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10 CONTENT In this Edition 28 Indonesia’s Esports Enigma Dylan Chia Yao Feng Moonton Games’ Head of MPL Indonesia Players on Paramount+ 32 Banners, Billboards and Burberry Bidstack’s bet on integrated in-game advertising. 06 Defusing the Bomb How the Louvre Agreement is tackling CS:GO’s North American headache. 40 The Favela’s New Football The social role of esports in Brazil. 14 Boosting to the Top Rocket League’s race to become a Tier 1 esport. 42 It’s Time to Try EDI 18 Esports Around the World Is a series of sharp and informative regional profiles by Esports Insider. 46 The XX of EU Esports Discussions with women making European esports a better place. 22 God Save the Scene Esports News UK’s Dom Sacco on the pitfalls and potential of UK esports. 50 A Culture of Performance Improving company culture through esports. 52 Keeping Esports Independent PGL CEO Silviu Stroie on staying independent in 2022. 36 Clutch Time The four start-ups entering this year’s The Clutch at ESI London. Visit our site: theesportsjournal.news Follow us on Social Networks @esports_journal theesportsjournal the-esports-journal Digital version will also be available via www.theesportsjournal.news t in One Website 26 Bayes, BTS and the Genius Bayes Esports recently agreed a three-year extension of its partnership with tournament organiser Beyond the Summit. Behind ‘Project V’ 52 ISFE: Esports Shouldn’t Be It’s an age-old debate. Regulated as a Sport
In esports globally, we’re starting to see less and less traditional approaches within the industry. We now live in an era where content marketing for teams and organisations is predominantly digital and becoming more interactive. Our aspiration with The Esports Journal is to return back to where it all started editorially — a magazine publication, with the added rarity of one designated for esports business.
I joined Esports Insider towards the beginning of March 2022, so this is the first edition that I’ve worked on since joining the team. After being involved in the esports industry for a hard-to-admit 10+ years, it’s been a true pleasure to be part of such a collaborative project that explores esports business insights and provides a unique perspective from what we’re used to seeing in the public eye.
We kick-started this process in Q2 of 2022 and are incredibly excited to show everyone what we’ve been working on.
This edition explores those leading by example within EDI through authentic practices and shines a spotlight on rising, female stars within the esports industry via The Story Mob.
You’ll read about Bidstack’s expertise in in-game advertising, and Bayes Esports’ innovative new product Project V. We explore ESL’s Louvre agreement and the impact it’s having on NA CS:GO, and dive deep into an impassioned explanation from ISFE on why esports shouldn’t be classified as a sport.
We’re delighted to bring to you a guest feature from Esports News UK Editor Dom Sacco on, you guessed it, UK esports. Donning a punk rock
Meet the Team
theme, he opines on the current state of the scene, its pitfalls, and future potential.
Edition 11 wouldn’t have been possible without the contributions of our amazing editorial team, from our Editors Tom Daniels and Jake Nordland to our talented feature writers Victor, Jordan, Ivan and Patrick. I’d also like to extend that thanks to all those we collaborated with behind the scenes in order to bring these stories to life.
Morgan Ashurst Head ESI Media
Kerry Waananen Journalist
Patrick Walker Journalist
Tom Daniels Editor
Sam Cooke Director
Jake Nordland Features Editor
Journalist ESI &
Journalist ESI & ESJ
Šimić Journalist ESI & ESJ
ESI & ESJ
ESI & ESJ
& Co-Founder ESI & ESJ
ESI & ESJ
ESI & ESJ
Defusing the Bomb
AUTHOR Victor Frascarelli @vitaofrasca
s esports continues to develop at a staggering pace both economically and socially, few have reaped the rewards more than esports’ second-biggest market: the United States. Yet in Counter-Strike:
Global Offensive, one of esports’ defining titles, it is the US’ home region of North America that has experts concerned.
Although home to some of the biggest organisations, tournament organisers, leagues, franchises, companies and investors in esports, and at the forefront of much of esports’ cultural relevance, the region has a notoriously poor track record for competitive performance in Valve’s era-defining first-person shooter.
It is true that FaZe Clan’s triumphs at IEM Katowice 2022, PGL Antwerp Major, and IEM Cologne 2022 catapulted the US organisation to the top of the scene.
A Alexander Inglot Commissioner ESL Pro League
However, FaZe’s CS:GO team is based in Europe, with only one North American player in its lineup — and even that was seen as a win for North American Counter-Strike. The warning lights are very much still on for the region.
The ESL Pro League is one of the most important CS:GO circuits in the world.
Its Commissioner, Alexander Inglot, understands the importance of North America for the fate of the esport as a whole. He told The Esports Journal that it’s the responsibility of the entire community, especially the leading teams, to address concerns regarding the NA scene.
“What we have seen now with the Louvre Agreement is acknowledgement and respect of the fact that this is a challenging ecosystem for members of our community. And a recognition that this challenge impacts all of us, whether we like it or not. North America is a critical market for CS:GO as a global product. If North America is in any trouble, it is a duty for all of us to try and see if we can solve that,” the ESL Pro League Commissioner said.
How the Louvre Agreement is tackling CS:GO’s North American headache
With NA losing its relevance — and therefore fanbase, advertisers and investors — industry spectators have raised concerns about the health and resilience of not just the NA scene, but the game as a whole. To tackle what’s increasingly being seen as a collective problem, ESL, alongside several esports organisations, has mobilised to help turn around North America’s fortunes.
The Esports Journal spoke with the five North American fixed members of the CS:GO ESL Pro League — Team Liquid, Evil Geniuses, Complexity, FURIA and FaZe Clan — plus the league’s Commissioner, to unravel the problem behind NA CS:GO, and the ambitious plans to defuse it.
COVID-19: CAUSE AND CONSEQUENCE
North American CS:GO was never much to write home about — the region has won only one out of seventeen of Valve’s coveted Majors since their inception — yet its downfall over the past few years has been palpable. A factor in that downfall, mentioned by both Team Liquid CEO Victor Goossens and Evil Geniuses Director of Performance Dr Lindsey Migliore, was the long period teams spent in Europe during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Migliore’s analysis was similar. “The hardest part of being a North American Counter-Strike organisation is being in North America,” she quipped. “Our guys travel two-thirds of the year. They leave the US East coast to the West coast, then to Europe for two-thirds of the year. It is utterly ridiculous to expect them to perform at a high level.”
Eddie Han, Director of Esports Operations at FaZe Clan, added that the concerns are compounded by fleeting audience interest in the region within the scene: “Since the top NA [teams] have already secured slots in ESL Pro League, I feel that it takes away some of the viewership and competition for NA”
Inglot acknowledged the concerns raised by Goossens, Migliore and Han, adding that travelling both in and out of the US also became more difficult due to the pandemic. It led to repeated and redundant matchups that were less motivating for players and for the audience over time.
“Some of those challenging circumstances are still in existence today. I think that when we clean up the post-COVID landscape, we will see better opportunities for North American
“Companies [pay] a lot more for marketing in North America. Whether it is ESL, BLAST or other operators in the Counter-Strike ecosystem, if they find global partners that have a significant budget for marketing, those global partners care a lot about the North American component.”
He continued: “They need to see potential from North America, they need to see audiences from North America in order to open up these global budgets. So I wouldn’t only say that it is important for North America to grow in esports, but I actually think North America is crucial to the European continent as well.”
The US market is so lucrative that numerous organisations from other regions around the world also house
their CS:GO rosters in North America. This is the case of FURIA, also a member of the ESL Pro League, whose top CS:GO team lives in the US despite being a Brazilian roster and organisation.
“FURIA has been present in North America since the early days. We have an office in Boca Raton, Florida, and we have been very active in the NA scene,” Jaime Padua, CEO of FURIA, told The Esports Journal.
“There is a geographic element in this decision, as North America is closer than Europe or Asia, but the main reason is the fact that we believe that our connection with ESL can be very positive for the evolution of the game in the region.”
According to Jason Lake, CEO & Founder of Complexity Gaming, “North American sponsors have been some of
the largest supporters of global esports for the past 20 years. Our region has a rich history and passionate fanbase in esports, and in Counter-Strike there are countless homegrown narratives, rivalries, and superstar players that fans have connected with for years.”
ENTER: LOUVRE AGREEMENT
The five North American powerhouses are all part of ESL’s innovative Louvre Agreement, a deal first signed in 2020 that’s been modified to tackle North America’s CS:GO headache. Inked in Paris in a hotel not far from the eponymous museum, the Louvre Agreement offers revenue-sharing opportunities and permanent slots in the ESL Pro League to select partnered organisations. Each of the 15 members of the agreement hold a slot in the ESL Pro League. In January, the deal was extended to at least 2025.
Louvre established a hybrid semifranchised model, in which the Pro League is contested by partnered organisations but also opens up slots for non-membered teams. In Inglot’s words, the Agreement aims to align “the interests of tournament organisers, in this case ESL, and the interests of members.”
Members have a say in decisions taken by ESL, receive a revenue share based on competitive performance, and benefit from a cut of deals closed by the Pro League. According to Inglot, this structure creates a stable environment for investments to be made, for stronger contracts to be closed, and for the CS:GO scene to keep a high level of attractiveness and relevance.
“The more assets and rights you can aggregate into a single product or
CREDITS: Helena Kristiansson
project, the more attractive it is to the fan. That’s what we want to explore,” Inglot said. “But the aggregation opportunity is not a mere commercial [endeavour]. It is also about what I would classify as ‘responsibility’.
“ESL and the 15 teams have a strong responsibility to the CS:GO scene. They are the key stakeholders in this space, so we can work together to improve integrity, player conditions, and develop projects.”
The Commissioner highlighted that the community side of the group is essential to address moments of difficulty faced by its members in all regions. FURIA’s Padua confirmed Inglot’s words: “From the institutional perspective, the Louvre Agreement brings the force of top organisations working together. We move as a team.”
Padua continued: “From the financial point of view, we can maximise revenues and optimise the connection with potential partners and sponsors. We also learn a lot from each other. We share best practices and we take lessons from each others’ experiences.”
Given the driving force the group gathers, Louvre proved the perfect vehicle to search for solutions to the concerns faced by NA CS:GO. After all, according to its chairman, America challenge is not just a North American challenge — it is not only for North America to solve.”
The work started quickly. Practical and immediate actions were taken by the Louvre Agreement, including promoting more events in North America post-COVID (such as IEM Dallas 2022), improving schedule and travelling conditions for players, and even financially rewarding members who practice in the region.
When teams like FURIA, Evil Geniuses, Team Liquid and Complexity conduct at least 10 weeks of training in North America and complete a minimum number of scrims with tier 2 and tier 3 organisations, they are rewarded with a multiplier in their revenue share.
According to FaZe Clan’s Eddie Han, promoting games between major teams and smaller teams in the region is a path towards raising the bar of NA CS:GO. But he also expresses his wish to see more NA teams that don’t normally make it to the Pro League conference get tier 1 opportunities.
“I believe the best way to incubate NA talent and help the growth of the scene is to create more opportunities to have NA teams compete for ESL Pro League slots within the region. Creating this opportunity will provide more chances for fans and aspiring pros to watch NA teams in action,” he said.
ESL has also entrusted organisations to develop methods to improve the level of play in NA. Evil Geniuses’ Dr Migliore is directly involved with the plans. She highlighted that the proposed solution,
“Instead of us training five people who are going to be able to train with other teams and improve, we hire 15 people. So we will build 15 North American Counter-Strike players to be able to compete at a high level and eventually be traded to other teams,” added Migliore.
As much as fans may poke fun at it, the esports industry is sorely aware of North America’s plight in CS:GO. With VALORANT entering the fold and stealing attention, players and investment, deep-seated problems remain for a title that once helped define the industry as a whole. However, with key stakeholders united in an international effort to overcome it, the scene has a window to fix things. The bomb timer is ticking — and the Louvre Agreement may just be the defuse kit.
Indonesia’s Esports Enigma
The regional MLBB league with over 2 million viewers
or most of the Western world, mobile esports is a niche within a niche. However, in the East, some of the biggest competitive titles are played on Samsungs, Sonys and Apples.
One title that has particularly cemented itself within Southeast Asia is Mobile Legends: Bang Bang (MLBB). There is a lot to say about the MOBA game itself, with Riot Games and Moonton deep in legal disputes over alleged copyright infringement due to MLBB’s similarity to League of Legends — and recently Wild Rift, Riot’s own mobile MOBA.
Yet it is undeniable that, from an esports perspective, the title is a staple in the East — with a massive fandom that regularly generates over two million concurrent viewers across international events.
The MLBB Professional League Indonesia, MPL ID for short, is the esports ecosystem’s premier regional competition. It operates the same as any other regional league, like VALORANT’s VCT North American Challengers or Brazil’s LBFF Brazilian league. Unlike those competitions, though, MPL ID secures viewership figures comparable
to major international S-tier events, with the competition’s last season garnering 2.85m peak viewers, according to Esports Charts.
The growth of MPL ID is even more impressive when you consider that season three of the competition, which commenced in 2019, only reached around 60,000 viewers.
To learn about the league’s incredible growth, The Esports Journal sat down with Dylan Chia Yao Feng, Moonton Games’ Head of MPL Indonesia, at the MLBB SEA Cup 2022 (MSC 2022)
F Tom Daniels
CREDIT: Moonton Games
in Malaysia to delve into the league’s origins, development and future.
As soon as the interview started — at the Malaysia International Trade and Exhibition Centre — it became clear just how far back Mobile Legends’ esports journey began.
Chia initiated the conversation with perhaps the biggest question of them all: Why is mobile gaming so big in the region? His response: “In Indonesia, it’s because of the way of life.”
The country’s infrastructure, he said, naturally led to the rise of mobile gaming, which in turn highlighted a growing need for a mobile esports scene. Chia also credited Moonton’s emphasis on the localisation of its product to Mobile Legends’ popularity in Indonesia.
“Localisation is very, very important. In Indonesia, what they [Moonton] did to become number one is that when they push out a game, they discuss how they are able to communicate with the gamers in the local market.”
The emphasis on localisation was clear amongst other organisations at the Mobile Legends SEA Cup. Most teams even have separate social media platforms depending on what regional market they are targeting to ensure that their audience is tailored to the content.
With the popularity of Mobile Legends in SEA ensured, esports naturally followed. According to Chia, the plan was always to go competitive, partially driven by esports’ growing popularity in the Western world and across Asia. “As we went along, we decided maybe it’s time for us to get into esports.”
Mobile Legends’ first official tournament occurred in 2017, a year after its release. The event featured five countries — Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand — making it the first MLBB Southeast Asia Cup. Interestingly, the cup was won by Thai organisation IDONOTSLEEP Esports, a team that competed in this year’s tournament and featured a female player in its starting roster.
