In 2019, the esports industry is set to top $1 billion in revenue, and it’s continuing to grow at a rapid pace. By 2022, total global esports revenue is estimated to be at around $1.8 billion. The audience is expected to grow 15% during that team, reaching 454 million people. As the industry continues to become bigger and more lucrative, it catches the eyes of major corporations looking to get in on the competitive gaming craze.
In 2018, Newzoo reported that the esports industry generated $908 million in revenue. Of that amount, $359.4 million went to sponsorship deals, a 53.2% increase from 2017. Giant companies and wealthy individuals alike have invested in esports, from organizations and teams to tournaments and events. Here are some of the largest esports investors, organized by net worth.
Esports fans can’t mention Counter-Strike: Global Offensive without bringing up Intel thanks to the computing and electronics brand sponsoring the longest-running esports tournament in history: Intel Extreme Masters. The technology company has been sponsoring IEM with the Electronic Sports League since 2006. The tournament’s total prize pool in 2019 was $500,000.
When the Overwatch League launched in 2017, Intel became the league’s CPU sponsor. The LPL, China’s League of Legends tournament series, is also powered by Intel. The company became an LPL sponsor in 2013, when the league was originally founded.
Major Ross McKnight, chief of the national events branch at the Air Force recruiting service headquarters, said that Cloud9’s Counter-Strike players had the “same level of discipline, rigor, and achievement” that they value in members of the Air Force. He also stated that the partnership would help Cloud9 fans realize “some of the ways in which they can make a difference in the U.S. Air Force.”
A controversial partnership for that very reason, Cloud9 announced their new sponsor in July of 2018. The team sported the U.S. Air Force logo on their jerseys and worked with the Air Force to create content for fans, including their Reloaded web series.
In 2009, Disney acquired Marvel for $4 billion. Thanks to popular films like Avengers: Endgame, Marvel may earn over $5 billion in 2019. And some of that money went to Team Liquid, who announced Marvel as a strategic partner in June of 2019. The exclusive partnership included Marvel-themed jerseys that morphed Team Liquid players, from such as games League of Legends and Super Smash Bros. Melee, into Avengers.
Along with the ESL, Mountain Dew sponsors the Mountain Dew League. This CSGO competition gives players the opportunity to make it to the ESL Pro League. In 2017, MDL included the “Next Big Caster” competition, which crowned an amateur shoutcaster as picked by the crowd. In July of 2019, ESL appointed Mountain Dew as its official global beverage partner for all major events, including IEM and ESL One.
The internet service provider currently sponsors multiple esports teams, including Evil Geniuses and Philadelphia Fusion. The multi-billion dollar corporation provided Evil Geniuses’ with a training facility, along with internet and video services. Much of the Fusion’s online content is sponsored by the cable provider.
Comcast is also an ESL sponsor, as well as the presenting sponsor of the Overwatch League Season 2 playoffs and grand finals. Xfinity will be featured on digital broadcasts on Twitch, ESPN, and ABC, as well as on-site at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia during the finals event.
While Mercedes-Benz is the world’s largest and oldest esports company, it may come as a surprise that such an old school automobile manufacturer has taken an active interest in esports. But Mercedes announced a sponsorship with ESL in 2017. As the world’s oldest esports company, it seemed only fitting that ESL would work with Mercedes-Benz.
Esports viewers were initially skeptical of the luxury car company, but Mercedes-Benz proved they were a good fit with their social media banter. ESL One Hamburg, a live event at which Mercedes had their logo posted all around the arena, had 10,000 fans in attendance.
This giant soda company has been a constant name in League of Legends, sponsoring the League of Legends World Championship multiple years in a row. Partnering with Riot Games, Coca-Cola has also held Worlds viewing parties throughout North America and Europe, simulcasting the event in more than 200 movie theaters. Coca-Cola even came out with League of Legends-themed bottles in Turkey in the summer of 2019, something they have also done in South Korea.
Coca-Cola quenched their thirst for more esports by becoming the Overwatch League’s official drink in February 2019. The three-year pact with Activision-Blizzard Esports Leagues included the first Overwatch League sponsorship to utilize total control over the game’s intellectual property, spreading to Contenders, and the Overwatch World Cup. Coca-Cola beverages will also be served at BlizzCon and anywhere else where Overwatch League is present.
At the start of 2019, Team Liquid announced an automobile sponsorship deal with Honda. Throughout North America’s LCS, the top North American League of Legends team used the Honda Odyssey to get around Los Angeles. The car company also provided customized Honda Civics to the team and its players. Throughout the LCS, fans saw a memorable ad of Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng throwing out some trash before climbing into his Honda.
Honda has been involved with other esports in the past as well. Partnering with Red Bull and Twitch, Honda hosted a Hearthstone tournament in 2016. They also hosted their own esports event in Thailand in 2018.
The popular energy drink first entered the esports industry by sponsoring Blizzard’s StarCraft 2 tournaments. The company has since expanded to Dota 2 events as well. Red Bull also sponsors Tempo Storm, which has a presence across multiple esports titles.
The beverage company is also very invested in esports community events and engagement, boasting a thriving website dedicated to esports.
The Patriot’s owner announced that he would have a team competing in the OWL when the league was first formed. In a press release, Kraft stated that his company was forming an OWL team that will “compete for championships, as Boston sports fans have come to expect from all of their professional teams.” The Overwatch League franchise fee was reportedly at least $20 million in 2017, which many found to be surprisingly steep at the time.
The Boston Uprising have not been as successful as Kraft’s NFL team thus far. The team failed to qualify for the OWL Season 2 playoffs, finishing Stage 4 at the very bottom of the standings.
The basketball legend doesn’t only have an eye for basketball and golf. In the fall of 2018, Jordan invested in Team Liquid’s parent company, aXiomatic. While the exact dollar figure behind his investment is unknown, it was part of a $26 million round of Series B funding.
After casually playing Fortnite with Tyler “Ninja” Blevins in 2018, an act which eventually led to some suprising beef between the two popular celebrities, the rapper became the co-owner of 100 Thieves. While Drake has a clear interest in gaming, he also seemed excited about the investment because of 100 Thieves’ streetwear apparel. His investment referred to the esports organization as a “lifestyle brand” and “apparel company.”
In March 2019, Drake announced another esports investment. This time it was Player’s Lounge, an esports startup focused on betting. The startup closed $3 million in funding thanks to Drake and some other Silicon Valley investors, including Comcast and Macro Ventures.