ESI Digital Summer — presented by GamingMalta, with Gold Partner GRID Esports, and Silver Partner Omnicoach — kicked off five months after ESI Digital Spring with exciting new panels ranging from the latest when it comes to esports and education to in-game advertising and fan monetisation.
The event also saw the return of The Clutch, a pitch investment competition that gives esports focused startups a platform to pitch their ideas to a panel of judges and network with some of the industry’s most influential figures and brands.
In the opening remarks, Esports Insider Managing Director, Sam Cooke, announced two upcoming ESI physical events in London. Cooke hinted at an event on October 9th on Oxford Street, promising to reveal more at a later date.
Cooke also announced the grand return of the flagship ESI London on November 8th-9th with more details to be revealed shortly. View the ESI Digital Summer’s agenda, relive the panels (if you were a registered attendee you’ll receive an email with this link!) and catch up with what you may have missed from the conference.
Building and sustaining esports communities
This year’s ESI Digital Summer featured numerous panels focusing on building a community around a game or an organisation.
Since many organisations operate on an international level, reaching their audiences and forming relationships has taken on a new meaning.
When asked about the experience of launching the Mobile Legends: Bang Bang Professional League (MPL) into Brazil, Ajay Jilka, Director of Regional Esports Partnerships at MOONTON GAMES, mentioned cultural sensitivity and explained: “I think having that cultural sensitivity is really important in the way that we’re conducting ourselves as a brand. When launching a product it’s very important to listen to the community.”
Acknowledging different cultures around the world not only helps with a company’s understanding of the local communities but ensures the brand message comes across accurately.
In the ‘Plussing Up the Fan XP’ panel, Team Liquid emphasised the importance of giving back to their fans, connecting with them and creating a space where fans can interact with each other. This became a reality with the launch of the Liquid+ platform, which fans use to collect points, claim rewards and experiences to bring them closer to their favourite team.
Katie Cohen, Liquid+ Coordinator and Project Manager at Team Liquid, said: “It’s not even just about connecting us with our fans — it’s about connecting our fans with each other and giving them that shared safe space to go and be so excited and be enthusiastic and show off your fandom.”
Belong Gaming Arenas also spoke on the topic of esports’ impact on local communities, as it recently rolled out multiple gaming centres across the US, providing local gamers with the opportunity to watch, play, and compete across a range of titles.
Wim Stocks, Head of Partnerships and Commercial at Belong Gaming Arenas, touched on the company’s plans of turning local communities into international networks and said: “We won’t have just a single arena—we will have multiple arenas, we will be building a footprint that starts at the neighbourhood level but then builds regionally and then into the power of our network.”
Making it into esports: mainstream education, academies and collegiate leagues
Other topics discussed at ESI Digital Summer included the surge of esports activations in education whether at a high school or collegiate level. Esports is heavily involved in offerings by educational institutions, from university courses and modules to BTECs at a college level, but what value do these carry for students?
During the ‘Esports and Education 2021’ panel, Matt Watson, Head of Research, Learning & Development at the International Federation of Esports Coaches (IFoEC), said of people’s growing interest in the subject: “We’re seeing a shift in the perspective of why we are interested in esports and why esports is a suitable medium to deliver education and to offer young people a chance to be part of it, because we see a lot of potential for positive development, beyond just the kind of sort of game-specific stuff.”
However, it’s not necessary for gamers looking to go professional to have a mainstream education path. We have seen organisations, such as Team Singularity, launch their own academy to offer gamers skill-based education.
Besides providing gamers with the right tools to succeed, Atle Stehouwer, Founder & CEO of Team Singularity, also emphasised how important it is to take care of teams all-around. He said: “I think one of the things that we as esports clubs can learn from the sports ecosystem and how it’s grown, is how important performance coaching is, and, and taking care of the whole human.”
In the same panel, Kieran Holmes-Darby, Co-founder and Esports Director at EXCEL ESPORTS also commented on the trend of organisations launching academies, and pointed out that, “I think that ultimately it’s up to the teams whether they feel that an academy model is viable for their business.”
This year saw Nerd Street Gamers becoming one of the partners of the National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE) to create collegiate esports league NACE Starleague.
The collaboration will provide college teams with all tools necessary to succeed, and as Taryn McCarty, Head of Community Development at Nerd Street, said: “We want [youth] to understand that esports is an entire industry that they don’t have to be a professional streamer [in order to participate]. They can have a career in marketing, they can have a career in business development. [Nerd Street] is really just feeding the pipeline for esports across the country.”
Investments, revenue and growth
Since the esports and gaming market has become more and more attractive over the last few years — locales like Malta are steadily trying to build an esports scene and create a national community around it.
This is becoming a reality through non-profit foundation GamingMalta which alongside many local companies, including WorldPro Racing, GMR Entertainment, Level Academy and Wolfpack Management, spoke about the hard work it requires to reach this goal.
Specifically, Kevin Spiteri, Co-founder of Level Academy, discussed the reality and challenges of trying to create a market and a community from a smaller base — finishing his thoughts by saying that after all, “small is beautiful.”
As more and more exciting investments within the esports space are announced by the day, Moritz Maurer CEO of GRID, and a group of his esports-focused friends and associates decoded the decision-making process that led them to success.
