ESI Super Forum: Esports team ownership – Panel Assessment

12 April 2018


Amongst the plethora of talent and expertise that took to the stage at our ESI Super Forum on March 22n was the five pictured below.

They sat down to discuss esports team ownership in front of an engaged audience. With plenty of sports stakeholders buying stakes in esports teams, we looked at whether it was a good investment and what goes into this decision making.

The panel was comprised of (from left, pictured) Co-founder of Code Red Agency, Ben Woodward, Team Vitality CEO Nicolas Maurer, Method Co-owner Scott “Sco” and Managing Director of exceL Esports, Kieran Holmes-Darby.

Following their introductions, moderator and freelance esports journalist Mike Stubbs asked the question: How do you take an esports team from start up to a commercially stable organisation with its own players and staff?

Holmes-Darby started off the answers, explaining that naturally it all started as a hobby, but “we came across these tournaments that were happening in the UK, and saw that in the UK it was happening quite poorly and not very professionally. We saw a gap in the market for someone to come in and have a bit of business about them and create a team that is sellable and get to a commercially stable position.” As Holmes-Darby stated later, it is important for people getting in to esports to look at it as a business just as much as a passion or marketing ploy.

“Sponsoring a team gives a much more engaging audience”

Mike then asked what the advantages are to brands in sponsoring a team as opposed to a tournament, an area each of our panelists certainly had a vested interest in. Maurer stated that the value will lay within the teams, and if you look at traditional sports “only the top teams really get the value that’s created in esports when it comes to sponsorship rights and investment.”

Sco supported Maurer’s sentiment, saying that although a tournament may provide more reach short-term, “sponsoring a team gives a much more engaging audience”, which is imperative to long-term growth for these brands both endemic and non-endemic.

Mike continued the session by looking at traditional sports teams and their impact on esports, asking the panel: “Do you think that all these big sports teams with loads of money are a good thing for the industry or stunting the growth of endemic organisations?” A loaded question, but one that the panel had a range of experience with, especially with Sco, Holmes-Darby and Maurer all running successful endemic esports teams.

Here, opinions were many and varied. Holmes-Darby stated that though many would think he is against it, he is a huge fan of the involvement of big names providing exposure to esports, though argued that there is “a right way to do it and a wrong way to do it”, reiterating the importance of going about the situation correctly, commending FC Copenhagen’s North on how well they have done to create a natural, organic esports brand.

The panel further discussed the global nature of esports, what sports teams can (and do) achieve in esports and franchising in esports before opening the panel to audience questions. Here, the panelists were asked how to start their organisation without big investment, the dangers of allowing a publisher to control an entire esport and who is expected to invest in tournaments and esports teams in general.

The panelists were very honest in their views, providing information that is incredibly difficult to come by outside of events like these, and the video (as well as those from all other panels) will be available soon to watch in full.