According to Chia, the initial success of its first major offline event began discussions on where Moonton would take its esports ecosystem. In the end, the company decided to do what is becoming a running theme: they went local.
“Let’s go the domestic route, focus on Indonesia because that’s how we succeed,” said Chia. In January 2018,
Dylan Chia Yao Feng
Moonton Games’ Head MPL Indonesia
CREDIT: Moonton Games
MPL Indonesia was born. Its first season featured 10 teams, a $100,000 (~£83,000) prize pool and one major difference — it featured relegation.
For three seasons Moonton stuck with the tried and tested format as it developed the ecosystem. However, as the league continued to grow and MLBB’s esports ecosystem became more established, questions grew over the league’s next step: “Let’s do a franchise model,” said Chia.
Franchising is not a new concept and has been used by a variety of tournaments. The most notable examples in the West are Call of Duty League, Overwatch League and Riot Games’ franchised League of Legends ecosystem.
MLBB’s decision to franchise MPL ID, making it the first league to do so in Southeast Asia, occurred in 2019, prior to season four. The new league consisted of eight teams, all of which paid $1m (~£820,000) to take part, a hefty fee within the SEA market but
by no means as expensive as Western counterparts.
“What we wanted was a commitment from teams,” highlighted Chia. “What we wanted is to put them in a position whereby they need to succeed in getting this money. But the money is not too high, it’s something that is sustainable.
“What happened was, when they were put in a position where they were really invested in and serious about this, we experienced in the past two and a half years great growth.”
‘Great growth’ might be an understatement. MPL ID Season Four, which was when the competition became franchised, spiked at 289,000 viewers, per Esports Charts.
Chia said the league’s growth strategy wasn’t just in place for the teams, but also to bolster and invest in the league internally. This included the casters, talent and league team members. “A lot of people will start with the players and coaches, [but] players are only one
aspect of our league. We are not only building our esports ecosystem, but the support element is something that we also put a lot of effort in.”
Of course, the decision to franchise was not taken lightly. Chia clarified that it was important to find the correct model for each region. This regional pragmatism has been highlighted across all of MPL’s leagues, with some — such as MPL ID and MPL Philippines — adopting a franchise model whereas its Brazilian, Malaysian and Singaporean counterparts still operate through qualifiers.
“If you look at our teams here in Indonesia, they are not limited to being an esports organisation. RRQ, EVOS, ONIC are some
CREDIT: Moonton Games
of the teams that have expanded beyond just an esports organisation. Our teams are very smart in the sense of, ‘I am not just being an esports team, what I’m doing is I’m building an IP’.”
Creating brands and a fanbase is imperative within a franchise model. If a franchise league has no reputable names or engaged organisations, the competition will suffer. Even in some of the largest Western franchised leagues, there are brands that have arguably failed to identify with the audience and cultivate a solid fan base.
As such, it was crucial for MLBB to select the right brands to be involved in its model, a consideration that also extends to expansion. For seven seasons, MPL ID has remained at eight teams; whilst some of the names have changed, the amount has not. With the competition’s year-on-year growth, anticipation for expansion has risen with it.
However, Chia made his stance clear. Expansion will only occur if the right teams, with the right ethos, become open to the possibility. “We don’t want to come in like, ‘oh, we have this big team coming in, this international brand’. You’ll get attention, but is it sustainable?,” questioned the Head of MPL Indonesia.
“We do not want people to come in because of the hype, because of viewership. When we are looking at expansion, the main thing that we’re looking for is somebody who has that long-term plan and that truly wants to invest in this.”
Chia also highlighted that expansion is just one aspect of MPL ID’s growth, with the competition also looking at viewership and commercialisation of its product. The commercialisation of MPL ID allows the product to be sustainable, which in turn will benefit the teams and the league.
Thanks to its revenue-sharing model, when the league sees commercial success, so do the organisations.
MPL ID’s commercial portfolio currently includes the likes of Head & Shoulders, Samsung, Secretlab, JBL and TikTok, among others. These brand sponsorships wouldn’t be out of place in any Western esports league, proof — if it were needed — that mobile esports has made it.
It’s also important to highlight that commercial success doesn’t just relate to revenue, but opportunities to grow a brand and reach larger audiences. Ultimately, commercialisation enables long-term plans where existing IPs can continue to be monetised. “We are always thinking of adding more teams,” Chia emphasised, “but of course, we need to make sure overall commercialisation for our initiatives is first in the market.”
Given MPL ID’s viewership success and commercial growth, what is next for the league that has taken SEA by storm? “When we think about MPL Indonesia, we want to be the best in the world — the most viewed esports league in the world outside China.”
Simple really. But Chia’s ambitions don’t stop there. Moonton wants MPL ID to break out of the esports bubble
and etch a place within mainstream entertainment in Indonesia.
That may sound ambitious for a regional league, but its growth speaks for itself.
MPL ID is a shining example of how to grow a regional league — similar to how the LFL, France’s League of Legends competition, has amazed Europe. Moonton will hope that its rapid success in Indonesia will transfer into other leagues, both in Asia and LATAM. Only time will tell.
Nevertheless, after listening to the roar of the crowd at the SEA Cup 2022, feeling the atmosphere MLBB has created and speaking to those around the scene, it’s undeniable that the game has all the elements of a major esport.
MPL ID might not be the only reason for this, but the league’s development has taken the game from just another mobile gaming title to what is, by many metrics, a tier one esport.
CREDIT: Moonton Games
Boosting to the
or a game where flying rocketpowered battle cars slam oversized low-gravity footballs into virtual nets, Rocket League is surprisingly skillful.
Like any skill-based competitive pursuit, setting is largely irrelevant — winning requires mastery, and mastery warrants practice. Like all esports titles, Rocket League requires thousands of hours spent training and refining intricate mechanical movements, the contours of
the game’s physics slowly and diligently seared into the muscle memories of its practitioners.
Rocket League came from humble beginnings. Launched six-and-a-half years ago as a successor to 2008’s Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars (or ‘SARP BC’ for the sane), the sequel was developed on a budget shy of $2m (~£1.53m). Revenues had ballooned to $110m (~£83.3m) by mid2016, the latest figures publicly released
before Psyonix was acquired by Epic Games in 2019.
Commercial success assured, Psyonix doubled down on esports. Its flagship tournament, the Rocket League Championship Series (RLCS), has grown in size and prize for each of its five years as a professional competition.
The title went free-to-play in 2020, bringing even more eyeballs to its esports ecosystem in a cleverly
CREDIT: Rocket League Esports
Top F AUTHOR Jake Nordland @callmeprivate Rocket League’s race to become a Tier 1 esport
orchestrated campaign of in-game advertising and item rewards for viewers.
Through those formative years, Rocket League dug out a formidable spot as a unique, mid-table, ‘Tier 2’ esport.
While there is no official list — nor criteria — the esports tier system is an informal hierarchical ranking of the subjective popularity of different esports titles, as determined by an equally-informal consensus of the esports hivemind. Most fans agree Tier 1 is reserved for esports titles with the largest ecosystems, viewership, brand partnership deals and prize pools.
Like its Tier 2 counterparts, Rocket League has failed to mount a serious claim to the revered Tier 1 status
of rivals like Riot Games’ League of Legends, or Valve’s CS:GO and Dota 2.
Now, flush with hype — and Epic Games money — Psyonix is changing gear.
The sport-action hybrid has a lot going for it. As a video game focused almost exclusively on online play, its simplicity has birthed a considerable focus on esports.
One of its biggest draws, the story goes, is that it’s viewer friendly. Look past its outlandish setting and anyone who’s watched football will recognise the underlying premise — hit the ball into the net more times than your opponent.
Unlike MOBAs and FPS titles, even non-gamers can follow Rocket League’s action. It offers a fast lane into a world of
competitive gaming that is anything but hospitable for outsiders — something of a gateway drug to the esports experience.
Even more lucratively, it’s brand friendly. With an E for Everyone ESRB rating and a distinct lack of guns, bombs or even death, it’s a safe bet for brands who want the esports clout without the violent stigma attached.
“It’s actually wild that our sport can attract such big brands,” Psyonix’s Esports Director Cliff Shoemaker told Esports Insider, The Esports Journal’s sister site. “We don’t even have that many endemic esports brands in here, because so many of the big big brands and partners want to be a part of this. They know that we speak to an audience that they would like to speak to too.
CREDIT: Rocket League Esports
“We’re proud that a young audience can play it and be a part of it. We’re really proud that there are very few guardrails in terms of where our game can go.”
Universal appeal may be one benefit, but it also appeals especially well to one particular segment: Psyonix has been striking esports partnerships with car brands left, right and centre (and numerous other directions, too).
“I see it as massively helpful to the growth of our sport that we can talk to those brands and get in front of those guys and have their audience feel engaged,” Shoemaker said. “It’s what really makes this sport stand out amongst other esports. It’s a big reason why I’m here and continue to just be so bullish on it.
“It kind of checks all the boxes. It’s an [esport] that is attractive to not just players, but to sponsors and to teams. I think there’s a perfect mix of how highly
skilled the sport is, and how accessible it is at the same time.”
With boxes checked, Psyonix pushed the pedal to the floor.
After an initial enlargement of the RLCS in 2020, the developer announced in September 2021 another highlyanticipated major expansion which saw three new regions added to the global circuit — MENA, APAC North and APAC South. The RLCS also received a boosted $6m (~£4.3m) annual prize purse.
In January, Rocket League’s collegiate league entered Europe, making it arguably the first esport to have an international collegiate championship.
“Speaking honestly, I think we were a little slow,” said Cory Lanier, Psyonix’s Esports Product Manager, reflecting on the title’s growth. “But that’s just because
we were a smaller game studio and one of our philosophies is incremental change. We are never going to take a step back.”
Psyonix’s slow start has seemingly not stalled its progress. An influx of major esports organisations have (re) joined the scene in recent months including Evil Geniuses, Natus Vincere, Luminosity Gaming and Complexity.
These organisations are, in part, looking to capitalise on ‘Away’ decals, a new set of esports team skins players can buy for in-game cars that are part of Psyonix’s revenue-sharing scheme. Psyonix has allowed esports teams’ sponsors to be featured on the in-game skins themselves — akin to professional motorsports — another arguable first in esports.
Rocket League’s sponsor-branded skins are a valuable and authentic form of in-game advertising. They provide fans
CREDIT: Rocket League Esports
a chance to represent their team, whilst also offering teams new sponsorship activations, direct revenue through sales, and greater sponsor visibility.
Murty Shah, Esports Manager of Operations at Psyonix, told Esports Insider that creating inventory where Rocket League teams can sell sponsorships — from in-game decals and team name rebrands to on-air broadcast exposure — is an intentional part of Psyonix’s strategy.
“What we want teams to do,” Shah said, “is look at the entire RLCS season and be like, ‘hey sponsor, instead of us trying to jam your brand name into this esport in weird, random ways, Psyonix has created all these different inventory pieces for you to join the esport in a super authentic way’.”
A slew of recent successes, however, risks masking the fact that Rocket
League’s esports viewership still lags behind certain major esports titles.
The 2021-22 Fall Major and Spring Major — the two most recent international LAN events — received peak viewerships of around 280,000 and 250,000 respectively, according to data from Esports Charts. That’s magnitudes lower than most Tier 1, and even some Tier 2, esports events, which regularly breach millions of peak viewers.
However, this season’s Majors almost doubled the hours watched of the Season 8 World Championship, despite being a lower level of competition — a positive sign of what’s to come as LANs, and World Championships, resume postcovid.
For many in the title’s impassioned community, Rocket League has already arrived — it’s in a genre, and league, of its own. Tier lists? Mainstream validation?
Expert opinion? Don’t need ‘em. For much of the community, waxing lyrical about Rocket League esports is the modus operandi.
Psyonix, however, is more measured. “We still know it’s relatively new in the grand scheme of things, there’s still a ton of room to go” Shoemaker admitted. “But every day we’re getting smarter and smarter about how we take this thing to where the vision is.
“My role here is to make it as easy as possible to hit that goal of making it absolutely an upper-tier, Tier 1 esport moving forward.”
Until then, Rocket League quietly continues its aerial ascent.
CREDIT: Rocket League Esports
Esports Around The World in One website
Esports Around The World is a series of sharp and informative regional profiles by Esports Insider, The Esports Journal’s sister site, showcasing the richness of different esports ecosystems globally. Below is a condensed snapshot of some of the esports regions we’ve profiled from Around The World. For a more detailed view, search Esports Around The World on Esports Insider’s website.
UNITED KINGDOM Introduction
The UK esports ecosystem is possibly one of the most intriguing scenes in Europe, partly because of its perceived lack of popularity compared to other English-speaking countries such as the US.
According to a report by Olsberg SPI with Nordicity in 2020, the UK esports sector represents eight percent of the global market. London has also slowly become a prominent area for esports facilities, with the likes of EXCEL ESPORTS, Red Bull, Guild Esports, Gfinity and Belong all investing in venues and headquarters in the city.
Alongside the UK’s development as a hub for esports business, the UK scene also has history in competitive esports. This is largely thanks to UK-based organisation Fnatic and the UK’s relative prominence across Call of Duty, Rocket League, Fortnite and FIFA.
From a player perspective, the UK produces some competitive talent across a range of titles. Toronto Ultra’s Ben ‘Bance’ Bance, Jamie ‘insight’ Craven and Cameron ‘Cammy’ McKilligan — all of which are UK-based — finished runners-up in 2021’s Call of Duty League Championship. Players such as Barney ‘Alphari’ Morris and Jack ‘ApparentlyJack’ Benton also showcase the UK’s talent in League of Legends and Rocket League respectively.
Despite its historical struggles for continental prominence, the UK scene is seemingly on the rise with organisations such as EXCEL ESPORTS, Endpoint and Guild Esports gaining more and more stature within Western esports scenes.
ESPORTS ORGANISATIONS TOURNAMENTS & LEAGUES ECOSYSTEMS
China, being one of the world’s largest economies, is also the world’s largest esports commercial market. During the last decade, China has cemented itself as one of the absolute leaders in both esports game development, publishing, and tournament organising. The country is home to world champions in a number of games, and some of the largest esports companies in the world.
China recognised esports as a sport back in the early 2000’s, one of the first governments to do so. The biggest facilitator of growth for China and its esports market is the explosion of mobile esports. In 2019 alone, there were more than 140,000 new hires in the Chinese esports industry.
With all numbers available pointing to a staggering rate of growth, China is, by most metrics, deserving of the title of ‘most esportsy nation’. China is home to the world’s biggest gaming company, Tencent, which fully owns Riot Games and has significant stakes in a myriad of other esports title publishers. Tencent is central to the development of esports in China.
