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Volume 27 No. 88
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2018 Esports Rising: Here for the long term

Among the themes that carried over to the second day of the Lagardere Sports esports Rising conference presented by SBJ was a commitment to building for long-term success rather than looking for quick returns. Chris Chaney, founder of Infinite Esports & Entertainment, said taking a long view is “fundamental to anyone getting into the space.” Chaney: “We’re so focused on the growth of the space today and the big numbers that we see and get thrown around, but we really are still at the earlier stages within the industry.” BITKRAFT Esports Ventures’ Jens Hilger said he is “investing on the assumption that this is going to grow” and pay off in the next 10-20 years. But we really liked the analogy offered by Echo Fox’s Khalid Jones: “If people are looking at esports as the gold rush, we’re still in 1850 right now.”

LEARNING CURVE: GSW Sports Ventures’ Kirk Lacob, who also has a hand in running the Golden State Warriors and building the team’s new arena, said the last year has been a fast-paced indoctrination into esports. During a featured interview, Lacob said one of the most important lessons he learned was about finding good people: “I learned a lot about the structure of esports leagues, how we want to mold our esports organization. I believe people are the single most important thing. I really like the people we have right now.” He also admitted that there was a lot he didn’t know. “In some ways my assumptions (from the past year) were all right,” he said, “because I assumed I’d be wrong.”

FIGURING OUT THE FANS: Esports teams and organizations continue to work on identifying who their fans are and how best to reach them. FanAI’s Chris Dowell said his firm continues to find sophistication among esports fans. “There’s this common misconception that esports fans are 21 years old, unemployed, laying around and playing games with Cheetoh dust on his lap,” Dowell said. He also noted that as mobile gains greater traction in esports, more female esports fans are showing up. Finally, esports fans tend to be passionate about digital and dismissive of traditional media, Dowell said, which makes consumption habits easier to track.

IS LOCALIZING GOOD OR BAD? DISCUSS: Another day one theme that carried over was whether esports organizations can benefit from localizing, or whether they should just accept the sport the way it is. “Esports has a very long history,” said NRG Esports’ Brett Lautenbach, “and it’s always been borderless and global.” Several esports team presidents said that while they see the benefits of localization, they want to be careful not to alienate fans in far-flung locales. Counter Logic Gaming’s Nick Allen said he thinks much of the success generated by Overwatch League – which utilizes a localized concept – in its first year is due to its infancy. “They could take this risk and do it from the start,” Allen said. “They did it in the right frame that it needed to be successful.”

MONEY FOR NOTHING?: One of our favorite moments from the conference came during the first panel of day two, when SBJ’s Ben Fischer asked his panel of presidents this question from the audience: Are any of you making a profit? The answer from the panel was silence. For several long beats. Not that we expected a different answer, but we did like how our audience member got right to the point. After that long pause, Envy Gaming’s Geoff Moore answered that, right now, it is “less about the bottom line,” and more about “all the things we’re engaged with on a daily basis.” Moore: “We have a lot of things to do and a lot of things we’re trying to do to prove where we are.”

APPAREL MARKET: Esports has its own ethos and a developing sense of style that is being met by a homegrown apparel industry sprouting up to serve esports athletes and fans alike. “It’s a modern sensibility,” said ULT’s Nate Eckman. “We were frustrated with a lack of modern wearable brands. We wanted something to resonate with an inspiration from street wear, but technical products players could compete in and wear comfortably. We’re creating a category at retail level, at the mainstream level. There are not a lot of people in that category.” Ateyo’s Breanne Harrison Pollock: “We think a lot about what fans are doing in their day-to-day life. People are sitting 12 hours a day at a computer, leading different lifestyles. Most clothing is designed to stand up in, but we sit down most of the time. We’re thinking about people’s lifecycles all the way through the day.”

QUICK HITS

“It can happen. It happened to me.” — Lacob, on fans of stick-and-ball sports becoming fans of esports.

“Esports are born globally and the organizations are trying to get local.” — Echo Fox’s Jones.

“If anyone could’ve predicted the rise of Ninja and Fortnite, they should be in Vegas, not esports.” — Complexity Gaming’s Jason Lake

“You and your buddies playing Madden in the basement drinking beer is not esports.” — Twitch’s Nathan Lindberg

“(Esports) are way more global than traditional sports. The NFL and NBA, even the names of the leagues are short-sighted. Are you national or international? The NBA has a team in Canada. Does the NFL want a team in Mexico City or London?” — Daniel Cherry, Activision Blizzard Esports Leagues

SOCIAL ANIMALS: Thanks to everyone who helped keep the conversation going yesterday. The hashtag #sbjesports had 140 mentions and almost 800,000 impressions. Special thanks to frequent tweeters @cannonjw and @drossetti24.

You can check out all of the social media posts from the conference by taking a look at our Twitter handle, SBJSBD, or using the hashtag #sbjesports.

LET’S GO TO THE VIDEO: We partnered with Grabyo this week to provide video content from the conference that we posted on our social media channels and in Sports Business Daily. You can check out all of the videos by visiting our SBJ YouTube page. Grabyo provides technology that allows us to quickly clip small segments from a panel or presentation and easily post those videos to a variety of channels. You can find out more about Grabyo by clicking here.

Among the most-viewed videos from the conference:
— Riot Games' Chris Hopper on the future of city vs. regional-based teams.

— ReadyUp's Roderick Alemania and Think450's Payne Brown announce a partnership that will allow NBA players to connect with fans through gaming.

— Complexity Gaming's @JasonBWLake on the rise of Fortnite and its impact on global society.

YOUR THOUGHTS MATTER: If you attended the conference, you’ll be receiving an email link to a survey. Please let us know what you liked about this year’s conference, and any suggestions you have for next year.

NEXT UP: We’ll see you in New York in two weeks for the 2018 Dealmakers in Sports conference.