Guild Esports exploded onto the scene just a few months ago, making headlines and receiving criticism along the way. The organization’s executive chairman Carleton Curtis speaks on David Beckham’s involvement, the reception they have received so far, and what’s to come.
“Our general thesis in esports and sports is when it comes to teams, there’s a finite amount that truly matters. When I mention that I want to be in the same conversation as TSM and Cloud9 in one or two years, that’s my short-term goal. My long-term goal is to be in the same conversation as Manchester United, FC Barcelona, the Dallas Cowboys,” that’s how Dexerto’s conversation with Curtis ended, but how does the organization plan to make it there?
Being an organization that is not only based in the United Kingdom but actively representing it hasn’t been fruitful for many brands looking to make a name worldwide. The likes of Fnatic and Excel Esports have transcended their roots, but that’s not the same fate that many others have been subjected to at this point in the industry’s evolution.
“There’s a lot of reasons why we think the UK market is important,” Curtis told Dexerto. “To start, it’s a top 10 market for overall gaming revenue so it’s clearly a huge market for video games. On the UK team organization side, despite having some strong legacy orgs like Excel Esports and Fnatic, we fundamentally believe none of them have done a good job or focused on unlocking that tribal loyalty and the hearts and minds of the fan base in the UK.
“There are different approaches, but we don’t believe their primary motives have been to win over that market and we believe that the market has been starved. London Spitfire is in that same category. They’ve clearly been successful but they haven’t done a lot in the local market to activate.”
The aforementioned Manchester United, for example, have managed to outgrow their roots and establish a truly global fan base, not to mention a commercial appeal to match. This is where Guild Esports sees themselves in the future, based in the United Kingdom but not limited by it.
“We don’t want to position ourselves in the way a lot of the franchised leagues have,” he explained. “We’re not a city-based team — one of the comparisons we make is with James Bond, he’s clearly a UK brand but wherever you are in the world you know who he is. That’s the approach we’re taking with our brand.”
Earlier today, on October 21st, Guild Esports stepped out of its theoretical geographical boundary by signing the Valorant team formerly known as Bonk that is made up entirely of Swedish players.
“Are we only going to hire UK-based pros? That’s certainly the first lens that we filter our decision-making process through but let’s face it, the UK market is strong in some esports — like Call of Duty and FIFA — but League of Legends and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, for example, not so great so we have to look elsewhere for top pros,” Curtis told us.
“We’ve been talking to Bonk for months now and they’ve been a top-ranked team since the game came out,” he continued. “On top of that, they have some of the best personalities in all of esports. We’ve believed in Bonk since day one and every conversation has improved over time, the opportunity with a UK-based team was there but we were already committed and marching to the same vision so we thought this was the right thing to do.”
Besides the involvement and ambassador-status of the incredibly-famous David Beckham, Guild Esports stands out as being one of the few esports organizations to go public. After raising £20m ($26.3m) just before their IPO launch, they successfully completed their floatation on the London Stock Exchange at the impressive figure of £41.2m ($54.3m).
This was met with mixed reactions by the esports community, many of whom ridiculed the notion that Guild could be valued so highly despite being relatively new and not having the assets of an organization that has been around for years.
“It was strange that a lot of people were questioning how we could be valued at such a price while only having two teams; our prospectus that lays out our business plan mentions four games,” Curtis said.
Despite it being an irregular occurrence to go public if you’re a team brand, it certainly has its benefits. Not only does the novelty of it generate headlines and community speculation, but it can provide a lot of capital to make growth happen — and quickly.
“Going public allows Guild to scale as a company much more quickly than without the IPO process, it enhances our company profile, democratizing the process for fans to participate in our inventory,” he added. “In our case, you can now afford to buy into Guild if you think it’s a good investment — that type of opportunity doesn’t exist elsewhere on a major exchange like in London or New York.
“It allows us to recruit, retain, and incentivize our staff, pros, and content creators. Not only can we pay them a base salary, but we can also offer them upside in the company through warrants and that’s a really unique advantage that we have.”
The primary reason that people are watching Guild with a close eye, and the fact that mainstream media is giving a rare moment of attention to esports, is the aforementioned inclusion of Beckham. As well as being a minority owner, The Esports Observer read the prospectus and reported that the former professional footballer would be paid almost $20m throughout five years to serve as an ambassador for the organization.
This isn’t an everyday occurrence and caught the attention of many, leading to long-lasting conversations, judgement, and further scepticism.
“The odds are stacked against us in every possible way. There’s so much for us to prove, it’s difficult for us to really be at the level we want to be at — we want to be in the conversation with tier-one organisations quick, in one to two years, with the likes of Cloud9, TSM, and 100 Thieves,” Curtis explained.
“The scepticism is absolutely valid. When I was recruited for this role and I heard we’d have an IPO and would be involving Beckham, it sounded like a hoax to me. I had a very cushy job at Activision Blizzard Esports and we had incredible momentum so when I was approached, I was sceptical myself. It just didn’t make sense.”
This soon changed once he met with the co-founders and fully understood what they were looking to achieve with Guild, changing what’s perhaps the normal route of launching an organization and intentionally breaking the mould.
“We’re as authentic as it gets and we have really smart people on our team,” he told Dexerto. “This isn’t the David Beckham show, he’s not making all of the decisions — he has a very specific role, he’s an investor and he’s our consumer face of the brand but there are clearly a lot of elements of the company that he can’t fulfil.
“One of the knocks against Beckham was how much we paid him in this commercial deal and it just makes me chuckle because, in the industry, it’s a common narrative that it’s very difficult for esports organizations to make money. Whether the narrative is true or not, that’s the narrative. So when I hear business advice from that community about how we’re spending our money, I just laugh; should I follow a plan that’s not working or try something new?”
Having celebrity investors is nothing new in esports. From Post Malone’s recent investment in Envy Gaming to Drake’s industry-rattling involvement with 100 Thieves since October 2018, it’s almost becoming standard to see a giant from the entertainment industry backing a team.
“We’re not unique in that we have a celebrity attached to our organization, but elsewhere it’s been a one-off press release,” Curtis said. “They invest and then disappear. If you’re going to partner with a celebrity then not leverage their influence then that’s a missed opportunity. He’s an investor but we’re also paying him an influencer fee just like every other organization is doing with their own influencers.
“For us to work with Beckham and not use his influence is ridiculous. He is a door-opener for our company that has just been profoundly positive. The amount of press we’ve gotten has been nuts. He’s got promotional obligations but this type of stuff, you can’t even put a price tag on.”
While the interest garnered by Beckham’s co-ownership in Guild will carry them forward for the foreseeable future, it’s perhaps not a sustainable method to build infrastructure and legacy upon. The organization is banking on an academy model, which Curtis believes has been “half-assed,” to usher in the future of esports and further separate his organization from the pack.
“Academy is not a sexy conversation in esports and we fundamentally believe that’s an opportunity and a huge gaping hole in the industry to fill,” he said. “We don’t expect to fix the academy problems that exist in esports on our own; a lot of teams have academies but no league or team has truly committed themselves to the system in a long-term way.
“That ‘path to pro’ idea is something everybody believes in but nobody is really committed to. This is something we’re absolutely committing to over the next five years. We will have a physical environment in the UK for our academies but we’ll also have a digital product that makes us very unique, it’ll allow anybody in the world to enter our system. We live and play in a digital world but no teams have really invested in their digital products other than a Shopify storefront to sell stuff — besides Team Liquid.
“There’s a lot of development to do with our system and product and you’ll not see it peak for a number of years but that’s how long it takes to really develop and build an academy,” Curtis concluded. “It’s a long-term investment.”