Certain downsides are apparent, however, as the Chinese government has ushered in an unprecedented tightening of restrictions on video games in China. Since 2021, stringent restrictions (and enforcement) limit minors to one hour of online gaming time on Fridays, weekends and holidays only. This has had a knock-on effect on the country’s esports scene, restricting the talent pipeline and causing a drop in esports consumption by minors.
TOURNAMENTS & LEAGUES
Thanks to its relevance within multiple European scenes, Spain is one of the beacons of the esports industry. It is often overlooked due to being part of the wider ‘European market’, which can sometimes blur its intricacies. However, with esports mainstays like MAD Lions and G2 Esports hailing from the country, every esports fan feels the industry impact of the Spanish esports scene.
Riot Games’ titles are the most prominent in the country. The domestic League of Legends league organised by LVP (Liga Videojuegos Profesional), LVP Superliga, is one of the most prestigious tournaments in the local scene. However, VALORANT has been quickly growing and conquering space in Spain that previously belonged to Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.
LVP, property of media conglomerate Mediapro, is one of the main drivers of esports in Spain, though the company has built up enough momentum to enter Spanish-speaking Latin American markets such as Argentina and Peru. ESL additionally maintains a strong position in Spain.
Football also made itself present in Spanish esports when FC Barcelona’s Gerard Piqué partnered with the streamer Ibai Llanos to launch an organisation named KOI in 2021. Barcelona football club itself owns an organisation, named Barça eSports. In May 2021, the Spanish sports business outlet Palco23 reported data from consulting company Interbrand pointing at a Spanish market valuation of €27m (~£23.2m). The Interactive Software Federation of Europe (ISFE) describes Spain’s ecosystem as an example of an ideal esports market.
TOURNAMENTS & LEAGUES
Brazil is the biggest market in the LATAM region, and is home to some of the most die-hard esports fans. Due to the accessibility of smartphones, the mobile games market far outpaces the PC and console markets — yet PC esports titles are still more profitable. More and more young players are viewing esports and gaming as an escape from poverty, resulting in a booming ecosystem that is increasingly appealing to teams and sponsors alike.
Brazil has enticed a number of mobile gaming companies, with Garena and Riot Games having well-established operations in the region. However, the growing mobile esports market doesn’t mean Brazil has turned its back on other games. The Brazilian Major-winning SK Gaming roster from 2016 helped grow the CS:GO scene immensely, and teams like Furia, LOUD and MIBR are spearheading the growth of the game in the region. There are also established leagues in almost every notable esports title: Rainbow Six, CS:GO, League of Legends, Wild Rift, Free Fire, Mobile Legends: Bang Bang and others.
League of Legends also has its franchised league system in Brazil, with the top-tier tournament, the CBLOL, recording more viewers than the LCS in the Spring split of 2022 (136,000 on average).
TOURNAMENTS & LEAGUES
Very few countries match the level of ambition that South Asian powerhouses like South Korea display when it comes to esports — but Germany is certainly one of them.
Widely regarded as a hub for European esports, particularly when it comes to events, the country currently houses some of the largest esports entities, events and leagues in the world. This includes hosting IEM Cologne, numerous ESL One stops, and VALORANT Champions 2021. Moreover, Germany is the home of the League of Legends European Championship, and the headquarters of esports mainstays like ESL Gaming. The country’s importance and potential as an esports market is underscored by its stature in the global economy. Germany is an economic powerhouse, with the largest economy in Europe by GDP — an important factor in its development as an esports hub.
From a competitive standpoint, Germany has a sizable presence in League of Legends, Dota 2, FIFA and CS:GO. Countless players have become household names within League of Legends, such as Maurice ‘Amazing’ Stückenschneider, Berk ‘Gilius’ Demir and Felix ‘Abbedagge’ Braun. Moreover, Berlin International Gaming (BIG)’s emphasis on German talent for its CS:GO roster has bred important players including Johannes ‘tabseN’ Wodarz.
TOURNAMENTS & LEAGUES
The Philippines’ presence in esports has been notable since the beginning of the last decade. Although its international accolades are limited, the size of the audience and market makes it a significant esports nation.
Like most nations in South and Southeast Asia, the Philippines is a mobile-first nation when it comes to esports, largely due to the lower barriers to entry involved in mobile gaming. However, what makes its esports demographic unique is its affinity towards MOBA titles.
Of late, VALORANT has revived the region’s FPS community, though titles like League of Legends, Dota 2, Mobile Legends: Bang Bang and League of Legends: Wild Rift have remained the fan favorites.
The Philippine Games and Amusement Board (PGAB), which is under the Office of the President, officially recognised esports as a legitimate sport in the Philippines in 2017.
This allows professional esports players to secure their own athletic licenses, providing more freedom for players to participate in international tournaments to represent the country.
TOURNAMENTS & LEAGUES
God Save the Scene
AUTHOR Dominic Sacco @Dom_Sacco
Esports News UK’s Dom Sacco on the pitfalls and potential of UK esports
The UK esports scene is something of an enigma. Its ecosystem is fragmented, often ridiculed (by those in it or hailing from it), with some questionable actors abound.
Yet the potential is massive, and has been for some time. We produce some of the world’s best esports broadcast talent and communicators, and over
the past half a decade, several pro players have climbed to the top of their respective games.
We have a storied history in esports, from early Insomnia LANs, to a competitive arcade scene at venues like the old London Trocadero, to being the home of teams like Dignitas and 4Kings — not to mention Birmingham Salvo winning the old Championship Gaming
Series and its $500,000 (~£412,000) top prize (a huge amount for 2008). We have also made a real impact on the education front in recent years, and produced some of the top brass in esports law, marketing and talent management.
Despite this, it all feels a little anarchic in the UK. There’s a certain lack of identity in esports teams from the UK
CREDIT: Rocket League Esports’
(and Nordic countries — we’ll come to this crossover trend later). People don’t really know what UK esports actually is, including some of the big esports companies based here, with some organisations looking further afield to find success.
When I was invited by The Esports Journal to write this opinion piece, I jumped at the chance. I’ve been following esports in the UK closely over the past seven years now, and writing about it for at least as many. I’ve been around since the early days of the ESL UK & Ireland Premiership, and played games since the original NES in the late ‘80s (yes, I know I’m old). I have seen the UK esports ecosystem develop in that time to become more professional — but also remain rather insular.
LONDON CALLING: THE RETURN OF LANS
One thing I and many others in UK esports have been getting excited about this year is the return of live events after a tough few years.
The Rocket League Championship Series 2021-22 Spring Major took place in London’s Copperbox Arena from June 29th to July 3rd, bringing with it hordes of fans and an electric atmosphere. Crowds diligently and rhythmically chanted the names of Moist Esports’ British-majority roster in the lead-up to their win, invoking the football chants our nation is so infamous for.
By the time this edition hits the printing press, Birmingham will have played host to the inaugural Commonwealth Esports Championships — a step in esports’ journey to the mainstream — and the Commonwealth Esports Forum.
LAN halls have also been filled once again with Insomnia Gaming Festival, Epic.LAN and others returning to the UK esports calendar, giving rising
talent a chance to shine on a smaller esports stage. We have more cafes and centres nowadays too, from the likes of Sidequest to Pixel Bar, Meltdown, Belong and others.
On the bigger stage, there are several arenas set to open in the UK that have their eyes on esports. Southport Town Deal Board submitted plans to transform the coastal town in Merseyside and open a new convention and events centre, featuring a 1,200-seat auditorium for ‘major esports events’. Elsewhere, a creative technology education faculty and 1,500-seat esports arena has been proposed for Bristol, while Wigan’s Galleries Shopping Centre is to get its own esports venue as part of a £130m redevelopment.
I question the esports demand for multiple arenas. The UK has played host to some major events here in the past, including the FACEIT CS:GO Major, Dota 2 ESL One Birmingham and the League of Legends World Championships quarter-finals. Yet these are few and far
between due to the nature of esports — and Brexit has definitely had an impact here. Organisers of these new arenas might be a little too optimistic of the demand for esports. Stadiums will be filled if you can attract the world’s top talent; they won’t be filled from grassroots tournaments.
Despite this, it’s easy to forget the UK is home to many significant esports organisations, from Fnatic to Guild Esports to EXCEL. We’re also a hub for games companies and publishers, too, including the likes of Twitch and Riot Games.
On the B2B front, we’re blessed with major esports conferences such as ESI London, the Esports Integrity Commission (ESIC)’s first Global Esports Summit, and the Esports Venue Summit.
However, there’s more to UK esports than London. Other cities like Birmingham and Sheffield have been home to organisations and events, and it’s been promising to see Wales,
CREDIT: Rocket League Esports’
Scotland, Northern Ireland, Ireland and the Isle of Man also push their own esports initiatives forward and grow within the scene. I think people sometimes forget we’re a United Kingdom, not just English esports.
Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are part of the Home Nations for the Commonwealth Esports Championships and have their own bodies pushing grassroots esports, namely Esports Scotland and Esports Wales. The Isle of Man, meanwhile, has made a concerted push for prominence recently through the government-affiliated Digital Isle of Man, and X7 Esports, an organisation making waves in UK and Nordics League of Legends. Speaking of the Nordics…
KINGS IN THE NORTH
Another trend we’ve seen in UK esports over the past few years is the bridging of our scene with countries across Northern Europe.
Riot Games took the decision to group the UK with the Nordics in 2020 for its Northern League of Legends Championship (NLC), and eventually phased out the lower-tier UK League Championship (UKLC) and third-party leagues like the UKEL and Leagues.gg.
On one hand, this could be seen as Riot deeming the UK esports scene not popular enough to have its own domestic league — partly true, considering France, Spain and many others have popular regional League of Legends competitions. On the other, I think this bridging has been a good move overall, though it has diminished the identity of some UK organisations in the tournament. I don’t think that’s Riot’s fault, more the orgs perhaps forgetting their roots, or not leaning into them as much as they could.
The NLC is one of the least-viewed European Regional Leagues,
unfortunately, though the Summer Season did show some good numbers here and there with a peak of 8,000 viewers as of mid-July 2022. Riot has since launched Regional Leagues in VALORANT, and the UK is grouped with the Nordics again for Polaris, the VALORANT Regional League for Northern Europe.
Earlier this year, Ubisoft followed suit, launching a Northern Premier League for Rainbow Six Siege. I expect this UK & Nordics grouping to continue as a trend, so long as the UK struggles to produce healthy viewership numbers for its tournaments. It’s often thought that there aren’t many League of Legends fans here. There are — a sold-out Wembley Stadium is proof of that. The UK audience just seems to predominantly care about the big leagues, the LEC and the World Championship, rather than lower-tier regional leagues.
The UK will always have that fighting spirit, that underground scene that produces the stars of the future. We have great grassroots initiatives in many sectors, from football to music and more, and esports is no different.
There are countless organisations here, from Endpoint to MNM Gaming, Vexed to LDN UTD, and not to forget our franchise teams London Spitfire (Overwatch League) and London Royal Ravens (Call of Duty League). Below that, there’s a burgeoning grassroots scene where it’s dog-eat-dog. Organisations come and go, friendships are made and broken, and the rogues and mavericks fight alongside the more polished.
We have some excellent collegiate entities in NUEL/Amazon University Esports, NSE, Digital Schoolhouse and the British Esports Federation. And a host of education initiatives, from the
CREDIT: Rocket League Esports’
Pearson Esports BTEC to degrees at Staffordshire University, the University of Chichester, Confetti and lots more. While there has been some controversy at the education level in Britain, there is great potential too.
IS IT COMING HOME?
I often get asked about the future of esports, and my answer is often this: expect the unexpected. VALORANT and Fortnite, two of the biggest competitive shooters out there — both of which the UK performs well in — didn’t exist a few years ago. Esports moves at a rapid pace, and the UK is no different.
I do think the big will get bigger. Esports rewards the major organisations — franchised leagues like the LEC are only available to those with significant financial backing, and it’s not possible to get promoted to some of the world’s top esports leagues anymore.
External and overseas investment will continue to be looked at — and scrutinised. Saudi Arabia’s ownership of
ESL and FACEIT, and its many esports tournaments and initiatives, will remain a trend. The UK community is divided, with some against this kind of money coming into the ecosystem due to Saudi’s human rights and in particular LGBTQ+ rights record, and others accepting its supposed inevitability.
Regardless, there is a lot for the UK to improve on. I want to see greater UK-focused identities from businesses here, and greater use of data to evaluate opportunities (and improvements) in the space. Keep an eye on video game industry trade body Ukie for some interesting developments here.
Lastly, I think diversity, crypto and NFTs will have a more prominent focus in the future. A lot of esports companies are dabbling in Web3 as they look for additional sources of revenue, though fans are divided on this. I remain wary of crypto overshadowing what esports is all about: the competition, the human rivalry and exhilaration of a close-fought match. In fact, in a way, ‘opportunities
and improvements’ neatly sums up the current state of UK esports.
John Lydon once said in a Sex Pistols song, ‘your future dream is a shopping scheme’, and while I hope UK esports does become more profitable and investable in the future, it can’t lose more of its identity. As ever, my heart remains optimistic, but my head quietly cautious.
Dominic Sacco is the editor of Esports News UK and an esports consultant that helps brands, investors and businesses understand and succeed in the industry. Visit esports-news.co.uk and dominicsacco.com for more information.
BEST OF THE BRITS
Ten top talents to take note of
• Boaster, Valorant pro player for Fnatic
• Caedrel, League of Legends caster and streamer
• Frankie Ward, host, multiple games
• James Baldwin, sim racer
• James Banks, host and interviewer, CSGO
• Joyo, Rocket League player for Moist Esports
• Peter Dun, League of Legends head coach at Evil Geniuses
• ProblemX, Street Fighter pro player for Mouz
• Tom Leese, FIFA pro player for Excel
• Yinsu Collins, Valorant host and journalist
Ten notable UK-based esports companies
• Code Red Esports
• DotX Talent
• Epic.LAN Business Services
• Esports Insider
• ICM Stellar Esports
• Kairos Media
• Promod Esports
• Swipe Right PR
CREDIT: Colin Young-Wolff / Riot Games
Bayes, BTS and the Genius Behind ‘Project V’
AUTHOR Ivan Šimić @Space_njoka
Esports data company Bayes Esports recently agreed a three-year extension of its partnership with tournament organiser Beyond the Summit (BTS), which will see the data company provide BTS with services for at least another three years.
The news comes after a spell of positive headlines for Bayes. The company expanded and extended its partnerships with both ESL Gaming and Riot Games, and also secured a sizable €6m (~£5.1m) investment in May.
The Esports Journal sat down with Bayes and BTS to unpack the details of the partnership, what the future holds, and ‘Project V’ — Bayes’ innovative new product focused on automatic content creation.
DIVING INTO CONTENT CREATION
Bayes has previously announced that the company plans to hire at least 25 new employees by the end of this year, part of a major expansion drive focused on content creation.
