The Esports Journal - Edition 12

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THE FUTURE OF ESPORTS UNCOVERED COHOSTED WITH 2021 JUNE 2023 THE WORLD’S ESPORTS INDUSTRY FESTIVAL 1617 OCTOBER 2023 ASIAN CIVILISATIONS MUSEUM REGISTER INTEREST VISIT EVENT SITE REGISTER INTEREST VISIT EVENT SITE
CONTENT Visit our site: esportsinsider.com Follow us on Social Networks 41 In this Edition 44 Jumping Trough Portals Moritz Maurer Founder and CEO GRID Money on the move 47 Data-led Esports Bayes and KRAFTON on building a solid scene. Insights from Esports Insider, PayPal & Nuvei’s esports payments whitepaper. A digital version will also be available on Esports Insider’s website 06 State of the Industry Stakeholders enthusiastic yet heedful going into 2023. 27 Producing Esports Confetti and its students reflect on their degrees. 31 Gaming for Good Esports Youth Club and the role of social enterprises in esports. 09 Navigating Diffucult Waters The esports industry predicts 2023. 12 Valiant and Valuable The state of VALORANT esports. 15 Overwatch 2: Electric Boogaloo? A fresh start or more of the same? 37 Leagues ahead Vanta’s vision following a $2.5m seed round. 49 The Decentralised Devil Does esports have a blockchain problem? 52 On your Marks. Get set. Bet! Breaking down fast-esports betting content with BETER. 56 Getting WIGI With it Who are Women in Games International? 59 Battle of the Sexes The fight for women’s esports. 62 The Art of the Broadcast Esports broadcasting in 2022. 65 Brazil’s Big Bang The IEM Rio Major was a milestone for Brazil. 23 Bright as Ice NHL’s esports ecosystem is changing. 19 The Western Mobile Rollercoaster A comprehensive look at Western mobile esports. 34 Reality Check: Esports vs Sports Esport’s place in the wider world of competitive sports.

The past year in esports has been a wild concoction of convergent and contradicting narratives that make the year ahead difficult to read. Recent months have seen harrow and heartbreak; we’ve witnessed rounds of mass layoffs, a cooling of investor sentiment on esports, and the closure of teams and media properties.

Yet simultaneously, companies across the industry have started refining revenue streams and diversifying their businesses in ways not seen before; we saw a nearly full return to live events, viewership records broken, and an arguably better-than-expected retention of the pandemic’s viewership boom. Alongside this, new formats, initiatives, and leagues were announced across games, and the education sector continues to see further integration of esports both in curriculums and extra-curricular too.

Pervasive gloomy headlines make for easy distraction from what are

unequivocally notes of optimism. Esports was due a correction, many argue, and there’s just as much innovation and disruption going on as there is closure or downsizing. In the pages that follow, we’ve attempted to tell some of those stories, and others, that offer a glimpse into the pendulous fate of the esports industry — highlighting some of the companies forging a path onward with or in spite of it.

We lead with an analysis on the state of the industry as it stands today — then ask leading stakeholders what they think will define 2023. On page 6, you’ll find a reality check on the direction of mobile esports in the Western world. We then break down the Overwatch and VALORANT esports scenes in ecosystem deep dives following the launch of Overwatch 2 and the VALORANT Champions Tour, respectively.

We’ve an inside look into the debut of GRID and Riot Games’ brand new VALORANT data portal; a foray into female esports — and what WIGI is

Meet the Team

doing to help build that space — and the latest on what BETER are up to with fast betting. We talked to Esports Youth Club who are amongst those leading the charge of social enterprises in esports in the UK, and chatted to the first cohort of Esports Production students as they graduate from Confetti.

In total, there’s 19 full-length features worth of insight into the topics, companies, and trends worth knowing about as we head into an important year for the esports industry. With geopolitical tensions reshaping physical and digital borders, a difficult macroeconomic environment to navigate, and esports itself evolving in new and interesting ways as a result, we’re delighted to bring you an edition we hope does justice to the richness of esports in 2023.

Happy reading, Jake Nordland & Sam

Dear reader,
Victor Frascarelli Journalist ESI & ESJ Patrick Walker Freelance Journalist Ivan Šimić Journalist ESI & ESJ Tom Daniels Editor ESI & ESJ Billy Studholme Freelance Journalist Hisham Almadani Freelance Journalist Bryony-Hope Green Content Manager British Esports Riccardo Lichene Freelance Journalist Hannah Marie ZT Freelance Journalist Sam Cooke Managing Director & Co-Founder ESI & ESJ Jake Nordland Features Editor ESI & ESJ Riley Soley Community & EDI Executive

State of the Industry Stakeholders enthusiastic yet heedful going into 2023

he esports industry will face major challenges in 2023. But there is also plenty of reason for optimism.

On the positive side, marginalisedgender esports looks set to have its best year to date, and Riot Games’ VALORANT ecosystem could prove out a new — more sustainable — model of franchising, supplemented by

much-needed revenue-sharing from microtransactions. We would be remiss, however, not to highlight some of the rakes that might be stepped on.

In recent weeks, North American org Cloud9 has released teams in three titles: Apex Legends, VALORANT (its Game Changers roster for female and marginalised-gender players), and Halo. Let-go Apex professional player Zach Mazer wrote in a Twitter release that Cloud9 had to ‘dramatically cut back on [its] budget for 2023.’ Cloud9 declined to comment.

Isle of Man-based organisation X7 Esports lost out on expected investment capital in 2022, and as a result had to cease operations. Juked, initially an esports service for tracking fixtures and results across titles, shuttered in

November after potential acquisition deals fell through. UK org Rix.GG was shut down in December by its parent company X1 Entertainment Group. X1 CEO Mark Elfenbein told The Esports Journal the decision is not reflective of a strategic pivot away from esports.

It is clear that buying parties — be they investors or acquirers — are exercising more caution around esports than in previous years. Gone are the hype-driven gravy-train days of 2016-2019, where teams fed well on bountiful investment without having to offer evidence of a path to financial sustainability. When it comes to investing in esports teams, stakeholders are more savvy in 2023 than they were before.

ESPORTS CONSOLIDATION IN 2023

Despite the fact that, as a general rule, mergers and acquisitions happen less through economic downturns as fewer companies borrow money, stakeholders are predicting greater esports M&A activity in 2023.

“I think you’re going to see increased velocity around [mergers and acquisitions] when it comes to team organisations,” Carleton Curtis, Executive Board member of EPIC Global and Tundra Esports, told The Esports Journal. He said mergers we have seen recently — for example, between Optic

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Carleton Curtis Executive Board Tundra Esports and Epic Global
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Billy Studholme  @BillyStudholme

Gaming and Envy Gaming — are “just the beginning.”

Consolidation seems inevitable. Esports, relative to the overall gaming market, is small: $1.38 billion (~£1.12 billion) in esports revenue was predicted by Newzoo for 2022, versus $184 billion (~£149 billion) in total gaming revenue. For orgs short of the top tier, the relatively diminutive esports pie limits their options.

Wouter Sleijffers, EXCEL Esports’ former CEO and now Strategic Advisor to the Board, hinted that EXCEL is in a position to follow up on its Hitcap acquisition with more M&A activity in 2023 and beyond. “We’re ready for the next stage of growth,” Sleijffers said.

An increase in the number of esports acquisitions — if it continues — may in part be down to a shifted dynamic among companies. Some are in strong positions, others are more desperate.

“I think that in a market where financing is tight, and where top companies have easier access to capital or self-funding because their financials make sense, they are in a good position to be strategic buyers of assets,” said Carlos Pereira, Partner at BITKRAFT Ventures. “I think that’s true for esports.” In 2023, expect to see the big fishes eat.

TITLES TO WATCH, AND THE ROLE OF MICROTRANSACTIONS

When it comes to esports titles

— especially franchised ones — shareholders mostly agree: League of Legends will remain king.

“League of Legends continues to prove to be an incredible property with awesome fan engagement,” Pereira said. This sentiment was echoed by Luc Ryu, Senior Manager, Financial Advisory at Deloitte Canada “[League of Legends’] global dominance, especially in Asia, is

very important,” Ryu said. “Just having the opportunity to have that exposure in Asia, with the player base there, I think is huge and very underrated.”

Other competitions, like the Overwatch League — despite a 2022 viewership rebound driven by excitement for Overwatch 2 — might be less desirable for investors as the years speed by. “My guess is the teams that were early into the League of Legends ecosystem are probably very happy to have spent that money,” Pereira said. “My guess is if you paid that for Overwatch, you’re probably asking yourself if the ROI is really there.”

Others agree that League of Legends is here to stay. “[League of Legends] has remained, for years, the most developed esports ecosystem,” said EXCEL’s Sleijffers. It is not perfect, though; Riot, like all game publishers, can do more to help esports teams prosper. “We know that in-game [microtransactions] is a successful model — in Counter-Strike, VALORANT, and Rocket League to some extent,” Sleijffers added. “Publishers should open up their platforms a bit more for the whole [esports] ecosystem to partake in. … That is still lagging in League of Legends.”

Perhaps the most promising example thus far of publisher revenue-sharing is the ‘VALORANT Champions’ 50/50 split between Riot Games and participating teams. Teams received an impressive

total of $16 million (~£13 million) from in-game cosmetics sales related to the Champions competition, from just 29 days’ worth of skin sales. In VALORANT, some orgs in North America split money from microtransactions 50/50 with

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“We know that in-game [microtransactions] is a successful model — in Counter-Strike, VALORANT, and Rocket League to some extent. Publishers should open up their platforms a bit more for the whole [esports] ecosystem to partake in. … That is still lagging in League of Legends.”

their players, according to one player of a partnered team in NA. Such revenue, should it increase, could be a gamechanger for teams.

This depends entirely on publishers, and whether they will cooperate to give teams an easier ride financially. It would be terrific for the industry if Riot sets the tone with generous revenue-sharing on microtransactions in 2023; and given that player salaries are already sky-high, it makes sense for teams to take the lion’s share of that revenue.

WILL PLAYER SALARIES CORRECT?

Indeed, the issue of player salaries is on the lips of esports stakeholders ahead of the new year. “Until we start seeing the fruits of those media rights deals, and [microtransactions], and some of these other revenue streams … I really can’t see player salaries continuing to increase at the pace they have over the last five or 10 years,” Tundra’s Curtis said. “It’s just not economically possible.”

Right now, some VALORANT players are earning north of $40,000 (~£32,500) a month, as reported by Digiday in January. Many others are earning between $20,000-$40,000 a month, including those signed to nonpartnered teams. It is likely that salaries are already increasing, too, given the imminence of the 2023 season. In esports as in traditional sport, if player salaries are not controlled, they tend to grow out of control as owners fight for players they deem essential. But this can only continue as long as punters will part with their money. As the industry endures perhaps its most challenging macroeconomic climate to date, will team owners and investors keep propping up player salaries, or stand pat?

CHANGING THE GAME: A NEW ERA FOR FEMALE ESPORTS?

VCT 2022 Game Changers raised eyebrows in 2022 for all the right reasons.

It was the most successful female esports competition ever among Western fans, achieving a peak viewership of 239,334 according to Esports Charts. Competition was thrilling and appealed to a mass esports audience. And importantly, for brands, the optics of sponsoring an inclusive initiative are fantastic.

“I see [VALORANT Game Changers] as a really exciting space — one that a lot of my clients are particularly interested in,” said Patrick Collins, Founder of esports commercial agency Leapfox

In October 2022, Devin Nash, former CEO of Counter Logic Gaming and Cofounder of marketing agency NOVO, told Dexerto that a PC brand sold just 28 PCs through its sponsorship of a tier-one esports team. That same brand, in the same amount of time, sold around 1,400 PCs by sponsoring a gaming influencer. In esports, the patience of brands and investors alike is wearing thin. All will demand healthier returns soon.

“I think the patience of these brands is starting to become quite short,” Collins told The Esports Journal. “KPIs need to be met and will be scrutinised really closely by brand partners. Rights holders need to be very aware of that going into next year … I think you could therefore see some brands leave the space.”

This belief — that companies should set realistic expectations, and not fall in love with hubristic projections — was shared by others.

There could be major commercial potential in female esports, especially with brands dedicating funding to causes that promote diversity. Burberry entered esports for the first time in 2022 through an inclusivity-focused content series in partnership with Gen.G. Other premium brands have sponsored female esports competition: L’Occitane, Johnson & Johnson, and Benefit Cosmetics all sponsored the GIRLGAMER Esports Festival in 2020.

When such a project also offers an engaging product and healthy, growing viewership, financially it bodes well. With the planned expansion of ESL Impact in CS:GO to boot, there is much reason for optimism for female esports in 2023.

BRANDS EXPECT RETURNS THIS YEAR

But whatever hope there is for segments of the industry, one thing is certain: economically, the rubber will meet the road in 2023 and beyond.

“Having run a public esports company … I think you’re going to see a much greater level of transparency from esports organisations,” Curtis said. “I think it extends to every participant in [esports]: the more our game publishers and leagues and creators and teams are transparent with fans and partners, the more we build trust and overall growth across the ecosystem.”

It may be true that esports has in the past been carried away with inflated predictions. But that doesn’t mean the industry today can’t course-correct and thrive. Once esports rides out what will inevitably be a difficult period, it could emerge in a much stronger, more sustainable position, the seeds of which may well be planted in the coming year. There is magic in esports. But if the industry is to have a successful 2023, a healthy dose of honesty and pragmatism is in order.

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“I see [VALORANT Game Changers] as a really exciting space — one that a lot of my clients are particularly interested in”.
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Navigating Difficult Waters The esports industry predicts 2023

o mark the new year, The Esports Journal and its sister site Esports Insider collated the thoughts of industry leaders on their predictions for the year ahead — both for their companies, and the industry at large.

This year’s look ahead features prominent stakeholders in the sector including ESL FACEIT Group, Team Liquid, Team Vitality, Tundra Esports, and many more. Below, you’ll find widespread agreement and divergence on everything from the challenges of the macroeconomic environment, the scene to watch in 2023, to what needs to change in the industry next year.

Before looking ahead though, it’s equally important to reflect on what has been

an unpredictable 2022. Some had more optimistic takes, such as Team Liquid’s SVP of Brand, Content and Marketing Josie Brown being encouraged by organisations valuing different types of content and diversifying their focuses outside of the competitive sphere. Meanwhile, The Story Mob’s Associate Director Miles Yim highlighted the proliferation of co-streaming in mainstream media.

Team Vitality’s CEO Nicolas Maurer reflected on the ups and downs of the cryptocurrency space, and argued it was a lesson for teams to rely less on sponsorship investment. Evgeniy Roshchupkin, the CEO of Tundra Esports, also emphasised the impact global instability and financial market turmoil had on the esports industry. He

added that whilst this has caused ‘tough times’, it’s created learning opportunities to help identify correct business models.

The uncertainty surrounding esports makes the year ahead difficult to predict. Read on for optimism, pessimism and hot takes regarding the industry’s direction for 2023 — a litmus test on key feelings about esports’ future.

The Esports Journal (ESJ): What are your predictions for the course of the esports industry in 2023?

Stuart Saw, CEO and Co-founder, RTS: “With the upcoming recession, we’re going to see a lot of challenges to the current esports business model. I was around in the last recession and it was brutal. Whilst we’re fortunately in a far

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AUTHORS Jake Nordland  @callmeprivate & Tom Daniels  @TheTomDaniels
Background image credit: 9
Gabriel Kulig | ESL Gaming

better position than we were last time, we will see most organisations attempt to build runways to see them through upcoming economic challenges.”

Josie Brown, SVP of Brand, Content and Marketing, Team Liquid: “I expect other organisations to continue growing and expanding their brands to the point where they can exist independently of the games we might primarily associate them with. Team Liquid is so much more than one or two teams in a circuit or league. We’re a global organisation that has a chance to define ourselves on our own terms, and that’s a great place to be.”

monetisation. I really hope that all teams succeed in doing this.

“A lot of games continue to grow with large audiences, allowing esports to grow globally, and it’s not going to stop soon. I just hope the whole industry can find ways to redistribute the revenue properly so all stakeholders can continue to grow and make it sustainable for everyone.”

Nicolas Maurer, CEO, Team Vitality: “In this difficult economy, it has become more complicated to access capital on the market. And since esports teams have still not yet found the proper path

to make a bigger impact. Women’s competitions will see a big rise! I also predict further regulation and legislation that benefits talent.”

ESJ: What are some of your organisation’s targets for next year? 2023 is here, and so are the KPIs. We asked esports companies what their targets are for the coming year, and summarised them below.

Beastcoast: Invest more into the grassroots scene, as well as community events around Melee and Pokemon.

ESL FACEIT Group: Support indie, AA and AAA developers earlier in the game development cycle, and build out its position ‘beyond gameplay’.

Prodigy Agency: Look to expand its business into key regions such as South Korea, creating opportunities for players to have long-term sustainability through multi-year structured deals, as well as increasing IP strategies.

Team Liquid: To be in championship conversation in every game it competes in, whilst also continuing to build a joint identity in order to earn more fan heartshare.

Colin Young-Wolff | Riot Games

Grant Zinn, CEO, Beastcoast: “I think most organisations will be using 2023 as a time to focus on strategic growth, as the era of VC backed organisations monetising only by jersey sponsorship becomes a thing of the past. We’ll need to be creative and careful on how we expand to make sure our organisations and teams have longevity in the space.”

Jérôme Coupez, CEO, Prodigy Agency: “There are a lot of challenges, especially for teams, around developing their revenue streams and maximising

to profitability, we must collectively learn how to solve the equation of doing better, but with fewer resources. That is why 2023 may be the age of maturity for esports organisations.”

