This year in esports: Investments, sponsorships and deals in 2018

28 December 2018


2018 is coming to an end but there’s plenty to celebrate in the realm of esports. From high-profile investors entering the industry to non-endemic househould brands getting involved in numerous ways, esports as an industry has been a big draw for many.

Throughout the year we’ve stayed on top of every significant happening and have rounded them up each and every week – we thought we’d do a special round-up to commemorate such an exciting period.

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Team SoloMid parent company receives $37m in funding round

Swift, the parent company of Team SoloMid, raised $37 million (£28.17 million) in a Series A funding round.

The investment included the likes of NBA players Stephen Curry and Andre Iguodala, NFL player Steve Young, and Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang.

Read the full article here.

Former eBay CEO Meg Whitman invests in esports org Immortals

Meg Whitman, former CEO of eBay and Hewlett Packard invested in Immortals LLC, taking a seat on the board of the organisation at the same time.

This was Whitman’s first venture into the industry, but she’s clearly experienced and stated that Immortals has “ambitions to become the first billion dollar esports business”.

Read the full article here.

100 Thieves completes Series A funding round, welcomes Drake and Scooter Braun as co-owners

Drake 100 Thieves

Matthew “Nadeshot” Haag has had an incredible year with his organisation 100 Thieves, and it was topped off wonderfully in October.

World-famous recording artist Drake and entertainment industry heavyweight Scooter Braun both become investors and co-owners of the organisation, joining Nadeshot himself as well as Dan Gilbert, Chairman of the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Read the full article here.

Michael Jordan invests in aXiomatic, Team Liquid’s parent company


In October, Team Liquid’s parent company aXiomatic raised $26 million (£20,293,390) in Series C funding.

New investors in the company notably included NBA Hall of Famer Michael Jordan, Curtis Polk of the Charlotte Hornets, and David Rubenstein of Carlyle Group. Earlier in the year, aXiomatic raised $25 million (£19,507,375) in Series B funding.

Read the full article here.

PlayVS receives $30.5m investment, announces expansion


American high school esports tournament organiser PlayVS received $30.5 million (£23.7 million) in a Series B funding round in November.

Led by Elysian Park Ventures – the investment arm of the Los Angeles Dodgers – the round included new investors such as adidas, Samsung NEXT, Sean “Diddy” Combs, Plexo Capital, and numerous others.

Read the full article here.

Pittsburgh Knights receives investment from Pittsburgh Steelers

Pittsburgh Knights Pittsburgh Steelers

North American organisation Pittsburgh Knights received investment from NFL team Pittsburgh Steelers in December.

Financial details for the deal weren’t disclosed, but the Steelers will be “supporting [Pittsburgh Knights] as much as possible” by utilising its “seasoned experience and unique skill sets”.

Read the full article here.


ESL One Birmingham breaks records with ticket sales


ESL One Birmingham was the first ever Dota 2 Major to be hosted in the United Kingdom, and it acted as solid proof as to why the country deserves to home more events.

Selling over 1,000 tickets in the first five minutes of availability, the tournament was a success in numerous ways and provided plenty of excitement for both people at the Arena Birmingham and at home.

Read the full article here.

Epic Games will provide $100m in prize pools for first year of Fortnite esports

Epic Games Fortnite

Fortnite was undoubtedly the breakout game of the year, and Epic Games wasted little time announcing a competitive push for the Battle Royale title.

The developer pledged $100 million (£74 million) worth of prize money for the 2018-2019 season of the game. Since then, it has hosted seasonal events and is planning a World Cup in 2019.

Read the full article here.

The International 8 has the biggest prize pool in esports

The International 8

Valve ups the ante in terms of prize pool every single year with Dota 2 competition The International, and the eighth version of the tournament continued the tradition.

The culmination of the 2018 Dota Pro Circuit, The International 8 raised a total prize pool of $25,532,177 (£20,131,100.28) through in-game crowdfunding efforts.

Read the full article here.

EA and The Premier league announce ePremier League

ePremier League

One of many instances of traditional sports embracing esports, EA and the Premier League announced the inaugural ePremier League.

Operated by tourament organiser Gfinity, all 20 current Premier League clubs agreed to compete in the FIFA tournament – giving UK-based players a chance to represent huge brands from the world of football.

Read the full article here.

EU LCS rebrands to LEC and reveals final franchise partners

LEC League of Legends European Championship

Riot Games made major changes to its premier European League of Legends competition in November.

