ESI Digital Spring: Day one recap

After a four-month break since ESI Digital Winter, day one of ESI Digital Spring saw the return of many friendly faces both on the virtual stage and in the audience.

The event kicked off with everything China. We then saw the return of ESI Brand Showcases, covered gambling and payment processing, Valve’s attitude towards its esports products, and more. View the entire agenda and get your last-minute tickets here, which will include VOD panel content from both days.

ESI Digital Spring Day One Recap
ESI staff have put together a recap of some of the great moments, quotes and controversial opinions from the conference. Read more below!

ESI Digital Spring heads to China

Kicking off day one, ESI Digital Spring discussed the blossoming esports ecosystem in China. Topics ranged from how Chinese teams and brands have developed, both internationally and locally, to how overseas organisations are faring in the region. 

ESI Digital Spring: Brand Wars Panel

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Regarding esports’ popularity in the country, Bo Shen, RNG Esports’ VP of International Expansion and Innovation, said: “Traditional sports in China is very weak compared to other countries, but China developed esports so quickly to fill this void.”

This sentiment was echoed by the other panelists, with Trinity Wu, LGD Gaming’s Head of Overseas Marketing, also expressing that China’s esports growth is also due to the population’s passion towards gaming, particularly within its Gen-Z demographic.

Stijn Jacobs, Head of Strategy at Insightful Consulting, also mentioned that from this growing popularity, Chinese organisations have started to gain traction internationally. As a result, more brands are looking towards sponsoring esports teams in the region.

Jacobs said: “What we see in the figures is that viewership is huge in China. Teams dominate the preferences of the Chinese population. If you look at every LoL competition, the Chinese audience is dominating. They dominate every other audience. So for brands entering the Chinese market, it’s a way for them to reach teams outside of China as well.”

ESI Digital Spring: Overseas teams in ChinaSpeaking of overseas markets: global sports digital agency Mailman detailed the most successful foreign teams to break into China’s market.

The ‘Overseas esports teams in China’ presentation, delivered by the firm’s Senior Business Director, Tom Elsden, included the likes of T1 topping Mailman’s China Digital Performance Index, followed by Team Liquid, G2 Esports, then Fnatic.

Elsden explained the reasoning behind T1 topping the table: “Their star player Faker, who is arguably the most popular overseas player in China, has been crucial to their growth to number one. They have built a huge amount of content, and they’ve positioned him at the front of promotions.”

ESI Brand Showcases 

Kicking off ESI Digital Spring’s Brand Showcases, G2 Esports and Pringles gave a presentation detailing the motivation for their partnership, specifically on the collaborative ‘Making the Squad’ content series. 


Sabrina Ratih, Commercial Director of G2 Esports, said: “We always put a lot of love and heart into making the squad, especially the last two editions. But then we wanted to elevate what we had for ‘Making the Squad’ going forward. We wanted to have a premium partner that really understands us.”

This partnership made perfect sense for Andreas Billker, Senior Marketing Activation Manager of Kellogg Deutschland GmbH, who said: “Gamers love Pringles, as they are perfectly designed for gaming. Thanks to the unique — and always the same — shape, it’s easy to grab them.”

Billker detailed that the Pringles brand’s first priority for activation has always been football and second is gaming, and with G2 they found a perfect match for their goals. Ratih said, “At the end of the day, partnerships and collaborations is a people business.”

Next up was the iconic ESL Gaming GmbH and DHL Brand Spotlight, which has long been the shining example of non-endemic activations in the industry. ESL Gaming’s Stephan Schröder, Senior Vice President Global Brand Partnerships EMEA led the panel with questions touching on activations, partnerships, and marketing potential in esports.

Christine Schröder-Schönberg, Head of Global Sponsorships for DHL said that “We very much listened to what ESL as a partner told us. With our traditional marketing approach, I think we would have failed.”

She later said that when approaching brands, the people within marketing departments are of an older generation that don’t ’get’ esports, perhaps a call for brands to acquire younger talent to avoid missing out on opportunities in esports.

Publishers and Tournaments

Officially titled ‘Is Valve’s laissez-faire approach to its esports products more help or hinderance?’, the ‘Valve panel’ might be one of the best discussions we’ve hosted digitally.

Panelists included executives from Team Vitality, Alliance, ESL Gaming and OG Esports, and were led by expert moderator, Founder and Director of Swipe Right PR, Kirsty Endfield.

ESI Hall of Famer and VP Product Development of ESL Gaming, Michał ‘Carmac’ Blicharz aired his thoughts about publisher relations to esports titles, stating:

 “The role of the publisher is to do as little as they can get away with, while delivering a good-enough platform for third parties to come in and generate value and stimulate competition at the same time. Plus, regulate a little bit.”

With so many great talking points, controversial takes and lively discussion, the panel certainly deserves its own feature-length piece; it’d be a disservice to continue summarising in this recap.

Later, Bayes Esports’s panel, ‘The fairest tournament’, addressed organising competitive structures, regardless of the title from a logical, statistical standpoint. Bayes Esports panelists Dr Darina Goldin, Director Data Science, and Ben ‘Noxville’  Steenhuisen, Senior Software Architect, provided in-depth analysis of different tournament structures and how ‘fair’ they are.

Goldin put simply: “The downsides of single elimination are enormous! If two top teams are drawn in the first round, then you’re left with just one for the rest of the tournament.” She explained that 50 percent of the talent pool goes home after the first round and another 25 percent goes home after the second round.

Noxville said: “[For any tournament] there are certain competitive principles that make sense to include at all times. There should never be a situation where it is optimal to lose.” Both panelists agreed that having tournament formats that adapt to bad seedings are highly necessary.

Wellness, payments and wagers

Other topics discussed at ESI Digital Spring during day one included health and wellbeing and its growing importance in esports, featuring CS:GO professional Martin ‘STYKO’ Styk and Michal Noga, MADMONQ’s CEO and Co-founder

Plus, a virtual conference dove in the the world of payments to discuss e-commerce opportunities and prize-money challenges. This panel featured Han Park, the CEO of Payment Labs, and Starladder’s CPO Gene Hladki, with Nuvei’s Head of Esports and Gaming, Dan Houl, moderating. 

Concluding day one, ESI Digital Spring hosted a discussion about esports gambling. The panel of experts explored a range of topics including compliance, how the growth of esports has affected the betting sector, and how blockchain can impact esports betting. 

Adam Kling, CEO of FYX Gaming, outlined the potential blockchain in esports: “I think the big value that blockchain offers is that all of these games can utilise what is essentially a shared database of truth.

“When we think about the future of esports and gambling there’s an incredible incentive to cheat, and blockchain is going to keep people honest.”

With over eight hours of live content under its belt, ESI Digital Spring has been a tremendous success so far and we’re bringing the momentum into day two. There’s still time to buy a last-minute ticket and get access to all of the VOD content from both days.

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