This will be the main focus for the company following its recent investment led by BITKRAFT Ventures and Las Vegas Sands. Bayes aims to become a licenced betting supplier in both the US and Europe, and also invest more in product development.
One of its standout priorities will be something Bayes calls ‘Project V’, an AIpowered content generation system.
“With Project V, we’re enabling content providers and content creators to query complete historic databases of specific events,” Amir Mirzaee, Managing Director of Bayes Esports, told The Esports Journal. “As an example for League of Legends, content creators can query specifically for all Pentakills of Faker and Project V will then create the respective video highlight automatically.
“This is absolutely amazing, given this tedious task would have had to be done manually in the past. That is, if you were even able to find a database complete enough to do this in the first place.”
Project V will be used by Beyond the Summit, which has a particular focus on content, as part of the extended threeyear partnership. Bayes and BTS first partnered in February 2021.
BTS Co-Founder David Parker told The Esports Journal that the company is
David Parker Co-Founder BTS
eager to integrate the new automated content creation into its future broadcasts. Parker said he especially looks forward to providing real-time information during broadcasts, a service Bayes offers.
Going forward, Parker noted that BTS wants to expand its content portfolio across more titles, and continue investing in positioning BTS as a leading content and production house in esports. This includes creating more content for brands and organisations that want to venture into the gaming space, Parker concluded.
Project V and the wider partnership with BTS is proof of Bayes’ pivot more towards content generation, an expansion of its initial focus on raw data.
Amir Mirzaee noted that the move towards content creation is a “natural evolution” for the company. “We need to understand that game publishers and tournament organisers by themselves usually don’t have a structured set of historic data for their pro league matches,” Mirzaee noted.
“That means fixtures, game data, audiovisual feeds etc. are usually scattered across various databases. The first thing we do these days is ask the question: “How is your ecosystem supposed to access and promote your content, if you can’t provide it easily and completely?”
Mirzaee added that this is a natural focus for Bayes, since the company wants to make all relevant esports content available universally. Broadening and improving access to content creation provides value for both brands and the community, a win-win situation.
As Bayes’ flagship content product, Project V has been in the works for a while now, but the company was waiting for the right partner to bring it alive, one with unique use cases and the willpower to try new things. That partner was BTS.
After hinting at a possible extension in an interview with The Esports Journal’s
Amir Mirzaee Managing Director Bayes Esports
sister site, Esports Insider, last year, Bayes and BTS are now implementing an entire new content system that is sure to be relevant to many in the industry.
27 27 BRANDS
AUTHOR Jordan Fragen @JFragen_
Players on Paramount+: The Most Valuable Esports Brand Deal You’ve Never Heard of
’ll admit it, I was nervous when Paramount+ announced that it would be making Players, a mockumentary centred on Riot’s League of Legends Championship Series (LCS). Could Hollywood translate the culture and ethos of esports to a broader audience, and keep it entertaining?
In June of 2022, my fears melted away.
Directors Tony Yacenda and Dan Perault’s goal for the series was to be so authentic to esports that viewers are kept guessing whether it’s fact or fiction. By design, the line between mockumentary and documentary isn’t immediatley clear to an audience unfamiliar with League of Legends esports.
Riot played a major role in ensuring that the details were captured correctly, and
perhaps more consequentially, it lent credibility to the production by helping to close the brand licensing deals needed to make the world of Players feel authentic.
Through the first season’s 10 episodes, over 175 brands and logos make appearances on the show. In all likelihood, Riot, the teams, and brands involved in Players participated in the most valuable brand deal in esports history, and yet no one is talking about it.
BRANDS AS TOOLS FOR IMMERSION
It all began with Panera Bread. Yacenda and Perrault had their first experience with brand licensing on their previous hit Netflix show, American Vandal. The two wanted to feature security footage from the restaurant’s bathroom to prove that the main suspect of their true crime parody was defecating at the time of the
crime (spray painting phallic symbols on teachers’ cars).
When Panera Bread and several other restaurants turned them down, they learned just how difficult it was to get companies to sign off on having their brands featured in off-colour situations.
The two eventually pivoted away from a brand deal on American Vandal, but both Yacenda and Perrault knew that they would have to find a way to make licensing agreements work for Players.
According to Stacy Jones, Founder and CEO of product placement agency Hollywood Branded, “the goal of a director is to make their show feel like an extension of the real world. It’s disruptive if you see a can of beer in a show that’s just labelled ‘beer.’ It just takes you out of the story.”
As a result, brands were essential to making Players immersive. The production used logo placements on team jerseys, desks littered with drinks and wrappers and shout-outs within the narrative to make the world of Players mirror its real-world counterpart.
Yaceda’s and Perrault’s shared philosophy on brand integrations was to write the joke first, and get approval from the brand second.
Riot played an integral role in getting these brands on board. The developer already had a track record of licensing deals thanks to HBO’s series Ballers, explained Chris Greeley, Riot’s Head of Esports for North America and Oceania.
Greeley reached out to teams individually to pitch featuring them on Players. Without being able to share a script, the fear of participating in a mockumentary made some teams and brands hesitant. “A lot of my job was just getting people comfortable with the idea,” Greeley said. “I reassured them that Riot would protect their brands, that we would not take shots at them or do anything with brands that they wouldn’t do themselves.”
Most of the teams were on board immediately, but some wanted additional information. “In the end, it wasn’t a lot of arm twisting,” added Greely. “We told teams they were free to not participate, but we may replace you with another brand.” Eventually all 10 franchised LCS teams agreed.
Teams were not paid directly for this, but Riot did allow them to send in whatever jersey they wanted, meaning they could upsell existing brand partners. While the vast majority of teams wore their standard LCS jerseys, TSM took advantage of the lack of restrictions. The organisation sent in the TSM FTX version of its jersey — cryptocurrency exchange FTX has naming rights to the
organisation, but the FTX sponsorship is scrubbed from most Riot broadcasts due to international crypto regulations.
Similarly, Riot also acted as a liaison between league sponsors and the production’s licensing department. All established League of Legends brand partners were offered the opportunity to participate. Many of these existing brand partners are featured prominently in the show. For example, MasterCard, Mercedes Benz, and Secretlab are presented as jersey sponsors of the
fictional team at the centre of the show, Fugitive Gaming.
However, direct payments for product placement are actually relatively rare.
“Over 60% of productions, particularly TV and streaming series, don’t do fee based deals,” Jones confirmed.
Rather than fight an uphill battle in getting brands to pay for this product placement or risk losing immersion by using fake brands, Yacenda and Perrault decided to forego any potential payouts.
Instead, all of the product placement in Players was done on a sign-off basis, not for cash.
“We must sound like the worst business men,” Perrault joked.
Yet product placement is extremely lucrative, and could be especially so in esports. After all, the majority of esports industry revenue is a direct result of brands wanting to reach this very audience. Jones was clear that many of the ways brands are showcased in Players could be monetisable in the future.
“Deals like these can represent anywhere from $75,000 up to $500,000 (~£62,000 to ~£414,500) in direct fees, but this media will be consumed over and over again for years to come as it gets syndicated and licensed to other networks or streaming services. This fictional world is acting as an advertising billboard for literally the next decade. That kind of exposure is valued in the millions by brands.”
Season 2 has not yet been greenlit, so there is potential for both pro teams and the show to renegotiate these deals. It all depends on how big the audience is. Luckily for Players, the audience is much
broader than just League of Legends players.
BUILDING AN AUDIENCE
Esports fans are not shy about voicing their opinions. The show would have to get the details right to appeal to the League of Legends audience. The creators knew this and relied on experts from the community.
Riot was involved at every stage of the production process. The North American esports team, writers from Riot, casters, and community figures all played key roles in advising the
production team and making the series as authentic as it is.
Kien Lam, a producer and writer for Players and Riot Games, helped ensure that the series accurately represented the industry. “On set, my main job was to make sure everything looked and sounded authentic — even basic things like teaching the actors how to hold their mouse or to say ‘on the Rift’ instead of ‘in the Rift,’” Lam explained. Even after production wrapped, Lam helped to capture gameplay scenes and spot continuity errors.
Perrault also highlighted how valuable it was to feature seasoned commentators from the LCS throughout the show.
“You maybe have a month of lead time before shooting and you can’t cram years of game knowledge in that time. Commentators can speak with a level of fluency and authenticity you can’t script as an outsider. They also helped us make the world feel lived-in because we could show a conversation between multiple experts.”
While Players succeeded in capturing the aesthetics of esports accurately thanks to Riot’s involvement, it would still have to make the culture and ethos of esports palatable for a broader audience to truly succeed. At its core, it
worked. Players is a series designed for a mass market audience; understanding League of Legends is not required to enjoy the series.
“Our goal wasn’t to boost LCS viewership, but to get an outside audience to take esports seriously,” Yacenda explained. “Dan [Perrault] and I wanted to make something that current fans could show their incredulous parents.”
To achieve this balance, Yacenda and Perrault chose to focus on the clash of personalities on Fugitive Gaming and the business decisions behind the team, eschewing technical gameplay and jargon that could pose a barrier. “If we focused too much on numbers or details, we risked sending the signal that you need to know League of Legends to enjoy Players,” Perrault clarified.
One strategy the creators leaned into was focusing on the conflict between management and pro players. “Business was an accessible angle for a broader audience,” Yacenda noted. In particular, the team used analogies to the NBA to highlight the parallels between esports and traditional sports and really sell the sports documentary parody angle.
PRESSURE TO PERFORM
Until now, scripted esports series have not managed to break through to a general audience. While there have been attempts — such as YouTube’s Good Game and Tencent’s The King’s Avatar (both in live action and animated)
— none have achieved major critical or commercial success.
According to Parrot Analytics, a firm that specialises in measuring audience demand for television and movies, Players has performed outstandly both in the US and worldwide since premiering, despite only being legally available in a few select markets as the platform rolls out internationally. “US audience demand for Players grew from 1.3x more in-demand than the average show on its June 15th premiere to a peak of 8.8x in the days immediately following the finale. In other words, US demand for the show grew nearly 600% between its premiere and its post-finale peak” according to Wade PaysonDenney, PR & Communications Manager at Parrot Analytics.
“This steady growth from premiere to finale suggests Players became a solid word of mouth hit. Players reached the top 2.9% of TV shows across all platforms in the days after the finale. Across the show’s entire run, Players was in the 92nd percentile for comedies in the US while Players was in the 86th percentile for the comedy genre globally,” Payson-Denney claimed.
Players was one of the top 20 most in-demand originals on Paramount+ during this time. For comparison, Halo — Paramount+’s series based on the video game franchise, which is targeting a similar audience — was 15.5x more indemand than the average show.
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER
Players is a major value-add for the esports industry. Besides the media exposure and viewership that the series brought in, over time Players could serve as an on-ramp for the esports industry by making the subculture more accessible to a broader audience.
While esports events continue to break viewership records, shows like Players can reach an entirely different audience: casuals. Unlike traditional sports, esports is often indecipherable to viewers without some advanced knowledge of the game being played. The story of Fugitive Gaming and its characters shows why fans love esports without getting bogged down in the details.
Players represents a major opportunity for brands to build up credibility with the esports and wider gaming audience, too. Many of the non-endemic brands that are featured in Players — such as Gucci, Pepsi, and Toyota — can reinforce their existing gaming strategy through the show. For others, Jones suggested that Players was a safe testing ground for brands to experiment with esports and gaming that could then build naturally into further activations.
The esports teams and sponsors who are featured throughout the show benefit from the exposure. Most team sponsors sign deals with the expectation of reaching esports fans. Players helped these brands reach viewers on Paramount+ — exposure worth millions of dollars — without paying a dime more.
Should Players be renewed for a second season, the show could serve as a template for a new source of revenue in esports, setting Players up as one of the most valuable brand deals in industry history.
Bidstack’s bet on integrated in-game advertising
The gaming industry never used to be such a hit with advertisers.
As James Draper, CEO of BidStack, explains from the company’s headquarters in Stratford, London, even five years ago advertising agencies didn’t have a large budget for gaming partnerships.
Bidstack’s Co-founder and Managing Director Fran Petruzzelli says that his team witnessed a shift during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We saw brands looking to latch on to a form of media where the viewer is actively
engaged for longer … I would say from an advertising perspective the market has matured significantly.”
The pandemic brought with it an inevitable drop in sport advertising, and a rise in viewing figures for gaming content online. As advertisers began to look at reaching consumers quarantining at home, the pair began to see their business reach new heights.
James Draper CEO BidStack Banners, Billboards and Burberry
AUTHOR Patrick Walker
BidStack gives clients a way to book in-game advertising space through its online platform. To date, it has collaborated with Sega, Codemasters, and Ubisoft, among others.
The company claims that its advertising integration is designed to be as unintrusive as possible, delivering ads to players through trackside banners, cityscape billboards, and pitchside LED boards that fit into the digital environment and don’t break immersion.
Alex Nuñez, Bidstack’s VP of Strategic Development, says the company was inspired by the successful model of traditional sport advertising. “Traditional sports sponsorship plays a foundational role in how we model the location of in-game branded content – emulating an industry where advertising authenticates sacred homes of fandom.”
It’s quite a progression from the company’s origins. Draper and Petruzzelli originally founded BidStack with the aim of providing last-minute bookings for real-world advertising space.
The company attracted a ~£137,000 investment through crowdfunding platform CrowdCube with a slick advertisement based on Dollar Shave Club’s original viral hit.
Afterwards, they made a surprise pivot to in-game video game advertising, which proved to be a success: in 2018, with a full-time staff of just 10 employees, BidStack was the first CrowdCube-funded company to list on the London Stock Exchange.
Today, Petruzzelli believes that the company is benefitting from a growing awareness of gamers as an audience. “[Agencies] now have gaming departments, and the budget scope has increased.” While prospective clients might want to replicate the success of
Marvel’s longstanding deal with Fortnite, rumoured to be worth tens of millions, it’s obviously not possible for campaigns with smaller budgets.
“It’s not very realistic for small brands to go for Fortnite, where a budget of $300,000 doesn’t even get you in the door. Now [brands] are just looking at the audience. They’ll say ‘we want 25 to 35 year old males from East London.’ Our technology allows them to reach that audience at scale.”
BidStack has also managed to offer ad placements that reach beyond most games’ largely male playerbase. “We get a real mix. Our portfolio has a 30% female split which is pretty healthy. [Our team] has to make sure we are putting on titles that have got a more female audience.”
Nuñez added that Bidstack’s novel approach to raising brand awareness has helped re-invigorate stale advertising campaigns. “Advertising within virtual worlds can breathe new forms of life into the awareness and perception of brands in the eyes of some of the most loyal consumers.”
A RISING OPPORTUNITY IN ESPORTS
Esports offers a new frontier for ingame advertising, as brands look to get themselves noticed on stream without disrupting the viewing experience.