Wouter Sleijffers, Strategic Adviser and Ex-CEO, EXCEL ESPORTS: “Times will remain challenging which means that some businesses will have to merge, and some will not survive, unfortunately. That said, premium esports will see a further boost with more brands coming in as ways partners can benefit and continue

Team Vitality: Celebrate its 10th anniversary, win every single competition (LEC, VCT, lift the CS:GO Major trophy in Paris in front of a home crowd), and get fans using its V.Hive mobile app.

The Story Mob: “Growth!” Continuing to bolster its operations, build on what it has achieved in 2022, and explore expansion.

Tundra Esports: “Back-to-back winners of The International would be nice.” Plus, to challenge for other major titles, and create more content around its ambassadors.

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CREDIT:

ESJ: What do you think the industry needs to work on next year?

Jérôme Coupez, CEO, Prodigy Agency: “I think the main challenge for everyone is to keep developing ways to monetise the incredible audiences and fan base being built in esports — by providing true meaningful products and contents.

“There is still a lot we can do for esports to keep growing and I truly think we have some of the most innovative minds working in our industry!”

Evgeniy Roshchupkin, CEO, Tundra Esports: “I’d like to see esports breaking into mainstream streaming services. The rivalries, competitions and player stories are sometimes even more exciting than in sports, while content and production capabilities in the esports are top notch. In general, rights commercialisation would be one of the main opportunities for esports businesses to scale successfully in the coming years.”

Josie Brown, SVP of Brand, Content and Marketing, Team Liquid: “For me, watching our Women’s Brazilian VALORANT team thrive this year just reinforced how much more can be done to support women in esports. I want to continue and grow Team Liquid’s leadership presence here, empowering female pros and content creators to reach new heights. Hopefully, the industry will follow suit.”

Brian Ward , CEO, Savvy Games Group: “There’s room to improve live experiences and how esports are broadcast. Enough to eventually bring them up to the same level of popularity as Formula 1 or football (soccer).

“The sector, understandably, has a specific appeal — mainly for the ever-growing audience of gamers or fans of specific competitive games — and we need to broaden that appeal more generally. Accessibility to live or

broadcasted esports matches is part of the issue when it comes to appealing to a wider audience.”

ESJ: Which esports title do you think will undergo the most development in 2023?

One title in particular has captured almost everybody’s imagination going into 2023, for obvious reasons. But there was also an unexpected, recurring answer amongst the fray.

Miles Yim, Associate Director, The Story Mob: “It’s VALORANT. I’m measuredly optimistic that the resources generated by franchising — including the linking of international ecosystems in VCT Americas, EMEA and APAC — will spur

games make a big impact in our region as I believe that it should get more credit than what it gets now in western esports. Otherwise, undoubtedly we’ll see more development in VALORANT for 2023.”

Grant Zinn, CEO, Beastcoast: “It’ll be exciting to watch the growth of VALORANT in real time with their shift to partnership. There’s always a learning curve with any new sport, but the strides they’ve made so far are impressive and it’ll be a great case study for what does and doesn’t work when legitimising a new esport. And of course, as an organisation with a significant presence in the FGC, we’re very hyped about Project L and can’t wait to learn more. Fingers crossed for open beta in 2023!”

CREDIT: Colin Young-Wolff | Riot Games

viewership growth and create compelling storylines that’ll engage more fans.”

Stuart Saw , CEO and Co-founder , RTS : “2023 and 2024 will be the years of the Fighting Game Community [FGC]. We’ve got new titles across the community and with an already strong audience in the market we expect it will grow to new highs.”

Wouter Sleijffers, Strategic Adviser and Ex-CEO, EXCEL ESPORTS: “Brawl Stars, or at least that’s my wishful thinking! I’d love to see one of the mobile competition

Craig Levine, Co-CEO, EFG: “I think there’s still a lot more development and growth to come from the mobile gaming space with new games that will come to market and top mobile esports will continue to evolve.

“From a participation standpoint, we think this is one of the most accessible platforms for esports. Our Snapdragon Pro Series saw massive participation and audience growth of 60% across our entire programme: PUBG mobile, Clash of Clans and Brawl Stars.”

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Valiant and Valuable The state of VALORANT esports

The rise of VALORANT is a lesson for all practitioners in the esports industry on how to develop, build, and grow a competitive shooter game. From its beta to the now (almost) fully formed esport ecosystem, Riot Games’ tactical shooter has managed to establish a solid fanbase and a promising business model for organisations in just three years.

VALORANT is a game of precision, no runnin’ and gunnin’ or redundant explosions; its mastery requires skill and training but leaves room for spectacle. As a competitive title, it follows League

of Legends’ example of being hard to learn and even harder to master, yet, much like the MOBA, once everything clicks, players find themselves in a tactical flow that few games deliver.

From an optics standpoint, VALORANT has learned from its predecessors’ mistakes and taken a crafty approach to its game design. There are no terrorists or soldiers to kill, only agents; no bombs to plant or defuse, only spikes. Thanks to this approach, the game has marketed itself as much more sponsor friendly, and its competitions have already scored major endemic

partnerships, including Red Bull, Secret Lab, Amazon, Intel and Sony’s gaming peripherals brand Inzone.

Many players have been successfully attracted to Riot’s new flavour of 5v5 tactical FPS shooter. VALORANT managed to convert both pro and casual players from Overwatch and CS:GO — along with many of the sponsors typically associated with the latter, as brands sought to follow the hype. This was far from a killing blow to Valve’s shooter — which still sells out venues across Europe and commands millions in prize money and

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Riccardo Lichene  @riky_lichene CREDIT: Wojciech Wandzel | Riot Games

sponsorships — but it was a hit on the game’s growth potential, particularly in North America.

The raw numbers between the two rival FPS’ are remarkably similar, as exemplified by 2022’s biggest event for each title. Putting the VALORANT Champions 2022 and the IEM Rio Major 2022 side by side, the number of peak viewers is on par (1.5 million and 1.4 million respectively, per Esports Charts) — as is the number of average viewers (526,000 vs 548,000) and the number of hours watched (60.8 million vs 69.5 million). This has led analysts to believe that there’s an extensive overlap in audiences.

VALORANT has also been largely consistent in terms of hours watched and peak viewers, from its beta to its latest ecosystem overhaul. Just a few weeks after the beta period had started in April of 2020, an invitational event organised by 100 Thieves garnered more than 400,000 peak viewers.

These results set the scene for what is now a healthy average viewership for the VALORANT Champions Tour (VCT) — Riot’s overarching competitive VALORANT ecosystem —, which fluctuates between 500,000 and 650,000 peak viewers.

Where the differences start to emerge more starkly between VALORANT and CS:GO is in their respective esports ecosystems. Valve’s title has always been the epitome of openness, with third party tournament organisers largely operating open tournaments and invitationals. VALORANT, on the other hand, is largely run under the centralised control of Riot Games and has unveiled a hybrid system for 2023 that incorporates permanent partnered teams with a path to pro that starts from grassroots.

The new VALORANT Champions Tour ecosystem, which is officially underway, is split between professional and semiprofessional leagues that are linked via so-called Ascension Tournaments.

At the very top of this system there’s VALORANT Champions which is the equivalent to League of Legends Worlds; only the best teams from each region get here and only one will come out as World Champion.

To have a chance at competing on the biggest stage, a team must dominate its International League. There will be three of these, each played at LAN: the Americas League in Los Angeles (United States), the EMEA League in Berlin (Germany) and the Pacific League in Seoul (South Korea). Each one will see 10 partnered teams selected by Riot battle it out for a chance to compete at major VCT international events. However, Ascension Tournaments will provide non-partnered teams with a limited number of International League slots, creating a promotion system within the VCT ecosystem.

The most notable aspect of this new VCT model is the decision, on Riot’s part, to forego entry fees for partnered

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teams. The move is in sharp contrast to existing franchised models in esports — including Riot’s own League of Legends scene — but most notably Activision Blizzard’s Overwatch League and Call of Duty League, which had buy-ins upward of $20 million (~£16 million). Instead of a buy-in, organisations had to submit a pitch with detailed information about their investor group, business operations, marketing, branding, and performance frameworks. “It took us a good couple of months to get everything done,” Talon Esports’ Co-founder and CEO, Sean Zhang, told The Esports Journal’s sister site Esports Insider in September 2022. He described the process as “long, difficult, but worth it in the end.”

For the selected teams, the benefits seem to outweigh the hurdles of the application process. Partnered teams will not lose their spots in the competition, and will receive financial support thanks to an annual stipend funded with in-game cosmetics sold through revenue sharing, and opportunities to work with Riot on other in-game activations. Revenue sharing for teams is a model that is gaining traction in the industry — Rocket League and Rainbow Six Siege being notable examples. When combining

increased fan support with revenue sharing, a win-win situation for both Riot and its partner teams.

However, it is not yet clear what the new VCT model means in the long term for organisations that didn’t make partner status. Exclusivity is great for those who have it, and there’s limited promotional slots available to non-partnered teams, but whether that’s enough to sustain investment for those on the outside will be a key question going forward. Many of the biggest names in the VALORANT scene achieved partner status, with some notable exceptions. After a video featuring G2 Esports’ then-CEO Carlos Rodríguez interacting with highly controversial figure Andrew Tate went viral, the organisation was denied a spot in the new system, reportedly due to the video. OpTic, FaZe Clan and TSM also surprisingly missed out on slots.

Yet despite not making VCT partner status, G2 made history in another facet of VALORANT esports when its female team G2 Gozen won the 2022 VCT Game Changers Championship. The tournament, which became the second most watched female tournament ever, was the culmination of Riot’s efforts to grow the female scene into its own

independent ecosystem. By contrast, CS:GO’s ESL Impact League, a thirdparty attempt to grow women’s esports in Valve’s shooter, receives much lower viewership. Game Changers put together almost double the number of peak and four times the average viewers of the ESL Impact League, according to data from Esports Charts.

VALORANT is also fleshing out its university scene, thanks to the Red Bull Campus Clutch, a worldwide event with a global final in December of 2022 held in San Paulo, Brazil. Meanwhile, Riot’s shooter was approved by Chinese regulators in December 2022 and will therefore soon be playable by millions of Chinese gamers — a major win for the title — just as Overwatch 2 goes offline in the country.

The start of the new VALORANT Champions Tour ecosystem will be a litmus test for the future of VALORANT esports. Should its experimental recipe of a semi-franchised, semiopen regional and international leagues, annual team stipends, and revenue sharing work, it may well act as a model for the industry to learn from going forward.

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CREDIT: Lance Skundrich | Riot Games

Overwatch 2: Electric Boogaloo?

A fresh start or more of the same?

When Overwatch launched in May of 2016, it became something of an overnight sensation. Almost seven million players jumped in during the first week to experience Activision Blizzard’s new first-personshooter. The developer promised players a fresh take on an old genre — and it worked a charm. By the end of the year, the game reportedly became the most

profitable paid PC game of 2016, earning over $586 million (~£491.8 million) in revenue just seven months post-release.

Four years and a lot of history later, the October 2022 launch of sequel Overwatch 2 saw equal attention, bringing in 35 million players in the first month, per a company press release. The update provided an opportunity

for Activision Blizzard to rejuvenate the franchise — but is it enough to turn its esports scene’s fortunes? How has the ecosystem developed since 2016 in terms of viewership, player numbers, and franchising?

BUILDING THE LEAGUE

Blizzard worked relentlessly to build up popularity for the title prior to

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Overwatch’s release, and with that early hype came grand ambitions. Activision Blizzard had been busy scheming the launch of the Overwatch League (OWL), a tournament circuit on a scale nobody had tried before, and in 2018 the tournament launched — merging a traditional sports league structure with esports.

The league was designed with franchising in mind, and from the beginning was pitched to big investors from the sports world. The likes of Robert Kraft (CEO of New England Patriots, owner of Boston Uprising) and Jeff Wilpon (Executive Vice-President of Sterling Equities, owner of the New York Excelsior) took the plunge with the new endeavour, at a hefty cost: the league reportedly charged $20 million (~£16.5 million) and upward for franchise slots.

Come 2020, the OWL was supposed to enter a pivotal period in which a ‘Home & Away’ structure and homestand model were put in place. It was meant to see teams travel to franchises’ home cities to allow players and fans to interact in a more engaging way. However, the COVID-19 pandemic largely stunted these plans and vastly changed the structure of the league.

POPULARITY

Despite OWL being the most expensive esports league ever, the popularity of Overwatch varies wildly from region to region. It is no secret that Asia houses an outsized portion of the world’s esports market — 57% of it, according to Niko Partners — and the popularity of Overwatch in that region is particularly high.

The percentage of professional players from Asian countries competing in OWL has grown steadily over the past five seasons, whilst US and EU player numbers have dropped, a reflection of its lower popularity in the West. The 2021

season peaked for the Asian player split, with 70% of all competing players being from either South Korea or China, based on Liquipedia data.

However, on January 23rd, Overwatch servers closed in China, and the entire country lost official access to the game. As of the time of writing, it is not yet clear what will happen to Overwatch franchises based in China. The long-term effects on the health of the ecosystem are yet to be seen — but this will likely be a big hit to Overwatch’s viewership.

VIEWERSHIP

Overwatch’s viewership has fluctuated since OWL’s debut in 2018, though its highs have never managed to meet the lofty expectations that many of its investors — including some of sports and esports’ biggest names — expected.

In the inaugural season of the OWL, the playoffs pulled in almost 350,000 viewers at its peak, according to Esports Charts, setting the standard going forward for the following seasons. Still, compare this to other major esports titles in the same year, and

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Percentage of OWL players that are Asian (%)
2020 2021 2022
Percentage of OWL players that are US/EU (%)
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OWL (2018-2022) Percentage of Asian players Vs US/EU

Overwatch sits quite low in the rankings; League of Legends, Dota 2 and CS:GO all saw peak concurrent viewership figures in the millions. (It is worth noting that Esports Charts data does not include Chinese viewership figures due to the difficulty in obtaining this data).

Viewership began to drop from 2019, regardless of the fact that Overwatch had grown into one of the most popular video games at the time. The 2019 Grand Finals peaked at 318,000 viewers, per Esports Charts, but the most significant drop came in 2021 when maximum viewership only reached 134,000 — losing more than half the viewers from 2018.

2021 was a year of rock bottom for Activision Blizzard, and Overwatch was pushed into the limelight for all of the wrong reasons. This was the year of the pandemic preventing LAN events, and a major sexual discrimination and harassment lawsuit filed against its publisher. Following the lawsuit and resulting public backlash, sponsors and fans alike started boycotting

the company, which took its toll on professional player numbers and tournaments.

However, while OWL viewership has taken hits as the player count fell, the launch of Overwatch 2 offered a glimmer of hope. The Overwatch League 2022 Playoffs — the first since the launch of Overwatch 2 — saw a jump to 398,000 peak viewers, the highest ever for an OWL Playoff.

MONETISATION AND SPONSORS

With the release of OW2, Activision Blizzard changed its approach to the video game’s monetisation strategy. Earned or purchased loot boxes were replaced with a battle pass and shop system asking players to fork out almost £18 for a skin, proving unpopular with players. The game’s in-game monetisation struggles were paralleled by the OWL, which itself struggled to bring in sponsorship income.

Until the 2022 season, OWL boasted some of the biggest sponsors out of any of the Tier 1 esports leagues, with Coca

Cola, T-Mobile, State Farm and more supporting the franchise. However, starting with the sexual discrimination lawsuit filed against Activision Blizzard, those sponsors reportedly terminated or paused their contracts, meaning much of the league’s revenue had disappeared.

The sponsorship exodus only served to further add to the financial woes the league was already facing. This was underscored by a Jacob Wolf Report in May 2022, which reported that Blizzard was owed approximately $400 million (~£324 million) by OWL franchises after deferring payments as COVID-19 relief.

This was not the only controversy surrounding sponsorships for the franchised league. Bloomberg reported a month later that some partners were able to defer their contracts and explore alternative options after voicing complaints. Deferring millions of dollars that would have otherwise gone towards the league raised tensions, and — combined with the effects of the pandemic — worries about its financial future. In January this year, The Jacob

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Wolf Report further reported that OWL franchise team owners were taking collective legal action against Activision Blizzard to receive economic relief after missed promises on revenue.

In May 2021, a small win came for franchises when Overwatch reversed policy and allowed for the first time gambling, alcohol and cryptocurrency sponsorships amongst teams. The choice to let teams pursue these more controversial, reputationally-riskier sponsorships, previously a red line for Activision Blizzard, was good news for bottom lines but raised important questions about the health of the league.

In relation to the 2022 season, sponsors were only announced as the tournament kicked off, with many major previous partners not renewing their contracts. The two main sponsors for 2022 were

TeamSpeak and Butterfinger — with the former fulfilling part of a three-year deal to sponsor the League. In losing a lot of the big names, OWL likely took a massive hit in terms of revenue. The Overwatch League has no sponsors currently listed on its website, though this may change going into the 2023 season with Overwatch 2 now out.

Activision Blizzard has been notoriously hands-on with its esports products, and the control over Overwatch 2 and its predecessor is no different to other Blizzard titles. From the franchising system, player salary requirements, even down to who teams can sponsor with — the company tries to make sure that everything is done Activision Blizzard’s way.

This controlling structure contrasts significantly with competitors such as CS:GO and Dota 2 developer Valve,

which is renowned for its laissez-faire and more hands-off approach to its esports ecosystems. In taking a more controlled approach to development and opportunities, Activision Blizzard is responsible for its own fate, a fate that has wavered significantly in the franchised league’s history.

Overwatch 2 offers a turning point for Activision Blizzard. With viewership and player numbers trending slightly but precariously upwards, the league has been injected with an aura of hype it hasn’t enjoyed in years. But dire financial issues, and a pending merger with Microsoft on the horizon, make its future difficult to read. The industry will be watching what Activision Blizzard does next in the Overwatch 2 era.

