Why crowdfunding is the backbone of esports

The dream of every esports player is to be successful enough to financially support themselves, while the dream of their fans is, of course, to see them succeed at the highest level.

While we’re slowly coming to an age of esports where many teams and events are now sponsored by big labels like Mountain Dew, Red Bull, Amazon, and Brisk, these sometimes are not enough, especially for lower-tier esports.  Enter: crowdfunding. This is not necessarily a new concept as the early days of esports, and still local events today, tend to function with a team entry fee and the winning team or teams seeing a piece of the pot. As esports has evolved, so has the concept of prize pools and community involvement. With the use of crowdfunding, game communities continue to literally fuel their scene.

The lifeblood of small communities

Crowdfunding as a system is virtually universal. Any tournament organiser, or even game developer, can use it with an endless amount of options. This concept is particularly beneficial for smaller esports communities, professional or amateur. The FGC for example is the pure definition of grassroots esports. FGC tournaments are still primarily crowdfunded as the community is given the opportunity to essentially plan the event the way they choose. Stretch goals put the planning in their hands as certain funding landmarks are reached meaning certain features are added to the tournament such as inviting a specific player or organising show matches.

“Fans want to donate and by not having that mechanic you’re doing a disservice”

As popular and successful as crowdfunding has become, anyone hoping to hold their own event can do so in an organised fashion with services like Matcherino available to the masses. Matcherino is a service that allows anyone to organise a tournament and set up donation options, with the prize winnings distributed accordingly. Matcherino is ideal for tournament organisers, especially outside of professional esports, to set up their own events in a simple and care-free way. Having a service like this available fits perfectly in amateur scenes for players that either can’t excel in the professional scene, or just want some friendly competition. Matcherino CEO Grant Farwell explained that crowdfunding is really a win-win system and essential for all tournaments:  “Fans want to donate and by not having that mechanic you’re doing a disservice. Right now the mentality crowdfunding gets is that it’s a gimmick, I think it’s not. This is a foundation piece in many ways for esports events. You’re harnessing the masses.”

Big developers take note

Crowdfunding, up until recently, has mostly been reserved for LANs at gaming shops, or friends’ houses with an entry fee and the winner, or winners, taking home a piece of the pot. But even the big names wouldn’t be where they are today without the dedication and persistence of their community. One of the most successful uses of crowdfunding a major tournament is by Valve, when they prepared for the third installment of The International for Dota 2 in 2013. The Compendium was introduced as an in-game interactive bundle available for purchase with a portion of the money going to the prize pool. Due to those sales, every year since has garnered the largest esports prize pool in the world. As the professional format was restructured to include Majors, so did the crowdfunding system using Battle Pass instead of the Compendium. Most recently, The International in 2016 had a base prize pool at $1.6 million (£1,234,720) with Battle Pass sales rocketing it to $20.7 million (£15,974,190). You can even track the prize pool progressions at Dota 2 Prize Tracker.

Prize pool statistics from Dota 2’s The International 2016

SMITE is another prime example of major crowdfunding success. Hi-Rez used a similar model for their first World Championship in 2015, boosting the prize pool to over $2 million (£1,543,400), a feat that, at that time, was the third highest prize pool in esports.

While crowdfunding isn’t necessarily a new concept, game developers have started to realise that using this system to fund tournaments can not only put more money in the hands of the players, but back to the companies themselves.

Riot was once a naysayer of crowdfunding, claiming it was akin to “begging” for money from their community. They seem to have had a change of heart, however, as the League of Legends developer recently introduced crowdfunding for their World Championship in 2016. 25% of Championship skins and Wards purchases added to their base prize pool of $2.13 million (£1,643,721). The final prize pool ended at $5.07 million (£3,912,519), meaning Riot pocketed around $8 million (£6,173,600) purely from the skins and ward purchases.

Other developers should pay attention. Not only can crowdfunding help boost their prize pools, but it can bring excellent marketing and they themselves can cash in. Matcherino’s Farwell told ESI that he believes that in the not-so-distant future, all tournament organisers will turn to crowdfunding: “What I think is going to happen is tournament organisers will start to use crowdfunding and the prize pools are going to be much larger than the one that’s not. So everyone that doesn’t like it, or for whatever reason is opposed to it, will essentially be forced to do it anyway. The fact is is that you’re doing these events because these communities want to see these events and support them”. 

The Future

With so much accessibility with services like Matcherino, and major developers like Riot and Valve committed, the sky is truly the limit for crowdfunding. Whether it’s one of the most popular esports in the world, or the amateur scene of a game you’ve never heard of, crowdfunding can and will always be a viable resource. Matcherino CMO Michael Pinkham added that as gaming evolves, so will crowdfunding: “I’m curious to see where crowdfunding takes it. Gaming is obviously developing a lot and when you look at even the most popular games, those are all results of community driven efforts. Given that esports is so community driven, crowdfunding provides an essential element to it.”