We’ve seen musicians appointed as Tidal co-owners, investing in music startups and even – hello Ryan Leslie – launching their own. We’ve only seen one buy their own eSports team, though: Steve Aoki.
In October 2016, the EDM star bought a majority stake in Rogue, a team of professional gamers that struts its stuff in tournaments involving the games Overwatch and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.
“As many of my fans know, I’ve been a gamer all my life and have been getting more and more involved in esports. I can finally take my love for gaming to the next level as an owner of Rogue, the professional eSports team,” said Aoki at the time.
“As an avid player of Overwatch, their dominance caught my eye and after getting to know them, I realised that we shared the same goals and interests in team building and competition.”
eSports – people playing video games competitively for audiences watching in the venue and/or online – is attracting other celebrity cash too, from retired basketballers Shaquille O’Neal and Magic Johnson to actor and investor Ashton Kutcher.
Fellow research firm SuperData claimed that 2017 may be eSports’ first $1bn year, while noting that just under three quarters of these revenues will come from advertising and sponsorships.
Brands, initially those in the tech sector but now others too, are keen to associate themselves with eSports and the growing audiences: 148 million “enthusiasts” and 144 million “occasional” viewers in mid-2016 according to research firm Newzoo.
Historically, those audiences have been watching online, on platforms like Amazon-owned Twitch. 43 million people watched the 2016 world championship for League of Legends, one of the most popular games for eSports, with a peak concurrent viewership of 14.7 million.
Traditional broadcasters are catching on. Sports network ESPN has been growing its eSports coverage, including a recent deal to broadcast the FIFA Ultimate Team Championship Series in the US.
Meanwhile, Disney and Major League Baseball’s BAMTech joint venture recently struck a $300m deal with League of Legends’ developer Riot Games for streaming rights; Hollywood studio Lionsgate has invested in eSports team Immortals; and games publishers like EA and Activision have set up dedicated eSports divisions to get involved in the market.
We think Steve Aoki won’t be the last example of a music and eSports crossover. From musicians investing in teams to labels working eSports into their marketing campaigns, there’s more to be done here.
Universal Music’s parent company Vivendi already has a strategic partnership with ESL, one of the big eSports organisations, which may help UMG gauge opportunities in the market.
Music Ally recently reported on Deezer signing partnerships with football clubs Manchester United and FC Barcelona, while Apple Music followed suit with Bayern Munich. It’s quite possible that the top eSports teams will be just as much on our industry’s radar in the years ahead.