Struggling games retailer Gamestop turns to esports for help

Steven R. March 28, 2019

Gamestop now has working relationships with a number of top American esports organizations.

The video game retailer announced a series of partnerships with multi-game brands Team Envy, OpTic Gaming, and CompLexity Gaming. The news comes at a critical time for the company and kicks off what could be a larger push into esports for Gamestop.

The partnerships extend to the organizations’ branded teams in games including Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and Call of Duty. It also involves Envy and OpTic’s Overwatch League teams, the Dallas Fuel and Houston Outlaws.

For Envy and OpTic, the deal includes extensive work with Gamestop beyond simply adding the company’s logo to its jerseys. The organizations will work with the retailer on a variety of projects aimed at engaging gamers and attracting new fans to local retail stores.

“We’re excited to partner with GameStop at a point in time where everyone involved in gaming is starting to build for the future,” Envy Gaming executive Geoff Moore said. “Having a partner in GameStop that makes sharing a passion for gaming a priority is the perfect way for Envy and the Dallas Fuel to connect with our fans in our home market in Texas and globally.”

Gamestop’s partnership with CompLexity goes even further. The team is set to open a new 11,000 square-foot performance center in May which will be adjacent to the headquarters of the Dallas Cowboys, whose ownership also maintains a stake in the CompLexity organization. The facility will be branded the Gamestop Performance Center.

“The opening of the GameStop Performance Center represents Complexity’s vision to further professionalize the esports industry and leverage the learnings from the Dallas Cowboys who also call the star home,” CompLexity CEO Jason Lake said. “We are creating a world-class facility that will engage fans both in person and online and positively impact the entire industry for decades to come.”

The news comes days after Gamestop appointed George Sherman as its new CEO. Sherman is expected to enact a number of changes at Gamestop with the aim of reversing the company’s recent decline in prominence.

Though nearly every gamer in the United States has at one point visited a Gamestop location, the retailer has been hammered by changes to the gaming marketplace.

Department stores including Target and Walmart have expanded their video game offerings in recent years, while online retailer Amazon has made aggressive moves to attract gamers.

Digital distribution through services like the Playstation Network and Xbox Live have cut into the market for physical copies of console games. The market for physical releases of PC titles has almost entirely evaporated due to the success of digital storefronts such as Steam and Battle.net.

These changes have resulted in declining sales and store closures for Gamestop, with those troubles further compounded by high turnover in the company’s boardroom. In 2018 Fortune reported that Gamestop was talking to potential buyers, leading to speculation that it may be close to shutting down entirely.

According to VentureBeat, Sherman intends to combat this with a “GameStop 2.0” initiative that will see the company shift “from a retailer to a cultural experience.” This includes making Gamestops a location to not just purchase games, but also play games and encounter personalities from the industry.

OpTic stated that its partnership with Gamestop includes “exclusive opportunities to meet with their favorite players and creators in-person throughout the partnership.” Envy noted that it will work with Gamestop on “fan engagement opportunities including contests, watch parties, and player appearances.”

The press releases also includes allusions to a previously unannounced “Gamestop Live.” Though details are vague, the press release from Team Envy specifically discusses Gamestop Live clinics run by Dallas Fuel coaches Aaron "Aero" Atkins and Justin "Jayne" Conroy.

In its press releases, Gamestop Chief Marketing Officer Frank Hamlin discussed repositioning Gamestop as a developmental step for competitive gaming prospects.

“We are aiming to become the official minor leagues of esports where GameStop provides fun and unique cultural experiences for player development while preparing the next generation of professional gamers,” Hamlin said. “It doesn’t get any better for amateurs of all ages looking to learn and compete at the highest level.”

This statement harkens back to some of Gamestop’s previous tournament organizing endeavors. Though these efforts primarily included small local tournaments for games like Pokemon, the company has hosted larger events such as its national Street Fighter IV tournament that included top pros Justin Wong and Daigo Umehara.

Gamestop seems ready to dive into esports after years of just sticking in a toe. Whether it can make real headway into the industry remains to be seen.