Angels & Unicorns: Biggest esports investment stories of 2023

21 December 2023

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After several years of inflating the esports bubble with high-profile investments and ever-increasingly large sums of money, 2023 saw reality set in with investments in the field slightly reduced. Still, there was an abundance of investment stories, both good and bad, that made headlines this year. 

In this article, we will dissect some of the most important moves on the investment front, and see how they affected the overall esports landscape globally.

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Microsoft Activision Blizzard acquisition graphic
(ESI Illustration) Logo credit: Activision Blizzard / Microsoft

Microsoft acquires Activision Blizzard

Microsoft announced its intention to acquire gaming publisher and developer Activision Blizzard in 2022, but the process was actually finalised almost two years after that, in October 2023. 

The story of Activision Blizzard and Microsoft made headlines multiple times during that time, with several regulatory agencies, notably the FTC in the United States and the CMA in the UK, blocking the merger due to worries that it would monopolize the cloud gaming market.

In the end, all lawsuits and probes were dropped and cleared, leaving the companies to complete the merger on October 13th, 2023. Since then, Activision Blizzard effectively shut down the Overwatch League, and the Call of Duty League returned to YouTube exclusively. 2024 might not be the year with many changes at the Activision Blizzard front, but we might see a shift in the way the company operates from 2025 onwards. 

GameSquare purchases FaZe Clan

faze gamesquare
Image credit: FaZe Clan, Gamesquare

FaZe Clan, possibly the most popular esports and gaming brand to come out of North America, has merged with GameSquare, the parent company of several esports, gaming and content companies such as Code Red Esports, Complexity and Mission Supply. FaZe has had a difficult year altogether, with every new financial report sadly showing a downward trend. 

In the end, GameSquare offered to acquire the FaZe brand to give it new life, but it remains to be seen how the company’s new owners approach the issues that exist within FaZe Clan. FaZe Clan was valued at over a billion dollars in the summer of 2022, and that figure dropped significantly in less than a year, making an acquisition by another company the only way out. 

Savvy Games Group invests $265m into VSPO

Saudi Arabia
Image via: Shutterstock

Savvy Games Group, the company known primarily as the owner of ESL FACEIT Group, announced a significant investment in Chinese company VSPO early in 2023. The investment made Savvy the largest shareholder of VSPO, a company that, despite being relatively unknown in the West, is one of the most important players in the Chinese and Asian esports scenes. The company notably operates the Kings Pro League, as well as many other leagues and tournaments in PUBG, CrossFire and others.

The investment was a part of SGG’s $34.5bn investment strategy revealed in 2022, which focused on acquiring top-tier esports and gaming companies and investing in key players in the esports field. It should be noted that VSPO raised around $100m from Tencent in 2020. 

100 Thieves spins off non-esports companies

100T merch
Pictured: 100 Thieves Foundations apparel collection. Image credit: 100 Thieves

After having a very successful period in 2021, North American esports and gaming organisation 100 Thieves saw several rounds of layoffs in 2022 and 2023. This led to the company starting to optimise its costs by spinning off business verticals that are not directly tied to gaming and esports.

As a result, its energy drink brand, Juvee, and game development studio were spun off into separate companies in late 2023. The hope is that the move will reduce the overall financial impact on the 100T budget. It is unclear how much these two business verticals actually cost the company, but the decision to spin them off instead of shutting them down might hint that there is still hope for the two brands.

CLG acquired by NRG

clg
Image credit: clg

April saw one of the most-known names in North American esports, Counter Logic Gaming (CLG) acquired by another well-known player in the region, NRG Esports. The acquisition also enabled NRG to enter the LCS by renaming the existing CLG roster and continuing to operate in the league. 

The acquisition was the end of the line for CLG, one of the oldest and most-known North American organisations that competed in almost every major esports title in the last decade. Interestingly, NRG Esports managed to win the LCS Summer Split in August and qualify for the Worlds in its debut season. 

