Arnd Benninghoff – MTGx – Shaping the future of digital entertainment

Arnd Benninghoff, MTGx

Arnd Benninghoff is the EVP, MTG & CEO of MTGx (Sweden)

MTG (Modern Times Group) is the major shareholder behind both ESL and DreamHack. As such it’s arguably one of the most important companies involved in the esports space. MTG also has EsportsTV as part of its repertoire, which is big in the Nordics and Baltics but is available further afield too, via third party suppliers.

Benninghoff heads up MTGx, the esports focused sector of MTG, a role he has held since November 2015. He is also a member of the Esports BAR advisory team. The Reed Midem event has its next iteration in Cannes in February (12-14).  This, the third in the Esports BAR series so far, will bring together the top performers in the esports industry and match them with those from outside the world of esports, but with a stake, or keen interest, in it.

Ahead of the BAR, we spoke to Arnd to discuss MTG’s plans, his thoughts on where esports will go in 2018 and more.

Esports Insider: MTG made its major investment in ESL back in 2015. Did you expect esports both to grow and change to the extent it has done in the period between now and then?

Arnd Benninghoff: We invested in ESL – and then DreamHack – because we saw esports had the potential to shape the future of digital entertainment. Every sold-out stadium, record-breaking stream and global sponsorship deal we’ve seen since has confirmed that we’re onto something.

Esports is what happens when three digital megatrends – gaming, communities and streaming – converge, and our view is that this is the sport of the 21st century. So I’m not surprised that the industry has grown so much in such a short time, although of course I’m very excited about it!

ESI: What was your first introduction to the world of esports, and how is your day to day spent at MTGx now? Do you get to go to many events, and if so which has impressed you the most?

Arnd: My first event was IEM Katowice February 2015, where I was blown away by the energy and enthusiasm of the esports fans in the stadium. Since then, I’ve always tried to get to as many events as possible.

“We invested in ESL – and then DreamHack – because we saw esports had the potential to shape the future of digital entertainment”

Esports is an incredible live experience – think drama, spectacle and tens of thousands of passionate fans rolled into one supercharged package. Intel Extreme Masters Katowice 2017 probably impressed me the most. We’re talking 173,000 fans on site, 46 million following online and #iem being tweeted 100 times a minute! It was the biggest esports event in history and we’re aiming even higher at the next Katowice event in March.

ESI: Can you make some esports business predictions for 2018? What’s going to be the biggest talking point? More exclusive media rights deals seems a likely one…

Arnd: Esports media rights will be a big talking point, of course. There’s enormous interest in esports on every platform – Katowice 2017 was ESL’s most broadcasted event ever, with 70 digital and linear partners producing and distributing content in 19 languages. But I think there’ll be an even more significant business development.

“The nascent esports industry needs a professional networking platform where all stakeholders can meet and discuss trends and opportunities”

There’s already a flow of non-endemic global brands into esports – Intel, Mercedes-Benz and Red Bull at ESL, for example, where non-endemic now accounts for 28% of total sponsorships. This could be the year the sector goes truly mainstream, and all because of a very simple logic: esports engages a huge global audience that largely blocks ads and ignores traditional media. Amazingly, 30% of esports fans don’t watch any other sports at all!

ESI: Why did you become a member of the Esports BAR, and what are you looking forward to in Cannes?

Arnd: 2018 will be a key year for esports and I’m looking forward to kicking it off at the Esports BAR in Cannes. The nascent esports industry needs a professional networking platform where all stakeholders can meet and discuss trends and opportunities. By bringing together such a diverse range of stakeholders, Esports BAR makes a valuable contribution to creating a truly sustainable esports ecosystem.

“Intel Extreme Masters Katowice 2017 probably impressed me the most. We’re talking 173,000 fans on site, 46 million following online and #iem being tweeted 100 times a minute!”

This is exactly what’s needed. Goldman Sachs thinks the overall esports market, which is worth around $500 million today, will exceed $1.1 billion by 2019, but the only way to make that happen is through co-operation, as well as competition.

ESI: As we head into 2018 and beyond, how do you see esports events themselves changing?

Arnd: I think the overall structure of the top-tier events is now fairly established. There will always be adjustments and improvements, and the prize money will keep going up, as the $1 million Intel Grand Slam for ESL and DreamHack events makes clear.

“I love the way new titles create new worlds, just like that. Players, fans and global communities appear pretty much overnight”

I believe the biggest change might instead be in reach. Just between January and October 2017, almost half a million people visited MTG’s live esports events (up 22% from the same period in 2016) and views of our esports content hit 844.7 million (up 44%). Esports is engaging more people, in more markets and on more platforms than ever before – IEM has successfully launched VR livestreams, for example. There are 385 million esports fans in the world today, and I think we will be reaching them in more ways than ever before.

ESI: Are there any titles which you think have a particularly exciting future right now?

Arnd: PUBG is the obvious one. IEM Oakland in November 2017 featured the first ever PUBG stadium event, with 80 players battling over a $200,000 prize pool, and I’m sure there’ll be many more to come. I love the way new titles create new worlds, just like that. Players, fans and global communities appear pretty much overnight. It’s yet another reason why I’m convinced this is the sport of the 21st century.

Disclaimer: Esports Insider is a Key Content Partner of the Esports BAR in Cannes