BLAST Premier’s CS:GO tournaments already feature in-game ads integrated into the maps.
Sponsors have also contributed to building unique experiences for professionals and players alike, such as
BLAST’s famous 1v1 maps, which have featured in-game billboards with the logos of EPOS, CS Money, and Betway.
Psyonix’s Rocket League was originally developed with an eye to potentially displaying ads in-game to players to help pay for server upkeep. The developer has since used the technology to serve adverts during esports tournaments, but ditched the idea of giving players ads from external partners during their regular matches.
FROM INITIAL IDEA TO INDUSTRY MATURITY
As Bidstack doubles down on in-game advertising, it has had to re-think how to define common advertising targets like impressions. The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), an advertising industry body, recommends that companies provide common metrics so that clients can easily compare data — but metrics are challenging to standardise when they take place in a different universe.
“We do impressions slightly differently,” says Petruzelli. “The industry standard may be that one second is one
Fran Petruzzelli Co-founder and Managing Director Bidstack
impression, and hypothetically, we could get 20 impressions in the race … but as a company, we may decide to go ‘that whole race is one impression.’
“As the industry is growing, maturing, we have taken a decision right now to give the brands as much return on investment as possible. Later, we may start scaling back to the industry standard. We’re getting them addicted, then we’ll control the pricing a bit further down the track.”
The IAB’s second recommendation to the industry this year was around including new formats for advertising, something Bidstack is already looking at. Petruzzelli says his team is excited about skins, and the opportunities they provide for advertisers to make their mark in a wider variety of games.
“There is a limit on billboards. If you’ve got a world war two simulator, for example, a Coca Cola board doesn’t really make sense. But if you’ve got a skin, it doesn’t matter, because as the gamer, I’m opting to have my tank with a Red Bull skin, a Burberry skin, whatever right?
“If it’s an opt-in, that’s a huge differentiator. It isn’t being forced onto the player, detracting from the
environment. The player is making an ongoing decision. Skins are opening a whole new world of potential that wasn’t previously available to us through the billboards.”
The company fosters an ongoing conversation with developers, who understandably wouldn’t be delighted to see an M4 Sherman careering through their game branded with the logo of a handbag retailer without prior warning.
Inspired by a product or not, esports has conceivably driven growth in the in-game skin market, as players vie for the skins indirectly promoted by their favourite players.
The growing market offers another opportunity for agencies like Bidstack. For certain titles, BidStack’s platform has access to strictly predefined areas within game maps. This, in combination with its acquisition of ad fraud prevention company PubGuard in 2019, has helped to reassure partners that ads will not maliciously target players or make promises in bad faith.
Alex Nuñez VP of Strategic Development Bidstack
ESPORTS: A NEW FRONTIER?
In the advertising world, Bidstack says that esports represents a massive opportunity for both developers and advertisers, but it also highlights a massive challenge for the company. Bidstack’s business model relies on its good relationship with developers. If developers decide to do in-game advertising themselves, they have a ‘monopoly’ on their own product to do so.
Riot Games, for example, has used ingame banners within League of Legends to advertise partnerships during esports tournaments for years now. Meanwhile, billboards in their VALORANT maps promote upcoming competitive events. Bidstack’s current platform would be of little interest to Riot, which would prefer to keep an iron grip on its games and esports tournaments.
Petruzelli is confident, however, that Bidstack can make its mark with other partners who want to leverage advertising in esports events as an alternative revenue stream, or for tournament broadcasters who also want to advertise.
“For esports broadcasters, tournament organisers, or even individual streamers, we can ringfence them in our platform and ensure that we serve ads for the official partners of the competition in the environment. That’s interesting to large
players in the esports space. We wouldn’t be providing them with brands, purely the technology.”
Placing ads in-game has presented a new issue for Bidstack. How do you track the number of people looking at a partner’s ad if you’re only serving the billboard to ten people in-game? Petruzzelli says the team had to build a new monitoring service to track viewers on the broadcast, rather than just within the video game.
“There could be specific events where the viewing audience is going to spike. We’ve built technology that allows us to monitor the audience on Twitch and YouTube. It’s a valuable tool for us to put into our CPM rates.”
As almost anyone who works in gaming advertising or partnerships will tell you, gamers stereotypically hate traditional advertising. Audience research company GWI found in 2020 that up to 52% of gamers use ad blockers on their devices. Ensuring ads don’t foster resentment over brand engagement is therefore crucial to Bidstack. Tournament broadcast partners are looking to enhance the experience of their streams, and avoid being derided by the community as ‘sell-outs’, or ‘shills.’
Draper is mindful of the risk that online pile-ons can bring to his clients. “We’re obviously aware of the Reddit community, and we want to make sure we’re not blasted in a thread of one million people bashing us. We lose if we do that.”
Brand integration has to make sense, and Bidstack says that its integration with skins and billboards gives brands access to a new audience while being mindful of invoking players’ rage.
Bidstack remains solidly in the startup phase of growth, indicated by its erratic listing price on the London stock
exchange. The doubling of advertisers on its book (up to over 70 this year) is a sign of a company aiming to prove its worth to a large gaming and esports ecosystem.
Draper and his team now want to focus on sustainable growth, collaborating with more international clients, like Bidstack’s breakout relationship with Japanese mobile game developers.
Indeed, the promise of further explosive growth in the mobile market — which Global Industry Analysts believe could reach around $140 billion by 2026 — could make Bidstack’s brand of unintrusive ads and wide publisher roster an attractive option for advertisers looking to reach the advertising market’s toughest-to-reach audiences.
• Doritos x Fast & Furious 9 (OMD Greece & Bidstack) - Gold Award for Creative Use of Innovative Formats
• Marriott Bonvoy (Publicis Sport & Entertainment, Publicis Media, & Bidstack) - Highly Commended, The Drum Awards for Digital Advertising, Best Use Of Gaming
• Paco Rabanne Invictus - (Starcom Worldwide & Bidstack) - Gold, Campaign Media Awards US, Best Media Strategy
AUTHOR Ivan Šimić @ Space_njoka
Esports Insider’s startup pitch competition, The Clutch, is returning in 2022 at our flagship conference, ESI London, on September 7th. After analysing dozens of entries, four esports companies have been selected as this year’s finalists and will battle to win a share of the $25,000 (~£20,500) prize pool.
All of the finalists will get a chance to impress a panel of judges, which includes Shahar Sorek, Chief Marketing Officer at Overwolf, and Lisa Hau, COO of Bidstack. After all the businesses have pitched their pitches to a live audience, the judges will come together and crown the victor.
Since the inaugural edition in 2019, The Clutch’s previous winners have been busy. The winner of the first edition, gaming and esports bar Platform, announced a £1.5m funding round in April 2022. Anzu, an in-game advertising company and participant of the Clutch in 2020, went on to receive a £15.2m investment from NBCUniversal and HTC. PC aim training tool 3D Aim Trainer, another Clutch winner, was recently acquired by SteelSeries, and esports performance company Gscience, the winner from ESI London 2019, was acquired by Adamas.
New blood is on display in this edition. The finalists for this year’s competition
are Mouseskins, Protest Labs, Versus Gaming and Challenger Project. Let’s meet the contestants!
Founded in 2021 by Steven McKerrow, a cyclist, project manager, recruiter, and gamer, Mousekins is a custom mouse skin manufacturer. The idea behind the brand came from looking at professional cycling gear, products typically utilised by just one or two percent of users. McKerrow believes that monetising the final one percent is key to winning, and Mouseskins aims to do just that with competitive gamers.
WHAT THEY DO
Mouseskins, as its name suggests, is a company that produces skins for gaming mice. The company currently produces skins that enhance the grip and look of some of the most popular mice in the world, including Logitech, SteelSeries, and Razer mice. The company also allows customers to produce a custom skin for any mouse they might want. According to Mouseskins, its products enhance both the appearance and grip of one of esports’ most-used peripherals.
WHERE THEY ARE NOW
Currently, the company has relations
Steven McKerrow Founder Mouseskins
The four start-ups entering this year’s The Clutch at ESI London
with Razer, SteelSeries and other well-known brands within the world of gaming and esports peripherals. The company has produced skins for Alpine Racing, EMG, and Yalla Esports, and has also worked with Fernando Alonso.
WHAT MAKES THEM UNIQUE
It’s very hard for brands like Razer or SteelSeries or Logitech to create extremely customised mice without making drastic changes to their manufacturing processes. Mouseskins wants to be the brand that players go to to customise their new products, in the same way that cyclists customise their racing bikes or basketball players customise sneakers.
Saša Vrcelj is a Croatian entrepreneur and former owner of esports organisation Zagreb 360. In 2019 he launched ProTest Labs, a company built to bring the know-how of professional performance measuring to the world of esports.
WHAT THEY DO ProTest Labs has developed a background app that monitors
skill across esports titles, most notably CS:GO. Players install the application and simply play games, then the application analyses different parameters and tells players where they can improve. Dubbed a ‘neurosciencebased online esports gym’, the system can offer immense detail about performance and also suggest ways to improve.
WHERE THEY ARE NOW
The company is a part of Level 256, a leading startup incubator in Paris, France. The company currently has an MVP (minimum viable product) ready, and is already collaborating with the likes of G2 Esports, Natus Vincere, Team
Vitality, and other professional esports brands and organisations. The company received a £25,000 grant from the French Public Investment Bank.
WHAT MAKES THEM UNIQUE
The company claims that its specific usage of neuroscience and machine learning is what sets it apart from the competition. Although not the first startup developing a training and analysis platform, ProTest wants to be the smartest one out there.
Founded in 2021 by Kamila Skubij, Mariusz Kramer and Rafał Łabędzki, Challenger Project identified that many platforms and tournaments are catered towards pro and highly-skilled players, leaving those who aren’t highly competitive with nowhere to go. The team behind the project has more than 30 years of experience in fintech and software development.
WHAT DO THEY DO
By creating a platform aimed solely at casual players, Challenger Project has created a friendly environment where everyone can take a shot, without feeling the pressures of elite performance. The
Saša Vrcelj President & Co-Owner ProTest Labs
platform offers both competitive gaming and skill training for casual players, allowing them to play and improve their
skill set in one place. Challenger Project has a built-in AI system that evaluates the performance of players and offers tips for improvement.
WHERE THEY ARE NOW Challenger Project currently supports League of Legends, with VALORANT support on the way. The company plans to fully finish its League of Legends and VALORANT modules and then focus on growing the user base and integrating other games. Challenger Project received £210,000 in funding in May 2022.
WHAT MAKES THEM UNIQUE
Casual players will love the fact that there is a platform dedicated solely to them.This alone makes Challenger Project a unique experience. The fact that the company already secured a round of funding and has strengthened its product with AI and machine learning makes for a compelling case for players — and investors.
Versus Gaming is the second esports platform entering The Clutch. Ever since its foundation in 2016, Versus Gaming has had a deep focus on the grassroots esports scene. The company, led by Founder and CEO Mike Taylor, is one of the rare players in the field that concentrates its efforts on creating accessible tournaments for all skill levels.
WHAT DO THEY DO
Versus Gaming runs a grassroots esports tournament platform that organises events for any and all players,
not just established teams, brands and organisations. The company aims to differentiate itself by not relying on sponsors to generate revenue and prize money for the teams. Instead, it raises money through a subscription model. This way, all players invest a little bit of money, and get a chance to earn more in tournaments.
WHERE THEY ARE NOW
The platform currently has more than 10,000 users and secured a funding round of £150,000 in 2018 for the development of its MVP. The company’s main goal is to scale its user base as much as possible and raise the valuation of the company.
WHAT MAKES THEM UNIQUE
It may not be the only one offering a below-pro, grassroots tournament platform. However, the fact that Versus Gaming aims to create a product that offers scalable tournaments for players by relying predominantly on subscriptions rather than sponsorships is certainly a unique business strategy.
Kramer Founder Challenger Project Rafał Łabędzki Founder Challenger Project Kamila Skubij Founder Challenger Project 38
The Guide to Esports
Esports are revolutionising the way consumers watch, follow and engage with video games.
As a result, global video game trade groups have created The Guide to Esports, a comprehensive, global resource that details the state of esports today including their impacts on economic growth, demographics, job creation, educational and social opportunities, and more.
Esports are part of a highly creative and rapidly evolving industry
From action/adventure to strategy and simulations, esports include multiple genres spanning hundreds of titles played on different hardware or software platforms in a variety of tournament formats or competitive structures. Different competitions cater to varied audiences: from competitive players to social ones or just fans getting together for the game, teams or stars they love. It is an ecosystem that is always evolving to meet the demands of customers.
Without video games, there are no esports
Video games are at the centre of the esports phenomenon. Video games are creative works of art protected by copyright and other IP rights. Video game publishers are vital in the esports ecosystem. Publishers own the intellectual and industrial property rights to video games and establish their essential qualities such as features, design, value proposition, etc. The “DNA” of a video game and IP rights have a huge impact on enabling and shaping esports competitions.
Download The Guide to Esports
The Guide is available in English, French, Italian, Polish and Portuguese.
The Favela’s New Football
The social role of esports in Brazil
AUTHOR Victor Frascarelli @vitaofrasca
s a developing country, a large part of the Brazilian population counts on art and sports to achieve life-changing opportunities. Football, most notably, is a dream and a route out of poverty for many. Now, for a younger generation, esports is taking on that same role.
Examples are not scarce in the country. A local Free Fire star, Lucio ‘Cerol’ Lima, went through a challenging upbringing in a poor community before finding his place in esports. Even the 2021 Esports Awards Personality of the Year
winner Bruno ‘Nobru’ Góes overcame a challenging social reality by finding success through Free Fire.
For this reason, organisations and esports leagues are starting to grow in cultural importance, becoming an active part of the everyday life of citizens. In the bigger picture, this doesn’t only apply to the handful of talent they eventually sign, but also to the massive young audience they influence.
Both Góes and Lima are the founders of Fluxo, one of the most prominent esports organisations in Brazil. Fluxo and its founders — having achieved commercial success thanks to a highly engaged audience, sponsors and business partners — run activations
focused on giving life-changing opportunities to Brazilian players.
Góes, who before thriving in Free Fire dreamt of a football career, told The Esports Journal he felt the need to “give something back to the community.”
Fluxo is just one example of multiple organisations and initiatives in Brazil that know they play a key role in the development of a disadvantaged younger population — and have started investing in structures to make things right. Fluxo recently signed a women’s Free Fire team composed almost entirely of teenage girls, taking on a huge responsibility in their development, both as players but also as citizens.
The Team Manager of Fluxos’ female Free Fire team, Maria ‘Dona’ Tavares, told The Esports Journal that she felt it was part of the organisation’s duty. “This social responsibility we have of taking care of these lives goes beyond the
game,” she said. As the team manager, Tavares also monitors the girls’ performances in school and makes sure a routine is respected with psychological awareness.
