Guild Esports exploded onto the esports market in June 2020 when they launched with famed footballer David Beckham as a co-owner and brand ambassador. They went about things differently from the start, and that received a whole range of reactions.
One thing is for sure, though: they aimed for the stars. Kicking things off with mainstream press galore and Beckham’s involvement, and quickly following those up by going public on the London Stock Exchange in October, it’s been a blur for CEO Kal Hourd and his team from the get-go.
They’ve since amassed millions of followers across social platforms, won championships in big titles, and launched an academy system that they hope will one day reach levels only seen in English football. It’s been a year chock-full of growth and learning opportunities for the British esports organization.
Now, a little over a year since they got underway and almost 12 months since they listed themselves publicly on the London Stock Exchange, Hourd has spoken with Dexerto to reflect on their journey — both the highlights and the recent, less exciting news.
Guild’s journey so far
While ‘esports’ is in the company’s name, it’s very clear that they’re much akin to giants like FaZe Clan and 100 Thieves in that they put a lot of emphasis on having creators and influencers in their ranks. Not only is this a great way of getting eyeballs on organizational content, but it’s also a means of having large audiences at their disposal — some of which they own (as they follow Guild themselves) and some they’re effectively renting (the audiences of their ambassadors).
“We’ve exceeded expectations on our audience growth and the marketing key performance indicators we had set,” Hourd told Dexerto. “That’s a testament to our esports product, how we’re performing in-game, and the content that we’re putting out. I’m really happy with where we’re at there and we’re going to continue to grow.
“As our fan base grows and we create fans out of some of the followers, our apparel numbers are going to start to go up too. We can’t expect to sell out every drop when we’re a brand new organization. We’re working hard but the apparel side of the business is going to grow alongside our fan base.”
It’s not every day that an esports organization rocks up with a global superstar, quite literally, as one of their primary faces. Not only does former footballer Beckham have $319,000 invested in Guild, but he’s also signed as an ambassador as part of a $20m, five-year deal. While this would be a costly affair for even the biggest of esports companies, his name alone has provided some legitimacy and delivered millions of eyeballs onto the org from the jump.
“What people don’t realize is David Beckham comes with a team of 30 of the most brilliant minds in business,” said Hourd. “We work very closely, not only with David, but with his team. He’s very hands-on with the development of the academy specifically, but in terms of marketing, promotion, and content, David and his team are really involved. You’ll see after the summer holiday season is over, our content and our plans with David will start to ramp up.”
Guild chose to launch and be quartered in the United Kingdom, specifically in London, England, for a few reasons. Beckham’s legacy in English football speaks for itself, but that was only part of why the England capital was the destination of choice for the org.
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“We had plans to launch this academy and path to pro and there’s no country in the world that has done an academy system better than the UK,” Guild’s CEO explained. “The success story in the UK academy model is David Beckham so that’s one reason why it all made sense.
“There are some great esports organizations in the UK and I’m certainly not discounting any of them, I just felt like there was room for one more and an opportunity to use the UK as the breeding ground for an academy model. We knew that if we could bring it all together, we could access the capital and list on the London Stock Exchange and provide value back to shareholders.”
Earlier in 2021, Guild launched their much-lauded academy system, a means of developing budding professional players through all facets of what makes a competitor worthy of contending for championships. It’s been relatively quiet on this front still but, as Hourd explained, that’s by design.
“The academy has been very well received,” he said. “We’re adding features and iterating every day. We currently have programs in Fortnite and Rocket League, and Valorant is coming. Then in the fall, when the new FIFA title comes out, we’ll be adding that.
“Right now we’re developing the program, the platform, to a point where we are really confident in a strong conversion rate and then we will be promoting the hell out of it. It has the potential to be bigger than Guild, I think.”
The future of Guild Esports
“We’re always talking about expansion in all areas of our business and in esports we absolutely want to be in those S tier titles,” Hourd said of Guild’s future ambitions. “League of Legends is one that I’m really excited about and we’re always talking about it, but it’s a big price tag and we’ve got a business to build before we have the funds to enter that title.”
German football club Schalke 04 recently sold their slot in Riot Games’ LEC — one of only 10 that exist today — for a total of $31.5m after buying into the European league for a fraction of that price just a couple of years prior. While this may have been the perfect moment for Guild to get into the competition, they’re clearly careful about where they invest.
Speaking of money, Guild’s first-ever partnership deal was announced in October 2020. Well, partly. While they were quick to reveal the three-year agreement was worth a total of £3.6m for them, they didn’t reveal the identity of the “fintech” company that was paying as much to be involved with the newly-launched org.
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Fast-forward to August 2021 and they’ve secured more money from partners such as Subway, who are involved with Guild as part of a “multi-million-pound” deal for the next two years. The identity of their first-ever partner is still yet to be unveiled, which could be an alarming sign for some.
“We’re waiting for them to launch their company, they just haven’t done that yet,” said of the mystery entity. “We’re just trying to be a good partner and work alongside them while they navigate their business launch when it’s right for them. I’d love to tell you it’s going to be announced next week, but it’ll be announced in due course and everything is still on track.
“The revenue that we expect from them in year one is still expected. We do expect to launch before the end of this year. We moved very fast when we launched Guild and not every company moves that quickly. We’ve promised the revenue to the market in year one and we need to deliver on that. We will likely either beef up their package throughout the remaining two years, or we could even extend it beyond the end of the three-year term.”
Guild recently came into question when it was revealed that two senior members of staff had chosen to depart the organization. The reasoning behind the exits of executive chairman Carleton Curtis and director of brand Danny Lopez, both of whom had impactful roles in the operation, has been kept in the dark.
“I want to start by saying for the past year I worked very closely with Carleton and he made a personal decision to move on,” Hourd told Dexerto. “I respect the hell out of him and I wish him well in the future. I didn’t have as close a relationship with Danny but, again, I respect him.
“Their departures were voluntary. We’re a startup, it’s extremely fast-moving and we pivot every day — people moving on is not abnormal and nothing has changed in the business. Our plans for content production and the creative side of the business are strong and moving forward.
“We’ve got 40 brilliant staff and we’ve had some step up and really take the bull by the horns on the creative side. When changes happen, it creates opportunities for other people. I don’t really have a lot to say other than I wish them well and we’re just moving forward. Everyone on the team is working collaboratively and excited about the future.”
Especially in regards to the departures, some retail investors have called upon the organization to be more vocal and transparent about what they’re working on to keep the stock price growing — or, at least, not regressing. Hourd has plans to keep shareholders in the know moving forward, in addition to updating their compulsory regulatory news service.
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“We’ve got two audiences on Twitter,” he said. “We’ve got our fans that we try to talk to through the Guild Twitter channel and we’ve got the investors; 99.9% of the time we’re talking to our fans on our Twitter page.
“I do my best to clarify things on Twitter but we’re going to do a better job of communicating to investors on Twitter by introducing an investor relations account on there so that there’s a clear distinction between the messages. We’ve got some passionate shareholders and I love talking to all of them.”
It’s been a year of head-down hard work for Hourd and his team, having launched during a global health crisis no less, but now they’re a staple name in the esports industry and worthy contenders in multiple titles. Now, the hard bit is keeping the growth going.