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A Snapshot Of Venture And Startup Activity In Esports

Alex Wilhelm

It’s now common knowledge that competitive gaming, better known as esports, is a real industry. Recent numbers underscore the fact.

A short time ago, the 2019 League of Legends world finals wrapped up in a Paris arena that had previously hosted Metallica and Ariana Grande. But the packed venue could hold a mere half percent of the four million max concurrent viewers that tuned in to the competition online. The biggest pieces of a multi-million dollar prize pool were up for grabs as FunPlus Phoenix, a Chinese team, walked 3-0 over G2 Esports, a European team.

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The event was a good reminder that esports is not merely a digital phenomenon, but also a global events business. Holding that in mind, let’s quickly look at esports companies working to support players, tournaments, and the live-side of competitive gaming that have recently raised money. It’s been too long since we last checked in on esports companies and the investors who are powering their growth.

Quick Hits

We have a few rounds to go over, so let’s proceed in order of smallest to largest.

eFuse, a company that deals with the nitty-gritty corporate side of esports, raised a $1.4 million Seed round earlier this month. The money came from the Ohio Innovation Fund, an Ohio-based investing group. Unsurprisingly, eFuse is based in Ohio as well. According to its release, the company helps with esports “talent recruitment, traditional job placement, and the sourcing of sponsorship deals.”

Given that esports has been lauded more for its ability to attract attention more than the industry has been praised for its ability to generate revenue, companies like eFuse may have a key role to play in the market, provided that their ability to help groups come to sponsorship deals

Moving along, Mainline raised $6.8 million two weeks ago from Work America Capital, its second round. Crunchbase News reported at the time that “Mainline has developed a white-label tournament platform that specializes in hosting and helping brands ‘manage, monetize and market their esports programs.'” Again, I’d note that there is an emphasis on monetization.

But the biggest, recent esports-related round that caught our eye was Vindex’s $60 million raise from late October. Vindex, launched by Major League Gaming alums Sundance DiGiovanni and Mike Sepso, is what DiGiovanni called a “holding company” in a note to Crunchbase News. Inside its portfolio today are Next Generation Esports (focused on esports production), and Esports Engine (focused on esports operations).

The company will introduce “additional verticals” according to DiGiovanni in 2020. Notably, the founder said that Vindex is “profitable today and are focused on healthy sustainable business opportunities across all of our verticals,” while being focused on helping “partners extract as much value as possible from their esports activities.” In DiGiovanni’s view, value could constitute either revenue or “reach,” or, we presume, both.

The dollar amount that Vindex put together was notable, and that it’s also working to help esports professionalize and generate more revenue is also worth remembering; each of the newly-funded startups we looked at has at least one eye on making money, it seems. That’s good news for esports.

Ahead

Obviously, it’s time for a Camp David LAN party

There’s more on the horizon. Artist Capital Management put together a $100 million fund to invest in esports, VentureBeat reported. The new capital pool from ACM is dubbed the “Artists Esports Edge Fund.” Astute readers of Crunchbase News will recall that we covered a $35 million Series B investment raised by esports organization 100 Thieves back in July. Artist Capital Management led that round.

Capping this small roundup, esports has become so busy that there are new products like Juked.gg being built to help keep fans in the know.

And because it’s Friday, today Crunchbase News learned that there are a number of members of Congress who are ranked in competitive League of Legends. Obviously, it’s time for a Camp David LAN party.

Illustration: Li-Anne Dias.