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The Western Mobile Rollercoaster

A comprehensive look at Western mobile esports

he mobile esports ecosystem is hard to define. This is largely due to the stark contrast that has developed between the Eastern (Asia) and Western (North America, LATAM, Europe) worlds. Southeast Asian regions such as Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines hold the discipline to the highest of regards. Meanwhile, in the West, mobile esports is seen at best as an emerging market that, whilst having a lot of potential, is still in its infancy.

In 2022, the Western mobile esports ecosystem underwent a period of huge development — but at the same time increased pessimism — over its ability to succeed in PC and console dominated markets. Whilst some titles such as Brawl Stars were busy fleshing out their competitive ecosystem — and eclipsing

previous viewership records — Riot Games’ Wild Rift completely pulled out of Western markets to focus on Asia, leaving third party tournament operators to pick up the pieces.

To better understand the Western mobile esports ecosystem, The Esports Journal spoke to prominent personnel within the scene to discuss where mobile esports currently stands in a fast-changing industry.

LANDSCAPING

It is sometimes easy to forget that esports as a whole is a young industry. Some of the most prominent games in the world such as League of Legends, CS:GO and Dota 2 are described as legacy titles, despite the oldest of those, League of Legends, being only 13 years of age. Mobile esports is essentially an emerging discipline in a developing sector.

Nevertheless, according to Patrick ‘Chief Pat’ Carney, Founder and CEO of North American mobile esports organisation Tribe Gaming, the scene is starting to develop at a rapid pace. “If I flashback to 2017, it was one game:

Vainglory,” he reminisced. “Previously, mobile esports was something where viability was maybe only one or two games, which would be an add on for an organisation who already had five to ten teams within PC and console.

“Nowadays, there’s enough flourishing mobile esports titles”.

Heralded as arguably the biggest Western mobile-only esports organisation, Tribe Gaming competes in Brawl Stars, Call of Duty: Mobile, Honor of Kings and Clash of Clans. But the organisation doesn’t just solely rely on the mobile esports ecosystem. Like many across the industry, Tribe has diversified into content, signing over 20 creators — as well as leveraging Carney’s own popularity within the scene.

Despite its foundational growth, viewership figures from Western mobile esports events are in some cases quite significantly lower than PC and Console. However, this isn’t to say that trends aren’t pointing upwards.

The Brawl Stars World Finals was the fourth highest viewed esports competition in November 2022 at 390,000 peak viewers, per Esports Charts data. The event trumped mainstream PC counterparts such as

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Tom Daniels  @TheTomDaniels
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Rainbow Six Seige’s Six Invitational 2022 (272,700) and Rocket League’s RLCS 2021-22 World Championship (369,000).

The scene, though, has seen viewership inconsistencies, especially within ecosystems such as Clash of Clans and Clash Royale. Notably, Free Fire saw viewership decrease from 2021 to 2022, highlighted by the Free Fire World Series 2022 Sentosa recording 1.4m peak viewers, nearly 4m less than the same event at the same time in 2021.

Nevertheless, sentiments that mobile esports in the West is going in the right direction were shared by Álvaro Burgoa, Co-founder and CEO of Spanish esports organisation Team Queso

Burgoa stressed that it’s crucial to capitalise on the growth of mobile gaming in general so casual gamers are then converted into esports fans.

“When you see the numbers regarding gaming, just casual gamers, most of them play on mobile,” he said. “It’s super accessible. You can play anytime, anywhere and that’s been our main bet as an esport organisation. We have always pursued to dominate the mobile esports scene and mobile gaming.”

Yet there are clear differences between the Eastern and Western blocs in the mobile esports landscape that offer indications as to their divergent fortunes.

A noticeable difference is the varying ways mobile scenes are structured. Two of Asia’s biggest mobile esports leagues — MPL ID and the King Pro League —

have adopted franchise models, similar to that of the Call of Duty League and League of Legends on PC. Meanwhile, the Western mobile scene is typically full of open-to-all events that lead to qualification for major tournaments.

According to Team Queso’s Burgoa, more structure is needed in the Western esports ecosystem to not only develop the scene, but to help provide

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Álvaro Burgoa Co-founder and CEO Team Queso CREDIT: Team Queso

some semblance of stability to the organisations navigating this space. “If you take us as an example, when Team Queso is talking to our partners and our sponsors, most of the time I don’t know when we’ll be playing. When we’ll be showing their logo or their presence onstage because we don’t know.”

Unlike Tribe Gaming, whilst Team Queso’s origins are mobile-centric, the organisation has branched out into PC titles, such as League of Legends, VALORANT and Rocket League. As a result, Burgoa, who is also a Spanish mobile content creator with 4.85m subscribers on YouTube, has dealt with both sides of the Western esports scene.

He continued: “When I talk about League of Legends or VALORANT. It’s quite simple. There are two or three splits. I have this amount of matches with this amount of audience or this exposure and then I might qualify for Playoffs, Finals, etc.

“With mobile, we don’t have that in any game.”

This isn’t to say though that efforts aren’t being made to create more stable esports ecosystems within certain titles. Some titles, such as Brawl Stars, do

have partnership programmes that help provide incentives for organisations like branded in-game items.

Moreover, ESL Gaming is heavily investing in the mobile space through its Snapdragon Pro Series — a multititle tiered mobile esports ecosystem. Running amateur to top-tier professional events, the Snapdragon Pro Series last year featured titles such as Asphalt 9, Clash Royale, Clash of Clans and Wild Rift.

One of the other major factors that has helped build mobile esports in the East is the perception of the sector, which has arguably given publishers more opportunities to create a structured ecosystem. Global titles like PUBG Mobile are heralded in Asia — yet mobile esports in the West is still fighting for validation.

In one notable example, in July 2022 North American organisation Digntas tweeted “mobile gaming isn’t gaming,” — a tweet that was subsequently deleted following backlash from the mobile community.

“There’s been a paradigm shift where it’s gone from esports fighting for validation within mainstream culture media to

where mobile gaming and mobile esports is fighting for validation with esports, as well as traditional PC and console players and fans,” Carney said.

However, Tribe Gaming’s CEO does feel that this perception is starting to shift, especially as AAA IP’s start to make mobile adaptations of popular Western PC and console games. This includes the likes of PUBG Mobile, Call of Duty Mobile and League of Legends Wild Rift, to new and upcoming mobile adaptations coming from VALORANT, and Rainbow Six.

Frank Keienburg, Supercell’s Brawl Stars Game Lead, told The Esports Journal during the Brawl Stars World Finals in Disneyland that he believes technological advances with mobile phones means mobile esports is only getting stronger in the West. Moreover, with mobile becoming an increasingly popular source of gaming entertainment more broadly, Keinenburg argued the esports ecosystem will be impacted in the long run.

“I think it’s really just a generational change,” said Keinenburg.”We all grew up with PCs with gaming consoles. Mobile devices are becoming more and more the default gaming device for many people, also in the West . It just takes time for these people to get a bit older. So I think it’s just going to keep growing.”

HOW WILD RIFT’S WESTERN EXODUS WILL AFFECT THE MOBILE ESPORTS ECOSYSTEM

One of the major stories to come out of the Western mobile scene last year was Wild Rift’s decision to shut down all official Riot competitions in regions that aren’t Asia. Whilst League of Legends: Wild Rift tournaments will still be able to operate, it will be through third party tournament operators and will likely not be linked to Wild Rift’s competitive ecosystem in the East.

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CREDIT: Team Queso

Riot Games’ failure to captivate an esports audience in the West, including LATAM — typically a popular destination for mobile gaming — highlights how mobile esports is a completely different beast in the Americas and Europe than it is in Southeast Asia. Simply put, mobile MOBAs just aren’t working.

“We were founded within a mobile MOBA in Vainglory. You see the success of Honour of Kings, Mobile Legends; mobile MOBAs globally have found a lot of success,” commented Tribe Gaming’s Carney.

“I don’t think it’s crippling or in any way negative to mobile gaming or mobile esports. I think just the realisation is that the mobile MOBA in the West puzzle has yet to be cracked.”

From a business standpoint, investment in Wild Rift is now up in the air until some sort of ecosystem is developed by the third parties tasked with carrying the scene in Riot’s absence. As a result, organisations will likely wait and see whether structures develop in the Americas or Europe that are worth investing into.

Burgoa said: “It’s quite difficult to take the risk of [going into Wild Rift] the first year. Once you have a regular competition going on, then it’s okay to make predictions and to get partners.

“Should I pay salaries to an entire roster to compete in a tournament I don’t know yet? Or should I just step out or step down in Wild Rift and maybe invest in other games with at least some kind of a competitive calendar.”

THE FUTURE OF MOBILE ESPORTS IN THE WEST

Amidst the turbulent currents of the mobile esports ocean, there does seem to be calmer waves in the future. In particular, Tribe Gaming’s Co-founder

and CEO highlighted the still untapped potential of mobile FPS and battle royale esports.

“I think the most exciting thing for me within mobile esports in the next couple years is going to be the shooter FPS and Battle Royale category. Obviously Supercell and a lot of endemic global IP and titles are going to be there, they’re going to grow,” Carney commented.

“For us as an organisation, just seeing culturally how FPS and Battle Royale on mobile has evolved since the end of 2019, that category is ripe for growth.”

Meanwhile, Team Queso’s Burgoa is quietly confident in Honor of Kings’ global expansion, despite the challenges around mobile MOBA’s. Honor of Kings, Tencent’s largest global mobile title in Asia (especially China), is looking to take the global mobile scene by storm, effectively replacing its international brand Arena of Valor and creating a more united gaming and esports landscape.

Perhaps even more importantly is that as the mobile esports ecosystem grows and matures, so do the narratives and stories that connect fans with players. As more people engage with the scene, the more

likely media reports on the events. This leads to a cycle of growth that is still being shown with traditional esports titles trying to break into the mainstream.

“I think that the Western mobile esports ecosystem needs more time to adapt, maybe more games or more options to keep growing,” highlighted Burgoa. “Narratives are starting to be built and people start knowing specific players and following players moving to different teams.”

Will mobile esports in the West take over a PC- and console-dominated landscape? Likely not, stakeholders say. However, the scene is showing waves of growth and development atop which some organisations are fruitfully surfing. Some of the most played video games in the world are on mobile phones, with new generations increasingly having their first gaming experience on tablets or smartphones. As such, this is likely just the start of mobile esports’ growth.

Still, laying down the foundations is just as crucial as building the house that goes on top of it. The next couple of years could prove pivotal to mobile esports’ development.

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CREDIT: ESL Gaming / Snapdragon

Bright as Ice

NHL’s esports ecosystem is changing

While mainstream esports titles continue to grow and dominate viewership, a new genre is trying to make a splash. EA Sports — which dominates the sports simulation market — is immersing itself in the world of esports in a new way, and, in turn, bringing thousands of new fans into the world of competitive gaming.

EA’s National Hockey League (NHL) series, often referred to as ‘CHEL’, is building a brand from a unique angle in the industry. With full support from

the real-life sports league, the esports division is on a mission to change the way sports simulation titles are enjoyed in esports.

In an exclusive interview, The Esports Journal sat down with Chris Golier , NHL’s Group Vice President of Global Innovation , to learn more about this mission.

In December of last year, the NHL announced extensive changes to its esports ecosystem for upcoming

seasons. Following years of experimentation and learning since the esport’s birth in 2018, the 2023 NHL World Championship will now incorporate more esports activations, as the league looks to maximise its engagement potential. This includes more tournaments, in-person and online, live broadcasts, and other league video content.

The new structure, which offers more opportunities for players to compete globally, notably calls on each of the

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32 NHL franchise teams to host a ‘Club Championship’ tournament, where the winner will be awarded prize money and qualify to the knockout round for the North American Championship. This will allow clubs who have not yet had a chance to experience the esports side of the league to do so in a comprehensive manner.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic affected NHL esports in what could have been a significant growth period for it. The league was still in its early stages then, and despite an interest from clubs to invest in esports, many did not have the resources to execute on such a plan. Regardless, the league is hopeful that this will be the right year to integrate clubs into esports along with the renewal of long-term partners and sponsors.

Players will compete using the Hockey Ultimate Team (HUT) mode, which the league has found to increase competitiveness among players and

popularity among spectators, since it is easier to follow and creates greater room for strategy.

Players will also now have more opportunities to qualify to in-person LAN events through the addition of several rounds of open play. This will be true for both North America and Europe, as the league seeks to make NHL esports a ‘global sport’. Yet the league will not be truly global as EA Sports, which publishes the NHL game, will not distribute the franchise to certain regions.

“It’s a combination of where people are hockey fans and where the game is distributed,” NHL’s Golier explained, acknowledging a growing interest in esports abroad. The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is one of those regions that has recently boomed in esports, but with a general lack of interest in hockey and mobile gaming dominating the space, it doesn’t make sense from a commercial standpoint to

market hockey there. Other sports titles, such as Football or Formula 1, are much more popular options.

At the end of the day, CHEL is a niche title in a small subgenre of esports. The limited geographic interest in ice hockey as a sport means esports viewership is limited. According to Esports Charts, among EA’s five sports simulation titles that have an active esports league, the NHL ranks second-to-last in peak viewership, only just edging out the NBA 2k league (which saw its peak viewership recorded in 2022, compared to 2019 for the NHL). However, it is important to note that in 2022 the NHL did not host any major tournaments, and awarded over ten times less prize money than that of other leagues — only $41,000 (~££33,237).

Nevertheless, NHL esports has one crucial advantage that makes it largely unique amongst its peers: it is supported directly by its parent league.

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It isn’t just backed by its publisher and distributor EA Sports, like most other sports video games are, but also by the multi-billion dollar National Hockey League itself. And the esports division is taking every advantage it can from that.

“The unique ability for us to be able to cross over the on-ice with the virtual has been a really great thing for us,” Golier added. Often, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman would appear on broadcasts or at LAN events. He’d met the players, congratulated winning teams, and handed out big cheques to bring a sense of importance to the event.

As the structure continues to evolve, the objective has remained the same since the beginning. Golier told The Esports Journal about the league’s ‘youth initiative’, part of its ‘getting younger’ initiative and wider goal of inclusivity. “This is a big youth initiative for us,” said Golier. “We see the potential for having a great touch point with our fans and our younger fans.”

Golier noted that the average age of its tournament registrants tends to be around high teens to low twenties, and told the Journal that the younger community has been a part of the

learning experience and always a point to address. “We try to create value for the [youth] community but not dictate what’s said or spoken about.”

For the NHL, content production has been the best way to create that value. Live broadcasts of tournaments and other events, while standard in esports, is increasingly being emphasised by the NHL. Distinctively, stream hosts are encouraged to respond to and interact with the live chat to promote discussion.

Often, the league’s partners and sponsors — who have been chosen carefully and share the league’s objective of ‘getting younger’ by naturally appealing to a more youthful audience — are used during broadcasts to drive viewership and engagement. For partners, such as gaming peripheral brand HyperX, giveaways and product draws are offered so that there’s “value in sitting and staying and watching these events,” Golier added.

CHEL’s varied sponsors are all of important value to the league and play a big role in how it evolved into what it looks like today. Automobile manufacturer Honda and hair salon Great Clips, both of which are no

stranger to the esports industry, are partners of the NHL World Championship and have participated in unique content series both for the league and the community. Golier claimed that CHEL specifically chose brand partners that helped “provide value to the community.”

Of course, it is not an easy task to cater to the hardcore hockey fan and the esports enjoyer at the same time, but the league has actively involved the current CHEL community in an attempt to reach more potential fans. By participating in esports-like traditions — but also maintaining its unique identity and retaining hockey DNA — the league has found a way to draw in both groups, even if the numbers for esports are on the lower end.

Since time immemorial, fans of traditional sports and esports have debated the validity of competitive gaming as an authentic sport, and whether ‘gamer’ and ‘athlete’ could be used interchangeably. Now, the NHL are bringing both groups together on a virtual rink to share a new experience. Only time will tell whether CHEL is skating on solid or shaky ice.

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The Trends Shaping Esports Comms in 2023

It’s always exciting to start a new year. It's an opportunity to look back – to spend time reflecting on what’s passed, as well as what’s to come. As we step into the unknown of 2023, we’ve given some thought to the trends we’re expecting for esports comms:

TikTok slaps Twitter

With its new owner taking a kamikaze approach to the business, we’re all waiting for Twitter to implode while Facebook struggles with its declining audience. Instagram and YouTube continue to steadily gain fans, but it's TikTok that’s taking the social world by storm. Amidst a changing economy as well as health, and climate issues, the communities that became safe spaces for its users in the last couple of years will continue to play an important role but this year it will be important not to adopt a one-size fits all approach. Brands wanting to reach an esports and gaming audience will need to be laser-targeted so they feel understood and validated - you can’t group gamers into a single identity.

Content for the people

As comms experts whose goal is to help clients reach the right people with the right message, we’re seeing a revolution from exclusivity to broad appeal. For content, eyeballs are king. This year we expect to see more co-streaming opportunities, giving tournament operators and publishers extra chances to engage with a range of influencers, and reach a more diverse and varied audience.

Making more of the esports dollar

We’re expecting a period of economic downturn this year. Esports won’t be lucky enough to avoid the issues we’re seeing across the wider economy – the purse strings will tighten - but that doesn’t mean aspirations become less ambitious. During an economic downturn PR is a useful way to maximise ROI - a consistent presence in earned media gives ample opportunities to tell your stories while also maintaining brand reputation. This year, instead of expensive marketing campaigns we expect to see brands stoking their core fan audiences with less curated content and instead encouraging co-creation opportunities.

