The third and most recent edition of Esports Insider’s The Clutch competition concluded with Anzu, an immersive, programmatic advertising company, being crowned as the latest victor on the last day of ESI Digital Summer – the esports industry’s biggest online conference to date.
Now, a few weeks on from Anzu’s triumph at The Clutch, we spoke with Itamar Benedy, Anzu’s CEO and Co-founder, to find out more about how he prepared to pitch in front of the judges and what the future holds for Anzu in such a rapidly-evolving sector of esports and gaming.
When speaking about Anzu’s preparation for The Clutch, Benedy explained, “My career was a bit different than most others. I never had a CV, nor did I go to an interview because my partners and I were always building projects and companies.”
“I was fortunate to be on stages and in similar competitions from a young age, so I didn’t need a lot of training to be honest. More than half of my working day involves meetings and pitching for Anzu, so I was quite comfortable. It’s funny, now that we’re working from home, the most stressful thing for me was concerns about my internet connection!”
Reflecting on the competition, as well as feedback that his start-up received, Benedy revealed: “The judges were definitely veterans in the space, so getting their feedback was really useful. 3D Aim Trainer – one of the companies who we competed against in The Clutch – is a client of ours so that was a pretty nice experience to see them as part of the competition too.”
Although Benedy may have felt more comfortable on the live stream than some of the other competitors, he was just as happy to have won The Clutch. “Anzu’s vision from day one was a combination of a gaming offering and an esports offering. For us, this tournament was a really exciting way to start building our presence around the esports offering,” he said. “When The Clutch was over, we were excited to be associated with ESI, the leading esports [publication], but then also we also felt a sense of validation from the market.”
As if the validation from a successful pitch at The Clutch wasn’t enough, Anzu’s mission was affirmed by a successful Series A funding round last August. Along with BITKRAFT, an esports-centric venture capitalist fund, WPP was an investor in the latest round that yielded $6.5m of investment. When we spoke, Benedy made it clear that he believed the investment from WPP – an advertising group who manages $50bn of media spend per year – was representative of a wider change in perception of gaming and gamers.
“The perception of the gamer has changed a lot in a marketers eyes,” Benedy explained. “I can tell you that three or four years ago brands and agencies would tell me: ‘what you’re doing is really cool, but those geeks in their basement – I’m not sure if that is the audience I’m looking to advertise to.’ Now, fast forward to the present day and gaming is a pop phenomenon, it is a metaverse and every brand wants a piece of this.”
When we asked Benedy if Anzu’s two latest successes might springboard the company into further opportunities, he confidently answered: “Yes for sure! The way we look at it is that we have just started. We’re at an early stage in the journey and we have a lot of plans for future funding rounds and activities in APAC. Our way of business is becoming a more common model for game developers and it is starting to become a new advertising category for brands. All this positive feedback contributes and helps us navigate our journey.”
Postured neatly alongside game developers, Benedy feels as if his Anzu is finally ready to leverage being in the right place at the right time with the right product. With partnerships signed with organisations such as Ubisoft, VERITAS Entertainment, and ELEAGUE – the latter deal of which will have more news soon, Benedy teased – the advertising company is well-positioned for a lively future. “Our challenge is to stay laser-focused! I have spoken about the importance of staying laser-focused for many years now and with recent developments at Anzu it is important to stay laser-focused and not get distracted by a lot of other opportunities or distractions we see.”