Jan 10, 2020


(And it's not who you think…)

Stardom is no longer reserved for the bright lights of Hollywood movie sets, music icons selling out stadiums, or players on the basketball court. As we usher in a new decade, chefs, podcasters, and YouTube influencers have become “rockstars” in their own right. But there is no industry where starpower is becoming greater or more influential than in the seemingly alternate universe of esports and gaming. An industry that is now said to surpass the economics of other entertainment industries, namely music and film, the lucrative aspect of the gaming beast cannot be denied. Major talent agencies and streaming platforms continue to go head to head, vying to add top gaming luminaries to the roster or own the boutique agencies that represent them. Virtual esport playgrounds are more than on the rise; they are solidifying business in brick and mortar across the globe.

FaZe Clan Esports Team, courtesy of Catalyst Esports Division

The current money generating, wildly popular cultural phenomenon that is the game Fortnite pulls in participation numbers second to none in the digital world of entertainment. With its 250 million players worldwide, Fortnite is currently valued at $15 Billion, pulling in revenue over the last two years of $4.2 Billion according to Nielsen digital. It’s developer Epic Games reported Marshmello’s live concert event earlier this year to be the biggest moment in their history, with almost 11 million people attending the show within the game.

There is a consistent hum these days amongst talent agencies both big and small regarding the “gamification” of music & artists. “Top booking agencies now maintain internal master lists of artists who either are gamers themselves, or are interested in striking gaming partnerships in the future,” reports DJ Mag. “And new major-label subsidiaries like Universal Music Group’s Enter Records and Sony Music’s Lost Rings are looking to bypass licensing deals and cultivate relationships with the gaming community directly, by signing artists who either love to game or make music that gamers love (read: lots of hard-hitting electronic and hip-hop music).”

Attending live concerts within a video game is only the start, with tangible changes coming ‘to a theater near you’. What once was your local movie theater may now become the local esports arena, as movie theater attendance hits a 25-year low and esport driven development companies are vying to get their hands on precious real estate.

The reality is gamers want somewhere to hang out while they attend these A-list in-game concerts or watch top stars battle it out. A place that reflects who they are now.  What was the mall arcade of the 80’s & early 90’s is now a mega-complex with countless numbers of screens, full bars, and food on demand.  Comcast Spectator has invested $50 million in Philadelphia to develop the US’s first video gaming arena, planned to seat 3,500 spectators. It will live alongside stadiums that are home to both the Philadelphia Eagles (NFL) and Phillies (MLB) teams.  “Esports no longer carries the stigma of you in your basement,” said Phil Weinberg, general counsel at Comcast Spectator. Gaming has shifted from the loner cliche living in the depths of the parental home to an expansive global phenomenon.

SOURCE: Comcast-Spectacor JON SNYDER / Staff Artist via Inquirer

The integration of varying entertainment mediums and live stadium events into the world of gaming and esports means diversification and revenue forecasts that are already changing the landscape of live entertainment as we know it.  GlobalData figures recently reported the gaming industry is likely to become a $300 billion-plus industry by 2025, growing at a compound annual rate of 13% between 2018 and 2025.  According to research firm Newzoo, Global esports audiences are expected to grow to about 460 million by the start of 2Q2020, as fans tune in on live-streaming platforms such as Amazon’s Twitch and Microsoft's Mixer. 

The power of gaming superstars, like the games they play to perfection, is not to be underestimated. It is industry luminaries that sell out stadiums and esports arenas. More than the prize money awarded by tournaments nearing almost eight digits, live-streaming deals and sponsorships are making superstars like Tyler "Ninja" Blevins of Fortnite fame a multi-millionaire by his mid-twenties.

In a shock move this year, Ninja left Twitch for an exclusive deal with Mixer, and streamed on his new home for the first time live at Lollapalooza 2019, from an interactive gaming center powered by Red Bull.  This move meant ticket sales expanded beyond music, mobilizing an entirely different fan base to attend. Consistent streams of fans gathered over the course of three days to watch Ninja compete against musicians and other special guests, a formula that earlier in the year attracted over 635,000 concurrent viewers when Ninja and Drake’s Fortnite: Battle Royale Twitch stream broke records. Soon after Ninja’s live premiere on Mixer, Michael “Shroud” Grzesiek followed suit, serving another devastating blow to Twitch’s lineup and subscription numbers.

Ninja with band All Time Low at Lollapalooza 2019

Gaming talent management firm Loaded represents Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, managing the star’s entertainment opportunities, digital distribution, partnerships, endorsements, touring, and book publishing. After a merger inked at the start of 2019 with esport pioneer Alex Garfield’s Popdog, Loaded was armed to acquire more huge names in gaming. “We’re excited to continue our strong relationship with Ninja, and welcome the additions of CouRage and DrLupo, two rockstar gaming influencers,” said Loaded founder and CEO Brandon Freytag. “As more brands, publishers, and advertisers are recognizing the value and engagement power of gaming influencers, Loaded has become the company they’ve worked with to better understand the space and how to effectively communicate to their fanbases.”

Amazon’s Twitch bought Garfield’s previous gem GoodGame in 2014.  The Advance suspects in years to come, mega-powers such as Amazon and Microsoft through their subsidiaries will be vying for a piece of Popdog as well, or other esport and gaming tech companies like it. United Talent recently made a major push into the gaming industry by acquiring agencies Press X and Everyday Influencers, firms heavily representing esports players and gaming streamers. According to a statement by Head of Esports Damon Lau, that makes UTA “the only talent and entertainment company to represent esports talent, streamers, and game developers.”

In addition to “rockstar”, we could also see “Olympic star” added to the accolades of esport athletes in the years to come. Serious talks that competitive video gaming could become a medal event at the Paris 2024 Olympics were floated in 2018, only one of many endorsements of the legitimacy of esports and its continued rise. While esports has not yet been awarded entry by the International Olympic Committee, it will be a celebrated medal event at the 2022 Asian Games, hinting that Olympic medals may not be too far in the future. Olympic partners like Alibaba & Intel (who also have a vested interest in esports & professional gaming) could have significant influence on future IOC decisions.

Select universities around the world now offer esports bachelors and masters degree programs, even awarding athletic scholarships to promising students. These are all solid indicators that the growth of this industry, its superstars and all that revolve around them, will be a staple in the future of digital & live entertainment.


The Advance began with the intention of creating community and dialogue around what the future of live entertainment looks like, how we are pinpointing places for growth, streamlining processes, highlighting advancements, and shaping it as a collective.  Get in touch with us at theadvance@gigwell.com

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