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Volume 27 No. 87

SBJ Esports: What To Watch For In 2021


This is the final SBJ Esports newsletter of 2020, and what a year it has been. We launched this venture back on May 27 as quarantine was well under way amid the pandemic. With much of the world staying at home and entertainment options largely limited, esports was able to show that it had mainstream staying power and could fill a content void that many in the sports business landscape desperately needed. 


As there looks to be light at the end of this COVID tunnel, let's look ahead at what storylines might drive the industry forward even further in 2021.

Return To Live Events Will Be Key For Esports

Live events are a key cog in the esports industry business model, and while the pivot to online competitions amid the pandemic was largely successful, the new format was not ideal, writes TEO's Kevin Hitt

As COVID kept fans at home, many esports organizations and event organizers were forced to lay off staff and cancel or dramatically scale back lucrative live events. The cancellation of these matches and events cost organizations major revenue dollars in the form of ticket sales, concessions, merchandise and more.

The pandemic meant that Activision Blizzard's decision to switch to geographic regions for its franchised teams in Overwatch League and Call of Duty League in 2020 needs more time to come into focus. Questions remain as to whether the localized model for live OWL and CDL events is sustainable.

A return to live events is also needed to deal with some competitive integrity issues associated with online play, such as server latency.

Cloud9 Looks To Push Envelope With Female Team

Esports is growing rapidly and gaining more and more cultural acceptance, but representation for women at the highest levels of competition still lags woefully behind, writes TEO's Trent Murray.

In 2021, esports organization Cloud9 will be taking an important step toward making this change a reality. Its all-women Valorant roster, Cloud9 White, is made up of gamers who have already achieved tournament success and gained the highest in-game rank possible. In the past, most female teams that competed with the men -- outside of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive -- have been publicity stunts.

Cloud9 White’s results in male-dominated tournaments next year will be extremely important in achieving the goal of making esports a truly co-ed competitive arena.


Cloud9 White will feature female gamers who have already achieved tournament success


Investment In Esports Likely Driven By COVID-19 Outlook

Usually, giving an outlook on the upcoming year’s financial trends within an industry is likely to be pretty straightforward. The most critical step is identifying trends that are currently developing and offer the most potential to all parties involved. But as TEO's Tobias Seck writes, the global economy right now is exceptionally uncertain, which can completely change investment behaviors based on a few key factors.

For 2021, everyone will be watching the progress that can be achieved by COVID-19 vaccines. Ideally, sports and esports are back to live events with fans in the stands by mid-June, which would reinstate several existential revenue streams for a large number of esports companies. If that happens, expect an influx of esports IPOs and M&A driven by sports, media and entertainment holdings with global reach looking to build long-term revenue streams in the esports ecosystem.

Global financial markets also must be watched with 2021 on the horizon, as a crash caused by the long-term economic consequences of COVID-19 could stall the esports industry's recent upward trajectory. Such a scenario would likely cause a significant decrease in esports investments in 2021.

Middle East, North Africa Could Be Next Big Esports Region

Look for esports outfits in 2021 to try and tap into gaming in the Middle East and North Africa, writes TEO's James Fudge. 

That region next year could be what India was to several esports outfits in 2020. Western organizations like Fnatic and TSM decided to hire teams and open up an HQ in India to take advantage of the explosion in popularity of the battle royale game PUBG Mobile. 

But there will be a real struggle to figure out how to navigate cultural differences, as the region is heavily influenced by conservative religious values. But as Akshat Rathee, CEO of India-based tournament organizer NODWIN Gaming, describes it, there is "stupid money" for organizations to make in the region.