
The study takes a holistic approach to ROI and looks at 4 main areas to measure results: Media Exposure & Reach, brand impact, Activation & Engagement, and Business Impact. The Business Impact section section goes over a case study with the BMW and Fnatic partnership.
Phelan Hill, Head of Strategy and Consulting at Nielsen Sports and Entertainment, said this:
Esports is evolving. The best esports properties are now 24/7 multi-platform content businesses offering an unrivalled number of opportunities for sponsors to engage with a typically youthful audience that can have higher and more positive engagement rates than traditional sports properties. Esports organisations such as Fnatic that have a strong and organic brand, which affiliate themselves with the biggest esports game titles and offer content opportunities through streamers and content creators, can truly deliver a positive ROI to sponsors.
In Fnatic's press release, they stated that "highlights key findings from recent research to better understand the ROI of leading esports properties, ensuring brands know the potential investment returns from engaging with top-tier esports organisations."
I really appreciate a partnership such as this. As someone who is learning as much as possible regarding insights into esports, including audience demographics and ROI in sponsorships, this whitepaper was a great read. I recommend everyone to at least glance over it. I'm sure this will be used by brands and investors nationwide when pitching to prospective sponsors who are hesitant of entering this space.
ACTIVISION To Farm Out Operations for Overwatch League
According to Kevin Hitt at SBJ, Activision Blizzard will likely get esports operations for the Overwatch League (OWL) from a third party. Previously, the two Activision Blizzard franchised leagues, OWL and Call of duty League (CDL), were produced and broadcasted in-house. This comes at the wake of Activision Blizzard bringing in Esports Engine to run the CDL season in 2022. Additionally, the news that Microsoft is planning to acquire Activision adds another wrinkle into the foray. This is because Esports Engine is operating the Halo Championship Series (HCS), which is an XBOX Console exclusive.
The news that we covered in this weeks blog regarding ESL and FACEIT being bought by SGG seems to already make an impact for tournament organizers in this space. There's a chance that third party operators may be the norm now in regard to esports production and tournament going forward.