esl esports

We’ve thought for a while that there’s potential for more partnerships between the music and esports (competitive gaming) worlds. Now Universal Music Group and esports firm ESL are testing the waters.

The companies are launching a joint-venture label, which will sign artists and promote their music across ESL’s esports tournaments and channels. That will include live performances during ESL’s broadcasts, which it says attracted more than 300 million online viewers in 2017.

UMG and ESL are also promising to create “the ultimate destination for gaming and music fans alike” to listen to music associated with ESL’s events around the world, which include the Intel Extreme Masters, ESL One and ESL National Championships.

The partnership will be managed out of UMG’s Berlin office by Dirk Baur, president of its marketing labs division, as well as UMG, Central Europe’s head of esports Gustav Käll. His very job title indicates that the label group is taking the esports opportunity seriously.

“I am excited to be part of the first team to work on identifying and pushing artists specifically for the esports space,” said Baur in a statement today.

Esports is certainly a fascinating market in 2019, with its teams and tournaments attracting viewers and brand partners alike in growing volume.

Research firm Newzoo claimed in February that the global esports economy would grow to $905.6m by the end of 2018, including $174m from advertising, $359m from sponsorship and $161m from media rights and content licensing.

The market is evolving too, having been built on hardcore games like Dota 2, League of Legends, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and (more recently) Overwatch, it now also encompasses football games like the FIFA franchise – a number of football clubs have signed esports pros to compete under their brands – as well as card-battling games like Hearthstone.

2018’s all-ages gaming craze Fortnite: Battle Royale is getting $100m of prize funds pumped in to its official esports tournaments by its publisher Epic Games, while mobile hit Clash Royale is about to get its own esports league too.

All this could and should be catnip to the music industry, as a new way to get its artists in front of a huge (and youthful) online audience of gaming fans.

From Marshmello competing in Fortnite tournaments alongside livestreaming star Ninja – who has also played non-competitively with Drake – to Steve Aoki buying an Overwatch esports team, there are also a growing number of artists whose personal interests dovetail with the esports boom.

Universal is unlikely to be the last label to explore more ways to work with the esports world, but by choosing ESL as a partner, it’s making a big statement by working with one of the key players in that space.

The emphasis on new artists for the two companies’ joint label is interesting, but it’s clear there’ll also be opportunities to get some of Universal’s biggest stars involved too.

For more on the intersection between music and esports, read our recent report from an esports panel organised by ESL at the Cannes Lions conference, or this guest column written for us last year by the CEO of esports advertising agency Hurrah about the opportunities for music.

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