ESL Gaming and FACEIT merge, companies bought by Saudi-backed group for $1.5bn

ESL Gaming and FACEIT, two of esports’ biggest tournament organisers, have announced a merger set to be finalised in Q2 of 2022.

It comes shortly after German business newspaper Handelsblatt reported the two companies had been purchased by Saudi Arabian government-backed Savvy Gaming Group for a combined $1.5bn (~£1.1bn).

ESL FACEIT group
The ESL FACEIT group has formed through the merger of the two companies. Image credit: ESL FACEIT group.

According to the official website of the newly-founded ESL FACEIT Group, the two entities will continue to coexist in the esports ecosystem. Craig Levine and Niccolo Maisto will be appointed as co-CEO’s of the new company, and ESL Co-Founder Ralf Reichert will move into a non-operational role as Executive Chairman.

Savvy Gaming Group paid $1.05bn (~£780m) for ESL Gaming and is reported to have paid $500m (~£370m) for FACEIT. Savvy Gaming Group is backed by the Saudi Arabian government’s Public Investment Fund. The fund recently purchased English Premiere League football team Newcastle United.

According to its website, Savvy Gaming group is a ‘long-term investor’ formed to drive the growth and development of esports and the wider games industry worldwide.

ESL Gaming was previously owned by Swedish holding company Modern Times Group (MTG), which purchased a majority stake in ESL in 2015 for €78m. MTG increased its investment in ESL’s parent company Turtle Entertainment in 2018.

ESL Gaming CEO Craig Levine said: “Our mission remains unchanged: to create a world where everybody can be somebody. Our merger with FACEIT, along with the backing of SGG, will give us more know-how, capabilities, and resources than ever before to deliver on this vision. Whether you are competing or watching, doing so socially or at a professional level, every stage of the pathway will be improved through this merger.”

The ESL FACEIT Group also announced a number of details regarding the upcoming changes to the CS:GO competitive ecosystem, most notably the ESEA and FACEIT. It will aim to promote more stability for North American CS:GO through new incentives for professional teams, and support the development of local scenes and grassroots esports. The new company also says it will invest heavily in a path-to-pro for up-and-coming players.

ESL FACEIT group's co-CEOs
Craig Levine (right) and Niccolo Maisto (left). ESL FACEIT group’s new co-CEO’s. Image credit: ESL FACEIT Group.

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Saudi Arabia has somewhat of a controversial history in esports. Tournament organiser BLAST and publisher Riot Games pulled out of a partnership with Saudi Arabian futuristic city development project NEOM in 2020 following community backlash over the country’s human rights record.

FACEIT CEO Niccolo Maisto said: “In the past years, ESL and FACEIT had a significant positive impact for the growth of the esports industry, bringing a variety of propositions for players, teams, publishers, and developers. By uniting these complementary capabilities, and with the backing of SGG, we are taking a long-term approach to develop a more robust platform to better support the future of the whole competitive gaming ecosystem and generate more value for all its stakeholders in a sustainable way.”

The merger and acquisition comes just one week after technology giant Microsoft announced the purchase of publisher Activision Blizzard for almost $69bn.

Esports Insider says: This is one of the most important deals in the history of esports. ESL and FACEIT are industry stalwarts — and the two largest competitors in the tournament organising space. The implications for the esports industry will likely be immense and far reaching.

 

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