Posted in NEWS
January 1, 2021

ESI 2020 round-up: Esports’ growth and hurdles

ESI 2020 round-up: Esports’ growth and hurdles

Gratuitously lauded across headlines throughout the year, esports enjoyed far more limelight in 2020 than may have been anticipated in spite of its growth in recent times. Indeed, with the lengthy absence of sports, esports became something of a media darling. Despite this, the heavily impacted physical events sector of the industry should not be discounted.

The sector was quick to levitate from its typical structures by embracing digital, virtual and mixed reality formats, bubble structures, and remote work – but the bottom line remained contingent on physical attendance.

In order to provide a round-up of 2020, Esports Insider spoke to a variety of stakeholders around the industry to reflect on one of the most unconventional years in recent memory. Ranging from esports organisations and league operators to esports business suppliers, this two-part perspective covers all corners of the sector. 

In this first entry, respondents recalled how the year treated their businesses, what their crowning achievements were, and whether 2020 was a defining period for esports.

The 2020 treatment

Any overview of 2020 is likely to appear as an anomaly in terms of metrics, but there’s a high chance that this could have been an instrumental year for a variety of trajectories and contingency plans. 

Ben Spoont, CEO and Co-founder of Misfits Gaming Group, told Esports Insider: “2020 has been a bittersweet year for us as a whole. We were planning more live events than we’ve ever done, ranging from hundreds to thousands of fans, and more opportunities for local engagement, but that all had to change with COVID restrictions.

“We had to adapt, get creative and go online, and now we’re running our own online tournaments, like our Florida Mutineers Release the Kraken Invitational with hundreds of thousands of dollars in prize pools.”

2020 saw a rise in charity streams, online tournaments, and digital activations not confined to esports. Genres and brands intermingled in new ways trying to provide fan engagement opportunities. These new blends found an on-and-offline footing where they could look to emulate, or in some case replicate, event and tournament structures which took place prior to the pandemic, whether that be online or through the use of an offline bubble system, such as this year’s League of Legends World Championships.

Misfit Gaming Florida Mutineers at Minnesota RØKKR Homestand
Credit: Misfit Gaming

FaZe Clan CEO, Lee Trink,  also elaborated on how the organisation’s diverse revenue streams helped provide growth throughout the year: “2020 was a mixture of challenges and successes. We were fortunate to enjoy continued growth, but, more importantly, we demonstrated to the rest of the esports industry that we have a business model that truly works. A model that’s scalable, sustainable and lucrative.”

Nevertheless, organisations were not the only entities that were affected by the happenings of 2020.  Tournament organisers, publishers, and suppliers exist as unique cogs in the esports machine. Arnoud Schonis, Esports Project Manager of eDivisie, the Dutch FIFA League Operator and a division of the Eredivisie, shared how its league adapted following the competition’s hiatus during the pandemic. 

 “We changed to a fully online setup and with 18 clubs and 36 players, you can imagine this is a huge effort,” Schonis said. “The pace of which we set this up was amazing. We have highly qualified people on board and that definitely shows in how our league is now produced.

“Also, the clubs and players had to adjust. They had to invest more time and effort in making these matches possible, seeing the fact that connections had to be made, locations had to be transformed and players were managed from a distance.

“We find that the eDivisie has become more accepted, especially by potential commercial partners. Now that H&M and KPN have tied themselves to the eDivisie, this shows that the interest in the eDivisie is still there and is actually growing.”

RELATED: Meet the Esports Insider Hall of fame Class of 2020

Not without its highlights

In Q4 of 2020 alone, parent company Modern Times Group merged ESL and DreamHack into ESL Gaming, and DreamHack celebrated its 26th anniversary with a visual rebrand. Esports Insider Hall of Fame Class of 2020 inductee and COO of DreamHack, ESL Gaming GmbH, Anna Nordlander was most proud of the execution of the merger, she told Esports Insider.

“Although we’re still working on aligning everything internally, the sheer amount of work put into the project prior to the announcement was massive and done parallel to our regular operations. 

