From competing in the League of Legends World Championship grand finals to hoisting the trophy at Rainbow Six Siege’s Six Invitational championship, G2 Esports experienced competitive success across multiple games in 2019.
Fuelled by in-game triumphs, the European organisation experienced considerable growth during the year, as well, signing new partners such as Red Bull and MasterCard and raising more than £21 million in investment. A large chunk of that funding came near the end of the year, as G2 announced a $10 million (£8.07 million) investment from Alibaba Group co-founder and Brooklyn Nets owner Joseph Tsai, which would help fuel the organisation’s plans for global expansion – particularly in New York.
Although tempered by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, G2’s success has continued into the early months of 2020, said Lindsey Eckhouse, the team’s Commercial Director. Esports Insider spoke with Eckhouse – who joined G2 Esports from the NFL at the start of 2019 – about the team’s 2019 growth, New York plans, and their ambitious vision for the future of the organisation.
Esports Insider: How has your first year-plus in esports lived up to your expectations coming into the industry?
Lindsey Eckhouse: I’m not sure I had any expectations, but I would say in general, the industry has been much more welcoming; people have really embraced me coming in as an “outsider” from traditional sports.
I think one of the best things about G2 is how many endemic esports or gaming people we have in the business, and still how open they were to working with me and bringing me up to speed, and helping me learn while also taking onboard some of my different points of view. That has been really surprising.
Beyond that, I would say the overall professionalism in the industry. When I was coming in, everything seemed so “Wild Wild West” and this blank space. While that can be true in certain esports, in a lot of what G2 competes within and with a lot of the teams we field, the level of professionalism is actually a lot higher than I anticipated – in terms of everything from league structure to production of major events and tournaments to how G2 itself has structured itself as a business. I think it is a real testament to the ecosystem and where it is in terms of development.
ESI: Commercially, can you talk a bit about the growth that G2 Esports experienced last year and so far in 2020?
LE: We had a really, really strong 2019. We certainly benefited from a ton of momentum through competitive success that we were able to realise, which was great, and we were able to transform that into out-of-arena/out-of-game results.We welcomed MasterCard, Red Bull, Dominos, and Hdac Technology as new partners. We renewed all of the partnerships that we wanted to renew, and saw 100% renewal rate across the board from where we were looking to renew. From a partnership and sponsorship standpoint, it was really successful. And even beyond that, how we’ve taken that forward into this year – coronavirus tragedy aside – we’ve continued to see success in most of our partnerships. While there’s a lot of businesses being massively affected by everything going on with the pandemic, we’re still seeing our partners really step up with us and activate with us, which is great.
And then from a consumer products or merchandising standpoint, we’ve actually revamped our approach to the landscape and mirrored what you would truly see in traditional sports. We’ve restructured how we deliver our products to the fans and how we structure more of a licensee-style business around that consumer products program. You’ll see much more of that as we go into this year.
ESI: Did G2’s League of Legends success in 2019 have a noticeable impact on that growth?
LE: We certainly benefited from taking advantage of their success from a merchandise and consumer products point of view. We sold Worlds jerseys; unfortunately, we weren’t able to release our “G2 wins Worlds” items, but we were ready to take advantage of that should it have happened. We continue to see momentum and more fans-to-site from a webshop perspective, thanks a lot to that success in November last year.
And then from a partnerships perspective, a lot of our partners definitely benefited massively from the visibility and everything that we saw through the League team. Beyond that, it has propelled us forward. We are having more conversations and are able to talk with a lot more strength to different brands around, frankly, the visibility and activations that they could see through our League team, thanks a lot to their success last year.
Now it’s really about just trying to parlay that into getting the right brand partners involved, which obviously is a little bit more challenging in this current pandemic situation. Fortunately, we’re still seeing a lot of interest.
ESI: Can you talk about bringing on Joseph Tsai as an investor and what it is that he brings to the organisation?
LE: Blue Pool Capital, which is his personal fund – they invested with us last year. I think from our standpoint, it was a really strategic move for us to work with him for two reasons.
Because at G2, we definitely aspire and are trying to be about more than just Europe. We want to be the top club in the world, and the most entertaining and iconic esports brand in the world. What Joseph Tsai’s business brings to us is massive penetration and reach within China, and then additionally because he owns the Brooklyn Nets, we have this anchor point and potential collaboration opportunity in New York and in the US. For us strategically, from a market expansion perspective, he adds a ton of value as we continue down that trajectory.
ESI: What kinds of plans does G2 have for New York?
LE: Right now, we have our Rocket League team based in New York in a gaming house there. I’m sure you’ve read some of the articles out there about our CEO Carlos [Rodriguez] potentially moving to New York towards maybe the end of this year. The timeline might have been affected due to coronavirus, but that’s still certainly in discussion. Additionally, we are looking at doubling down on the creator side of the business. We’re looking to engage with different variety streamers and creators focused in the US to really propagate our business and accelerate our fan growth there.
We continue to be very focused on the competitive side of what we’re doing. If there’s another team that makes sense for us to invest in, we’ll continue to look for that if that potentially becomes a US-based asset. But we’re also looking more at the creators side and opening up our office in New York in the coming months. I would’ve said “weeks” prior to being homebound, but I think months is probably the right call now.
[Editor’s note: Interview conducted in March 2020]
Read the full version of this article in Edition 5 of The Esports Journal.