Carsten Gjørtler Salling, Investor and Board Member at Dreamcraft Ventures, talked about when he realised that esports data was going to be the next big thing.
Salling recalled: “Randomly, in the queue waiting to board a flight back in the UK, I met a good friend in the esports ecosystem in the airport. He mentioned that ‘if you’re in Dreamcraft and you’re not looking at GRID right now, then you’re making a big mistake because they are onto something really, really exciting.’”
Omnicoach also offered valuable insights on how their revolutionary in-game advertising technology can help companies monetise their users in new and exciting ways.
From the get-go, Daniel Ágoston, CEO and Co-Founder of Omnicoach, brought up a universal problem when addressing esports and gaming fans.
He explained: “Anyone who plays video games or is slightly familiar with the scene, knows that advertisers have a tough job here since they need to serve an audience that hates advertising. This actually means that traditional marketing methods don’t work effectively when brands want to reach the gaming community.”
ESI Brand Showcase
This summer’s Brand Showcase explored how the Brawl Stars Master League came to be and its current course, featuring speakers from Master League, Rsquare Entertainment, which is the holding owner, and Chivas Esports.
Guillermo Medina Gamboa, Esports Manager at Chivas Esports said: “Here at Master League, we see the opportunity to take our regular football fans and supporters and turn them into esports enthusiasts. For example, they might follow Chivas in football, but now they can follow Chivas in the Master League, and even represent the team.
“The fact that our fans are now able to represent our institution is such a great league against other big organisations in Latin America, was the thing we are waiting for.”
Regarding the future of the Master League, Nicolas Cortes, Managing Director of Rsquare Entertainment, talked about what he’s most looking forward to and the benefits that the League holds for brands interested to get into the LATAM esports scene.
Cortes said: “We see the Master League as a multi-year franchise in different regions. We don’t see it as just LATAM, and we also don’t see it as just a soccer-to-esports league. I think that the value of the Master League goes beyond that, and that sports-to-esports leagues are just as entertaining.
“It opens the door to amazing things. I would love to see an NBA team competing against an NFL or a soccer team, all of them mixed together. I think that esports can break those barriers.”
Cortes also brought up how esports events organisers can learn from the struggles that traditional esports are facing, and become an even more attractive investment for sponsors.
He explained: “I don’t like how traditional events gather sponsors. I don’t think that the benefit that they offer for sponsors is enough these days.
“These days you have insane reach and engagement to different channels for your brand. You can run Facebook ads, you can use campaign influencer marketing — directly to consumers, super personalised, super customisable, measurable, and scalable.”
What everyone agreed on and highlighted is the extreme potential that the LATAM esports market carries. The region holds tonnes of opportunities for innovative activations, events and investments, and the Brawl Stars Master League plans to take advantage of that.
The Clutch 2021
Judges for the competition include sought-after figures in and around the investment field featuring Spike Laurie from Hiro Capital, Vincent Vercelli from Level 256 and Helen Sarah Gammons from HSBC Private.
The winning company receives an exclusive place in Level 256’s €5,000 incubator programme, alongside extensive promotion, and access to guidance and mentorship.
First on the virtual stage to present his company was Mark Cole, Co-founder of Dragoni, who talked about how esports betting has become one of the fastest-growing markets in the sector and gave an overview of Dragoni’s past and future plans.
Next to take the mic was Jack Williams, Founder of iTero Gaming, who delved into the company’s mission of using AI to ‘moneyball’ esports and maximise the performance of teams. Williams presented the judges with three esports products that iTero Gaming is planning to launch: a drafting tool for League of Legends (LoL), a talent scouting service and a team analysis tool.
Moving on, Luke Zelon, Co-founder of NXT UP Esports, first chose to address some fundamental issues of esports as a youth sport, such as parents viewing esports and gaming as a waste of time or kids being exposed to inappropriate content.
NXT UP Esports aims to establish a Youth Esports League for kids who will be coached by trained professionals in group settings. This way, as Zelon said: “Not only are [kids] working on in-game skills, but they’re working on social and character development at the same time.”
Lastly, Yoonsung Kim, Global Business Manager at the Match Lab, put forward CHECKT, a gamer-driven video-game coaching system, with a focus on League of Legends. The Match Lab also owns the Esports Lab Academy, which focuses on three main experiences: gameplay analysis, weakness diagnosis and player management. According to Kim, CHECKT incorporates all these areas into its algorithm and then provides LoL players with meaningful data.
At the end of ESI Digital Summer, returning for the closing remarks, ESI MD Sam Cooke announced iTero Gaming as the winner of The Clutch saying: “A big, big congratulations to Jack Williams, we all loved the pitch at ESI, though the decision was not ours, it was fully in the hands of the judges, and to quote them ‘even though the project is for sure at a super early stage, the founder was very dynamic, smart and with a lot of energy’.
“The judges also believe that Jack will benefit from getting involved in the Level 256-backed incubator. Congratulations to all the companies that pitched, and took part in The Clutch this year, and an especially huge congratulations to Jack Williams and iTero Gaming.”
As the second digital event of 2021 wrapped up, the team is greatly looking forward to the return of our physical events: October 9th on Oxford Street and ESI London on November 8th-9th.
ESI’s final digital event of 2021, ESI Digital Winter, is set for the start of December.