“I’d also have to include our tremendous success in viewership numbers for 2020.” She added, “Our team has put a lot of work into continuing to produce first-class esports moments, and the positive feedback from the community has been a great acknowledgement of all the work we do.”

Patrick Mahoney, CEO of We Are Nations, also beamed about the launching of Nations Ventures this year: “We believe in gaming and esports, so doubling down in disruptive times made sense to us. One of the silver linings of 2020 was that since everyone was sitting around stuck at home and trying to figure out where everything was going, people from all areas of the industry just started talking to each other, and that’s where our early deal flow for the [investment] fund came from.”

Yaroslav Meshalkin, Chief Strategic Communications Officer, of ESforce Holding was proud to share two crowning achievements for his organisation: “The first is for our EPIC League, which, according to Esports Charts, became the most popular Dota 2 tournament of all time, excluding The International championships in 2017–2019. What a fantastic design was produced by our colleagues from Epic Esports Events and RuHub Studio, who were the operator and the broadcaster of the event! 

“The second crown goes to our esports club, which has made its Dota 2 and CS:GO teams great again this year. With triumphal rush into the world top-five by earned prize pools.”

2020’s significance

With both memorable and forgettable moments that this year has provided, its significance in the great scheme of things will not go unnoticed. As we close in on the new year, Esports Insider asked whether 2020 was a defining moment for the industry’s trajectory.

“Esports jumped from vying for mainstream status in sports to taking centre stage as live events were sidelined,” said Chris Park, CEO of Gen.G. “While we missed the value of live events, we are fortunate to have an ecosystem that can still thrive online. There is no doubt we have our work cut out for us to continue connecting with our fans digitally until we can return to live events.”

FaZe Clan Jarvis, Teeqo and Fraizer Manchester City FC Collab
Credit: FaZe Clan

Faze Clan’s Trink added: “2020 was a year when traditional sports and entertainment nearly stood still. As a result, there was a spotlight on this industry that made it clear to anyone paying attention, that esports and gaming has to be considered alongside any other sport, and any other pillar of the entertainment industry overall.”

Sports are an undeniably fundamental aspect of civilisation and in 2020 this continued thanks to the electronic aspect of esports. The global situation no doubt forced the hand of many to investigate esports entertainment more earnestly, as more than ever traditional sports organisations turned to invest into esports solutions.

Oleh Humeniuk, CEO of WePlay, a media holding company, agreed: “In 2020, the lines between esports and traditional sports have been blurred. As the habits of millions of people have changed, that’s one of the reasons behind the announcement of the WePlay Ultimate Fighting League by the company’s Managing Partners Yura Lazebnikov, Oleg Krot, and undisputed world cruiserweight boxing champion Oleksandr Usyk — to make it a habit for people to watch exciting esports matches that are easy to understand and enjoy even for the non-gamers.”

Nerd St. Gamers CEO, John Fazio, also saw the relationship between sports and esports fans tighten this year. “2020 defined adaptability. For esports specifically, while our primary competitions were also shut down and unable to play in person, we saw a new wave of fandom enter the space as people were unable to watch their favourite traditional sports teams compete, and craved to watch competitions.

“We also saw an increase in both casual and competitive gameplay, as more people adopted competitive gaming as a means of safely socialising with friends and fuelling their competitive spirit.”

Nerd Street Gamers Five Below facilities
Credit: Nerd Street Gamers

All other worlds and all other industries, including the ‘traditional’ sports, got an idea of the advantages of collaboration with esports. That was a revolution in the mindsets, I suppose.” Meshalkin of ESforce shared. “Esports, our technologies and even our fanbase became highly demanded. Russian hockey stars playing CS:GO show matches in the height of the NHL season – who could imagine that before the pandemic?”

Digital infrastructures proved how robust they were as the main source of communication and entertainment, spanning across networks globally though video conferencing and streaming entertainment. This year, esports sat closer to the head of the competitive entertainment table than ‘traditional’ sports did.