Coming to you live

The return of live events in 2022 had us all breathing a sigh of relief. We were nervous about how the industry would respond to the challenges of returning from a pandemic, but by the end of last year, we were standing shoulder-to-shoulder with esports fans at events across the world. Whether cheering on our favourite teams, willing them to make the killer move, or catching up with old and new industry faces, esports reclaimed the human touch it had been missing for so long. In 2023, as the world continues to work within a hybrid model, we believe the challenge will be about delivering outstanding experiences in equal measures for those in stadiums and those at home.

To start a conversation around your 2023 esports comms needs, contact karen@thestorymob.com Communications Consultancy for Gaming Culture
thestorymob.com @thestorymob

Producing Esports Confetti and its students reflect on their degrees

n 2020, Confetti Institute of Creative Technologies, a techfocused specialist education provider and part of Nottingham Trent University, became the first in the UK to offer a dedicated esports production degree. Unlike most other esports degrees, which teach esports more

broadly, Confetti is laser focused on giving students everything they need to kickstart careers in production.

With the first cohort of students approaching the end of their threeyear degree programmes, The Esports Journal got in touch with Confetti to

see what life at the Institute is like for emerging students — and what that means for their careers.

Gin Rai, Confetti’s Esports Manager and Higher Education Course Leader, discussed the way the university body views its esports programme and the

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NUEL Winter Finals 2022. Pictured: Group Shot. Image credit: Confetti.

direction it is headed in, together with students Alex Calladine, James Frost, Rafael Barbosa and Rebecca Green.

As Rai put it, last year was ‘stacked’ for Confetti. The Institute was a key partner in the Commonwealth Esports Games; it has a new esports facility currently being developed at Whitechapel in London, and Confetti deepened its partnership with the NUEL (National University Esports League). The Institute has also validated and is recruiting for their MSc in Esports Production postgraduate degree allowing students to delve deeper and develop further as production specialists.

Following the rapidly evolving industry, the team are also continually developing themselves and the courses to match. “I don’t think there will ever be a part of the

degree that will stop being worked on, and I mean that from my heart,” Rai said.

work they did during that time. He said the students are now able to enter the job market at a high level, a core goal of the degree. “I wouldn’t say that there is a light at the end of the tunnel,” Rai continued. “We are well out of the tunnel now, and it’s very gratifying and I am really proud and excited to be a part of this.”

ESPORTS 101

“These last couple of years of doing the esports production degree, there were many really valuable technology driven lessons learned, and ways in which we can enhance the learning experience.”

Rai exuded pride at the progress the students had made in the last two to three years, especially of the real life

All four of the students The Esports Journal spoke to supported a variety of key events, and worked with different brands during their time at Confetti. Some worked with acclaimed game developer Riot Games on the TFT Dragonlands Championship in November 2022, while others assisted the likes of BLAST and ESL Gaming on the BLAST Finals Lisbon and IEM Rio Major 2022. A number of Confetti students also worked on several key Amazon UNIVERSITY

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“I don’t think there will ever be a part of the degree that will stop being worked on, and I mean that from my heart.”
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NUEL Winter Finals 2022. Pictured (L-R): James Frost, Alex Calladine, Rafael Barbosa. Image credit: Confetti.

Esports events delivered by NUEL and their international partner, GGTech, including the UK and Ireland Winter Finals 2022 held at the institute’s own Confetti X hub in Nottingham. What the students have in common is that they all worked their way up from a rudimentary understanding of the esports industry to being able to carry their own weight on major esports broadcasts.

While the first year focuses on developing fundamental skills in production and media creation using Adobe products and getting familiar with the technology, from year two onwards things really start to take shape. James Frost, for example, did more than 300 hours of broadcast in his second year from January to November 2022. “If the me of this time last year and the me today met, they would not know who each other were,” Frost laughed.

IN CHARGE OF YOUR OWN CAREER

The propensity for quick learning and even quicker change was shared by all the students. The Esports Journal spoke to Frost, who also works as an observer and was a semi-professional CS:GO player in the past, added that real life experience on esports projects was what really shifted him towards production. Frost contemplated going pro for a long time, but decided to take the decisively more structured route towards working in broadcast and production via Confetti.

Rebecca Green, on the other hand, finished studying games technology in college in 2017, but was drawn to Confetti by its esports production course. Talking about the ins and outs, she noted that the course helped her develop in a way that surprised even her — she’d gone from developing games, to

exploring games production, to observing League of Legends matches, and trying to work in esports marketing before finally settling on broadcast production.

Yet a good degree course won’t just teach you hard skills; it’ll equip you with an adaptable mindset and the soft skills needed to succeed in a given industry. Speaking to Confetti’s students, there is a strong sense of self-reliance present, and all of the students mentioned that they had to leave their comfort zone frequently — but enjoyed doing it.

Green told The Esports Journal that the best advice she can give is based not on hard skills, but rather on soft ones. Communication, networking, and your digital footprint can sometimes mean more than the fact that you can produce a segment on air, an important lesson the Confetti students have learnt.

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NUEL Winter Finals 2022. Pictured (L-R): Alex Calladine, Rafael Barbosa. Image credit: Confetti.

“Be nice to people,” Green added. “Especially when you’re starting out, if you are just nice and they just like being around you they will give you opportunities. Don’t knock it until you try it and don’t ever hold yourself back from trying different things.”

Rafael Barbosa, a second year student, well nested within the esports production industry, has recently worked on the IEM Rio Major and the BLAST Premier: Spring Finals in Lisbon, Portugal, his home country. Through networking and freelancing for different production companies during his time at Confetti, Barbosa managed to land jobs that not many students have access to.

“Coming into university during open days and setting up something small can lead to you learning more,” Barbosa said. “Just get involved outside of [the] course hours

you have. You will have a busy time, but it is definitely worth it.”

Alex Calladine, third year student explained that Confetti teaches students to be prepared for the massive diversity in event setups in esports, particularly the vast differences in software and hardware between venues. Confetti teaches its students to work with all sorts of industry-leading hardware and software, from entry level to arenagrade, best of the best, all of which are commonplace inside and outside the esports industry.

Calladine has amassed thousands of hours working with some of the biggest esports production teams and broadcast organisations including Gfinity, BLAST, FACEIT, GGTech. He interviewed for and has been recruited by Confetti Media Group as a production technician,

vision mixing and directing alongside supporting the wider business as an engineer. All of this, before graduating.

The perspective of the students themselves shines a new light on the way esports courses function. There is a degree of disciplinary freedom that is not always present at university, but that same freedom makes every student responsible for their own story even more so than traditional university courses.

The team behind Confetti have created a framework through which every student can define their own production career, in the esports industry and beyond — as evidenced by the students who are doing just that. With the first-ever cohort of esports production students soon to graduate, Confetti’s future is starting to take shape.

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NUEL Winter Finals 2022. Pictured: Rebecca Green. Image credit: Confetti.

Gaming for Good Esports Youth Club and the role

social enterprises in esports

midst a throng of gloomy industry headlines at the top- and mid-level of the esports pyramid, youth esports, in all its incarnations — in education, collegiate, and, as you’ll read about in our interview with Vanta elsewhere in this magazine, youth esports leagues — is firmly on the rise.

Much of that growth is, of course, thanks to gaming’s place in the cultural zeitgeist of today’s youth. But central to the trend is also a growing understanding that esports acts as a conduit to teach young people valuable skills and, increasingly, as starting point for career development opportunities.

While training academies, venues, leagues, esports courses, and others build out the youth esports vertical, social enterprises are looking to use esports’ entertainment and educational propensity for good. Social enterprises are businesses with a social or environmental purpose at their heart.

Based in London, Esports Youth Club is one such social enterprise. Born, as many social initiatives were, out of the burdensome lockdowns of the COVID-19 pandemic, the organisation provides facilities, structure, and equipment

of

for young people in the community to engage in gaming and esports.

Video games, as the Club’s website will tell you, have significant entry costs. The price of computers, consoles, and the equipment to compete means disadvantaged young people can be excluded from esports — putting a cap on both diversity and growth. The Club aims to engage young people currently not catered for by existing youth support activities.

The Esports Journal sat down with Lewis Kay, Co-founder and Director of Esports Youth Club, to discuss the initiative, as well as the role of social enterprises in esports.

The Esports Journal (ESJ): How did Esports Youth Club come about, and why?

Lewis Kay (LK): The idea of creating the Esports Youth Club was formed in 2020,

one of the better things to come out of that year! Our team are all avid gamers, and this became our main outlet to get together, play games and laugh the nights away over lockdowns. During this time, I was working as a housing officer for Lambeth, looking after some of the most notorious estates in Europe. By working with the wonderful people on the estates, the lack of engaging services for young people became immediately apparent. This, together with the release of nearly unattainable next-gen consoles, presented a gap which needed to be filled, and so EYC was born.

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A

We created a place for young people to come through, interact with likeminded people, and play the games they love, all the while learning about a potential future career within an industry that they might not have considered to be accessible.

We formed our social enterprise, Esports Youth Club C.I.C, to increase access to esports at a grassroots level. There is absolutely no doubt in the popularity of gaming amongst young people — a 2020 Barclays Survey revealed 62% of young people between 8 and 18 say that gaming is their favourite hobby. However, compared with other youth provisions, whether it be football, boxing or music, the lack of access at a local level is staggering. Many of the young people we work with follow esports teams and creators avidly online but are unable to engage directly with the sport themselves.

We aim to fill that gap by bringing the latest equipment directly to young people and running fun engaging clubs and activities, all for free and always including a hot meal for the youngsters. This local element is key for successful delivery to reach a mass audience. While there are an increasing number of great initiatives springing up across the UK, for true accessibility people need to be able to access great programmes on their doorstop.

Since the start of 2022 we have partnered with over 15 local sport teams, charities and youth clubs to put on events for over 650 young people across Lambeth and Southwark. This has ranged from gaming clubs for asylum seekers, sessions and tournaments at local youth clubs with amazing prizes, an NBA 2k23 release day tournament with a local girls basketball team, and most

notably a pop-up over the October halfterm in the heart of Brixton, which saw over 260 people come through within the space of 9 days, sponsored by 2K Games.

ESJ: Why is Esports Youth Club a Social Enterprise?

LK: Esports Youth Club runs as a community interest company, a particular formation of a social enterprise. This allows us to work towards our social mission, have access to much of the same funding that is open to charities whilst having a simple governance structure that allows us to be very flexible in day-to-day operations.

Non-profit grants have remained a challenge for us in the last year. It will take a culture shift before gaming activities receive the same funding as other youth activities. In the eyes of many funders gaming is an individual

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pursuit, which should be limited rather than encouraged. The only way to change this narrative though is to go out into the community and prove the amazing social benefits of gaming. At any one of our sessions, you can see massive displays of teamwork, problem solving and enjoyment.

Without as many traditional funding options, gaming social enterprises will instead have to be both creative and frugal to fund their operations. We started out almost entirely self-funded, working as volunteers, sourcing our first equipment from our friends, and storing it on one of the director’s bedroom floors. As time has grown, we have managed to upgrade this equipment, with the support of leading gaming brands. We are thrilled to be the only youth club on Fnatic’s college partners programme and use their state-of-the-art headsets for our sessions.

These industry partnerships showcase the great potential there is for gaming in the social enterprise space, and we hope that this is only the start of many great commercial partnerships.

ESJ: Can you tell us about your work in creating pathways into the industry for youth?

LK: Providing a safe space to enjoy gaming is just one part of what we do at Esports Youth Club. We aim to show young people that a career in esports isn’t just reserved for the most talented of gamers and that there is a wide variety of industry pathways for young people to pursue. We help facilitate these pathways by organising inspirational talks from industry insiders and by utilising our growing network of industry contacts to get young people from South London started in their careers.

When we see talented gamers at our sessions, we will be doing all we can to ensure they have everything they need to

nurture their talent. We are developing our EYC Grads programme, which will give such talent a platform to game competitively. So watch this space.

We’re massively excited for what 2023 brings. The level of demand we have seen for our programmes is staggering, so we are exploring several avenues to expand our capacity to be able to offer even more free sessions. If you are interested in teaming up, finding out more or even starting a local gaming club yourself then please do get in touch with us!

ESJ: Will social enterprises like yours become more common in promoting access, inclusivity, and other social goals in gaming and esports?

LK: There is no denying that the business climate has become a lot tougher in the

last year and it’s probably a less enticing time for most people to start up their own venture. However, both the need and opportunities for social enterprises in this space are massive, so in due time there will of course be many successful endeavours that thrive in this space.

Locally to ourselves for example there are loads of amazing music charities, who tackle many of the same issues we do (pathways, increasing access to expensive equipment). There is no reason to think that there cannot be a similarly large ecosystem of gaming social enterprises, and of course we at EYC are keen to be at the heart of this revolution.

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Reality Check: Esports vs Sports

Esports’ place in the wider world of competitive sports

AUTHOR

Where esports sits in relation to sports is the industry’s ultimate ontological debate.

Countless news op-eds, heated tweets and Reddit threads have played out tired arguments over whether esports is, or isn’t, a sport. The most astute amongst them have come to the conclusion that, well, the answer doesn’t really matter. Nonetheless, there are key similarities and differences between the two sectors that point to convergent, albeit distinct, industry trajectories.

One thing that is certain: despite gloomy headlines about recessions and layoffs, esports is as popular as ever. The COVID-19 pandemic induced a monumental boom in interest and viewership in esports, and while some of that has naturally corrected as health measures eased and life gradually normalised around the world, viewership on the whole is still firmly in the green compared to 2019.

Six different esports titles in 2022 had peak concurrent viewership numbers in the multi-millions, according to Esports Charts data. Top amongst them, League of Legends’ 2022 World Championship at over 5 million peak viewers (excluding Chinese viewership, which is harder to measure). Riot

Games itself puts that figure much higher, claiming Worlds 2021 saw 74 million peak concurrent viewers (presumably including Chinese figures).

CS:GO all-time viewership records have also been set in the last two years, with the three most recent

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majors — IEM Rio Major 2022 (1.4 million peak viewers), PGL Major Antwerp 2022 (2.1 million), and PGL Major Stockholm 2021 (2.7 million) the three most popular CS:GO events ever.

Globally, the esports audience is projected to rise to 641 million by 2025, according to analytics firm Newzoo. By contrast, that audience numbered just 398 million viewers in 2019. Video game live streaming more broadly, while down from 2021, is still double prepandemic levels, analytics company Stream Hatchet found.

These numbers aren’t quite what traditional sports offers, though. While five or even tens of millions is impressive, it is no football or American football, which can command hundreds of millions of average viewers. Nevertheless, the gains indicate sustained audience interest, and are promising for esports professionals hoping to cultivate the fan followings seen in traditional sports.

In fact, despite a global economic downturn and a considerable softening in the attractiveness of esports in the eyes of investors, esports has still enjoyed endorsements and investments from a variety of entities.

There were 31 merger & acquisition deals worth $2.1 billion (~£1.7 billion) announced between Q1 and Q3 2022, according to investment bank Drake Star. In October 2022 alone, GAMURS Group raised $12m (~£10.6 million), Bidstack raised around $11m (~£9.9 million), and football players Bruno Fernandes and Juan Mata became shareholders of Rebels Gaming.

Fernandes and Mata are far from the only individuals from the professional sports world invested in nurturing esports. Household sporting names — such as Michael Jordan, Usain Bolt, David

Beckham, and Mike Tyson, to name a few — are funding and recognising the value of esports, extending their traditional sporting careers into a new domain.

High-profile sporting names endorsing esports in an effort to promote their investments speaks to the cross-over appeal that many see between the two sectors. Celebrity endorsements, it is hoped, may lead sports audiences to cross over and support counterparts in esports. In a sign of that hope, numerous European football clubs have launched, or endorsed, esports teams, including Paris Saint-Germain (PSG), Wolverhampton Wanderers F.C., F.C. Barcelona, Schalke 04, and many more.

Plus, while viewership numbers might be lower, esports audiences are highly sought after. Audience demographics typically comprise young, higherincome, tech-savvy males — a valuable target audience for marketers that traditional sports increasingly misses, and a goldmine for traditional sports clubs to find new fans.

Governments, too, are starting to take steps to endorse esports, keen to reap the value of an industry that had traditionally been at best ignored from a legislative standpoint. China, South Korea, India and the US, among others, have already officially recognised esports as a sport or introduced legislation to aid esports athletes. In November 2022, the European Union passed a resolution recommending a long-term strategy to support and fund esports on the continent, recognising the value it provides.

Most national governments across the world provide support and funding

to their sports industries, which is vital to enabling and promoting sporting activity. The extension of support to the esports industry brings competitive gaming closer to par with traditional sports. As EU legislators determine how best to implement funding and support, esports enterprises will likely take a new and close look at opportunities in Europe.

However, one of the emerging narratives of the last few years is the diversification of revenue streams by esports businesses. Many esports organisations, most notably FaZe Clan, are now as much about gaming and lifestyle as they are about esports. Others have dived headfirst into the influencer industry; Misfits Gaming announced a $20 million (~£17.8 million) creator and influencer fund in November, and Team Liquid has an influencer management arm (and esports wiki). XSET is forging a focus on content and talent, and 100 Thieves is even making its own video game.

That emphasis on business diversification is one key area where esports has differentiated itself from traditional sporting disciplines. Rampant diversification away from competition itself is not a necessity in sport, but it is a vital lesson for those entering the esports industry.

“At American Public University System, we differentiate between Sports Management, and our new Esports

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degree that focuses on the business of esports and training future esports coaches and administrators,” explained Craig Skilling , Esports Coordinator at APUS , an accredited online university which offers accessible online higher education Esports degrees. APUS’ esports course examines esports from a business perspective — recognising the need to differentiate esports from sports management as the industry evolves and opens up new opportunities for employment.

Going forward, however, Skilling reasons that an increased emphasis on content creation as a revenue strategy may expose events to larger audiences, granting top players the star power status typically enjoyed in traditional sports media and paving the way to frame stars in a similar limelight to greats in the NFL or NBA.

