NRG Esports shoots for the sky with group of online gamers
Esports have grown rapidly, but elite competitions are still just one small corner of the video game industry. In an effort to grow revenue beyond what championships alone can provide, NRG Esports has bet on a group of Australian gamers who play for fun while millions watch online.
In September, NRG Esports launched a joint venture with Click Management to form Click, a team of seven YouTube streamers that draws more than 700 million page views a month, more than 26 million subscribers, and includes three of the top-10 gaming channels in the world. It’s all an effort to build scale.
“We are bringing on all these guys who are significantly bigger than any esports organization in the world with their reach, to create a different genre of content, and original content, that we’re hoping expands the pie,” said NRG CEO and co-founder Andy Miller, a Sacramento Kings minority owner and former Apple executive. “Because esports is a small piece of the overall gaming lifestyle and culture.”
The YouTube streamers who make up Click and their number of subscribers
■ Lachlan, 7.9M
■ MrMuselk, 6.9M
■ LazarBeam, 5.4M
■ Prestige, 4.3M
■ Loserfruit*, 761K
■ Bazza Gazza, 656K
■ Crayator, 303K
* Australia’s most popular female gamer
Many esports organizations have hired streamers, who generally are very talented but known more for their personalities than competitive skill, to augment their rosters that enter competitive leagues and tournaments. But the NRG-Click combination stands out for its size and ambition. Neither side would disclose financial figures, but the publicly known YouTube viewership for Click would conservatively suggest it generates monthly ad revenue in the mid to high six figures.
Elliott “Muselk” Watkins, the founder of Click Management, first spoke with Miller to advise NRG on the creative direction of a possible NRG gaming house, where players would live together and team up for content. That evolved into the joint venture, which launched the Click House, a six-story house on Sydney Harbour where much of their content will be created.
“I think what Andy and NRG brings is, No. 1, a lot of help with funding,” Watkins said. “Obviously getting something like this off the ground was a big investment to make. And their understanding of brand deals, and all the contacts they’ve been able to bring, has already been invaluable.”
NRG fields 11 teams in 10 different games, including the San Francisco Shock, a franchise in the Overwatch League acquired for $20 million in 2017. Its investors include a long list of sports and business personalities.
But since most of that capital has come into the organization, the video game industry has been taken by storm by Epic Games’ “Fortnite,” the hit battle royale-style shooting game, and its most famous player, Tyler “Ninja” Blevins. Blevins doesn’t play for a team, and Epic has shown little interest in a professional style league, instead funding pro-am and open competitions. In fact, NRG dropped its “Fortnite” team in June.
Brands are more comfortable with those non-competitive streamers than the teams, Miller acknowledged, because they look like general lifestyle influencers from other fields.
Considering the money that’s flowed into elite esports, does it bode poorly for the category that the best moneymaking opportunity today is in casual streaming? Not at all, Miller said. It merely shows the need to take a broad view of the gaming opportunity, he said. “The reality is not every game should be an esport,” Miller said.
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