Despite the pivots, rebounds, and turnovers that took place in 2020, it likely will not be seen as an ideal year by any invested party. However, esports showed up to these challenges ready to play. As the world looks, however cautiously, forward to a new year with new challenges – the cogs in the esports machine are greasing themselves. Hardened from the lessons they’ve learned this past year, it’s likely that when the industry enters into 2021 – esports entities will continue to develop and grow in this ever-changing world.

Stay tuned for part two of the wrap-up.

Listen to ESI Network, a suite of esports podcasts

Published at Thu, 31 Dec 2020 16:00:05 +0000

The best esports advertising campaigns of 2020

As we welcome 2021 with open arms and wave goodbye to 2020, it’s time to summarise something we actually enjoyed — the most creative advertising campaigns this year.

At Esports Insider, we’ve chosen to celebrate these activations by showcasing some of the most significant, captivating, and outstanding advertisements delivered, whether it be through long-running campaigns or one-off brand collaborations. 

best esports ads 2020
Image source: LECtronic

Here, presented in no particular order, are what we consider to be some of the best esports advertising campaigns of 2020:

Skillshot: Gamer Therapy

Mental health has become a major talking point in the esports industry, especially during the COVID-19 lockdowns this year. As such, Cloud9 launched a mental health campaign with Kaiser Permanente, GRID partnered with Rethink Mental Illness for a charity CS:GO event, and online initiatives like YANA (You Are Not Alone) helped to keep gamers connected during a year marked with unexpected loneliness and stress.

Skillshot Media also launched ‘Gamer Therapy’ to pair gamers of all skill levels with licensed therapists, who also happen to be gamers. While playing together, they are able to talk casually about subjects that concern them and receive helpful, healing feedback. The campaign video by The Community illustrates that even people we see as successful (pro athletes, casters, etc.) feel anxiety and need to practise self-care, too.

Destigmatising mental health concerns will help prevent burnout among pro gamers and help reduce toxicity toward others and ourselves. If anything good came out of 2020, it was the fact that the esports industry stepped up to remind us that it’s okay to seek help.

Lenovo Legions: Stylish Outside, Savage Inside

Lenovo Legion is an active brand partner in esports and set out to promote its gaming PCs and laptops with a hype-filled TV SPOT. ‘Stylish on the Outside, Savage on the Inside’ appealed to APEX Legends players in particular by illustrating that gamers have ‘two sides’ — the responsible adult and the savage in-game character.

It also calls attention to APEX Legends Global Series, for which Lenovo Legion is a major sponsor. As part of the arrangement, Lenovo will provide more than 200 Lenovo Legion desktops and monitors for players at all upcoming Apex Legends Global Series Majors. In addition, Lenovo Legion laptops will be provided for caster desks.

KIA Motors x LECtronic: Dance with me feat. Sjokz

Another great thing to happen in 2020 was the creation of LECtronic — a band formed from League of Legends European Championships casters Andy ‘Vedius’ Day, Aaron ‘Medic’ Chamberlain, and Daniel Drakos.

Following some not-so-mediocre rap battles, LECtronic showcased their musical skills again with ‘Dance with Me,’ a music video that turned into one of the most talked-about ad campaigns of 2020.

Rapping, singing, and dancing from real-life casters makes ‘Dance with Me feat. Sjokz’ a catchy way to hype up both the LEC Summer Finals and Worlds, whilst also showcasing KIA’s brand in an alternative way.

Overall, League of Legends has had some really great advertising campaigns this year, many of which could have made this list.

Bumble: Play Like a Girl

Multinational esports organisation Gen.G introduced Team Bumble in 2019 — an all-female professional Fortnite team. As the name suggests, Team Bumble was launched in collaboration with Austin-based matchmaking/networking app, Bumble.

Gen.G released a four-part video series in 2020 called ‘Play Like a Girl’ that invited influencers to play with and get to know members of Team Bumble and Gen.G. Guests included rapper AD, The Bachelorette contestants Tyler Cameron and Dylan Barbour, Twitch streamers Pathra, model Margaux Brooke, caster Jess Brohard, and more.

