Esports has an outside reputation of being one of the fastest-growing industries in the world and this narrative only became more prominent in 2020. One of the only robust sectors of entertainment in the face of a global health situation, competitive gaming was broadcast on many of the biggest networks in the world.
Despite this belief, the industry is still in need of vast development. The companies that comprise esports — especially the organizations that house teams — are almost unanimously operating at a loss. With the promise of the industry becoming mainstream (and profitable for many) yet to be realized, companies are having to raise millions of dollars just to stay afloat.
The past few years have seen a trend emerge with venture capitalists investing eye-watering amounts into companies with hopes of seeing a significant return in a few years. While esports had a good year in some aspects, 2020 still had some negative impact on it and investment slowed down towards the end of the year.
We thought it would be worthwhile to bring together the biggest esports investments of 2020 as we head into a new year filled with uncertainty surrounding live events. It’s good to keep track of the money coming into the industry as a means of seeing how much faith investors have in its future.
The biggest esports investments of 2020
Details: BITKRAFT are the biggest venture capital fund in esports, investing in many startups across casual and competitive gaming alike. They aimed to amass $125m but ended up raising a total of $165m, displaying the interest many investors have in esports.
BITKRAFT has built a portfolio of over 50 companies since 2017 and, evidently, they don’t plan on slowing down any anytime soon. Adidas and Logitech were reported to be among the companies who contributed towards the fund.
Details: VSPN are major players in Asia, organizing many of the most popular competitions in the region. Chinese conglomerate Tencent led the $100m investment, in which the funds will be used to build an esports research institute, an esports culture park, and increase in their hosting capabilities.
Tencent own 100% of Riot Games, 40% of Epic Games, and smaller percentages of numerous other game developers so it wouldn’t be surprising to see VSPN enter new titles owned by these companies following this funding round.
Mobile Premier League
Details: The Mobile Premier League is an Indian mobile gaming and esports platform that raised $90m in its Series C round, though you may have never heard of them if you’re outside of the South Asian country.
They have collected insane amounts of players, tapping into India’s rabid base of gamers and competitors, and are said to have recorded more than 2 billion cash transactions to date. The most interesting part? They deal exclusively in mobile games.
Details: Swedish esports startup G-Loot secured $56m in investment as they solidified plans to expand from Europe into North America. They were founded in 2015 and have hosted offline and online events, partnering with the likes of PUBG Corporation, Tencent, and EA in the past.
What’s disappointing is that just months after announcing this significant cash raise, they were late paying former broadcast talent. Dexerto exclusively reported on this on November 25, having spoken with professional caster Mark ‘Boq’ Wilson. They did not publicly respond to the article.
Details: Counter-Strike: Global Offensive publication and affiliate website was acquired by sports betting media group Better Collective, marking an investment of $42.1m into esports. With the advertisement of esports betting operators as the main business model, the group acquired both HLTV.org and dust2.dk.
HLTV wanted to join Better Collective to “realize the full potential of [their] platforms” as they have well over a decade of experience in sports betting and technology. There haven’t been major noticeable differences in the offering of the websites since the acquisition, however.
Details: FaZe Clan are one of the biggest gaming entities in the entire industry and they solidified that with a monumental $40m Series A round. The investment was led by the co-founder of Beats Electronics and Interscope Records, Jimmy Iovine.
The round included a bevvy of big names from all corners of the entertainment sector, including musical artists Pitbull and Swae Lee, athletes such as Meyers Leonard, Josh Hart, and Gregory Van Der Wiel, as well as entrepreneurs Sylvia Rhone and Guy Oseary.
Details: ReKTGlobal perhaps have the most celebrity investors of any other esports organization, but they’re also a hit among private firms. They have a diverse portfolio, including esports brand Rogue, Call of Duty League franchise London Royal Ravens, talent management firm TXG, content agency Greenlit, fan loyalty company Fullcube, and marketing firm Fearless.
As well as welcoming musicians, athletes, and gamers to their ranks in 2020, they raised $35m in funding from private firm Summit Partners. ReKTGlobal plan to add further entities to their portfolio, hire additional executives, and better monetize their existing assets.
Details: Statespace, the company behind the well-known aim-trainer Aim Lab, raised $15m midway through 2020 and followed it up with a $29m raise just six months later. A lot of their existing investors doubled down, too.
Having partnered with major teams like G2 Esports and Philadelphia Fusion this year, combined with additional funds, saw Aim Lab grow its presence in esports handsomely. They have stiff competition but also the backing to continue to innovate.
Details: Launching onto the scene in 2020, Guild Esports made a name for themselves instantly by the association of David Beckham. Having a worldwide celebrity and former professional footballer attached to the organization raised plenty of ears.
Their next move, going public on the London Stock Exchange, also gave them plenty of attention. Ahead of listing themselves publicly, they raised $27m while only having competitors in FIFA and Rocket League at the time. Dexerto spoke to their executive chairman about the organization’s successful launch, Beckham’s involvement, and future plans in October 2020.
Details: Gaming, esports, and entertainment live steaming network VENN raised $26m, with contribution from BITKRAFT, Minnesota ROKKR owner WISE Ventures, and Josh Kroenke (who’s part of the company that have the Los Angeles Rams, Arsenal Football Club, Overwatch League team Los Angeles Gladiators, and Call of Duty League team Los Angeles Guerrillas in their portfolio).
Alongside the investment, VENN secured a local broadcasting media deal with Nexstar Media Group that will see the network air across 197 television stations.
Immortals Gaming Club
Details: The parent company of Immortals, MIBR, and Overwatch League franchise Los Angeles Valiant, Immortals Gaming Club announced that they had raised $26m in their Series B-1 finance round. The investment came at the same time as the company selling their Call of Duty League franchise, OpTic Gaming Los Angeles, to 100 Thieves.
The financial details of the transactions between Immortals, 100 Thieves, and NRG co-CEO H3CZ were not revealed, but they are expected to be in the tens of millions. Considering they had just sold their CoD team, it’s intriguing that they also felt they had to raise over $25m to continue growing the companies in their portfolio.
Details: Danish tournament organizer BLAST balanced out a difficult year without in-person events by raising $15.3m through an investment round led by Rocket Software CEO Johan Gedda and investment fund Vækstfonden.
While their intentions weren’t explicitly stated at the time of the announcement, it’s a costly endeavor to host events, and not having paying audiences in attendance must have been a hard blow to their business. Nonetheless, they expanded their service into Dota 2 and Valorant while continuing to put on well-received Counter-Strike events.
Details: Another online tournament platform in Challengermode received millions of dollars in investment too. Led by Alibaba’s investment arm eWTP Innovation Fund, the $12m investment round also saw a contribution from Swedish professional footballer Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
The money will be used to “enable further growth, international expansion and accelerated monetization” for the platform, according to an announcement at the time. The tournament space for amateur competitors is crowded and they’re all searching for ways to cement themselves as the go-to. That doesn’t always come cheap.
Details: California-based esports analytics company Mobalytics advises players in Riot Games’ League of Legends and Valorant, and they raised $11.25m to sustain their growth. They reported that over 7,000,000 gamers use their platform in an effort to improve.
The money was raised to allow them to further develop their solutions, offering better analytics and personalized data to users. This hinged upon hiring more engineers and product specialists throughout 2020.