Few corners of the esports industry have been spared from the reaches of the so-called esports winter, but media has been particularly hard-hit.
Since the onset of what is considered to be a major market correction in esports, myriad news outlets have shuttered, pivoted, or laid off much of their staff. In the last couple years publications including Washington Post’s Launcher, Upcomer, Inven Global, ShiftRLE, Blix.gg and more have closed or significantly cut back. Even industry leaders like Dot Esports’ parent company GAMURS Group haven’t been spared layoffs.
Adding to industry-specific concerns are broader difficulties around sustainably monetising online news, faced by media businesses the world over in the internet era.
Simply put, esports media is hard. Survival means a savvy blend of innovation, diversification, and an uncompromising focus on content performance — or so says Fabian Furch, Co-Founder and Managing Director of EarlyGame Group.
Founded in 2019, EarlyGame is a gaming and esports media network with a portfolio of four editorial websites and 20 social channels, which Furch claims together reach 50m users monthly. Those core properties are supplemented by a suite of agency services including influencer activation, esports event organisation, consulting and white labelled content.
Esports Insider sat down with Furch to discuss the media network he’s building despite industry challenges.
Furch is himself a former Counter-Strike player, but nostalgia for his past discipline has not clouded his approach, which has been to focus on what’s performing — even if it’s not esports.
“In the beginning the focus was mainly on esports,” Furch explained. “We always had the dream — everybody building editorial websites has the dream — of being the number one esports outlet, but we quite quickly realised that there’s too little of a market only covering esports news. Therefore half a year later we moved more into mainstreaming gaming and entertainment.
“In the beginning it was 90% esports, 10% other, and now we are at probably the other way around,” Furcher told Esports Insider. “So it’s really a complete shift. We shifted our strategy more [toward] traditional gaming, entertainment, the whole streaming world.”
Broadening reach to gaming and wider entertainment news is a strategy employed by many in the sector, who’ve learnt that esports news doesn’t attract the volume required to keep the lights on. Standing out in this niche yet crowded space is difficult, so it becomes a game of optimisation.
“It’s not rocket science,” Furch contends. “It’s a game of bringing your cost per piece down, optimising the whole infrastructure of your company, and then in the medium-to-long term trying to build a website that also has some USP independent of Google, and build a little direct traffic as well.”
Where EarlyGame stands out is its other, complimentary services. Amid a challenging gaming and esports landscape and recent search engine algorithm changes that have hit SEO-focused sites hard, providing diversified services has offered respite for EarlyGame from the whims of the algorithm, and other factors outside its control.
“Compared to some other outlets, [we’re] not only an editorial website but also an agency. We’re doing events, we’re doing influencer activations, we produce content to other notable outlets, and that just diversifies our revenue streams.”
The approach mirrors other esports media companies which have similarly turned to offering diversified services to succeed, such as Dexerto’s influencer and white labelled content services, or Esports Insider’s events and agency operations.
EarlyGame has a handful of content creators signed directly, and relationships with influencer management agencies that it can use to scale up if needed. More recently, EarlyGame moved into the business of organising esports and community events so that it could offer flexibility to prospective clients, meeting a demand for bespoke forms of activation that go beyond display adverts.
Its diversified, flexible approach has seen the company land clients including Porsche, EA, FC Bayern Munich, Euronics, Panasonic and more across its short history. EarlyGame also partnered with ESL FACEIT Group in June 2022 to launch Mobile Matters, a joint-venture mobile gaming news publication.
Establishing itself in the competitive, cut-throat esports and gaming media space as a relative newcomer has been a challenge, Furch said — as has producing round-the-clock English-language media from Germany, where about half its staff are based.
But EarlyGame’s Managing Director is confident in the group’s promising early performance. “I don’t want to say that we are unique,” Furch said, “but I would definitely say that we will succeed, one way or the other.”