Additionally, from an event perspective, more and more local destination marketing organisations, Convention and Visitors Bureaus (CVB’s) and local governments — particularly in the US — are bidding to host esports tournaments as they come to appreciate its distinct economic benefits.

In much the same way that traditional sports has been an economic focal point for many municipalities, those same areas are recognising that economic benefits apply equally to esports. The city of Raleigh, North Carolina, for example, is booked heavily in 2023 for esports events — thanks to generous incentives and funding. The US state of Georgia, too, is using tax incentives to boost its esports industry.

Nowhere is esports becoming more quickly physically ingrained than on university campuses across the US and beyond. More universities and colleges are treating their esports programmes as they would their American football

programmes, investing both money and training to grow their departments.

Hundreds of US colleges and universities are members of the National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE) and offer recognised varsity esports programmes. Skilling emphasised that other institutions may well follow suit in response to the trend by developing their own varsity programmes moving forward. In fact, APUS’ esports degree was formed as a response to organic interest in its varsity programme.

“Demand at APUS began from an organic student-led club that pushed for more esports options within the school. Today, we offer an online bachelors in esports, drawing from our sports management programme to expose future professionals to all aspects of the growing industry,” Skilling added.

“Esports can and will permeate the wider world of competitive sports eventually, and we see this reflected in the student body at APUS. Currently, we have several students who are competing on their own and who have experience running their own teams.”

The Esports Coordinator expects more collegiate teams to secure formal varsity designation to assist in a business model that drives student scholarship funding — just like traditional sports.

Growing varsity designation could be integral as it opens the door to name, image and likeness (NIL) marketing for esports college athletes, a commonplace occurrence in US collegiate sport but thus far largely absent from esports. However, there are signs of change ahead. In June 2022, a policy shift from the National Collegiate Athletic Association on NIL provided more clarity for content creators contemplating college esports. The policy change allowed individuals to compete in other intercollegiate sports while also being signed to a competitive esports organisation or operating as a sponsored gamer or streamer.

From the business side to the competitive side, parallels that run between esports and sports are only getting stronger — and closer. Esports is learning from its traditional counterpart, while also forging its own, unique way forward.

“Does esports differ from traditional sports? Yes and no,” reflected Skilling. “No in terms of the hours of training that are required for high level athletes, whether gamers or traditional sports athletes. However, it is a yes from a business standpoint, which is a core focus of the APUS esports programme. We see that esports events, streaming, and overall monetisation exceeds that of some of our professional sports leagues.”

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Leagues Ahead

Vanta’s vision following a $2.5m seed round

Amid one of the toughest investment environments in the modern esports era, scholastic esports platform Vanta has achieved the impossible: an oversubscribed seed round totalling $2.5 million (~£2.26 million) in funding.

Now present in 45 states across the US, the company has a lofty goal to make its tournaments free for children to enter. Instead of entry fees, it charges money for the coaching services offered through its website, connecting willing game experts with kids who want extra help.

But on top of the inherent challenges of bringing teachers and parents onside to support video games in an educational environment, the company is in an already highly competitive US market

which includes Generation Esports and XP League, alongside controversial industry giant PlayVS, which completed its own $50 million (~£47 million) Series C funding round in September 2019.

Yet the rewards for parents and children are self-explanatory. The youth and scholastic esports sector is showing tremendous growth as institutions wake up to its engagement and educational potential, offering opportunities for students, schools and companies alike. $16 million (~£13 million) in scholarship funding alone is distributed by the National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE)’s more than 200 member universities, the organisation disclosed in 2020. Vanta estimated there’s roughly 20,000 schools in the US that engage in esports in some form. There are over 130,000 schools in the country.

THE PROFITABILITY PROBLEM

As investors increasingly demand that esports companies have a clear path to profitability, robust revenue strategy is vital. How can Vanta, and others like it, hope to remain fiscally sustainable as the cost of living motivates parents towards tightening their pockets and diverting money away from after school activities? Generating revenue consistently appears challenging when part of a plan that does not include charging for the service, and, as Cofounder and COO, Zachary Fabi admits, does not include vast amounts of income from sponsors or advertising.

In Europe, university tournament organisers like GG Tech get their income from league sponsorships from the likes of Amazon or Red Bull. In the UK, university esports league NSE has

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AUTHOR Patrick Walker  @PatrickHWalker
37

developed relationships with large endemic sponsors like Intel and Barclays to ensure they have a stable income.

The answer for Vanta, Fabi said, is the coaching programme. “[School] coaches are being asked to understand the ins and outs of League of Legends, as well as Rocket League, as well as Super Smash Brothers. These are all vastly different games with vastly different mechanics. We’re trying to help these folks by saying ‘hey look, we’ve got these expert gamers and we can train them to work effectively with kids to provide that mentorship’.”

Some competitors in the space charge outright for the privilege of being in leagues, but Vanta’s philosophy is built on the goal of accessibility. It theorises that the platform being free to access and easy to use isn’t just an added benefit, it is essential to persuade adults that the service is worth their time. Others, like Generation Esports, have taken the route of selling accredited K-12 courses, and media rights, to lower or eliminate entry costs.

In theory, coaches not only help produce revenue for Vanta, they also add value to the experience of children participating

in its leagues. Coaches earn $15, $17.50, and $20 (~£12, £14, and £16) per hour depending on their progression through Vanta’s bespoke training programme. Vanta adds a fee on top of the base salary, and also provides a ‘moderator’ alongside each coach to help wrangle excitable children.

There is obviously the potential for coaches to establish their own relationship with schools and cut Vanta out altogether, but Vanta tries to justify their cut by ensuring that the coaches are held to a high standard. “Moderators go through additional training looking at potential grooming behaviours, quality control, and checks and balances for our coaches”, Fabi explained.

There is also a tight accountability and promotions system for Vanta’s coaches to ensure they provide a good service. Safety has to be paramount when dealing with children: Vanta was started after one of the founders saw their child being cyberbullied.

SELLING TO SCEPTICS

As every childhood gamer can confirm, the process of convincing parents that video games won’t have a negative influence on young minds is not

straightforward. But Vanta’s sales pitch is simple. “These educational institutions recognise that they have to meet kids where they are,” claimed Fabi.

Nearly 50% of the users surveyed by Vanta said that the platform was their first participation in an afterschool activity. A former young athlete himself, Fabi wants children to gain the soft skills he developed as a kid from sports. “My coaches were mentors and role models as well for me. And so we have a large population of kids now that aren’t getting those same mentorship opportunities outside of their home because they’re not engaged in those traditional activities.”

A UK survey by Cadbury found that 60% of parents believed their child would have found COVID-19 lockdowns more difficult without video games, and 58% now report playing games to get close to their children. It may not be a replacement for physical sport, but leveraging childrens’ experience playing games for personal development and growth simply makes sense for schools.

There is also the potential for Vanta’s platform to help broaden esports’ inclusivity by providing pipelines for

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diverse groups to get into competitive gaming and gain experience as a player or leader. Gaming remains one of the few competitive past times at schools that see girls and boys compete in one team, and Vanta has established a partnership with Dignitas’ gaming platform for women, Raidiant, creating bootcamps in VALORANT and Rocket League exclusively for marginalised genders.

Additionally, the team ran a pilot last summer with a school for children with developmental disabilities. Teams competed over a trial period of six weeks, with teachers assisting coaches with potential behavioural issues from children. Vanta says that it’s passionate about opening esports to differently-abled kids, and wants to continue to explore opportunities to serve that community.

Their promise of being a public good for esports seems to have worked. Vanta’s over-subscribed funding round was a vote of confidence amid a tough investment environment, which Vanta now hopes it can use to improve its domestic leagues in North America. It also plans to further develop the training quality for coaches, and improve its platform before it considers expanding beyond American shores.

VANTA VINDICATED?

For the company to fulfil its longterm goal of achieving wide-spread acceptance in schools, its platform must continue to be accessible. While Fabi claimed he didn’t want to “spend too much time bad-mouthing PlayVS,” and hailed them as “early movers in the scene,” he noted that there were lessons to be learnt from the controversy earlier this year.

An investigation by The Esports Journal’s sister site Esports Insider found that the company

was attempting to reinforce its grip on esports in schools by signing exclusivity deals with developers, and subsequently ordering high schoollevel educators and entities to cease organising tournaments for their students in popular titles, including Nintendo’s Super Smash Bros Ultimate and Activision Blizzard’s Overwatch and Hearthstone.

“There’s no need for exclusivity in the space,” Fabi argued. “A big part of it is just making sure that the developers keep the door open for tournament organisers to allow kids to play their games. We’re not trying to make money off the developer’s intellectual property, we’re trying to make money by encouraging people to use it.”

Vanta does not plan to ink exclusivity deals with developers if possible — it plans to gain from the rising popularity of video games as a whole, rather than shoving competitors out of the space. The approach reflects a strong and growing resistance in the scholastic community to using exclusivity deals to claim market share.

RISING TIDES LIFT ALL BOATS

Video games are becoming endemic to the scholastic system. The

industry has already seen huge growth since a handful of teachers began using Minecraft to teach basic scientific principles in their classrooms over a decade ago.

Fresh from the lingering effects of the PlayVS affair, Vanta wants to build trust to ensure teachers and their young charges see esports platforms as non-exploitative. The company goes to great pains to ensure that everything from childrens’ names to demographic information are kept private (not even used by Vanta for their own data) in accordance with the US’ Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 (COPPA). Shoring up trust will be vital to ensure the sector grows.

Following its funding round in October, Vanta must now justify the vote of confidence it has garnered from investors. Whether its business model and goals for trust are maintained will likely be the key factor in ensuring its success as a scholastic esports platform.

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Jumping Through Portals

How GRID’s brand new data portal will power VALORANT

Data in traditional sports is a transformative asset for front offices, coaches, athletes and fans alike. Providing new ways to analyse performance and maximise each individual player for teams, and new ways to consume content for fans, data is an essential cog in a multibillion dollar machine. Now imagine if these coaches, managers, and GMs could analyse every second of play with pinpoint accuracy and granularity: This is what the world of esports performance data offers.

In-game data assets, directly sourced from the game server, have been gaining momentum in competitive gaming over the last couple of years. Recently, successful use cases for game data have been springing up in different sectors — data visualisation, modding, and media to professional coaching and talent scouting.

Recently, Riot Games, in partnership with esports data platform GRID, has announced the release of the VALORANT Data Portal (VDP). As the official home for all VALORANT in-game data, VDP

aims to give professional players and teams the data and tools to elevate competition utilising data sets that traditional sports can only dream about. The portal is being rolled out to the 30 partnered VALORANT Champions Tour (VCT) teams. Plans surrounding VDP access for the broader VALORANT Esports community will be shared at a later date.

For now, the VALORANT Data Portal is now live for VCT teams to analyse their past games and scrim matches. The Esports Journal spoke to GRID’s Founder and CEO Moritz Maurer and Riot Games’ Manager of Esports Competitive Data Programs, John Knauss, to learn more about the process of building the tool, and how it empowers the 30 professional

teams making up the 2023 VALORANT Champions Tour (VCT).

The Esports Journal (ESJ): Let’s start with the simple question — what exactly is the VALORANT Data Portal? Moritz Maurer (MM): To answer it in the simplest way - it is a first gateway to official game data available through the GRID Data Platform. The first users of the portal are VALORANT professional players. In the case of professional players, the VDP allows teams to easily search, query, or filter data for match analysis, scrim reviews, talent evaluation, and more.

DATA
AUTHOR Patrick Walker  @PatrickHWalker Moritz

To minimise the effort of learning the new system for the team we strived for intuitive navigation, fully automated management and of course, security. The VDP provides private data access through a secure API or applicationbased user interface that can only be accessed by the organisation’s appointed users. We believe access to data is essential to ensure the sustainable growth of the scene for all fans, no matter what is their proficiency level in the game, and we aim for VALORANT Data Portal to do exactly that.

ESJ: Why should professional teams use this portal?

MM: I will start with the obvious argument that makes a fundamental difference for the teams. VALORANT Data Portal is powered and sanctioned by the official data source, Riot Games — the developer of the game — and built by GRID, the company behind the GRID Data Platform. Riot understands how important it is to empower the passionate, talented players and create an even ground for those competing and

we partnered to support that mission with the GRID Products.

The portal provides esports teams with a new automated platform allowing them to access detailed data from official esports matches, including the ability to get data from private scrims. At GRID we strive for game data excellence and together with Riot we aim to provide next-generation solutions that showcase the potential of game data assets for various users, starting with the group at the pinnacle of the gaming scene — the professional players.

ESJ: Why did Riot decide to partner with GRID for the VALORANT Data Portal?

John Knauss (JK): We believe match data will play a key role in VALORANT’s long-term success, and equipping our professional teams, community, and partners with that data is critical to the growth of our sports.

With GRID for VALORANT, we found a highly aligned partner who shares Riot’s goals and core values in this space. Additionally, GRID has a tech stack that

was a good fit for VALORANT as we were looking to scale quickly. We are excited to work with GRID to democratise access to esports data starting with our launch of the VALORANT Data Portal for professional teams to support their coaching, scouting, and talent evaluation.

ESJ: GRID announced its partnership with Riot around this time last year. How would you describe the partnership so far, and how does the portal’s project change the scope of the partnership in 2023?

MM: Wow, yes, it’s already almost a year. At the launch of our partnership, we were focused on game data distribution and assets monetisation. By introducing the VALORANT Data Portal, we have expanded our partnership with the focus on widening game data accessibility to various groups and bringing unified access to the stable data feeds.

We are proud that Riot recognised GRID Data Infrastructure as capable of delivering the solution that meets the expectation of its community across various levels. Thanks to Riot’s

DATA
The VDP also provides much more granular “live stats” data not available through public post-match history files.

partnership, we now have an opportunity to build a sustainable ecosystem arm in arm with a game developer that truly cares for its community, and have been given a chance to deploy GRID game infrastructure to serve our joint goal of building a data-powered esports ecosystem with fair access for everyone.

ESJ: Could you describe the process of building the portal with GRID? How did you overcome challenges?

JK: Building the VALORANT Data Portal was a highly collaborative effort between Riot, GRID, and downstream customers. The biggest challenge has always been creating a scalable system that can serve a diverse array of data needs.

A great example of this is a feature in the VALORANT Data Portal that allows secure access to data from scrims between teams. Building this feature involved a great deal of complexity to identify, of all the games played globally, which were scrims, while ensuring that only the participating teams could access the data. GRID has been a great partner in tackling challenges throughout the development process, not only with the scrim feature, but the entire VALORANT Data Portal as well.

ESJ: Last time The Esports Journal spoke to GRID, you had just released GRID Open Platform, the first project to offer free access to game data for independent creators. Are there any updates on the GRID Open Platform?

MM: GRID was conceived with the conviction that data unlocks the next big wave of innovation in the industry. The GRID Open Platform is at the core of that vision and provides free access to game data assets for those who are looking to build data-powered innovation.

The project is still in beta but everyone can apply via our website and, after internal evaluation at GRID, get access to the datasets. Over the last year we

have seen more than 100 projects onboarded ranging from fantasy esports to data visualisation, fan engagement, performance optimisation, and AIpowered tools. The submissions are coming from all over the world and internally we make sure to evaluate each of them carefully to ensure we provide equal access to those who pursue projects with big commercial potential, but also the fans who simply love to play with data.

ESJ: How does the VALORANT Data Portal fit in GRID’s vision for a datapowered game ecosystem?

MM: Naturally, we strive to continue our mission of providing game data solutions that cater to users across the entire ecosystem of leading competitive titles and build up the ecosystem by providing unified, sustainable access to the data assets.

With professional players having the first access to the VALORANT Data Portal, we get a chance to work on the feedback provided by the most demanding audience — world-class champions of the discipline. If we meet their expectations, we are on a good trajectory to cater to a wider audience too. And so far, the feedback shows that we have managed to build a product that already satisfies their needs.

ESJ: What are Riot Games’ goals for how the portal will affect the VALORANT esports ecosystem?

JK: We spend a lot of time talking about data accessibility and how we can grow the esports ecosystem that surrounds our games. We want to push the envelope and enable our partners and the community to create the next

generation of fan-focused products and experiences.

Our work with GRID and the VALORANT Data Portal is the first step in lowering barriers for those that wish to use Official Riot Esports Data, starting with professional teams. We will be sharing more of our plans soon.

ESJ: What does GRID think is the next big thing in the game data space?

MM: I’ll name a couple of trends I believe will see accelerated growth in the next months: improved data accessibility across the fanbase regardless of the data proficiency level; novel game data use cases; game data-driven marketing campaigns, continuous improvement of already available game data-powered products across existing sectors (ranging from the well-established betting industry to data visualisation and insights); and talent scouting.

Of course, all of these I believe will benefit from the growing awareness of the importance of official data on both sides — data producers and consumers. The quality will become increasingly more important due to the sophistication of data-reliant solutions. And we at GRID are excited to provide the technology foundations to unlock this future with our partners.

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Money on the Move Insights

from Esports Insider, PayPal & Nuvei’s esports payments whitepaper

The complexity of the esports industry has increased in tandem with the growth of the market. This has made it essential for companies to professionalise quickly, and one of the most important aspects for any scaling business to address is its finances.

The more cash and investments flowing in and out of the esports industry, the more critical it is to process payments smoothly and efficiently. That’s why payment giants Nuvei and PayPal, in partnership with The Esports Journal’s sister publication Esports Insider, joined forces to survey the market and produce a whitepaper detailing the role of payments in esports and how these fundamental processes present opportunities for growth.

105 companies — including esports teams, tournament organisers, talent agencies, and other businesses related to esports — were surveyed on payment processes, revenue streams, and their thoughts about the future of the industry. The survey was conducted between June 21st and July 21st 2022 and involved select entities from Europe, North America, Latin America, and Asia-Pacific.