It was a conscious choice by Fluxo and Tavares to sign younger players. According to the manager, Fluxo wanted to not only have a competitive team, but also the opportunity of building longterm role models for the community.
Another mobile battle royale game, PUBG Mobile, has also had its fair share of life-changing stories for ordinary Brazilians. Coming from a humble family in the São Paulo region, Vinícius ‘Zé Moitinha’ Silva is a PUBG Mobile streamer on Facebook Gaming signed to esports organisation Influence Rage. Silva was arrested in his youth after getting involved, in his words, with ‘bad elements’. He turned his life around after starting to play PUBG competitively and streaming in 2019.
Esports titles like Free Fire and PUBG Mobile have created these stories largely due to their accessibility. Since they can be played on affordable hardware, many connect to esports through them. PC and console players, on the other hand, already usually have better financial conditions and access to more opportunities.
In Rio de Janeiro, though, a project called Afrogames purposefully left smartphones behind. It brought computers with League of Legends and Fortnite inside favelas — the name for densely populated economically vulnerable neighbourhoods in Brazilian cities.
The Esports Journal spoke to Ricardo ‘Chantilly’ Novaes, the Co-founder and director of Afrogames and a renowned music producer in Brazil. He said that the decision to start the project with PC games was to bring something exclusive
into the favela. “Smartphones and Free Fire were already around, but PCs weren’t. So we went with PCs to have a bigger initial impact.”
Afrogames currently supports around 370 young people, 270 more than the 100 it originally had in its foundation in 2019. It holds courses in League of Legends, Fortnite, VALORANT, Free Fire, and Wild Rift.
“As a cultural and music producer, I started to notice that gaming, esports, are also a kind of entertainment,” Novaes said. “The youth is not concerned anymore, like it was in past decades, in gathering a band to have their voices heard by the world. So I started to understand that the esports world was a new path of entertainment and cultural expression.”
Novaes is aware that the project isn’t going to form the next 370 pro players and streamers. The point of the project is to go further than only focusing on gaming: it also provides attendees with English, communication and programming classes, making them capable of filling different roles both inside and outside the esports industry. Some attendees even receive a minimum wage salary from Afrogames, which makes them a pillar in their families’ economies and provides them with enough stability to continue in the project.
To serve 370 young people every year, Afrogames counts on the sponsorship of energy drink Fusion, communications giant Globo, peripherals brand Warrior, and the Rio de Janeiro State
Government. Novaes said that Rio de Janeiro, both the state and the city, has already recognised how esports can be a driving force for social development. The federal government, however, has ignored it so far.
Afrogames also receives private investment from the likes of HyperX and Gol airlines, though eagerly wants to expand its portfolio. “I don’t have one single telecom as a sponsor, not even one bank, while a bunch of them claim to be ‘the gamers’ bank’,” Novaes lamented, though Afrogames has enough momentum to keep expanding and expects to increase the number of its attendees soon.
Fundamentally, other paths, including football, have let down most of the people that relied on it for a lifechanging opportunity. For each Neymar or Vini Jr. that prospered, thousands or even millions could not make it and were left without skills to follow a career outside the field.
Of course, esports organisations won’t be able to provide for every single child that dreams of esports. But by building awareness of how esports can be a driving force for social development, and by giving people skills that go beyond the game itself, esports may become a pillar for a better future in Brazil.
Co-founder and Director Afrogames
41 41 CULTURE
It’s Time to Try EDI
AUTHOR Morgan Ashurst @M0RGZ
As the esports industry has matured, the stereotypes that have long defined the ‘esports audience’ have either evolved or been debunked. Businesses aren’t just targeting ‘esports’ as a collective anymore. Instead, multiple subsections that fall within it — more than ever including women, marginalised genders and underrepresented groups — are now being identified and specifically catered to.
Newzoo’s 2022 Global Esports Market report found that women comprise a growing segment of the esports audience, accounting for 34% fans in 2021. It is no surprise that there’s been a shift in focus for esports businesses towards speaking to a wider demographic, in turn allowing for greater growth and scalability.
Yet while some are paving the way in truly catering to underrepresented groups in esports, others still rely on virtue signalling, exploiting so-called ‘rainbow capitalism’ without truly addressing the issue.
Case in point are the brands that amend their logos on social media to incorporate the pride flag each June, but do not implement anything of substance to create a longer-lasting impact on the industry. Creating visibility on the topic of EDI is still important no matter the level, but without genuine care for the subject, it’ll likely lack authenticity.
The notoriously critical, hyper-vigilant and hyper-engaged esports audience is able to identify and separate between
companies that launch low-effort EDI initiatives for publicity’s sake, and those leading by example by making EDI a core business principal.
CHANGING PERCEPTIONS IN ESPORTS
We’ve started to see slow but significant progress on the EDI front as the industry starts banding together to make a long-lasting impact on inclusivity within esports. With the growing role of esports in education, esports organisations are implementing programmes and practices to educate fans on the topic of inclusivity and diversity from a younger age.
Evil Geniuses (EG) is a prime example. The organisation has consistently promoted EDI initiatives since June 2019, when its charismatic leader Nicole LaPointe Jameson joined as CEO. EG has positioned itself as an ally supporting and elevating women, promoting gaming for all and fostering an environment for LGTBQIA+ in gaming.
The organisation’s Genius League, created in June 2020, provides a curriculum to engage college students and offer an outlet to learn and grow. Its anti-bullying programme promotes emotional intelligence, teamwork and yields education on the topic of inclusivity. Since launch, EG has held over 100 events as part of its Genius
Jessica Hammond Chief Culture Officer Evil Geniuses
League, which includes networking workshops, community events and seminars.
In June, Evil Geniuses announced a partnership with HP Enterprise that would enable it to take a more dataoriented approach to talent discovery. By making decisions purely based on data, EG hopes more opportunities will be opened up to marginalised people.
“Humans by nature have bias,” Jessica Hammond, Chief Culture Officer at Evil Geniuses, told The Esports Journal “If we notice a trend where we’re hiring the same type of people, then we can start to look at why that is, what within the process shows that we’re measuring things objectively and consider if we need to rethink things.”
Hammond is also optimistic about its new data-led processes playing a part in gender imbalance in rosters. When it comes to talent discovery, the statistics
for male and female players aren’t all that different. Removing biases through this approach by identifying talent agnostically could provide a new and interesting avenue for other esports teams to follow suit.
Whilst taking a data-driven approach could have a positive impact, structural limitations threaten to hinder its success. Only a few esports titles, most notably VALORANT, have dedicated female professional leagues; most don’t host women-only pro circuits.
Additionally, with far more men than women pursuing video games competitively due to underlying social factors — such as social norms and gender-based harassment — a dataled approach could still favour men over women when it comes to talent discovery, potentially incorrectly alluding to men being objectively better than women at video games.
Nonetheless, EG’s data-driven approach to hiring is a promising and practical implementation of an EDI initiative. In Hammond’s experience, it’s never too late for others to get started on their EDI journey, but it’s important for companies
to be authentic from the beginning in their efforts to drive change. All efforts big or small have a part to play in implementing long-standing change within esports — and they have commercial implications too, Hammond added.
“We kick-started our journey by creating an EDI council, creating programming inside, and then these elements started to evolve. We now have potential sponsors reaching out to talk to us, which is a great opportunity for our brand.”
Through living by example, EG has built up its credibility as a partner for companies looking to engage the EDI audience. Hammond said a staggering 70% of Evil Geniuses’ inbound partnership conversations revolve around education programmes, which EDI falls under. EG is pursuing brand partners to engage with its female fans, however Hammond said most of her time is spent talking to non-profits across the globe around communityrelated projects.
GETTING YOUR FOOT IN THE DOOR WITH EDI
In other areas of the industry, companies are starting to rethink their hiring practices to be more inclusive to all within esports. A practical implementation of EDI in hiring can be as simple as tailoring the language within job descriptions to be more inclusive, an easily-overlooked policy that’s both in demand and actionable across the board.
According to a report by esports and gaming jobs board Hitmarker, 40.8% of candidates view gender-neutral job descriptions as very important, with the number rising dramatically among underrepresented groups and nonbinary people in particular.
Taking this approach allows companies to take progressive steps in expanding their recruiting pool. Doing its part in this is DotX, a newly-formed UK-based talent management agency. DotX has put EDI at the forefront of its plans since launching in January 2022.
Regarding hiring practices, Mitsouko Anderson, DotX’s Head of Partnerships, told The Esports Journal: “When advertising for roles at DotX, we ensure that this is done in a way that encourages applications from anyone who might want to apply, irrespective of their background.”
One key example provided is that during interviews, DotX scores candidates against objective criteria and provides actionable feedback to unsuccessful candidates. These extra steps help ensure that all candidates are considered fairly and young professionals can improve their chances in future hiring conversations.
Anderson highlighted that creating a more diverse, inclusive workspace — where EDI is embraced — simply creates a better working environment for staff.
“People are more likely to complete their best work leading to better innovation and productivity.
“In turn, this can have a significant impact on financial returns and revenue, but also mean that you can retain staff and get closer to enabling them to have rewarding, fulfilling careers.”
DotX is in a unique position in that it can promote EDI across its workforce, as well as through its role as a talent agency. Alongside hiring practices, DotX places an emphasis on talent recruitment.
“We look to add as many clients from diverse backgrounds to our talent roster [as possible],” said Anderson. “With being such a young industry, we’re starting to notice that over time esports and gaming are becoming more diverse and inclusive
by the day. Therefore we are taking the necessary steps to make sure that we are monitoring that.”
By uplifting and supporting talent in their careers, ensuring they are getting solid opportunities and fair rates, and that their rights are protected, DotX is trying to break down multiple barriers. With exploitation unfortunately all too common in the industry, Mitsouko said talent are often not aware of their worth
Mitsouko Anderson Head of Partnerships DotX
— especially those from marginalised or minority communities.
Even with more and more schemes in place to enable marginalised industry talent to succeed, role models are still a necessary step to diversifying talent pools and esports audiences.
Trailblazing community-led initiatives and game publishers are at the forefront of this, offering representation for females and marginalised genders in an environment weighed heavily against them.
The Dota Valkyries, founded in March 2021, is one such community-led organisation of women pushing the boundaries in improving and creating a more inclusive environment in Dota 2. The group does this by increasing representation, educating players on solutions to sexism, and consulting with teams on its inclusivity processes.
“We launched Dota Valkyries initially as a response to the 2020 MeToo movement – we didn’t want any women to feel like they couldn’t speak out,” Ruby Dawn, Co-founder of Dota Valkyries, told The
Esports Journal. “As a collective, we can bring a larger voice to the issues faced and play a part in having real change implemented.”
The Valkyries host tournaments that have included top-tier talent within the Dota scene. But with the long-term objective to increase the percentage of women competing in Dota, the group focuses on encouraging more women and marginalised genders to compete starting at the grassroots level.
By leveraging its learnings in running co-ed and segregated tournaments, Valkyries hopes to communicate to Dota 2 publisher Valve the need to get more involved in the moderation of the Dota community in and outside of the game.
“Women belong in esports,” Ruby added. “With the number of women rising year-on-year, and the results we’ve seen through our own tournaments in this area of the industry, it’s an incredibly positive sign for the future”.
Recent strides within the competitive landscape have allowed us to see more women and marginalised genders compete at a higher level, from the
introduction of Riot Games’ VCT Game Changers (VALORANT) to ESL’s allfemale $500,000 (~£410,000) #GGForAll CS:GO programme.
With these opportunities being created by publishers and tournament organisers, most notably in the FPS genre, new role models are being created for younger generations to follow. But running through all the most important EDI initiatives is a common theme: those that are most successful are the ones coming from companies that practise what they preach.
Ultimately, the companies that stop their work once the hashtag holidays have disappeared will not keep up with the trailblazers who are making EDI a core part of their modus operandi. Those leading by example have proven that authentic practices which truly place equality, diversity and inclusion at the heart of their businesses can have a significant impact on the current and future state of the esports industry.
The XX of EU Esports
Discussions with women making European esports a better place
AUTHOR Kerry Waananen @haekafae
North America’s command of the media machine and penchant for the spotlight certainly hasn’t spared the esports industry. A glance at popular ‘news reporting’ (read: rumour milling) social media accounts and even award-nominated coverage sites is guaranteed to feature stories laden with American-flavoured boys club-vibes, engagement-farming drama, and over-the-top edits no matter where on the timeline you look.
With the boisterous side of the industry so well covered, The Esports Journal — with the support of PR agency The Story Mob — sought a quieter beat. A narrative road less travelled by media outlets. One full of distinguished women from across the European esports sector. They were not hard to find.
Hailing from under-represented to understated backgrounds, ESJ sat down with four extraordinary women to share their stories and thoughts on the industry. Going beyond the tired ‘what it’s like to be a woman in esports’ angle, below are four authentic stories of lived experiences, rarely at the forefront of esports coverage but imperative for the success of our industry.
The interviews below have been edited for clarity and brevity.
The Esports Journal: Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
Vladyslava Zakhliebina (VZ): I’ve been in esports for over twenty years and in many different roles, starting from a professional player and currently I’m
Team Manager of OG Esports’ CS:GO team. Also, sometimes I’m an esports talent — like an esports host, analyst or sometimes a content creator — skills I developed in the industry
I’m from Donetsk [Ukraine]. Until the 24th of February, I lived in Kyiv, but unfortunately, the war worsened and has affected most of Ukraine. I was lucky because I was out in Katowice for the Intel Extreme Master with my team and decided to stay a bit longer after we were eliminated, so I wasn’t in any physical danger, mentally is a different story. Now I’m staying in Cologne, But I don’t know what will happen next.
A team manager and broadcast talent, those seem like two very different roles, what’s that like? Yes, they are indeed two different roles. I’m always interested in revealing my different sides. Fortunately, esports gives this opportunity, but that doesn’t come without challenges. Many people don’t know how much work needs to be done behind-the-scenes in order to get an interesting, high-quality broadcast later.
Usually I’ve done work in Russianlanguage studios, but I’ve tried a few
times in English. The first time was out of nowhere without any time for preparation. I was almost to the studio to host in Russian and then I got a message saying, “Vlady our Englishspeaking host is sick, can you please replace him?” and I was like “Oh! What!?” [laughs] I don’t know why, but my brain didn’t even seem to think “no” was an option. I instantly started thinking how to make this happen and get ready for such a short time.
Also, English is one of the great challenges of my life, so you can imagine how stressful it was for me [laughs]. When you’re a host you need to manage everything that’s going on and know where to pause and where you make a joke. It was nerve-wracking, but a cool experience.
What would you say is a unique superpower of yours?
