2015 looked set to be a big year for eSports, but on many accounts it ended up being somewhat larger than many anticipated. Viewer numbers increased, both live and online, with 36 million tuning into the League of Legends World Championship final whilst tournament prize pools also grew.
Major media outlets realised the potential of eSports in the form of ESPN, the BBC and more, whilst Unikrn introduced a competitive integrity certification program for the industry spearheaded by eSports lawyer Bryce Blum. High profile figures invested in various companies operating in the field from NFL star Russell Okung in Matcherino, to Ashton Kutcher in aforementioned Unikrn.
Published in October 2015 the latest Superdata eSports figures indicated its market worth to be around $747m (£504.5m), with 188 million viewers worldwide. Predictions for the total market worth by 2018 are $1.9bn (£1.28bn) with additional revenue expected from betting sites and amateur tournaments.
Here we recap some of the 2015’s key business moments in eSports in chronological order.
The company Global eSports Management was bought by renowned talent agency WME-IMG. Tobias Sherman and Min-Sik Ko co-founded the firm in 2013 and made the move over to WME-IMG. Signed onto Global eSports Management are brands including Cloud9, SK Gaming and Dignitas as well as famous figures such as Carlos ‘Ocelote’ Rodriguez and Christopher ‘MonteCristo’ Mykles.
WME-IMG Chief Operating Officer Jason Lublin said of the deal: “Toby, Min-Sik and the team bring unparalleled industry knowledge and an entrepreneurial spirit to our world-class digital talent offering. We see tremendous growth and opportunity in the eSports space, and we’re excited to bring this expertise in-house.”
In the same month technology firm HTC sealed sponsorship deals with three eSports teams; Cloud9, Team SoloMid and Team Liquid.
Gaming industry media outlet MCV launched a new service called eSports Pro in a bid to create a space featuring the latest and greatest competitive gaming news in one place. It profiles the leading names and companies in the growing industry, alongside featuring the latest industry news.
The world’s first eSports dedicated arena opened its doors in Fulham in March. The Gfinity Arena in association with Vue Cinemas seats over 600 gaming fans and featured tournaments with prize pools regularly in excess of $10,000 (£6,700).
March was also the month that saw the release of Vice’s documentary on eSports and gaming culture; ‘The Celebrity Millionaires of Competitive Gaming.’
Gfinity signed a two year deal with Rupert Murdoch’s News UK. The commercial partnership was agreed, and The Sun became the title sponsor of the Gfinity UK Championship Series. Priority ticket purchases were also made available to readers of the paper.
Mike Darcey, Chief Executive of News UK said: “Through our new partnership with Gfinity, we are proud to have become the first newspaper group to break into the expanding eSports market.”
Also in May, fantasy eSports betting firm AlphaDraft secured $5m (£3.37m) worth of capital investment.
Following a failure to acquire streaming service Twitch in 2014, Google and Youtube announced the forthcoming launch of their own service for gamers; Youtube Gaming. This went live in the summer and is a direct competitor to Amazon owned Twitch.
Dojo Madness, an eSports startup gained £1.47m in seed investment. This is a company which produces analytical tools to aid and improve player performance within eSports. Amongst the founders of the Berlin firm is Jens Hilgers, founder and chairman of Turtle Entertainment and ESL.
Swedish media corporation MTG acquired a controlling stake in Turtle Entertainment GmbH, the parent company of eSports event organiser and broadcaster ESL.
Ralf Reichert, CEO at ESL, said of the deal: “When we founded ESL 15 years ago, our goal was to bring esports to fans all around the world and establish it as a global sport. Today esports enjoys worldwide recognition and now, together with MTG, it is time to bring esports to the next level.”
Keep an eye out for the upcoming part two of the SBC 2015 eSports report.