OPTIMISTIC OUTLOOK

Over the last two years, the COVID-19 pandemic undoubtedly boosted viewership — and revenue — in the esports scene. As people stayed home, audiences increased for online services and entertainment in general — including esports content on platforms like Twitch and YouTube.

Esports relies mainly on online infrastructure and many of the leading

competitions stayed active during the toughest parts of the pandemic.

That might explain why most of the interviewed esports companies believe that fans are not terribly concerned about COVID-19 impacting their travel plans and spending habits: 75% of companies indicated that they believe fans’ COVID concerns would not prevent them from returning to inperson events.

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AUTHORS Jordan Fragen  @JFragen & Victor Frascarelli  @vitaofrasca Data source: Payments and the Monetization of Esports Whitepaper

While still higher than pre-pandemic levels, companies are bracing for a drop-off in viewership as restrictions and infection rates in many parts of the world normalise. Yet the companies surveyed remain optimistic about the trajectory of esports viewership. In their opinion, esports will continue to grow: 85% of all respondents are optimistic about audience growth, while only 9% are pessimistic.

A DEVELOPING SCENE

Esports companies are also optimistic when it comes to revenue: 62% believe earnings will grow, while only 19% are pessimistic. While these companies are somewhat less enthusiastic about revenue growth in comparison to audience growth, overall companies believe the future of the industry is full of potential.

year, there is a massive amount of momentum propelling the industry forward.

To build on this upward trend, businesses must continue to be mindful of their strategic and operational decisions at the foundation of their businesses.

OVERCOMING GROWTH CHALLENGES

Esports companies are under tremendous pressure to become profitable. Companies are aggressively pursuing new revenue streams to become self-sufficient. With operations becoming increasingly complex, processing payments also becomes more involved. Diversification and expansion also raise unprecedented challenges, and, for the sector’s potential to be fully explored, money needs to move around smoothly.

First, it is important to note that while sponsorships are still the dominant revenue stream, income sources in esports are going beyond sponsorship and merchandising more than ever

before. Esports companies are monetising in a variety of ways.

Despite being a cutting-edge industry, esports companies still use relatively traditional methods when making and accepting payments. Nearly all of them accept and use some combination of invoices, direct bank transfers, and debit cards for their payment needs. Teams are more willing to be experimental, accepting 5 payment methods on average compared to 4 for event organisers.

This is a major missed opportunity for esports companies. Those that improve their business fundamentals in addition to growing revenue streams will be better positioned to grow than companies who remain passive about these core processes.

The main challenges affecting esports companies were also addressed by the survey. Results indicate that companies are aware of the services they need from

Given the current state of the industry, this relative hesitancy around revenue projections is justified: Of the 80% of companies that disclosed their financial performance for 2021, only 45% of these esports companies claimed to be profitable. This means that companies believe in the long-term earnings potential of esports.

90% of the companies, though, agreed to report how their earnings changed in the last year. Of those, 72% claimed their revenue grew in 2021, while only 10% said they earned less. With nearly three of four businesses growing in the last

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Esports companies are also optimistic when it comes to revenue: 62% believe earnings will grow, while only 19% are pessimistic.
Data source: Payments and the Monetization of Esports Whitepaper

payment partners, but might be limiting themselves to the same processes used by traditional industries.

International payments were considered to be the most difficult type of process. With esports being a predominantly digital, borderless sector, ideal payment partners for esports companies must be able to facilitate these transactions. Payment partners that operate in multiple countries, are knowledgeable about the regulations of different regions, and work with payments in local currencies will likely be very attractive to esports companies.

Esports companies also claim that being easy to use is a highly valued element for a payment partner. Companies in esports want a payment provider that doesn’t eat into their bandwidth. This means that a flexible, set-it-and-forgetit payment partner will be appreciated by scaling businesses in esports.

Solutions with easy API integrations and quick check-out processes will be highly

valued in the esports sector, but, at the same time, the payment gateway must ensure that fraudulent transactions and chargebacks will be minimised.

understanding how to better support the esports sector delivered the rationale for this whitepaper’s research. Not only has esports grown in complexity, but payments have also become a concern to address in any globally expanding industry. Both Nuvei and PayPal believe that, by facilitating the payment process, they will be able to unlock the full potential for accelerating the growth of the whole scene.

Partners that can balance security with convenience, as well as with reliable customer services, should be taken into consideration by esports companies.

FINDING THE RIGHT PARTNERS

Identifying these needs and

Learn more about how esports companies view the future of the industry, their current revenue streams — including sponsorship preferences and their outlook on blockchain technology — and how payments can boost growth in the full Payments and the Monetization of Esports whitepaper, presented by Nuvei and PayPal. The report is available on the ESI Marketplace, which is accessible on esportsinsider.com

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Of the 80% of companies that disclosed their financial performance for 2021, only 45% of these esports companies claimed to be profitable. This means that companies believe in the long-term earnings potential of esports.”

Data-led Esports Bayes and KRAFTON on building a solid scene

ata is instrumental in taking advantage of the opportunities that come with the growth of esports. In and out of the server, it can be the deciding factor in a series win and a business win alike.

Collecting data streams from games to supply the esports industry is precisely the focus of endemic data companies, such as Berlin-based in-game data experts Bayes Esports. The company’s technology is leveraged by a range of businesses and esports professionals that analyse in-game statistics, including betting websites, esports teams, and even other data companies. Because of that, partnerships closed by Bayes with publishers like Riot Games and KRAFTON are valuable industry-wide.

Bayes’ deal with KRAFTON, the developer behind 2017’s hit game — and one of the best-selling PC games

of all time — PUBG Battlegrounds, is becoming a particularly potent example of the power of data to strengthen an esports scene. The symbiotic publisherdata relationship can expand, advertise, revamp, or even change the whole strategy of a scene.

“Bayes provides more than just data,” PUBG Esports Department Head Minho Lee told The Esports Journal. “From simple numbers to in-depth insights on the games, Bayes’ data itself will tell the stories of each match, each tournament and each player. Fans and players can then read into this data to make their calls and develop their own strategies, allowing them to delve deeper into the world of PUBG and PUBG esports.”

As Lee put it, by sharing its data, PUBG Esports can approach audiences that are currently on the periphery of esports. “With the help of Bayes, we wish to establish a comprehensive data platform which will sort and classify data in meaningful and comprehensible ways,” Lee continued. “By providing our community with reliable and interesting esports data, we aim to grow in the esports

data business. That way, we can promote PUBG and make it engaging for fans and players outside of the game as well.”

Esports data companies feed an impressive stream of stakeholders that spans the entire esports industry. Not only do publishers, teams and tournament organisers leverage it for stories and insights about their competitive scene, but the data also contributes to other sectors that move the economy of esports, including service providers and gambling websites that need it to provide accurate statistics and services. The proof is in the pudding: Bayes counts companies like Pinnacle, Sportsflare, BETER, Abios, and Kambi in its portfolio of clients.

The data does not make the stories itself. But it lets the KRAFTON’s of the world spot trends that will engage the community. “We are not storytellers here at Bayes Esports; we just provide others with all the tools they need to become one” Dr.-Ing. Notger Heinz, Principal Data Scientist at Bayes, recently said in an article for The Esports Journal’s sister site Esports Insider.

But for Bayes to create a teeming data stream for stakeholders to tap into, it needs to go straight to the source — and that source has to be cooperative.

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“Working with a publisher,” explained Martin Dachselt, CEO of Bayes Esports, “not only allows us to access the full range of esports data available in a particular game title, but also allows us to work much more closely with the game and its esports community itself. There are a lot more avenues that we can explore to develop tools and solutions for teams, players, and the community.”

All the stories that can be told and all the results that can be achieved are dependent on the reliability of the data, which is why publisher relationships are so vital. They’re vital “not just for these additional avenues and integration options, but also to be able to offer more reliable and granular data and to stand strong against grey market offerings that threaten the integrity of competitions and betting markets,” Dachselt added.

Integrity? Grey market? That’s a red flag. If data providers are interested in offering their statistics to betting websites, for example, integrity is an enormous consideration. “Fans can rely on content backed by our data, like statistics and results, to be accurate and for the integrity of bets and competitions to be ensured,” Dachselt claimed. “Making sure that fans can trust the content they see or read and that the events they watch are not tainted by shady businesses going on in the background is our highest priority.”

Publishers, though, are the kingmakers. They make, and therefore have access to, all of their own data. What, then, pushed KRAFTON to tap into third-party services? KRAFTON’s objective is to make its esports data more accessible to fans and the community in order to boost engagement. “But easier said than done,” PUBG Esports’ Lee admitted.

“The data for a single tournament is massive and the work that goes into sorting and classifying the data is huge.

We then sought to cooperate with a partner that has expertise in this, thus Bayes. With Bayes being a pioneer in this field and having a vast distribution network, we are confident in solidifying our ideas to bring greater joy and fun to PUBG esports fans and players.”

A vast array of technology is needed for collecting all the details necessary to serve esports fans the quality and shoulder content they expect — it won’t come as a surprise that people aren’t watching games and writing down numbers in a notebook.

“Our services open the door to many highquality and engaging avenues to better visualise what is going on in any given esports match. Player heatmaps, detailed statistics, probability models, and the possibility of automating the content creation process — matching the live feed to underlying live in-game data to create highlight clips that can be posted on social media almost instantly — are just some of the possibilities that exist for us to support tournament organisers during broadcasts.”

The most impressive product set to come out of Bayes’ work with publishers

is the ‘LoL Esports Data Portal’, a League of Legends esports database available for organisations, Riot Games partners and the community. A similar kind of product development project is being considered for PUBG: Battlegrounds, the developer told The Esports Journal. “I am sure we will be able to find great use cases that combine the knowledge and experience from both of us to make PUBG even more exciting for fans,” said Dachselt.

The Head of PUBG Esports said the company is increasing its efforts to make the title “an iconic and cultural brand,” relying on partners like Bayes to make it come true. When it launched on December 20th, 2017, the game rocketed to be one of the most-played titles of 2018 and largely kickstarted the trend of battle royales in esports. But while the game’s popularity reached astounding heights, its esports scene hasn’t grown as fast.

Will data get the title back on track to the top? According to Dachselt, KRAFTON’s partnership sees: “The age of data scraping is coming to an end, but the age of official data has just begun.”

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The Decentralised Devil

Does esports have a blockchain problem?

n June 2021, esports organisation TSM and cryptocurrency exchange FTX rocked the esports world with a $210 million (~£148 million at the time) 10year naming rights deal. As the largest ever publicly disclosed partnership in esports history, it turned eyes around the world, inside and outside the industry. It was exciting to see such a figure in the industry, and sounded

like an esports organisation’s dream: lucrative, and long-term. However, right from the outset its impressive scale raised questions: Was this too ambitious for two industries that are still so young and immature?

The months after the deal were equally dramatic. Riot Games wouldn’t allow TSM to show its newly signed sponsor FTX on the organisation’s jersey in

the League of Legends Championship Series (LCS). Just two months later, however, Riot itself caved in and inked FTX as the official cryptocurrency exchange of the LCS, despite maintaining regulations not allowing teams to promote the category.

FTX did not stop there. While TSM used the investment to put its expansion plans in motion, the crypto exchange

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reached a one-year, $3.2 million (~£2.48 million) deal with Brazilian powerhouse FURIA in April 2022.

Gui Barbosa, Chief Operating Officer at Web3 gaming organisation BAYZ, told The Esports Journal that the uptick in sponsorship deals between esports and crypto companies had firm reasoning at the time: “[The sponsorships] come from the last period of growth and optimism of the crypto market, which needed to expand its image beyond the niche of technology users and enthusiasts.”

Ultimately, though, none of the deals struck by FTX were fully fulfilled. In November 2022, the company filed for bankruptcy, in turn pushing all of its partnerships — in esports and beyond — into jeopardy. Less than a week later, both FURIA and TSM announced the suspension of their deals and removed FTX branding from all channels. Most notably, FURIA’s flagship team in CS:GO, which was at the time competing at the IEM Rio Major 2022, swapped out its jerseys between games to remove FTX branding.

The downfall of FTX was a wake up call for the esports industry to reflect on just how reliant it was on crypto dollars. No matter how much promise blockchain holds as a technology, it is still highly volatile and speculative.

Ricardo Wendel, CEO and Founder of investment platform DIVI Hub, said companies seeking crypto sponsors need to be more diligent in their research. “If a company that will receive sponsorship money, in esports or not, creates a dependency on and trusts the financial support of a crypto entity — which is a risky and volatile business — how would the diligence of it be made?

“How would the company learn about the economics or how [the crypto entity] behaved in the past? What were the

deals, promises, etc? There is a promise of easy capital, but [crypto companies] are too young. Crypto did not appear long ago; the evolution of this market is also new. So how could you base your income and your deliveries on something with such huge liability?”

The volatility of crypto is not the only risk to this new, developing market. FTX’s bankruptcy was not even caused by fluctuations in the value of Bitcoin, for example, but rather when it was revealed that FTX’s sister company, Alameda Research, held a substantial portion of the company’s assets. Such disclosure led to distrust, legal concerns, and a spiralling selloff of FTX that ultimately resulted in the company having to file for bankruptcy.

BAYZ’s COO Barbosa said the failure of companies in the crypto market conveys a bad perception of disorganisation and lack of control over assets. But he said there were many examples of solid blockchain operators that have, according to him, healthy partnerships even outside esports.

“The market continues to develop technologies that will allow millions of

people to own their digital assets and also allow companies to have more security in transactions through smart contracts. Right now we see good examples, such as Crypto.com sponsoring the World Cup, and the Polygon blockchain announcing great partnerships with brands such as Disney, Nike, Facebook, among others.”

Wendel also warns that crypto money in esports should be complimentary, not essential. This was seemingly the approach taken by FURIA when it settled its one-year-only deal with FTX. Having other major sponsors including Red Bull and Pokerstars, it was not a financial problem for the Brazilian powerhouse to immediately cut ties with the crypto exchange, FURIA told The Esports Journal.

The same cannot be easily said for TSM. Even though the organisation claims to be still profitable after the bankruptcy of its main sponsor, its deal with FTX was slated to last 10 years, and the money was supposedly to be used to put expansion plans in motion.

Asked if its plans changed following the suspension of the naming rights agreement, TSM told The Esports

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Journal in a statement that it had sound financial health: “TSM is a strong, profitable and stable organisation. We forecast profitability this year, next year and beyond. The current situation with FTX does not affect any part of TSM’s operating plan, which was set earlier this year.”

However, in an interview with The Esports Observer July 2021, TSM’s Director of Mobile Jeff ‘SuiJeneris’ Chau confirmed that the organisation’s entrance into the Brazilian market, for example, was powered by the FTX deal. This indicates that future plans, even ongoing projects, will likely need to be reassessed.

Even Riot Games clearly had other plans for its seven year deal with FTX. After the broker’s bankruptcy, the publisher sued FTX for a debt of $6.25 million (~£5,10 million) still owed for 2022, plus $12.87 million (~£10.50 million) for

2023. It likely won’t stop there either, as payments that were supposed to escalate through 2028 will presumably never be paid.

Figures in Esports Insider’s 2022 Payments and the Monetisation of Esports whitepaper draw attention to the matter of esports’ blockchain dependance. The whitepaper found that 22% of esports-related companies have deals with Blockchain/NFT/metaverse entities, while 62% are interested in signing such deals.

With those sectors providing fruitful partnership opportunities in recent years, it is understandable why such a large percentage of esports companies were eager to sign such deals. However, it highlights that the esports industry is willing to turn to unstable ground in pursuit of partnership revenue.

Would a market that has, hypothetically, over 80% of its companies receiving

money from blockchain suffer avoidable consequences in the case something goes wrong on the other side of the fence? DIVI Hub’s Wendel clarified that he is not saying the blockchain market will fail. Indeed, smart contracts have the potential to be a driving technology for the upcoming decades, he said. However, for now, it still does not look like solid enough ground to build a company’s prized sponsorship vertical on.

Shorter, more modest cryptocurrency deals may offer a more secure and sensible option. But in the wake of FTX’s downfall, ambitious projects of the scale of TSM’s industry-defining partnership will likely be met with far greater scepticism by fans, analysts and partnership executives alike. With a crypto winter in full swing — and arguably an esports winter too — the industry’s health will rely on teams and tournament operators making longterm, strategic partnership decisions going forward.

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On your Marks. Get Set. Bet!

Breaking down fast-esports betting content with BETER

ne of esports’ key trends throughout the last couple years has been diversification. So much so, that it’s almost a necessity to pursue a range of revenue opportunities in order to flourish.

Given this importance, it’s quite easy to see that the overall esports industry and the esports betting sector have become a lot more alike. For esports organisations, this diversification has occurred through acquisitions of esports-adjacent properties as well

as putting an emphasis on creator and merchandise divisions.

In the esports betting scene, this shift has seen gambling companies develop new products, strike unique partnerships between publishers and organisations, and put an emphasis on data to bolster offerings. The reason for this change is two-fold: Consumer habits are constantly changing, and new bookmakers in the space — both endemic and non-endemic — are looking to innovate in order to continue growth.

Through this innovation, new types of betting products have emerged that go beyond the traditional pre-match and in-play offerings on major esports events. There’s been rising interest in the esports fantasy scene, for example, and bookmakers have started to utilise pick’ems to drive interest amongst ordinary fans.

Then there’s fast-esports, perhaps one of esports’ least known betting product offerings. In essence, fast-esports offer massive amounts of content to bookmakers in the form of supervised match-ups organised specifically for or by the bookmaker. Match-ups can span a multitude of titles, including FIFA, NBA 2K and CS:GO. This in theory ensures that gambling companies have constant competitive gaming content that can be implemented into their offerings.