The result is a casual play session that shows off the girls’ skills while normalising their presence in a pro-gaming world. This series was included on our list because although Bumble is not actively promoted, the team bearing its name is making strides to lift female gamers up.

This is incredibly important for public acceptance of females in the esports space. The more esports fans and fellow gamers realise that women can hold their own (and are people with feelings, too), the less toxic the industry becomes over time.

Geico: Bjergsen’s Fan Club

Some of the best esports ad campaigns are entertaining on their own while throwing a virtual ‘I get you’ wink at hardcore fans. Team SoloMid’s star League of Legends mid-laner, Søren ‘Bjergsen’ Bjerg grew an impressive beard that had fans talking but he suddenly shaved it during the quarantine.

GEICO played into this hot gossip by creating an advert that imagines how fans would react. In this fun ad campaign, Bjergsen’s ‘fan club’ nervously prepares to meet the man himself via video chat. They have all grown beards to impress him…unfortunately it seemed like Bjergsen didn’t get the memo.


If you haven’t noticed a pattern by now, the best esports advertisements tend to resonate with gamers when they either go full-hype or full-on fun. Mountain Dew chose the latter with this spot in which TSM discovers its most locked-on self by drinking AMP FUEL (featuring Bjergsen’s beard, RIP).

Energy drinks and esports are natural teammates, inspiring many brands to launch products specifically for this market. Just this year, Coca-Cola launched Coke Energy alongside a partnership with Pittsburg Knights, for example.

KLEVV: Light in Your Body

If video killed the radio star, then esports could be the death of ‘boring looking’ gamers. In this spot for KLEVV’s gaming memory with customisable RGB lighting, T1 Entertainment & Sports exudes all the looks and charm of fellow South Korean group BTS while appealing to PC gamers who love to customise their rigs.

Each member of T1’s League of Legends team shares their KLEVV models of choice, making statements like, ‘I want to know your RGB code’. Will T1 posters soon be hung on their walls, and demand Beatlemania-style devotion from adoring fans? After this ad, they just might.

Betway: BLAST Betway Breakout

This light-hearted and entertaining activation challenged CS:GO rivals Nicolai ‘dev1ce’ Reedtz of Astralis and Kenny ‘kennyS’ Schrub of G2 to an escape game.

Both players had 10 minutes to use teamwork and progress through all the challenges. It required a lot of communication, quick thinking, and timing to solve all the puzzles. It was a fun break from the action of BLAST Premiere Fall Series and audiences could download the game for themselves on Steam to see if they could do better.

Moreover, the map in the episode is designed to fit Betway’s signature purple colour scheme, whilst also having online advertising throughout the course, to signify the collaboration between BLAST and the gambling firm.

Nike: Camp Next Level

Nike’s first-ever esports ad debuted in China just ahead of the League of Legends World Championship. The beautifully crafted commercial imagines a high-tech training camp that integrates physical attributes with endurance and even the ability to withstand online hate.

Camp Next Level pays homage to retired LoL player Jian ‘Uzi’ Zihao who played for Royal Never Give Up before retiring for health reasons. Zihao cited obesity, diabetes and a hand injury as reasons for stepping back from his pro gaming career.

Zihao appears as a hologram at the beginning of the spot, as hardcore trainer ‘NXT’ explains that your body is the key to your success and that he’s on a mission from a ‘legendary LoL player’. Zihao signed an endorsement deal with Nike in 2018.

‘Camp Next Level’ provides a positive, yet light-hearted message of working hard while taking care of yourself. In addition, it is a landmark ad for Nike, which until November 2020 had never aired an esports advertisement.

GUCCI: The Dive

Italian luxury fashion brand Gucci officially stepped into the world of esports this year through a collaboration with British organisation Fnatic. The Fnatic watch was featured exclusively on Gucci’s website for £1,150 as a limited edition piece, and quickly sold out.

The collaboration was not only unexpected but highly successful for Gucci’s first foray into the industry. It’s partnerships like this that prove that even non-endemic brands can create meaningful connections with esports fans in surprising ways.

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Published at Thu, 31 Dec 2020 13:00:13 +0000

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