ESL and DreamHack have been sister companies under parent Modern Times Group (MTG) since 2015. They’ve increasingly found ways to pool their collective resources towards a better, more unified product. Most notably, the ESL Pro Tour for Counter-Strike: Global Offensive was planned to span global events across both brands in 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic took hold.
However, at the end of September 2020, the companies announced that they had made this union official, merging under the ESL Gaming umbrella. ESL Co-CEO Craig Levine told Esports Insider’s sister brand, The Esports Journal, that the increased collaboration between the firms ultimately led to the merger.
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“We started to see the obvious success,” he said. “So it was only the natural next move to say, ‘How do we put these organisations together now in an even deeper way to continue to position ourselves uniquely going forward?’”
It is important to note that ESL and DreamHack will both continue on as separate brands to target their respective audiences and strengths within the esports and gaming ecosystem. ESL is more focused on the competitive side of things with its ‘zero-to-hero’ mission, providing competition to newcomers all the way up to the top-tier pro players. DreamHack, meanwhile, will continue its community-centric events and experiences, although there’s plenty of room for crossover.
“We have an amazing talent pool to build a joint organisation,” said Levine. “The ‘e’ in ‘esports’ makes it really distinct and unique, and having a deep understanding within the DNA of culture and people that understands what esports and video game culture is, we believe, shapes us to then figure out how to build the best business. We have lots of talented people now coming together under one roof to work towards that common goal. Furthermore, we believe very strongly that we are one company, but it’s very important that we will maintain and continue to invest in and position two independent brands.”
Both the ESL and DreamHack brands stretch back 20 or more years, and Levine himself has been in the scene for nearly two decades himself as a player, team owner, and organiser. “It was always a group of individuals where we’ve known each other just pioneering the space together,” he said of the leadership for both brands.
Ultimately, the pandemic didn’t force the issue, said Levine: a potential merger had been talked about for much of the five years that the two firms have coexisted under the MTG umbrella. However, the impact of the pandemic meant that both companies had a less-frantic stretch of time to evaluate the potential benefits and efficiencies of a merger, and the ability to finally make it happen.
“Everyone’s business slows down a little bit through this, so suddenly you’re not running DreamHacks and we’re not running from festival to festival or arena to arena. We’re able to then really sit down and spend the time together, understand how we build a joint roadmap, and understand how this really can become powerful and beneficial to everyone,” he explained. “It freed us up and slowed us down now to zoom out from our business, as most businesses are going through in the pandemic, and really assess what’s core, where can growth come from, and how can we achieve that?”
Levine joined ESL in 2014 and was just promoted from Chief Strategy Officer to Co-CEO in July, joining Ralf Reichert in the role. Although the first few months in the Co-CEO role have brought unique challenges, Levine is savouring the new opportunity.
“It feels like dog years, I think. I’m super excited,” he said. “As we continue to become a global company and a global organisation, this was the natural next step. I’ve really enjoyed the first few months in this role. We’ve got amazing people. I think we’re so uniquely positioned and I’m humbled to really lead this organization through these globally challenging times. It’s a lot of work with the team, thinking about what the right growth engines are and priorities, and how to really build a great place to be as an employer to continue to attract and maintain the best minds in the business.”
Read the full version of this article in Edition 7 of The Esports Journal.