However, when conducting multiple supervised match-ups across multiple titles and players, which can run for multiple hours everyday, there are naturally concerns around safety, integrity and fair play.

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In order to shine a light on this new form of offering, and the wider esports betting product landscape, The Esports Journal interviewed Gal Ehrlich, CEO of betting content and data company BETER — a leader in the field of fast-betting content.

*Note: This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity

The Esports Journal: For those who are unfamiliar with BETER, could you explain how your esports betting products work?

Gal Ehrlich (GE): BETER has two components for its esports product. The first component is providing our customers with the most extensive coverage of global esports events in the industry including tier 1-3 tournaments; that’s more than 450 esports tournaments annually, totalling an astounding 40,000 events per year. Our trading team works using official data from Bayes Esports and other partners, so the odds we provide are accurate and the uptime is very high.

The other important part is our in-house esports events that provide fast esports content of 24/7 tournaments under the ESportsBattle brand. We create and distribute more than 25,000 events of efootball, ebasketball, ehockey, Dota 2 and CS:GO each month.

In addition to streams and odds, we provide our clients with our iFrame solution that can include all of the esports and sports events from our portfolio as well as the live streaming of them.

ESJ: BETER offers a range of esports tournaments that provide in-play and pre-match content for bookmakers. What was the reasoning behind developing these products?

GE:Esports content, which BETER is producing, is really created with an entertainment-first approach. It is fast, dynamic, engaging and, also

importantly, available 24/7. In our opinion, it is the golden formula of our esports offering, which is proving its effectiveness by constant growth of end-users of our in-house tournaments as well as our client pool.

BETER’s in-house esports tournaments have their own community of players and fans, they have active social media, and a good reputation ensured by strong integrity procedures we implemented. But we don’t stop developing them to cater to our demanding next-gen audience — we test and add new disciplines, open new arenas for players, and enhance live-streaming experiences with features like in-play stats.

For instance, we launched additional efootball games between national teams, for those playing at the 2022 World Cup. Our clients have already reported that it was a very successful move, which increased not only engagement but also the betting volume for them. We were confident in this effect as, according to our observations, major sport events accelerate cybersport activity.

ESJ: How did BETER decide which games to choose for its betting product?

GE: BETER’s ESportsBattle product includes several key disciplines — efootball, ebasketball, ehockey, CS:GO, Dota 2 and some additional esports disciplines we are going to launch in the nearest future.

The first three were chosen because their traditional forms are very popular, which is why their esports versions are becoming popular too. Another reason

why efootball, ebasketball, and ehockey are becoming popular is because of fast online tournaments which meet the needs of next-gen audiences and give them more engagement.

BETER provides global esports odds for the games that are most popular in world tournaments, such as League of Legends, CS:GO, Dota 2, and many others. These three games account for 80/90% of all global esports bets in the industry.

We also offer variety in CS:GO as well, because we cater for 5x5 player formats. In total, BETER covers more than 20 games across esports, with more to be added soon.

In January 2023 we also launched Dota2 tournaments. New tournaments run for 11 days each, with five teams battling in a round-robin format with a single elimination final. We provide 120 bestof-three matches per month across the entire tournament series.

ESJ: How do you ensure that integrity is maintained when organising a large volume of tournaments across multiple games?

GE: The reliability of tournaments and principles of fair play are core tenets of our business. Therefore, we are constantly refining BETER’s integrity policy to ensure the safety of our partners, employees, and sports & esports community.

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Gal Ehrlich CEO BETER

During the last year, we implemented various solutions and robust policies based on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) recommendations, so our clients can have absolute confidence in the transparency of BETER’s live content.

To name a few procedures we always follow, we have a mandatory pre-employment screening of the tournament’s participants and a compulsory integrity educational programme which includes simulations of real-life scenarios. We also do a permanent exchange on integrityrelated issues with operators and other stakeholders, and our in-house Integrity Operation Center works round-the-clock.

Our in-house esports tournaments comply with our integrity policies, and implementation and compliance with BETER’s integrity policy are mandatory for all tournament organisers who partner with us.

ESJ: Do you see your new products as a signal of the growing popularity of esports as a whole?

GE: Definitely yes. The betting industry follows global trends. Esports became very popular in the last few decades, got recognition as a fashionable profession, and built a system of federations and a calendar of tournaments with wellknown players, teams, and impressive prizes. Our industry could not ignore all the above, and the growing number of esports fans created a demand for additional entertainment options.

It’s important to mention that esports is no longer seen as a niche alternative to mainstream sporting events but is on the list of basic assets players are looking for at sportsbooks. Esports is one of our flagship products, and we plan to continue developing it and this sector in the betting industry in general.

ESJ: How do different esports products help bookmakers enter the esports betting sector?

GE: BETER provides operators with ready-to-market products, buys official data, ensures transparency with fair matches, and allows fast, engaging products that are available 24/7. We cover all the aspects of the esports product.

Early in 2022, we launched our iFrame solution that’s designed to provide users with a UX and UI tailor-made for esports fans. The iFrame solution is easy to use for those bookmakers wanting to enter the esports betting industry. They can get this comprehensive turnkey solution and integrate it into their own platform pretty fast.

ESJ: What are some of the advantages of fast-esports betting products? How do these products benefit the esports and betting industries?

GE: Fast content, be it sports or esports, is something the new generation of players is seeking. They want to be entertained anytime they go online. That’s why at BETER, we produce such content 24/7, providing simultaneous live streams, so the end customer can choose the game, team, or player they like or even follow a few of them at a time.

Our partners and their players already had a chance to evaluate the advantages of fast content. If someone prefers football, they can watch the e-version of it anytime, bet on their favourite team and get the results almost instantly. Players who are big fans of CS:GO or Dota 2 can watch and bet on these events because we feature these titles in our esports offer.

The betting industry is all about the entertainment that goes with the sports passion. Fast esports events

enrich the industry by offering the growing audience of esports bettors dynamic and highly engaging content that is available on sportsbooks round-the-clock.

ESJ:What are your goals and ambitions for 2023? Are there plans to expand BETER’s esports division?

GE: We’re looking to further expand our portfolio in each one of our business lines, adding new disciplines, formats, and features, working on new ways of offering engagement and having a firstclass experience to the end customers of our content.

We’ll also expand geographically in terms of our venues and our player base — we are basically planning to grow in all dimensions. We’ve got quite an ambitious road map. In terms of the esports vertical, the first quarter of 2023 we also launched our in-house Dota 2 tournaments and new features are coming to our iFrame solution.

Also, in order to enhance and improve bettor` engagement rate, we took the decision to be the first on the market to release a new kind of betting content for Dota 2 ahead of the Lima Major 2023 - duels in dynamic format. Dynamic duels aim to keep bettors engaged not only with the game but with the operator as well. As a result, we saw that bet volume on dynamic duels is three times more compared to duels in the next map format.

I believe that in the next few years, we’re going to see a further expansion of the share of esports bettors in the overall betting market. For us with our product, this is the right time to grow. That’s partly why we’re planning to enlarge our in-house esports tournament streams, which are already available around the clock, and continue development of our global esports offering.

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Getting WIGI With it

Who are Women in Games International?

WHO ARE WIGI?

Women in Games International (WIGI) is a nonprofit organisation on a mission to advance economic equality and diversity in the global games industry. WIGI works to normalise women, femme-identifying, and nonbinary professionals in the global games industry by eliminating barriers to entry, providing resources, and increasing access to opportunities for everyone. Under the tutelage of CEO Joanie Kraut, WIGI champions safe,

inclusive, and diverse workforces in the video game, tabletop, and esports industries by developing and cultivating free-to-access resources.

WIGI OVER THE YEARS

What started as a panel in 2003 to highlight and amplify the voices of women in the games industry generated enough interest to form an entire conference. As a result, the Women’s Game Conference launched in September 2004 with all mixed-gender panels, 165 women in attendance, and a keynote from the Director of the Entertainment Software Association, Patricia Vance. In 2005, the team behind the Women’s Game Conference came together at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco to define and

create the nonprofit Women in Games International, or WIGI (which has no affiliation to UK-based organisation Women in Games).

In October 2020, Joanie Kraut was promoted from Chief Financial Officer to Chief Executive Officer. She led the organisation’s rebranding, assembled a dynamic Board of experts, and overhauled the nonprofit’s portfolio to include over 90 programmes, workshops, panels, and initiatives.

TRANSFORMING THE APPROACH

Identifying the problem is the easy part — the dearth of women in esports is self-evident. The hard part is deciding how to enact change. One of the biggest transformations that WIGI underwent was critically appraising its approach to the industry, and who was actually benefiting from the opportunities it was creating.

From the beginning, WIGI had been dedicated to supporting women in the games industry by defining and eliminating barriers to entry, retention, and succession. “We want to see more diversity in the C-suite, running studios, making games, and making decisions,” Joanie Kraut, WIGI’s CEO, told The Esports Journal. “We needed a new

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Joanie Kraut CEO WIGI

approach to bring in more diverse voices for stronger, more meaningful representation, which is why we shifted our approach to defining and developing our programmes portfolio.”

And shift they did. WIGI’s evolution included collaborating with industry experts at various stages of their careers to ideate and define key points of learning. “We created a programme portfolio based around the concept of ‘I wish I had known X at Y stage of my career’. We asked everyone from midmanager to C-suite executives what they wish they had known while navigating the industry. We were essentially defining cheat codes for the next generation of games industry leaders,” said Kraut.

“WIGI has a unique demographic in that our target audience ranges from entrylevel people trying to get into the industry, to those looking to move up within the industry. We wanted to create resources to support individuals at all stages of their careers.”

WIGI worked with Evil Geniuses to develop and launch the Press Forward initiative, an educational summit series that creates stronger representation for girls in gaming and esports. On April 24th 2022, WIGI and EG launched the first event in the series which featured keynote speeches, panels, open Q&A’s with Riot Games, 343 Industries, and more, as well as resume review, recruiter feedback, and networking.

WIGI partnered with several conferences to run Get in the Game programs throughout 2022, including at DICE, GDC, ESI Washington DC, ESI London, and more. WIGI’s Get in the Game programme specialises in enabling people who otherwise couldn’t afford it the opportunity to attend industry conferences with a focus on impactful networking with industry professionals.

BIG NAMES, BIG SUPPORT

WIGI’s work and resulting recognition in the scene has seen them become the recipient of grants and sponsors from some of the biggest names in the gaming sector. From Razer and Google to Activision Blizzard and Sony, sponsor involvement and support has been instrumental in the nonprofit’s recent development.

As a nonprofit, it is grants and fundraising that make the work they do possible.

“Closing the gender gap, which is essential for social and economic equity, and helping girls and women excel in a

sector where they’ve historically been underrepresented, is among our top priorities at Humble and a core reason why we’re partnering with organisations like WIGI,” Kamini Tiwari, the Vice President of Social Impact & Chief of Staff at Humble Bundle, told The Esports Journal via email. “It’s been incredibly rewarding to hear the stories of the girls and women who have benefited from their work.”

Thanks to a $1m (~£840,000) grant from Activision Blizzard, support from Humble Bundle, various donations and community support, WIGI approached

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Kendryx Linscott Chief Marketing Officer WIGI

2022 with grander scope and reach than it previously had. Given the improved ability to effect real change and make a difference, they began what Joanie described as ‘WIGI’s R&D year’, a year to test out ideas and find out what drives the most impact and removes the most barriers. Looking back at their programs and events calendar for 2022, it’s safe to say they achieved their goal.

With an impressive schedule of mentorship programmes, online classes, podcasts, and further outreach routes such as Twitch streams and event sponsorships, WIGI travelled the world in 2022 from its base in the US to London, Germany, Amsterdam, Korea, Singapore, and more.

“One of the biggest changes we made in 2022 is really taking a look at each platform that we were on — YouTube, Twitch, LinkedIn, etc. — and we asked ourselves if we were best connecting with our audience there,” said Kendryx Linscott, WIGI’s Chief Marketing Officer. “And if it didn’t make sense, where would it best live?” This led WIGI to diversify its content on different platforms, in line with its goal of serving the widest possible audience.

“We really wanted to play with our content this year and showcase that it’s possible to make career-focused content that’s engaging and fun,” Linscott explained. “Whether it’s through our Staff Streams on Twitch where we play games like Fortnite or Dead by Daylight or with our video content that isn’t dry and stuffy, we really demonstrated to our community and the industry that [you] can reach our career goals and have fun while you do it!”

HOW AN ESPORTS COACH LEVELLED UP THROUGH THE WIGI MENTORSHIP PROGRAM

The Esports Journal sat down with Jaquie Lamm, a WIGI mentee, and asked about her experience going

through WIGI’s Get in the Game Mentorship Program.

My name is Jacquie Lamm and I am the assistant director & head coach for Minnesota State University, Mankato. I had my son in May 2022, and during my entire pregnancy I was worried that when I came back to work, the dynamic would be different because I took maternity leave.

When I applied for the Get In The Game program, I really didn’t think I would get picked. I opened the email stating that I was selected to be a mentee for the programme. I literally ran downstairs and happy jumped to my husband and cried.

I have never had a better experience with a programme or conference than what WIGI provided and what ESI London brought. I believe I am a mentor in the collegiate esports world, but in the esports industry as a whole, I’m still learning. By being a mentee, I was able to hear from industry experts, gain confidence in myself when speaking to others, and so much more.

I was at a breaking point before being selected for the Get In The Game programme. All because I felt like by taking time off after having a kid it would put me at a disadvantage in the esports world. I can’t thank WIGI enough for selecting me to be a mentee.”

THE FUTURE OF WIGI

After an incredible year, it’s evident that WIGI won’t be slowing down any time soon. As long as there are women being underserved in the games industry, the nonprofit is committed to working tirelessly to provide resources, programmes, and advice to aid the community and drive the industry forward.

“In the past year WIGI has expanded their programming to provide high quality

mentorship and leadership training experiences for women coming up in the business,” noted Jen Oneal, WIGI Board member and longtime games industry executive. “For myself I find it equally rewarding to participate as a mentor. I get to work with women who are motivated and eager to learn and advance their career and I get to expand my personal network with the mentees and other mentors. For large companies, this is a great way for women to network outside of their organisation, and for small companies this is a fantastic resource for those who may not have their own women’s employee networks and need access to leadership training.”

To find out more about WIGI and how to get involved, visit www.getwigi.com or follow WIGI on its social media channels.

You can also catch CEO Joanie Kraut on Episode #1 of the ESI for All podcast on Esports Insider’s YouTube Channel.

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“I have never had a better experience with a programme or conference than what WIGI provided and what ESI London brought. I believe I am a mentor in the collegiate esports world, but in the esports industry as a whole, I’m still learning.”

Battle of the Sexes The fight for women’s esports

WWomen’s esports has long been a contentious topic in competitive gaming. Opinions vary wildly on why esports struggles to live up to the equalising potential it is arguably uniquely positioned — compared to traditional sports — to deliver. For each step forward, it seems, there’s at least one step back. Where are these challenges born, and how can the industry help flesh out the women’s esports scene?.

The development of women’s esports has been incredibly uneven across regions, games, and their resulting infrastructure.

Some of the highest viewership figures for female-only tournaments are in mobile esports. Mobile Legends: Bang Bang (MLBB) holds the record for the

highest viewership for a female-only tournament, with the MLBB Women’s Invitational in 2022 hitting 392,000 peak viewers, per Esports Charts. Console and PC games have proved a more significant challenge for women’s esports. The VALORANT Champions Tour (VCT) 2021 Game Changers NA Series 2 in 2023 saw 298,000 hours watched, nearly a tenth of MLBB’s Women’s Invitational.

However, since then, several recent developments have become beacons of hope for the women’s esports scene on PC. With 5.49m hours watched and a peak viewership of 239,000 viewers in 2022, the rise of VALORANT’s VCT Game Changers female esports circuit has sent an unambiguous message that it is time to acknowledge the growth of the women’s scene. The

astronomical rise from 298,000 hours watched to over 5 million in one year speaks to women’s esports’ growing importance — and potential.

Female tournaments were buoyed by the high profile movements of organisations like G2 Esports, who’s female-only teams ‘G2 Hel’ and ‘G2 Gozen’ claimed respective victories at League of Legends Rising Stars and VCT Game Changers in 2022, sending tidal waves through the scene. Additionally, in September last year, both Gen.G and Guild Esports announced female Rocket League teams — and signed partnership deals with Mobil1 and Sky, respectively, to support those female teams.

But commercial popularity and tournament development still have a ways to go. Riot Games’ Product

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Lead for Game Changers EMEA,

Ashley Washington, is very aware of the barriers to the growth of women’s esports at a high level. “The biggest barrier to the success of women in esports is the current thought process to addressing the issue,” Washington told The Esports Journal.

“We start by acknowledging their presence and prevalence. They’ve been there waiting, in great numbers, for ages. Now we must provide space. We need to listen to understand their problems and be ready to defy convention to provide solutions. Conventional esports wasn’t built for women, so we can’t rely on its systems to fix their issues.”

Despite this hopeful future vision, VCT Game Changers likely found some benefit in being attached to the mainstream Valorant Champions 2022 tournament, which hosted major global teams and far surpassed 60.5m hours watched. The Valorant Champions Tour as a whole boasts high-profile sponsorships such as Verizon and Prime Gaming, boosting the reach of all its tournaments — including Game Changers.

In comparison, League of Legends’s 2022 women-only Rising Stars: Northern Europe (NE) tournament, won by G2 Hel, was held and branded independently. It struck lower-profile sponsors and provided players with a smaller prize pool as a result; £3,000 compared to $500,000 (~£404,000) for VCT Game Changers. The higher level of investment and visibility appears to have made women’s VALORANT both more watched and more commercially viable than women’s League of Legends.

