Over the past six years, since 2015, Spain has been one of the countries to evolve the fastest in esports, and today it can be proud of having one of the most important esports ecosystems in all of Europe.
There are several reasons for this success: great activity by clubs; great involvement by publishers (for example, in the amateur scene); powerful tournament operators doing a great job even outside our borders (as is the case of LVP and GGTech); and pioneering brands entering the industry, such as telecom operators (Telefónica, Orange, Vodafone), food brands (Telepizza, Burger King) and, more recently, even car manufacturers (like SEAT). Undoubtedly, these brands have allowed us to inject much-needed money into our ecosystem, which has led to a leap in quality.
But if we talk about injecting capital into esports, in Spain we still have a pending issue with traditional investors (business angels, venture capitalists & others), who at the moment do not seem to see esports as a profitable option for the future. Traditional investors have not yet seen clearly how the sector works.
Of course, important, well-documented investment cases have been made. For example, if we talk about foreign capital, OverActive Media acquired MAD Lions in 2019 (it is also true that MAD Lions was in a critical liquidity situation), or WIN’s recent investment in tournament operator NGL Spain.
But when we talk about national investment, it is scarce, and mainly strategic. For example, the MediaPro Group first acquired 50% of LVP and then took over the entire company, in a strategic move to acquire a new type of content closely related to the one they already owned with the media rights of other sports. And even so, the current situation they are going through is delicate.
We have also had the case of the Sánchez Cozar Group, with the largest investment operation carried out to date at the national level in esports, putting €3.3mn into Vodafone Giants. Again, another strategic action, given that the club has grown now into Good Games Group.
There have been other investments in esports, but nothing to get excited about. The landscape is therefore the following: When there is a clear synergy with an activity, it seems that esports can be a good option to promote that activity, because it adds to an existing strategy.
However, and this is the worrying part, for those investors who are looking for a net return, regardless of the sector, it does not seem that investors see esports as a great sector in which to invest… And if they do not see profitability, we should ask ourselves if there really is profitability.
And the answer seems to be no… or not yet. According to data from AEVI, the esports sector in Spain generates just about €30M annually in revenues. How much of the pie are investors going to share when there is no pie?
But do not panic. There is no need to worry. It is not only a purely numerical issue, but also a security issue. If we do not look at the fixed figures, but rather at the full movie, 3-4 years ago we were talking about a national sector that did not generate even €5M. Although we are talking about a small sector, evolution could allow us to dream and make the occasional strategic move. But to this must be added an uncertainty that still hovers over the sector which, due to its idiosyncrasy, will take time to shift.
Esports on many occasions represents everything that an investor does not want to see: a dynamic environment, where what is one thing today may be another tomorrow: that is, it is not a stable market that allows for a long-term strategy. Personally, I think this is more an advantage than a drawback, and that this is what has brought us, as a sector in general, to be what we are today. There are investors who understand this, but for the vast majority, and especially the Spanish ones, with a market that is not stable, this terrifies them. Conclusion: they are looking for other areas in which to invest.
And it is logical: the model of a club or a tournament operator, at least today, does not favor the long-awaited scalability that investors are looking for. For a brand, having hundreds of thousands of followers is a great showcase for their products. For an investor, not being able to directly monetize that audience, or with some models that are still very basic (tickets that do not work the same as in football, merchandising that generates very little impact on the P&L account …), this is not what they are searching for.
Where do investors take refuge then? In technology; even more so after a crisis like Covid-19, where the digital world has expanded rapidly. There are many Spanish technology companies related to esports (digital coaching of players, tournament platforms, etc.) which are raising many rounds of seed funding. We have the case of Kaikoo, Ween, Asobu…
In fact, here the situation takes a 180-degree turn; there is a lot of competition, madness, and I would even dare to say that this digital boom is causing many to invest without knowing full well where they are putting their money. Be that as it may, the moral is that technology is a haven for money.
With all this, the following panorama can be drawn. The purely competition-related part of esports is not scalable for clubs or tournament operators. This makes it difficult for those entities that do not have any other objective apart from investing. Perhaps there is a brand that will sustain them for a while, but it would be bread for today and hunger for tomorrow. On the other hand, technology is certainly a safe haven and it attracts investment.
The matching seems clear: the competitive side of esports, and the stakeholders related with it, needs technology to attract investment. Perhaps this is not only a maxim at national level, but also across the esports industry in general. It would be the way to lower barriers for investors and attract more capital, rather than an industry that is not familiar, given the belief that states that “esports is for digital natives”.
Let’s make it real for the whole value chain.