This year in esports: Investments, sponsorships and deals in 2019

2019 is all but over and you’d be mistaken to think that it wasn’t another big year in the esports industry. With some of the biggest non-endemic brands getting involved and astronomically-valued investment rounds being closed, it’s sometimes helpful to take a step back to truly appreciate what’s occurred.

With that in mind, we’ve picked what we deem to be the biggest, or most important, story from each month in 2019 to look back over the monumental year that esports has had.

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January

Team Liquid adds Honda as official automotive sponsor

Team Liquid Honda Vehicles
Photo credit: Team Liquid

In January, Team Liquid announced Honda as its official vehicle and official automotive sponsor.

The organisation’s LCS team jersey featured Honda’s logo and the roster had a fleet of branded Honda Civics to drive to and from training. The automotive giant also produced a six-part video series titled ‘Level Up’ which followed the organisation’s rosters in League of Legends, Dota 2, and Fortnite.

Read the full article here.

February

Nike and TJ Sports sign four-year partnership deal for LPL

Nike LPL Branded Uniform
Photo credit: LPL

Nike China and the Chinese League of Legends Pro League (LPL) announced a four-year partnership and later launched team kits for each side.

All of the jerseys had a similar design, with the Nike logo on the right side and a team logo on the chest, but each has its own unique elements. Invictus Gaming, for example, has a gold star above its logo to represent its victory at the World Championship in 2018.

Read the full article here.

March

Complexity Gaming announces GameStop Performance Center

Complexity Gaming GameStop Performance Center
Photo credit: Complexity Gaming

North American organisation Complexity Gaming unveiled the GameStop Performance Center, its 11,000-square-foot headquarters in Frisco, Texas.

The facility has an innovation lab sponsored by Herman Miller, a mind gym in partnership with HyperX and Mamba Soorts Academy, a player lounge sponsored by MillerCoors, and plenty of features for both its professional players and the general public.

Read the full article here.

April

Will Smith invests as Gen.G announce $46m funding round

Photo: Overwatch League

Gen.G esports received a round of funding that saw it raise $46 million (£35 million) from the likes of Will Smith and Japanese soccer player  bac Dreamers Fund.

This was undeniably one of the biggest raises in esports to date and saw major figures from entertainment and traditional sports stake their claim in the industry. While we didn’t see much from Smith about his involvement in Gen.G, his presence alone was enough to open eyes and signal the current state of development that esports is in.

Read the full article here.

May

Turner “Tfue” Tenney files lawsuit against FaZe Clan

Tfue FaZe Clan
Photo credit: FaZe Clan

Professional esports player and personality Turner “Tfue” Tenney filed a lawsuit against his organisation at the time, FaZe Clan – one of the biggest names in gaming and esports – due to what was claimed to be violations of the Californian law and the Talent Agency Act.

The narrative from this case reverberated across the entire esports industry and seeped into the larger entertainment sector, signalling that a change was to come. With organisations big and small looking to get the most from players and personalities, a push for such individuals to enforce fair and mutually-beneficial contracts happened throughout the rest of 2019.

Read the full article here.

June

Immortals officially acquires Infinite Esports & Entertainment

OpTic Gaming Champion Hoodie
Photo credit: OpTic Gaming

Immortals Gaming Club acquired Infinite Esports & Entertainment, the parent company of OpTic Gaming, OpTic League of Legends, and Houston Outlaws.

Significantly, this was a large-scale move that saw a major ownership group in esports acquire what was one of the most popular organisations in the entirety of the industry. With Infinite Esports & Entertainment also owning franchises in two different leagues, this was a unique transaction and marked the end of OpTic Gaming as fans knew it.

Read the full article here.

July

The International 2019 raises largest prize pool in esports history

The International 2019 Prize Pool
Photo credit: Valve

Valve reclaimed the title of running the event with largest prize pool in esports once again with The International 2019, raising a total of $34,330,068 (£25,733,475.67).

While it’s no surprise that TI9 continued the trend of the series topping the previous year’s prize pool, it’s worth noting as Epic Games sprung into the race in 2019. The Fortnite World Cup, the groundbreaking title’s flagship event, boasted a $30 million (£22,487,700) prize pool.

Read the full article here.

August

Riot Games confirms exit of Echo Fox from LCS

Rick Fox Echo Fox
Photo credit: Riot Games

Rick Fox’s separation from Echo Fox was widely publicised and was something most esports fans hadn’t witnessed before: a major figure had encountered struggles with his ownership group partners.

What followed certainly was’t expected earlier in the year: Echo Fox ceased operations, but only after it was revealed that a shareholder used racist remarks. As the organisation failed to oust the shareholder in the allotted 60 days given by Riot Games, the developer sold its spot to Evil Geniuses – indicating that it will indeed part with business partners if needed. This was a major eye-opening incident

Read the full article here.

September

Louis Vuitton partners with League of Legends World Championship

League of Legends Louis Vuitton Clothing
Photo credit: Louis Vuitton

French fashion house and luxury retail company Louis Vuitton collaborated with Riot Games for this year’s League of Legends World Championship.

Not only did the partnership result in a luxurious trophy case, Louis Vuitton designed a high-range clothing collection based on the popular MOBA and a series of in-game skins for select champions. This is the first case of a major fashion brand integrating into the scene in such a big way and potentially signalled a more highbrow segment of the industry being formed.

Read the full article here.

October

MLG co-founders launch esports infrastructure platform Vindex

Vindex launches
Image credit: Vindex

Esports infrastructure platform Vindex was launched with $60 million (£46.6 million) in funding following its Series A round, incorporating production company Next Generation Esports and turnkey operations company Esports Engine.

This was a significant announcement in the world of esports as it marks the reunion of MLG’s founding figures and original employees under a new brand. Seemingly picking up where MLG left off, and then some, we fully anticipate that Vindex and Esports Engine will be some of the biggest names in the events space from 2020 onwards.

Read the full article here.

November

Houston Outlaws acquired by Beasley Media Group

Houston Outlaws President
Photo credit: Overwatch League

Following from the sale of Infinite Esports & Entertainment to Immortals Gaming Club, Beasley Media Group acquired Overwatch League franchise Houston Outlaws.

This was a significant acquisition as it marks the entrance of a new major ownership group into the industry, and is the first instance of an Overwatch League franchise changing ownership since the competition’s inception. With homestand events coming in 2020, the Outlaws will be located in Houston and needs all the support it can get to put on solid events for Overwatch fans and the local Houston market.

Read the full article here.

December

Bilibili reportedly acquires Chinese broadcast rights for LoL Worlds

League of Legends World Championship Bilibili
Photo credit: Riot Games

Live streaming platform Bilibili acquired the exclusive Chinese broadcast rights for the League of Legends World Championship.

Bilibili obtained the rights for three years following a fierce bidding war with competitors DouYu, Huya, and Kuaishou. Reportedly, the deal cost the streaming platform 800 million yuan (£87.2 million) and ushers a new era in esports where platforms are actively auctioning for such rights with titanic amounts of money.

Read the full article here.

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