Introducing a franchising model, the EU LCS became the LEC as it welcomed 10 long-term partners to the league. The teams that were accepted are: Fnatic, FC Schalke 04, G2 Esports, Misfits Gaming, Splyce, Team Vitality, Origen, exceL Esports, SK Gaming, and Rogue.

Read the full article here.

Sponsorships & Deals

SAP enters esports, sponsors Team Liquid

Software giant SAP entered the industry in April through a sponsorship deal with European organisation Team Liquid.

Entering a three-year agreement, SAP began working with Team Liquid to co-develop software based on in-game data to help analyse performance.

Read the full article here.

Betway and Ninjas in Pyjamas extend partnership with seven figure deal

Betway Ninjas in Pyjamas

The iconic partnership between Betway and Ninjas in Pyjamas was extended in October. The two parties entered a seven-figure, three-year agreement.

Betway’s logo continued to be proudly displayed on NiP’s jerseys and on-site as the organisation’s training facilities. This partnership has spawned incredible content over the last couple of years, and it’ll undoubtedly continue – something esports fans should be thankful for.

Read the full article here.

PayPal partners with Rainbow Six Esports as payment platform

Payment provider PayPal partnered with Ubisoft for the Rainbow Six Pro League and Major events for the 2019 season.

PayPal joined Lenovo Legion and HyperX as key sponsors for Rainbow Six Siege’s esports efforts, which seem to be growing at a very promising rate.

Read the full article here.

Facebook Live to be exclusive broadcast partners of ESL One and ESL Pro League

Quite the controversial move, ESL entered an agreement with Facebook to give the social platform exclusive broadcast rights for its CS:GO Pro League.

This marked an interesting time as one of the biggest websites in the world showed a serious interest in the broadcasting of esports. It has been a bumpy road thus far, but the deal still stands.

Read the full article here.

Blizzard pens Overwatch League broadcast deal with Disney

Overwatch League

Blizzard finalised a broadcasting deal with Disney Entertainment in July, resulting in the Overwatch League playoffs being aired on Disney XD, ESPN, and ABC.

This saw the Overwatch League Grand Finals, which took place at the Barclays Center in New York, being broadcast on numerous major channels that Disney own. The action was still broadcast on Twitch, however.

Read the full article here.

Luckbox awarded top-tier gambling licence

Luckbox was awarded a full licence under the Online Gambling Regulation Act (OGRA) in August, issued by the Gaming Supervision Commissions.

This made the betting operator the first cryptocurrency-supported esports betting platform to receive a top tier gambling license by the Isle of Man government.

Read the full article here.

Mastercard signs global partnership with Riot Games

In September, Mastercard entered a multi-year partnership with League of Legends developer Riot Games.

Becoming the game’s first global sponsor, this move represented Mastercard’s “support of the esports community” and its efforts to “further diversify its world-class sports and entertainment portfolio”.

Read the full article here.

ESL introduced new label Enter Records

Tournament organiser ESL launched its own music label in collaboration with Universal Music in the early part of October: Enter Records.

The multi-year deal also including the integration of music into ESL’s broadcasts and social media efforts, as well as having live performers during its events.

Read the full article here.

Uzi signs endorsement deal with Nike

Uzi Nike

Jian “Uzi” Zihao, a League of Legends player for Chinese organisation Royal Never Give Up, signed an endorsement deal with American sportswear giant Nike.

Uzi appeared in LeBron James’ “Dribble &” campaign alongside Chinese actor Jingting and James himself. This was the first instance of a player signing an endorsement deal with Nike, one of the most popular brands in the world.

Read the full article here.

Overwatch League enters multi-year deal with Fanatics

Overwatch League Fanatics

In December, Blizzard’s Overwatch League entered a multi-year deal with licensed sports merchandise company Fanatics in an effort to ramp up its apparel service.

Starting just in time for the second season of the league, the partnership will see Overwatch League merchandise be created and made available on a dedicated website – as well as on sites inside of Fanatics’ network.

Read the full article here.

ESL and Intel expand partnership through to 2021

ESL Intel

ESL expanded its partnership with technology giant Intel through to 2021, meaning the relationship will last well beyond the 18 years it has currently lasted for.

As part of the new deal, the two parties have intentions to invest over $100 million (£79 million) over the three years – including efforts to expand into the Asia-Pacific region and to “trial new technologies during large-scale tournaments”.

Read the full article here.

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