There have arguably been three major waves of esports partnerships since the industry started taking shape as a commercial sector.
It is likely that the development of esports, in the long run, will be seen differently decades from now. And it is not an easy job to tell history while you are still living it — but it is nonetheless a useful, or at least interesting, exercise. As such, it is possible to identify different phases of esports partnerships that have made the sector into what it is today.
First came peripherals; a wave of high performance gaming brands boosted esports teams and tournaments as gaming mice, keyboard and headset manufacturers jostled for exposure amongst hardcore gamers.
Then, second, partnerships between esports entities and betting websites flourished as regulated esports betting took off, and bookmakers poured in to cater to the hot new betting vertical.
Later, finally, as the cryptocurrency boom took hold, blockchain-based companies — most notably cryptocurrency exchanges and Web3 fan engagement startups — dominated headlines as they sought to reach the valuable esports audience.
Just as in the business world it is essential to keep up with new trends, it is also necessary to step back and look at what is happening around the scene. What’s happening now is that betting companies have become a quiet staple.
The first phase was the most obvious. Hardware companies like HyperX and Razer were part of the build-up of the scene in what we can call the first wave of esports sponsorships. After all, having the best players use your peripherals is exactly what manufacturers wanted to promote their products. Peripherals manufacturers were integral in these early days in establishing the scene. Many of those deals provided the required infrastructure in terms of hardware for enabling events and gaming houses.
Then, a second phase could be seen with companies like Rivalry, Betway, and Parimatch capturing business headlines on a global scale. The close relationship between bookmakers and sports teams transitioned into esports with speed as the first regulated sportsbooks started offering esports matches.
The result was a prolonged period where new betting partnerships were struck seemingly on the weekly, and valuable long-term relationships were forged, for example between Betway and Ninjas in Pyjamas.
Much later, a new wave came in along with the proliferation of blockchain technology. The meteoric rise in value of blockchain assets as the blockchain industry boomed pushed the market to expand its borders and look for customers in esports.
Sensing a major overlap between crypto enthusiasts and esports fans — young, tech-savvy and disproportionately affluent — crypto and blockchain firms of all descriptions partnered with almost every esports organisation and tournament organiser under the sun. A flood of sponsorship money (and cryptocurrency) was pumped into the industry as major investment in the crypto space found its way into esports, resulting in an incessant wave of crypto sponsorships.
But 2022 saw the start of a so-called ‘crypto winter’. As the value of cryptocurrencies fell, the investments diminished too, causing once frequent new sponsorship deals between esports organisations and blockchain entities to vastly slow down.
The biggest blow to crypto was from the FTX bankruptcy, which resulted in major deals such as TSM’s $210m (~£148m) naming rights sponsorship being cancelled and a major loss of confidence in the sector.
Yet while the ‘crypto winter’ was happening, betting has stayed a steady staple in esports. Gambling sites did not give up on engaging audiences to bet on their favourite teams and maintained their territory in the sector.
Most major organisations still have valuable betting partnerships, which are frequently renewed. Plus, the broadening of popularity for betting companies in important new territories like Brazil contributed to a slate of new deals focusing on the LATAM market in recent years.
Nowadays, it is still usual to see betting brands on the jerseys of the biggest esports organisations in the world, especially in the CS:GO scene. But there’s room for more: A report published by Esports Insider in 2022 found that 17% of esports companies already have a deal with betting companies, while 53% of them want to close contracts with entities in the sector.
The figures prove the warm welcome and continued relevance that betting has received in the esports industry — especially compared to now-frosty attitudes to the crypto space, and the modest value of peripheral sponsorships. In fact, betting has arguably become a side source of entertainment itself for audiences: Content analysing the best odds for placing bets has become normal, as have odds overlays on broadcasts, which indicate to audiences the relative strength of teams.
Therefore, while there’s been three waves of sponsorships, betting has been the most resilient — and will likely remain so. You can bet on it.
Supported by Canada Sports Betting