A number of trends in recent months have been moving the e-sports industry, including the licensing component, forward:
- Big sports licensees are doing deals. It was not that long ago that the first mainstream sports licensees joined e-sports specialists in doing deals with teams, leagues, and players. Since then, the floodgates seem to be opening. Puma recently signed on to market fan apparel for most of Cloud9’s teams; it already supplies the organization with game-day apparel and footwear. Fila became the official apparel provider for Counter Logic Gaming’s Fortnite team, marking the licensee’s first entry into e-sports. Kids’ licensee Outerstuff partnered with Misfits Gaming for an e-sports apparel joint venture, starting with Misfits Gaming and Florida Mayhem branded goods. And Nike created uniforms for Furia’s Counter Strike: Global Offensive team as the first step in a four-year deal with Furia. Nike previously entered e-sports by pairing with the Chinese League of Legends Pro League (LPL).
- There is more diversification in the sports entities entering the business. Teams in the five U.S. pro sports leagues and international soccer/football clubs have been established in the e-sports segment for some time, and now entities from other sports are dipping their toes in every day. Some recent examples include the PGA European Tour launching its first e-sports competition in partnership with Dreamhack, centered around the online game World Golf Tour; the England and Wales Cricket Board pairing with Strive, a sponsorship company, to assess its potential for e-sports participation; and the New Zealand-based Vodafone Warriors, which play in the Australian National Rugby League, teaming with Blank Esports to rebrand the latter’s Overwatch Contenders team as Warrior Esports. These ventures represent a way for the sports entities to create a new revenue stream, attract nontraditional and often younger fans to the core sport, and create new licensing opportunities.
- Entertainment companies are making official moves into e-sports. Studios and other entities tied to the entertainment industry have increasingly benefitted financially and in other ways from their direct or indirect participation in e-sports. Two companies that have recently made high profile moves in this market include Nickelodeon and Hasbro. The former launched an amateur e-sports platform for children called NickX, which involves mobile gaming titles, through a partnership its parent company’s Viacom Africa division has with Emerge Gaming. Meanwhile, Hasbro and its Wizards of the Coast division, which has long reported benefits from e-sports ventures involving the Magic: The Gathering franchise, launched a new Magic Pro League. The league’s Mythic Championships encompass both digital play, focused on Wizards’ digital platform, Magic: The Gathering Arena, and tabletop play. In licensing terms, the IP associated with these e-sports platforms could open new avenues for licensing in apparel and footwear, gaming accessories, and the like.
- Consolidation is creating bigger players. Typically an indicator of a maturing market, mergers and acquisitions have hit the e-sports segment in recent months, as leading team owners purchase smaller club proprietors. Immortals Gaming Club acquired Infinite Esports and its Optic Gaming franchises for $100 million, giving it access to teams in leagues where it has not been present to date. Cooldown Ventures bought WeGotGame, giving it control over U.K.-based Vexed Gaming and the French organization eFrog. Enthusiast Gaming merged with Aquilini GameCo and its Luminosity Gaming operation; the two together now oversee a total of seven e-sports teams, along with managing a roster of influencers, gaming websites, and social media channels. Merged entities such as these, which can offer a broader portfolio of properties, will likely be attractive to licensees.
All of these developments are indicators of a more sophisticated e-sports industry that is, after a long build-up, starting to gain some serious traction within the world of licensed products.