Adam Fitch: Guild Esports have proven doubters wrong

Guild Esports David BeckhamGuild

When British esports organization Guild Esports launched in June 2020 they were met with scepticism and cynicism, and I was among the crowd dishing it out. Now, nine months on, I believe I owe them an apology.

The doubt aimed at the newly-launched organization at the time came from simple facts: they declared David Beckham as a co-owner, they planned on implementing a sports-style academy system, and they leaned in heavily on the mainstream press. In esports, we’re used to things being done in a particular fashion and it was clear Guild weren’t planned on fitting in.

In retrospect, I believe I gave them a hard time partially because I didn’t understand what they were aiming to do. Bringing in Beckham and planning to become publicly-listed with no achievements to date besides being in the BBC? Who do they think they are?

Plus, we’re used to seeing celebrity investors getting involved with a team and then fading into the background. In the public realm, they’re useful for a momentary PR boost and that’s about it. Perhaps they are indeed offering expertise behind the scenes, but they’re under-utilised in a forward-facing capacity considering their fame.

Guild Esports' roster of playersGuild Esports
Guild Esports started out with teams in FIFA and Rocket League.

It appeared to be a quick cash-grab, listing themselves on the London Stock Exchange and making millions of pounds — effectively off of Beckham’s name — with a hopeful valuation of £50m. Esports is supposed to be about competitive excellence and vibrant personalities, not utilizing a high-profile celebrity to raise millions in a matter of months. It felt iffy.

Wrongly, when I think of a new organization starting out, I envisage a start-up that begins small. Perhaps they just have one team, and it’s not one of the best teams at that. They have to earn their stripes and prove that they’re serious (and well-intentioned) before they earn our respect and make a killing in the process. Upon recent reflection, I was simply close-minded.

When uproar followed a report explaining that Beckham would be paid $20m for them to effectively make a name off of his, I actually understood what they were doing more. This was a large-scale attempt at something we’ve seen plenty of in online entertainment as of late, influencer marketing. You don’t get much more influential than David bloody Beckham, that’s for sure.

While people were ranting because Guild didn’t make a song and dance about the influencer deal they had in place with the former England footballer, the information was readily available. One under-acknowledged aspect of Guild Esports is that they’re one of the more transparent organizations we have in our entire industry. They have to be because of their status as a public company. If they keep things shady, they’re violating regulations. As soon as they sign a sponsorship deal, they have to make that known to their shareholders (for all intents and purposes, the public.)

Since launching and successfully floating on the LSE, Guild have proven to be taking esports seriously. They’ve signed teams in VALORANT, Rocket League, FIFA, and Fortnite, and are exploring an entry into Counter-Strike: Global Offensive too. They even grabbed their first trophy recently as well.

They’ve hired excellent creative staff to try and conquer one of the core pillars of the industry, content. Each announcement video they post is innovative and well-made, assets that wouldn’t feel out of place as a television commercial during prime time. Just look at what they’ve produced for player signings and sponsorship deals as solid examples.

For their logo, and subsequently their merchandise, they were thoughtful upon launch. Whether you like the branding or otherwise, the organization tapped successful streetwear designer Fergus Purcell to devise their visual identity and first range of apparel.

Guild Esports Merchandise SubwayGuild
Subway acquired rights to appear on Guild’s jerseys as part of their two-year deal.

Let’s revisit the widely-regarded three pillars of success for a modern-day esports team. Competition, content, and merchandise. They’re not afraid to spend to sign players they feel give them a chance at success, they’re creating what I consider to be some of the best content in Western esports and have signed plenty of creators, and they’ve tapped an iconic figurehead of streetwear to spearhead their clothing offering. As far as I can tell, they’re taking things seriously and should be considered as such.

The pillar of their business I can’t yet judge is their academy system. There’s been a lot of talk, just as there was for competitive excellence among their ranks, but I haven’t seen any action just yet. That’s fine, of course. Things take time, they’re having to build the plane as they’re flying it and we’re in the middle of an almost-global lockdown. This is an area I’m interested in though.

If they are the ones to implement a working, logical academy initiative that helps new talent be discovered, hone their craft, and then go on to greatness that this would be a lucrative talent pipeline. We see it in sports like football and, with Beckham’s first-hand experience with Ridgeway Rovers before he joined Manchester United, this would cement Guild’s spot among the top tier of esports team brands by my standards.

It’s not just myself who’s recognizing what they’ve done in their still-short lifespan. After March 25’s Subway announcement, other community members commended what Guild are building.

It is indeed worth noting that Guild have announced three partnerships so far. These deals are somewhat the lifeblood for many organizations, helping them to keep afloat as they work out how they can actually generate meaningful revenue. So far, Becks’ org have announced a deal with household gaming brand HyperX, a £3.6m three-year sponsorship with a fintech company, and a “multi-million-pound” two-year deal with the aforementioned fast-food chain. If we were to use partnership acquisition as a metric for organization performance, as some people no doubt do, then they’re also doing well in that arena.

I reserve the right to be sceptical when companies enter the industry out of nowhere with interesting plans (to say the least) but I will say that Guild have opened my eyes and widened my perspective. It would be a boring industry if no innovation took place, if nobody had the willingness and the spunk to try something new.

Hell, perhaps Guild are currently constructing the blueprint in which future organizations follow for a successful launch.