I think it would be my drive to go forward no matter what. The English broadcast story could be an example, declining it just wasn’t on my mind. Instead of maybe thinking up an excuse to turn it down, I immediately thought “Okay, what do I need to do to prepare?” I started thinking up phrases that would be good for broadcast and just went for it and now it’s history and valuable experience.
I’m like this all the time, always trying to find a solution to any challenges. Never give up! Only “Rush B!” [laughs]
Vladyslava Zakhliebina Team Manager OG Esports
What is one of your biggest lessons you’ve learned in life?
It’s hard to have a balance in my work and my life, to be honest, because I need to be in touch with my team, organisation and stay up-to-date with the industry. It takes a lot of my time and energy. So it’s important to find a balance to not burn out. Unfortunately, I’ve already had this experience and it wasn’t an easy time. At some point, I didn’t understand what was happening to me, I just felt lazy and powerless, and then slowly I wasn’t even able to do things I enjoyed because of the state of my mental health. And I’d punish myself like “Oh, come on, you’re just being lazy, do something,” but it’s very important to understand yourself and what exactly can help you in these kinds of situations.
Esports is still an unstable industry. It grows and changes so fast. Not everyone can keep up with it and this may create anxiety. I was spending my time worrying about what I needed to do for work and how I could be doing more and better when really I should have been relaxing. I still feel this way sometimes, but I’m better at letting it go now. So yeah, balance and positive mental health are very important to avoid burnout.
If there was something that you can make a reality in esports, what would that be?
Because esports communities are so online-based and often physically far away from each other — many people don’t feel responsible for what they put out into the community, what they say. So I would like to somehow work on and improve this behaviour, to show people that it’s not okay to just randomly send your aggression to someone.
And this isn’t just esports, to be honest, I think it’s about all social media behaviour in general — some people just are toxic and never think about how their behaviour can hurt someone. I would like
to see people respect each other more than they sometimes do and generally improve the industry’s online behaviour.
The Esports Journal: Could you tell me a little bit about yourself and what you’re working on at the moment? Karina Ziminaite: I’ll try to make a very long story short. I originally come from Lithuania where I started my professional career as a journalist. At the end of 2013, I moved to Germany for my master’s degree in International Journalism and Media. After defending my thesis on esports in mainstream media, I worked for Freaks 4U Gaming doing video interviews for what is today the LEC, among other things.
And then I joined G2 Esports, which has been an incredible journey. I was there for four-and-a-half-years, built the content team — I guess it’s fair to say — into the powerhouse it is today. Then I realised that four-and-a-half-years is a very long time in esports and I still have so many ideas and things I wanted to do and avenues I wanted to explore.
I decided to leave G2 on a high note at the end of 2021 and after a few job interviews, I discovered there’s quite a big gap in knowledge in the scene and decided to start my own thing. I’m currently part-time consulting while working on co-creating an agency with a couple of very well-known and highprofile people from the esports world. So I’m very excited to break the news sometime soon.
If you could call a trait that you possess ‘a superpower’, what would it be and why do you think that is? I think it’s making things happen. I don’t really like to take no for an answer — I feel like there’s always a way and I think part of the reason why I’ve been so good at my job, historically, is because I never back down and always find a way.
I’m not sure if you could call ‘make it happen’ a mantra, but it’s always been something that I’ve been able to achieve that I’m very proud of because it is very difficult. Sometimes you don’t have the time, sometimes you don’t have the resources, but figuring the way out or around has been something of my strengths. I guess that counts as a superpower. I’m definitely not invisible.
So what would your biggest inspiration be?
I can say for sure that my biggest inspirations through my professional life have been women in senior management positions or my direct supervisors and my bosses. I’ve been incredibly lucky to have at least three of them and some in parallel departments with incredible negotiation skills. Great at giving feedback and strict but also sensitive.
And for me, watching people like this work and do incredibly well has made me strive for the same success and has been very helpful and important also for me developing as a manager and as a leader.
If you could make one thing a reality in the esports industry, what would it be? There’s so many things that I’d like to… not fix, but make better. In general, it would be to make the industry more balanced. There’s so many young people working in the industry and a lot of them don’t have any pre-existing knowledge or guidance on how to work. They get
Former Head of Content G2 Esports CREDIT: Antoni Lagemann
sort of thrown in the deep end and while they have the passion and the drive, the industry is very intense. And if you’re not prepared, with your whole body in the water, then at some point you just start drowning because there’s too much going on and that’s why we see people burning out.
So if I had the power, I would create some sort of mandatory better work-life balance — not just about setting working hours — but focusing on working smarter not more. For that, we need people who can make others efficient or can teach them to work because while it’s possible to figure it out for yourself, it takes a very long time. You cannot expect people in a year’s time to just start doing better without any guidance.
ESJ: How do you see yourself impacting the esports industry over the next five years?
I don’t want to give too much information just yet, but as I said, I decided to build an agency with a couple of equal partners, and the vision that we want to embody is work smarter, not more.
We want to offer a really good product and high-level service while being picky at what we do to keep standards extremely high. We’re creating this culture both for ourselves and for people who are eventually going to work for or with us — to have creative freedom, the ability to make decisions, have good mentors, and also have autonomy.
We believe in leading the change in the industry by practising what we preach ourselves. We want to create something that makes us happy, what makes the best product, and inspires others with our results.
Esports. I’ve just finished my degree in Journalism, First-Class from the University of Worcester. The main thing I work on is creating content, both written and video as well as a podcast every few weeks — though I learned quite early on in my degree that I much prefer written content.
Do you have any side projects or passions?
The main thing I’m focusing on is inclusivity in esports, in general. I’ve previously and am currently working on quite a few projects and collaborations in the area of people with disabilities in esports. I’m a wheelchair user myself. Working with British Esports I’ve helped try to get more people with disabilities into the scene and show that there’s a way that people can get involved regardless of any barriers that they might have in their personal life.
At British Esports’ Student Champs Grand Finals, we ran a show match for some quite severely-disabled students to feel empowered to come on the stage, play in front of a crowd, and [they] absolutely loved every minute of it. To feel like they’re not different and that they’re able to do anything they set their mind to — that was really a high point over the last few weeks.
What would you say is your unique superpower?
I think mine would definitely be resilience in that I’ve had so much thrown at me forever, but I’ve managed to crack on and do it and get where I want to be. Nothing has stopped me. And I say I’ve reached the point now where I’m happy with where I’ve managed to push myself and I’m using that sort of passion within me to help other people.
Could you please tell me about yourself a little bit and what you’re working on? Bryony-Hope Green: I’m the newly appointed Content Manager for British
Could you share an example that sticks out?
I had quite an extensive spine surgery last year, and that was slap bang in the middle of my studies while also being part time with British Esports. And that was very much: ‘Right. I need to put myself first but also my passions up there as well. Yes, I might be in agony and stuck in bed for however long and not being able to do much, but I will sit there and I will work my butt off to finish my degree with great grades and do as much high quality work as possible.’
I think that stands out the most for me because I didn’t let this stop me from getting where I wanted to be. And now I’m in the place where I want to be, so it paid off.
If you can make one thing reality in the industry, what would it be? More open esports tournaments. I’m a firm non-believer in female-only tournaments. Just let anyone enter and play. That’s just where my mind stands, that there are people with disabilities who are insane players and would fare perfectly well in a Major. And the same having female-only tournaments, I view it as sort of segregating people. I want there to be a way that anyone who qualifies and is good enough can go and play regardless of who they are, their background, or their ability physically.
I do see the positives in having ‘segregated tournaments’ in that these communities are a lot nicer on their own because I mean, the levels of toxicity in
Bryony-Hope Green Content Manager British Esports the Majors still exist — it seems a bit problematic for opening up to everyone. But I think those events should just be that stepping stone to
get into esports and that you shouldn’t be confined to a female-only or disabledonly team for the rest of your life.
You should be able to go and do and play with who you wish. So, okay, I see the positives of the segregated tournaments, but I think I would like to see an industry that pushes past that and tackles that toxicity to make the whole industry a safer space.
Can you tell me a bit about yourself?
Karen Low: I am a communications professional with somewhere between 15 -20 years experience — I’ve kind of lost count, which I’m happy about because I don’t know if I want to continue counting [laughs]. I’ve worked in video games pretty much all my career.
My first client was Sega way back when and I just loved the industry so much. I think it’s the people you meet and the work that you get to do and the fact that you can’t really take work seriously because we work in such an amazingly fun environment. I was also spellbound by the speed at which the industry was evolving — only really comparable with the mobile industry in my opinion. I’ve previously worked in-house at places like Activision and at PR agencies for PlayStation and Xbox and that’s I guess what led me to The Story Mob.
I’ve been here for about a year-anda-half now. Opened up the UK office mid-pandemic. Didn’t meet Anna [Rozwandowicz] in person for the first year — my boss and Founder & Co-CEO of the company — but we’ve grown the UK team to eight in that time.
Do you have any side projects or passions on top of what you have on your plate?
Yeah, I get restless. I remember a time just before I joined The Mob, I was put on furlough. I did a marketing diploma plus the rest of my furloughed team
and I were doing free PR for a tonne of companies struggling during the pandemic, mostly because I couldn’t sit still. And most recently, I was planning a wedding [laughs].
Now that we’ve [The Story Mob] just gone down to a four-day week, I’ve got an extra day to kind of play around with and I’m trying to determine what I want to do next. Because I do like to try and find new things to keep these cogs a-whirring. I want to always be learning how else I can continue to think smart, be an incredible leader and help grow this business.
So while you have those cogs going, what then would you say is your superpower and why?
Tenacity absolutely, 100 percent. I have a competitive spirit, which I think is a kind of a side-superpower to my tenacity. I don’t give up easily on anything. I can hit a roadblock and I’ll find a way around it. I’m really determined. And if I set my mind on something, I’m going to get there, even if it takes me longer than anyone else, even if it’s not a shortcut.
I went to university for a year, but it just wasn’t the right fit for me so I didn’t get a degree. But — my husband laughs at this — I’ve got something called a ‘National Record of Achievement’ which in Britain we have to fill in at school at age 16. I wrote that I wanted to work in PR… Like who at 16 writes that and then ends up doing that? [laughs] And so I guess this reverts back to my tenacity.
Do you have an inspiration that drives your tenacity?
That’s my mum. My mum is my hero. She said to me, “You should always follow your dreams, because if you don’t try it, you’ll never know.” She’s always been an advocate for dreaming big and not holding back. I also inherited her work ethic.
She was a 15-year-old encouraged to leave school without any qualifications, but that wasn’t enough for her. She wanted to achieve things. I’ve seen her open up a hair & beauty salon, train as an IT teacher in her 40s. Now she works with the NHS training doctors and nurses.
If there was ever a godlike person, it’s my mum. She’s the one that spurs me on, she’s the one that makes me want to be a better version of myself. And I just want to make her proud of everything I’ve done as a thank you for all the support she’s given me in my life because she’s an incredible mother.
What do you hope to contribute to the industry for the next five years?
My biggest thing at the minute is my team, I want to be there for them. I want to help shape their futures, help develop their talents and make sure that they develop as individuals. I know that they’re not going to work at The Story Mob forever. I would love it, but I know they won’t.
I really want to make sure that they feel like they’re better versions of themselves when they close the door on their chapter of The Story Mob. For me, it’s about being able to professionalise individuals within esports.
‘Esports communications’ was a relatively new thing when Anna & Nicola [Piggot] set up this agency. Now we have the chance to be able to grow that further and use the passion and desire that these individuals have for esports and gaming in concert to increase the amount of people that do this within the industry.
Karen Low Director of Communications - EMEA The Story Mob
A culture of Performance
Improving company culture through esports
AUTHOR Victor Frascarelli @vitaofrasca
€1.2m (~£1.0m) is a lot for a nonendemic company to spend on an esports arena. It’s even more to spend on an esports arena for company use only. But Teleperformance, a global customer experience company, has done just that.
Teleperformance is taking a different approach to how it employs esports
in the office. In most non-endemic companies, esports is a marketing tool; for Teleperformance, it’s a recruitment tool.
Esports is based on strategy, cooperation and resilience. Such attributes are highly valued in the corporate world, and many of today’s professionals grew up amidst the boom
of the gaming industry. Companies around the world are slowly realising that, and have started using esports to integrate employees and improve internal culture.
In 2021, trading firm IMC Trading partnered with Team Liquid after finding 90% of its successful new hires listed gaming as a personal hobby. Similarly,
Teleperformance — a corporation operating in 88 countries, serving 170 markets and with over 420,000 employees — has a lot to gain.
Augusto Reyes, CEO of Teleperformance Portugal, told The Esports Journal that esports was already part of the company’s internal culture. “We have been involved with esports for quite a while, but in a ‘humble’ way, making internal tournaments, this kind of thing.
“This is something endemic in our culture because, when you look at our own employees, in Brazil, Spain, Portugal, Colombia, a big part of them are millennials, either gamers or gaming enthusiasts,” he said. “Even people from other generations have kids that like video games. So I think we have the right combination: the people that are playing and the people who want to be associated with games and understand what their kids are doing.”
According to Reyes, Teleperformance acknowledged that the gaming industry was receiving considerable attention from its current employees, who had started watching esports competitions and content creators on streaming platforms. Even more importantly, potential hires were also consuming such content. Since Teleperformance also provides services to companies in the gaming industry, investing in esports became a no-brainer.
“When something is good for your employees, to attract new employees, and for your clients, it is good for the company,” said Reyes.
The venue in Portugal marked a landmark shift from the company’s previous ‘humble’ approach to esports. Reyes explained that Teleperformance Portugal started with the idea of organising tournaments in the same way the company did in other countries. But
then he grew ambitious. “If we are going to do this, we do it big, and we do it right.”
The concept behind the €1.2m venue was to build ‘a professional place’, according to Reyes. “A place where our employees would want to go, but also a place where our clients would want to go. And when you have clients that have been in the gaming industry for so many years, every detail needs to be way above the average.”
The space, which boasts infrastructure for hosting and streaming matches the size of MIBR vs. OG Esports — its opening event — will host competitions between teams formed by Teleperformance’s employees from Portugal and from other units around the world. It will also feature tournaments with teams from outside the company, but has opted against renting the venue out to third parties.
“We are not doing this to actually get profit out of it — it is an investment in our employees, a place to engage them,” Reyes said, though caveated that clients would also benefit. “Maybe there are some clients that will want to start a new project or launch a new game there, and that’s perfectly fine, that is something we can easily do.”
The choice of Portugal as the host of Teleperformance’s first esports arena is largely due to the fact that most of the company’s clients are in the gaming industry, but also because it comprises one of the most multicultural units in the company.
There are 13,000 Teleperformance employees in Portugal, but Reyes
voiced the will to widen the project to all 420,000 employees. Other similar projects are being developed worldwide, with the US., Brazil and China all in line. But the next to receive an arena, chosen for similar reasons as Portugal, has already been decided as Colombia.