BACK TO GRASSROOTS: BRIDGING THE GAP?

Traditionally undervalued, grassroots may hold the potential to create new routes to professional esports

for women. Neither VALORANT nor League of Legends have clear routes for women to build professional experience in a safe environment. As a result, tournaments such as VCT Game Changers and Rising Stars: NE become rare, high-pressure alternatives attracting players of all calibres.

There is less hierarchy structuring women’s professional progress. A hierarchical infrastructure could in theory help draw investment to the larger women’s tournaments with the promise of in-demand, high-skilled gameplay, and kickstart the growth of more commercially viable women’s events regionally and globally.

Legends. “I meet female streamers of many different calibres that I cannot get in touch with because their DMs are closed.” Morales said. In his eyes, incessant harassment may prevent these women from being open to contact with male industry members due to self-preservation.

Another crucial perspective from grassroots esports is what these organisations feel they need from larger, more established brands. “Larger tournament organisers need more patience to connect with grassroots competitors,” Morales continued. “Many are too focused on big names and large orgs, missing talent elsewhere

However, creating progression, structure, hierarchy, and a route to professional success would require drastic improvements to grassroots esports infrastructure for women. Barriers for female gamers and grassroots women’s tournaments need equally careful consideration alongside those in the global spotlight.

Carlos ‘SimplyRECK’ Morales, owner of Apex Legends-focused tournament organiser Risen Rose, told The Esports Journal that harassment was one of the biggest challenges when organising women-only tournaments in Apex

in the community. They need to create tournaments focusing on showcasing these talents rather than catering to those who already have a platform.”

Women’s competitions that are associated with big organisations, existing tournaments, or influential figures are starting to attract more attention from large sponsors, but grassroots talent can fly below the radar even more so than in male tournaments. Stakeholders in the women’s tournament space complain of a recurring theme: conventional esports are not being

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built for women. Player development does not align, and tournament hierarchy isn’t being established, so the attraction for investors and potential sponsors lessens.

WHERE DOES THE FUTURE LIE?

Much debate on the future of women’s esports pivots on the value and fairness of women-exclusive tournaments. On diversity-focused esports podcast ESI For All, Esports Insider’s Media Community & EDI Executive Riley Soley and Joanie Kraut, CEO at Women in Games International (WIGI), came to the reluctant conclusion that women-only tournaments were a “necessary evil.”

The goal is inclusivity and integration, not a gender-separated system where women and gender minorities consistently diverge from the longerestablished leagues, Riley and Joanie argued. However, presently, “there is nothing there” — and womenonly esports leagues provide the necessary opportunities for experience and building a platform.

Given the past, present, and hopeful future of women’s esports, certain crucial takeaways are worth

acknowledging in resolving the Battle of the Sexes. As is evident from historical statistics, PC and console esports fall well behind on women’s participation numbers. Successes in 2022 — most notably VCT Game Changers — demonstrate some shifts towards greater investment in the women’s scene.

However, compared to other tournaments, women’s leagues still

arguably rely on mainstream, maledominated events for attention, investors, and sponsors. There is also a distinct lack of structure to the women’s scene, with tournaments sparse and grassroots underappreciated. With the backing of investment, women have proven to put on an entertaining show with growing viewership. Investment in all levels of women’s esports could fuel a road of professional and commercial development.

Washington and Morales both pointed to the need for independent women’s tournaments to be a stepping stone — particularly giving female gamers their space to reshape the sport and find a safer environment in the future. Doing so may help them gain equal footing and share in commercial successes.

In the meantime, women’s esports appears to be more and more ripe for investment. The viewership potential is there, as demonstrated in 2022. Will the money follow?

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The Art of the Broadcast Esports broadcasting in 2022

he flashy TV productions of awards shows and sporting events always find a way to impress, and the amount of work that goes behind the production of a single football or basketball game is impressive to say the least. The pandemic actually helped accelerate esports productions, and we are comparing esports to sports more and more. But what are we working with now, at the beginning of 2023?

Journal to answer exactly that question. Ross Video is one of the biggest in the business, with almost 50 years of experience creating production hardware and software as well as delivering production services. You can safely say that they’ve seen plenty of trends come and go.

Sports were severely interrupted by the pandemic, but esports remained largely afloat because of the fact that the industry can survive on well-produced events broadcast via the internet. It was these events that were sometimes the only thing to watch (or bet on) during the pandemic. If 2020 and 2021 were the silent ‘online years’, then 2022 is the first ‘loud’ one we’ve had in a while.

Events ramped up, we saw records being broken and thousands of people watching esports in public. Things

were finally better, and people started comparing esports to sports again — some even asking whether esports is better or more resilient. That is a discussion in its own right.

“There are many reasons to keep an eye on the esports industry”, Englert started. In short, the biggest advantages of esports over traditional sports are tied to the fact that esports always needs to be cutting edge and pushing the boundaries. The esports ecosystem is simply built for innovation.

“New games provide new storytelling challenges to overcome, and opportunities on which to capitalise,” Englert continued. “This constant flux and change will continue to keep the esports industry innovating and adapting. This is one of the reasons it is so exciting to work in the esports industry. We are crafting the future with our own hands.”

The second important aspect is that gaming and esports are becoming more available than ever, with the meteoric rise of mobile gaming and mobile esports. Since esports is now available to far more people, the industry has a

Phil Englert, Global Esports Business Development Manager at video production solutions company Ross Video, sat down with The Esports
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AUTHOR Ivan Šimić  @Space_njoka Global Esports Business Development ROSS VIDEO

lot more support for its longevity — good news for both broadcast producers and event organisers.

With 2022 now fully behind us, we’ve seen a rise in tournaments and opportunities focusing on mobile games. In fact, the most-watched esports event ever (per Esports Charts data) was not in League of Legends or CS:GO; it’s in mobile title FreeFire.

SCALABLE SOLUTIONS

Over the last five years, and especially during the pandemic, the production side of esports has grown tremendously. Esports has gone from a few televisions in a basement to technical wizardry that often has as many or more sources than an NFL football broadcast.

This is supported by graphics, overlays, animations and even full-on AR experiences. League of Legends fans will likely remember the AR Elder Dragon flying around at the 2017 Worlds Grand Final — and that was more than five years ago!

One of the biggest current trends in esports broadcasting is the creation of scalable solutions for

tournament organisers and esports companies. Since tournaments exist from small-scale gatherings to world championships, developing a single solution to fit the needs of different companies is extremely important in esports. The ability to create tools that work for a small, grassroots tournament, but also for a large production is vital.

“The production tools being created allow for more control and flexibility than ever, which is crucial for esports productions,”

Ross Video’s Englert said. “There are so many games in the esports ecosystem and each game requires a different set of tools and production workflows. Due to this, operators and engineers need to be able to build custom bespoke workflows for each title. So having equipment that is flexible allows for this customisation and more creativity.”

One of the most innovative advancements recently, according to Englert, are virtual sets and augmented reality. Since games are created in virtual environments, production companies can use game engines to create matching virtual environments that fans, talent, and players can be inserted into. This, in turn, allows for a blend of the virtual and physical worlds. For EA Sports, Ross Video used virtual sets for its Madden 22 Championship, which ended up being a hit with the players and fans alike.

The Madden Championship Series production leaned on the Ross Video Voyager platform, a virtual production solution powered by Unreal Engine, one of the most realistic graphics engines on the market. The system mimics real camera movements, and allowed hosts

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from different parts of the world to work together seamlessly. Riot Games’ League of Legends Worlds stage, too, used AR technology to great lengths to make up for the lack of crowd in 2020.

INNOVATION

This propensity for innovation is somewhat unique to esports. In traditional sports, a large focus for big sports stadiums is still on redundancy and safety, since the stadiums have a lot to lose. Unfortunately, the bottom line for these entrenched companies is always the deciding factor, and when you are working with a 100,000 capacity stadium, there is very little wiggle room for drastic innovations, not to mention the amount of stakeholders that need to approve it.

Esports clients, on the other hand — hungry and competitive — will always find a way to push the equipment to its limit and make it work in their specific use cases. This, according to Englert, comes from the mindset of game development, since the games industry itself is fast-paced and aimed at problem solving in its core.

“Sometimes this can put the show at risk, but the innovation is worth it, and the intrepid crew somehow find a way to pull it off,” Englert concluded. “Esports customers also don’t follow standardised seasons typically. This impacts buying cycles. Esports customers buy as they need, based on shows being sold. Often in sports there will be scheduled times during the year to buy products and implement them, when the stadiums aren’t being used for events“.

MEDIA RIGHTS

One of the optimistic notes making that risk worth it is advances in broadcast costs and revenue.

It is widely known that most large sporting leagues, from La Liga and the

Premier League to the NBA and NFL, make much of their revenue from media rights. Esports, meanwhile, still relies overwhelmingly on sponsorships, usually attributed to the notion that esports fans would be reluctant to pay for a product that’s always been free.

The nature of esports — that publishers are the ones who own the infrastructure — reinforce that problem. “If a kid in

Esports production companies need to work with publishers on all events that involve their game because, at the end of the day, someone simply owns the game, and that complicates media rights.

Yet content unrelated to the tournaments themselves are easier to monetise than the broadcasts — offering a new revenue stream that teams and tournament organisers alike are leaning into, a reprise from the dire state of media rights in esports.

Interestingly, despite rapid advances in the quality and scale of esports events, costs are actually going down, according to Englert. He noted that production costs are lower than ever going into 2023.

“[Decreasing costs] is a trend that we are seeing sort itself out as esports grows globally,” Englert said. “The demand and hunger for esports events is higher than ever, so brands are focusing on content to ensure they have a platform approach to monetisation. … The trends are moving towards more monetisation, and cheaper productions.”

Englert predicted that we’ll see distributors and developers relinquish some of their rights over games in the future. This would, in turn, allow for third parties to sell content easier in what would be a boon to stakeholders up and down the ecosystem. In a world where developers have all the rights, worldwide community-driven progress is slow — but with economic pressures mounting across the industry, 2023 might see mounting pressure for change.

NYC wants to play football in the street with his friends he can play that game with a ball and two soda cans. There is no server to connect to, no updates to push through, and no company to pay,” as Englert put it.

“There is no question that esports is here to stay,” Englert concluded. “That demand will drive the rights and monetisation models forward.”

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Brazil’s Big Bang

The IEM Rio Major was a milestone for Brazil

ome moments define an esport. They act as a key juncture that helps define, in some way or another, the future of that scene — think Olofboost in CS:GO during Dreamhack Winter 2014. For Brazilian esports, that moment was its hosting of the Intel Extreme Masters (IEM) Rio Major 2022. On the surface simply another event in the long and storied history of IEM tournaments, in Brazil, the importance of hosting a Major transcended the CS:GO scene and became a milestone symbolising a new era in the country.

The event was a success, both commercially and from an audience

perspective. Tickets sold out so fast that ESL Gaming, the tournament’s organiser, made changes to the initial plan. A 360º stage was set up in the Jeunesse Arena, creating new sectors available to the live audience; a fanfest was set up outside the venue for those who could not get in, and even the initial stages of the Major — which originally weren’t arranged to be held in front of a live audience — were changed to welcome fans at the Riocentro venue.

“The tournament was a record breaker for us,” Shaun Clark, ESL FACEIT Group’s Senior Director of Game Ecosystems for CS:GO told The Esports Journal. “We sold a lot of tickets and were able to

move a lot of merchandise. We also saw incredibly high levels of foot traffic from fans wanting to engage with our partners and teams activating on the ground.” On-site food and beverage vendors said they were elated.

For the event, ESL inked Brazilian bank Itaú as its local partner. The brand joined global partners including Monster Energy, Intel, DHL, and 1XBet. For Clark, these partnerships highlight the commercial opportunities that Brazil, and LATAM more broadly, has to offer. “We’re excited to grow in this market and deliver more incredible experiences for our brand partners and the esports and gaming community,” he

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Adela Sznajder ESL Gaming

said. “We look forward to partnering with more brands in the future that share the same excitement around Brazil and South America.”

However, it was not only ESL that shared in the successes of the IEM Rio Major. Brazilian organisations like Imperial Sportsbet.io closed deals with international brands, such as Automotive manufacturer Audi, while the Brazilian branch of 00Nation teamed up with fast food chain KFC during the event.

Even organisations that could not qualify for the Major were influenced by IEM Rio, as it drove teams to expand and increase their investments — most notably Fluxo and Los Grandes. In August 2022, Fluxo allocated approximately R$2.5m (~£400,000 at the time) to build a CS:GO roster, an investment that got even bigger over time. A new sponsor, betting website EstrelaBet, was signed for the project, all aiming to be present at the highly anticipated IEM Major Rio 2022.

Los Grandes played the South American qualifiers for the Major, though failed to qualify. However, not wanting to miss out, the lure of the Major drove

the organisation — at least partially — to buy and merge with Team oNe, a traditional Brazilian organisation that, at the time, still had a shot at qualifying. In the end, neither Fluxo nor Los Grandes achieved the objective of reaching the Major, but the fact remains that the event accelerated the expansion plans of both companies.

“In short, the balance is positive,” said Fluxo Co-Founder Jeferson ‘Jefão’ Moreira.“Fluxo was created to achieve

excellence in esports, in all the games we propose to participate in, but we also understand that this is a process that requires training, study and strategy. There are many factors, and as this is our first CS:GO experience, what we have to do is absorb as much learning as possible in preparation for the next competitions, and that’s what we will do.”

As discussed in an interview with The Esports Journal’s sister site Esports Insider in November 2022, Fluxo purportedly has a strategy of widening the range of esports it covers, with the aim of increasing its reliability and stability. The Rio Major accelerated this process towards CS:GO.

In the end, no organisation had better results than FURIA, a Brazilian team that reached the semifinals of the competition. Having the local fans by their side, FURIA witnessed online engagement and jersey sale records for the organisation. “There’s no doubt, the Rio Major was the highest period of engagement for FURIA ever,” highlighted FURIA’s Co-Founder Jaime Pádua

“We saw a very high audience and very high engagement levels on social

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media. We also saw that we could burst the bubble. It wasn’t just the people of gaming and esports who were watching — lots of people from traditional fields or other sports fans were supporting and posting about FURIA. It was excellent.”

From a spectator perspective, the crowd also offered a unique atmosphere that is rivalled by few events in the CS:GO calendar. This is partly due to the lack of international events in Brazil — Brazilian fans are known to be loud and passionate. LATAM in general has not held many major international esports events, at least not compared to North America, Europe or Asia. Plus, Brazil has a strong and rich tradition in CS:GO, featuring world champions and legends of the game like Marcelo ‘Coldzera’ David and Gabriel ‘FalleN’ Toledo.

Those factors were exacerbated by the fact the Major was held after a two-year pandemic that had boosted audience numbers in esports and generated a sense of anticipation locally that helped IEM Rio grow considerably. The result was an atmosphere that impressed visiting teams, the international press, and even the organisers themselves.

“We are happy to confirm that we achieved our goal and welcomed over 100,000 fans across the two weeks, where we also received overwhelmingly positive feedback from the local audience. They simply were thrilled to have had an international tournament brand bringing the world’s best teams to Brazil,” said Clark.

A local esports fan, Matheus Nascimento, who was at the Jeunesse Arena during the Major, described his experience to The Esports Journal as ‘an incredible moment’. “I was able to meet important players and people from the [Counter Strike] scene in Brazil, and I was able to make some friends there,” he said. “In addition, I managed to enjoy a lot in all the stands available, play [games], win a prize, talk to players who were there, and even participate in the little championships that were held there for prizes. It was excellent.”

The success of the IEM Rio Major led ESL to add Brazil to the 2023 official calendar for IEM. Clark added: “We firmly believe that this tournament has attracted all the right attention locally, this is an exciting time for Brazilian

gaming and esports. With the amount of fans attending and passion shown, it is hard to ignore. Every team that competed in the competition was absolutely thrilled. … They embraced Brazil and are excited to return again in 2023.”

The early success of the Major has not just impacted the CS:GO scene; other international esports competitions are now set to be hosted in Brazil. Riot Games is hosting its first international VALORANT Champions Tour competition of 2023 in São Paulo in February and March. Moreover, minor competitions, like the Red Bull Campus Clutch World Final, have also now been held in the country.

Ticket sales were so successful, in fact, that an additional fan fest was established outside the Jeunesse Arena for fans who wanted to follow the games in loco but couldn’t get tickets to enter the venue. Clark confirmed that for the IEM event in Brazil in 2023, ESL is thinking of re-running its fan fest strategy.

Despite the Rio Major gaining a lot of plaudits, there were also some complaints. Notable esports journalists such as Richard Lewis, and some other media personalities, criticised the Major for catering more to in-venue Brazilian fans than to the much larger CS:GO community watching online. Nevertheless, for Brazil at least, the event was undeniably a milestone in a scene that is becoming more and more prominent in the global gaming and esports industry.

“The only thing left for us was the trophy”, said FURIA’s Pádua. “All the benefits of being a champion, involving engagement, attractiveness for sponsors and investors, audience, fanbase activation, merchandise sales, and everything else, all happened. It was an absolute success.”

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TO BUSINESS EVENTS AND MEDIA COMPANY

We offer a wide range of media solutions to cater to any and every business. ESI typically publishes 4-8 stories a day including news, unique opinionated content, weekly industry roundups & a range of top class features.

Esportsinsider.com is a Google news certified portal dedicated to raising the profile of companies within the burgeoning esports industry. It’s the ideal platform for you to advertise your products and services, grow company brand awareness within the industry and generate new business leads.

Newsletter Advertising & Branding

Video Creation & Advertising

Press Release & PR

Banner Advertising

Content Section Sponsorship

Podcast

Issuu converts static files into: digital portfolios, online yearbooks, online catalogs, digital photo albums and more. Sign up and create your flipbook.