Moritz Maurer, Founder and CEO of GRID Esports, sits in the office of his Berlin apartment. It has become the temporary HQ of his GRID operations amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and shelter-in-place orders. “It’s an unfortunate time globally, and certainly a strange time for us to see such a surge in business,” he remarked to Esports Insider in April. GRID is a data-as-a-platform company that partners with game publishers and tournament organisers to monetise official operators’ data feeds to a wider audience, including media outlets and regulated bookmakers. Maurer is a successful two-time entrepreneur, creating and selling his first company GGWins in 2015, and founding GRID with his CTO Chris King and COO Thomas Warburton in 2018, as well as VP of Business Development Mikael Westerling.
Over the past year, the data company has seen a spike in customers and partners looking to enhance their esports efforts. The new normal of today brings a new set of companies knocking at their door. “The pandemic has put us in a position as a life preserver for our partners and potential partners, both esports and traditional sports-focused,” said Maurer. “A spotlight has been forced on the business we have been building for the last three years, and all of a sudden, we are in the center of the stage.”
The spotlight is not a foreign position for GRID, who has been the exclusive data partner for the StarLadder Berlin Major in 2019 and FACEIT London Major in 2018, each with staggering $1 million (£781,769.10) prize pools each also having more than one million concurrent viewers throughout each respective tournament.
This year, GRID is earmarked as the official partner for Flashpoint, which will be hosting two leagues throughout 2020 with a total prize pool of $2 million (£1,563,538.20). GRID is also making its way into the US with its GameCo partnership for sportsbook distribution. With this pedigree of success, and with empty schedules across physical sports, new opportunities are arising for the German data company.
In the time of social distancing, it seems the only fresh competition can be found on Twitch, Douyu TV, and other streaming platforms, and the viewership has never been higher. CS:GO events have posted higher-than-average concurrent viewers, up as much as 27 percent from last year, while Riot Games’ new competitive shooter VALORANT pulled a whopping 1.73M concurrent viewers on its beta launch day, rivalling the publisher’s success with the League of Legends World Championship. The time for esports in the mainstream has arrived in the most unexpected way possible.
Esports has not gone completely unscathed in the current climate. Large events traditionally held in stadiums, packed with rowdy fans elbow to elbow, have been placed in temporary stasis as tournament organisers search for solutions. Companies like GRID, who typically rely on major tournament organisers as a source for data, were also initially reeling from the news of cancellations.
“It felt like every hour we were hearing of a new cancellation, and with each cancellation a phone call from a concerned client. We had about a week to put a plan into action,” said Maurer. “We have assembled an incredibly talented team with diverse backgrounds across the entire esports ecosystem, including working on producing tournaments. After hours of running through different options and scenarios, we decided we were in a proper position to create and run an online tournament of our own, #HomeSweetHome.”
A week after that initial meeting, #HomeSweetHome was announced with 16 teams and a $320,000 (£250,166.11) prize pool. As an online tournament, #HomeSweetHome allows competitors to maintain social distancing while continuing to compete at a high level in front of tens of thousands of fans, while casters and broadcast teams work together from their respective homes to highlight clutch plays and cut to commercials.
“We all rallied behind the tournament,” Maurer affirmed. “Our designers were dropping logos and designs in Slack, our operations were signing up teams and talent, our commercial team was pitching sponsorship packages, and our tech team was producing the official watch page. It’s the kind of work we expect out of each other, but we still get a sense of pride to see everyone grinding together to make this tournament a reality”
GRID’s story of fast adaptation to the new normal is recognizable across all competitive vertices. The traditional leagues airing reruns of historical games are pushing into the esports landscape to capture the same audience. The NBA aired an NBA 2K Players Tournament on ESPN, and NASCAR ran the iRacing league on Fox Sports receiving over 900,000 live viewers. Seemingly overnight, the virtual products of physical sports became a top initiative for temporarily-shuttered leagues.
“The growth of esports overtime has always been apparent to those involved in this ecosystem, but I have now heard stories of senior citizens in the US keeping their NASCAR routine and tuning in to watch iRacing,” said Maurer. “It is certainly a new demographic that we never thought would be adapting so quickly.”
Read the full version of this article in Edition 5 of The Esports Journal.