NIP Group is formed

NIP Group
Image credit: NIP Group

Ninjas in Pyjamas, a Swedish esports organisation most known for its CS:GO roster, officially merged with Chinese company ESV5 this year, thus allowing the newly-formed NIP Group to enter the Asian market easily. As a result, Ninjas in Pyjamas have officially joined the Chinese League of Legends league, the LPL. 

The team has had a solid run in the LPL, reaching the second round of the playoffs during the LPL Summer 2023 season. 

When examining the merger, it should be said that now NIP Group has several different ventures on several continents, making it an interesting force in the esports world despite its flagship Counter-Strike roster not being as competitive as before. Interestingly, the Group owns Shinobi, a venture aimed at helping sports teams enter esports, which might prove to be very interesting in the Asian market.

Overwatch League shuts down after a tense year

Overwatch League
(ESI Illustration) Image credit: Overwatch League

The Overwatch League, Activision Blizzard’s franchised esports league in Overwatch, officially shut down late this year, after a very tough period for everyone involved. The year saw several periods of uncertainty, a potential lawsuit planned by the franchised teams, and eventually a settlement between the organisers and the teams that led to the league’s demise.

The franchises paid more than $20m (~£15.8m) each to enter the league during its early stages, but by the summer of 2023 it was clear that the model wasn’t financially stable for both the league and its teams. Instead, the league offered to waive costs which amounted to around $7m (~£5.5m) per team, and a way out of the franchising model if the teams wanted.

Giants Gaming and EXCEL ESPORTS merge

giantx esports
Image credit: GIANTX

The final days of the year saw an interesting story emerge: Spanish esports organisation Giants Gaming merged with EXCEL ESPORTS, one of the premier esports brands in the UK. The merger combined both companies’ staff, players and content creators, and will see the newly-created GIANTX brand work with stakeholders in the English and Spanish language regions.

Although the merger is very fresh, the general idea is that it might prove to be very beneficial to both brands. 

G2 expands into the NA and Chinese markets

G2 Esports joins VCT Americas
Image credit: G2 Esports, via X (@G2esports)

G2 had a very eventful year in 2023, with several major moves in different regions. This resulted in the company being one of the top international players by the end of the year. The organisation made three separate distinct moves that solidified G2 in the North American and Chinese markets.

In September, G2 acquired The Guard’s VALORANT roster that qualified for the VCT Americas by winning the VCT Ascension tournament. Due to the fact that The Guard ceased operations after its team won promotion, options opened for other organisations to acquire the roster and join the league. With this move, the organisation secured a slot in the VCT Americas after not being initially chosen by Riot Games.

The second move was the partnership between G2 Esports and Version1’s ownership group that ultimately allowed G2 to acquire operating rights for the Minnesota Røkkr Call of Duty League franchise. WISE Ventures and entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuck have also become shareholders in G2 Esports

The third and latest move is G2’s entry into the Chinese esports market by partnering with Invictus Gaming to launch a China-based Dota 2 team. The team, named G2.iG, debuted at the ESL One Kuala Lumpur Major and finished fifth. This is the first time that G2 is operating a Dota 2 team and is its first major move into China. 

Bytedance reportedly looking to sell Moonton

Moonton, ByteDance, Mobile Legends
(ESI Illustration) Image credit: Moonton

Although one for 2024, the Chinese parent company of popular social media platform TikTok, ByteDance, is reportedly interested in selling Moonton, the developer of mobile MOBA game Mobile Legends: Bang Bang. Reuters reported that Moonton’s parent company already has several offers, but nothing has been confirmed as of the time of writing of this article. Interestingly, in a statement to Esports Insider, a Moonton representative said that the company can not comment on the matter. 

The sale of Moonton could net ByteDance a substantial sum, due to the game’s high popularity in Asia. The technology company bought the developer in 2021, at a valuation of around $4bn.

Ivan Šimić
Ivan comes from Croatia, loves weird simulator games, and is terrible at playing anything else. Spent 5 years writing about tech and esports in Croatia, and is now doing it here.