The Teleperformance venue is the latest in a line of dedicated esports arenas opening around the globe, but it’s different from the rest. It’s not seeking to monetise fans or run a profit off tournaments; the space is, first and foremost, for its employees.
It is a demonstration of just how culturally relevant esports is becoming to the new generation entering the workforce. Forget ping pong tables or snack bars — for Teleperformance, esports is the new office attraction.
“We are doing this for our people, for our culture, for our DNA. I saw some messages on social media channels saying that ‘the media communication [of the venue] was not great’. Of course, because we are not doing this for marketing.
“The most important thing is that our own employees know what we are doing — and that people in the gaming industry know that we are getting closer to them.”
Augusto Reyes CEO Teleperformance Portugal
51 51 CULTURE
ISFE: Why esports should not be regulated as sport
It’s an age-old debate
AUTHOR Tom Daniels @TheTomDaniels
Ever since its inception, esports has been repeatedly compared to traditional spectator sports such as football or tennis. The comparison is frequently used as a lens for understanding esports, translating a hard-to-grasp concept into a popular one, building understanding and legitimacy for those unfamiliar with esports.
However, while there are similarities — both are skill-based competitive
endeavours that captivate and entertain crowds — the comparison is more nuanced than this and can also be its downfall, most noticeably when shifting guidelines and regulations from sports to esports.
The Interactive Software Federation of Europe (ISFE) represents the interests of the European video games industry. Due to the rising popularity of esports, the trade body launched a separate division, ISFE Esports, in 2019 to align
stakeholders and esports policy across Europe. ISFE looks to coordinate and articulate the voice of the sector whilst sharing best practices and raising awareness of esports and its opportunities.
As an industry body, one topic in particular that has concerned ISFE is the looming spectre of governments defining esports as a sport.
CREDIT: Kirill Bashkirov - LVP Liga de Videojuegos Profesional - Tenerife
This idea is not new, Some governments have already taken the plunge and assigned sport status to esports — most notably Russia and Turkey. However, the conversation gained momentum during the COVID-19 pandemic, when sporting events were cancelled and the sport & entertainment sector turned to esports as the answer.
“The pandemic saw esports entering the public consciousness for the first time for many people,” Sergi Mesonero, Head of ISFE Esports, told The Esports Journal.
“I think that has been noticed by decisionmakers and policymakers and that’s why we are speaking about this now.”
Why is the subject of esports being recognised as a sport controversial — particularly if it helps esports gain legitimacy and aids understanding?
According to Mesonero, integration into sport laws and regulations could create a legal nightmare for esports’ inherently digital and global nature, particularly problematic in countries where the political sphere has a big say in sports.
“There are countries where sport regulation is relatively light — like in Finland or in Germany — and there are other countries where regulation is heavy, for example, Italy, France and Spain” Mesonero explained. “If we’re talking about a more aggregated approach at the European level, the classification of esports as a sport would mean the sector would face regulatory fragmentation.”
National regulatory frameworks for sports vary hugely. As such, Mesonero stated that if esports were to be integrated into existing regulations, becoming recognised as a sport as a result, European operators would face vastly different laws in every country — fragmenting the market.
In particular, Mesonero said he worries about the potential impact this could
have on tournament operators and esports organisations. Especially in Europe, where the esports ecosystem is principally comprised of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), tournament organisers and team organisations.
“These enterprises will see new barriers to operate transnationally and will face different legal situations in different countries,” Mesonero argued. “SMEs do not have the resources to protect themselves against regulatory changes
procure a visa for travel into Sweden for the event would be denied.
It’s important to note that this situation was largely impacted by COVID regulations at the time. However, player visa issues have dogged the esports industry for years. Being recognised as a sport across multiple countries could ease such headaches, and other logistical hurdles that tournament operators must face — although it’s not the only route to improving visa access. “Germany has eased the visa conditions for professional esports players without resorting to sport classification,” Mesonero added.
Furthermore, gaining recognition or being classified as a sport could open up opportunities to support the ecosystem through education or by funding nonprofit esports organisations.
and regulatory barriers so they are most likely to be the most affected”. This, Mesonero highlighted, would likely affect the attractiveness of esports in Europe. Regulatory hurdles mean investments could become harder to raise.
However, there are some problems that could be solved by official governmental recognition of esports, too. Just one recent example of where recognition could have benefited the esports sector was Sweden’s decision to not host Dota 2’s The International last year.
The Swedish Sports Federation voted to decline esports’ entry into the federation. The International was not qualified as an ‘elite sporting event,’ meaning that anyone attempting to
Head ISFE Sports
Nevertheless, lying in this path is perhaps the biggest drawback to esports’ recognition as a sport. Esports’ life source runs through privately owned entities, whereas sports are inherently in the public domain. Nobody owns the sport of football. Yet, every esports title has a publisher and company in tight control of their IP.
“The owners of intellectual property rights have a lot of control [over] their product, legitimate control” said Mesonero. “Without intellectual property rights, you cannot develop video games. If you cannot develop video games, you cannot develop competitions with video games which means you cannot develop esports.”
As such, for the recognition of esports as sport to be beneficial, governments would need to collaborate with publishers in order to identify proper regulations that would apply separately to the intricacies of esports, rather than fit existing moulds. Mesonero posited that this would be very difficult, as it would mean altering sporting regulations across a variety of countries.
“Because of the specificities of the sport sector, especially in Europe where it’s organised around non-profit organisations and very pyramidal structures, the[re are] clubs and federation’s from local to regional, national, continental or international federations for every sport. But it’s the complete opposite for esports. It’s a very
different and complex ecosystem that is based on companies and contracts between companies and consumers.”
The fact that these esports titles are owned by private entities also means that applying similar sports regulations to esports could be a nightmare due to the games’ ever-changing landscapes. Some titles are not distributed in certain territories for commercial, cultural or infrastructure reasons. Most are regularly updated, with the possibility of changing how the entire game is played. It’s very rare for sports to go through this level of adaptation, meaning that from a regulatory standpoint it is easier to manage.
Riot Games’ Senior Director of Esports in EMEA, and ISFE Esports’ Co-chair, Alberto Guerrero, emphasised this inherent issue to The Esports Journal. He explained: “It should be emphasised that esports aren’t one singular activity. The landscape today comprises dozens upon dozens of games, all highly unique.
“Not only are esports played on multiple platforms (PC, console, mobile), but even
two games of the same genre can feature vastly different rulesets and gameplay elements. As well as requiring constant reworking and balancing, successful competitive video games only thrive with consistent community management and player support.”
Despite the issues addressed by the Head of ISFE Esports, conversations are already ongoing regarding regulation’s place within esports. At the end of the day, esports has simply grown to a size where it’s finding it hard to avoid conversations around regulation. By merging with sports, though, it could also lead to further headaches regarding the current regulations that the sector abides by.
In Europe, video games and esports are regulated under consumer and minor protection laws, consumer contract laws, IP laws, taxation and company laws, and much more. This is at both European and national levels. Alongside that, there are several layers of selfregulation.
“At the foundational level, there are self and co-regulatory programmes established by the video games industry such as age ratings (PEGI, ESRB, IARC),” said Mesonero. “These complement existing legislation. In addition, a second level of rulesets and codes of conduct are applied by tournament operators and teams, and initiatives such as the Louvre Agreement or the Esports Integrity Commission are situated at the third level.”
Instead of awkwardly trying to slot esports into existing definitions and regulations of sport, it’s clear that any regulation of esports would need to be tailor-made for the industry, according to Mesonero. “I don’t think specific regulation is needed right now, considering the sector is still evolving. But when needed, we’ll strongly defend
the idea that regulation should be at the European level or higher.
“[The more] we can manage that these regulations are aligned with the rest of the world, the better, because at the end of the day, we are working in a very transnational market and a very techheavy market.”
Riot’s Guerrero also raised the point that esports is still in its youth, meaning that the companies that are producing games that go on to become esports titles are still trying to figure out their responsibility. He said: “Precedents are still being set in terms of what role a publisher/developer can and should play in maturing an esports title, the unique resources they can commit, and how the standards they set for competitions can become industry practice.”
The final point to make is perhaps the most important. Does esports even need to be recognised as a sport? If so, why?
Some would argue that being recognised by governments and integrated into sports provides legitimacy. However, events like the SEA Games — which added esports as an official medal event — prove that the industry is already forging its own way towards legitimacy without the helping hand of official recognition.
For Mesonero, esports shouldn’t be integrated into sports. Instead it should have the same relevance and importance that sport has. “20 years ago, we were saying that esports was going to be the sport of the 21st century, similar to when people said cinema was the theatre of the 20th century,” he said. “Cinema did not kill theatre, but did match its cultural and economic relevance.”
Alberto Guerrero Sr. Director of Esports, EMEA Riot Games
20 years on, as esports settles into a space where it co-exists with sports — and increasingly rivals its viewership figures — the industry is attracting unignorable attention from regulators. According to ISFE, it is imperative that policymakers don’t shoehorn esports into sports in the process.
CREDIT: The Overwatch League LLC
PGL CEO Silviu Stroie on staying independent in 2022
Keeping Esports Independent Ivan Šimić
GL is a name dearly familiar to FPS and MOBA fans alike.
The Bucharest-born company is making more headlines than ever before in its twenty-something year history, thanks to its hosting of two consecutive CS:GO Majors on top of The International.
Silviu Stroie, CEO of PGL, sat down with Esports Insider in the days leading up to
PGL’s highly-anticipated 2022 Antwerp CS:GO Major, which came to a close in late May. Stroie has been at the helm of PGL since the early 2000’s, and has also held various leadership positions at the International Esports Federation (IESF).
Having left esports association work firmly and emphatically behind, Stroie is now fully focused on the challenges and opportunities of PGL, one of the largest
remaining independent tournament organisers in the industry.
ONE OF THE FEW
According to Stroie, after ESL and FACEIT were bought by Savvy Gaming Group in early 2022, PGL remained one of the few tournament organisers (TO’s) in esports that has not received investments, has bootstrapped from the ground up, and is still privately owned.
In the late nineties, Romania saw an internet revolution of sorts, with a country-wide shift to fibre optic internet that now sees the country boast impressive metrics for internet speed. The small land mass and relatively low
Silviu Stroie CEO
number of people, together with the shift towards fast internet, also fueled a rise in internet cafes where people played competitive games.
In the early days, a group of people that would eventually go on to form PGL tried to organise tournaments to take advantage of the new boom in gaming.
Things snowballed from there.
“I think we gave up on all of our initial dreams and goals in 2012,” Stroie told Esports Insider. “We realised that we have to do something on a much larger, global scale, and now we’re at a position where we can deliver broadcasts and events around the world. This is what we started working on in 2013 or 2014, and we have been doing that every year since.”
Three decades of industry experience have equipped Stroie with three main takeaways, he said. First, esports has become globally popular, which was not the case in the late nineties. Second, the most important thing you can do to thrive in the esports industry is to deliver on time and build relationships based on trust. The third and final
lesson, is that there is always time to learn and be humble.
FED UP WITH FEDERATIONS
Stroie spent almost a decade at the International Esports Federation (IESF).
Starting as a country representative in 2009, he left the position of President in 2019, deciding his time was better served focusing on his own company.
“I actually stopped believing that esports on a national level is something that will ever take place. Because in my entire career, there have been very few teams that can put together a team based on nationality,” Stroie said, a controversial claim but one served well by FaZe Clan’s international roster winning PGL’s own CS:GO Antwerp Major in May.
“Right now, all the big teams, regardless of the game, they are formed of people from various countries. We’re in a digital world, and I gave up on the idea of having just players from this or that country and so on.”
Stroie met a lot of people trying to make that happen in his career. Most of them
did not understand esports, he said, and claimed they had ulterior motives for their participation in esports federations and associations.
“I don’t think esports federations have a future. Not now, not in five years, and not in 10 years,” Stroie remarked before contentiously adding that, in his opinion, around 90% of people tied to organisations are “not doing anything besides meeting and signing memorandums and taking pictures.”
A controversial stance, but Stroie’s lengthy tenure with the IESF carries a certain weight. The largest gripe with the federations for Stroie comes from the fact that he did not see enough actual work done. The issue for him is that many people who participate in associations, in his opinion, are simply inexperienced and are not contributing in a meaningful way.
“Everybody is looking for an angle, how to control this and put in place some kind of licence fee for companies like PGL and others. There are already a couple countries in which this will happen, which
is very surprising to me. I don’t think this has any future, because at the end of the day — power stays with publishers and not with a local body from a country that is going to say ‘if you want this, you have to come to me and get my licence’. It doesn’t work like that.”
IS CONSOLIDATION UNAVOIDABLE?
With Stroie’s diatribe against esports federations out of the way, the conversation switched to the elephant in the room: consolidations in esports.
“There has been this massive consolidation in the [esports] world and now I don’t think there are more than five big organisers,” said Stroie. In his opinion, there are perhaps three to four big names that can deliver large events anywhere in the world — and that number will likely be reduced further.
“I strongly believe that this consolidation is going to grow even more. My prediction is that by 2025 there are going to be three or four giant groups on a global level. We see the first being formed in Saudi Arabia,
we see VSPN in China accumulating a lot of resources. My expectation is that there is going to be at least one or two other giant groups in Europe or North America.”
Tournament organisers are facing one of a couple options, according to Stroie: get bought, go bankrupt, or consolidate. PGL, on the other hand, emphasised independence as a key factor, in part thanks to the company’s supposed profitability.
“We are, I strongly believe, and anybody can look into it, the only tournament organiser that is highly profitable, while pretty much everybody else on the market has losses, historical debts, loans and so on. This puts us in a place where we’re, as the Americans say, very agile.”
TRENDS COME AND GO, BUT DUE DILIGENCE REMAINS
Key to this ‘agility’ Stroie claims to possess is the ability to pick and choose the market trends worth joining. Stroie sees cryptocurrency as something of a third wave of esports partnerships.
First came marketplaces like G2A and Kinguin. After them, the next big hit was betting companies like LOOT.BET. Cryptocurrencies are the third. He told Esports Insider there’s definitely ‘a place for it’ [crypto] in the industry, but expressed caution about relying too heavily on fleeting trends.
PGL itself has made a deal with the decentralised devil before — it partnered with Bitget for the PGL Major Antwerp 2022 and PGL Dota Major Arlington 2022. Stroie, though, said the difference is doing your due diligence and making sure your partners are not located in a ‘strange jurisdiction’, sage advice in the wake of Astralis’ Roobet fallout.
“We’d rather lose revenue than get in bed with companies that are not legitimate,” Stroie concluded. In a way, that attitude sums up lots about Stroie, and PGL more broadly; wary, not afraid to speak its mind, and fiercely independent at a time of unprecedented consolidation of the industry.
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