No one can dispute that 2023 was esports toughest year thus far. The early months of the year saw many teams, brands, and companies throwing in the towel. However, there were rays of hope as the year wore on, characterized by flourishing events in Q4 and acquisitions worth millions by large-cap companies. Interestingly, there’s a shift in investment from traditional team owners to more individual athletes.
So this is my final submission for 2023, wishing you all a Happy Festive Season. The SBJ Esports newsletter will return on Jan. 4. — Kevin Hitt
Let’s review the pivotal stories of 2023 that left a mark on the North American esports landscape:
- Ninja’ Blevins joins GameSquare: At the moment, very few esports players impact streaming viewership, with maybe Faker being an exception in Asian markets. So, in 2023, companies started acquiring popular gaming streamers to increase viewership. These influencers were offered titles and equity to attract audiences to the organizations that engaged them.
- Gamers8 announces a whopping $45 million prize pool: Saudi Arabia is rapidly establishing itself as an esports center, splashing large sums all over. With Gamers8 now recognized as the Esports World Cup, be ready for this trend to continue.
- Riot Games’ John Needham speaks openly: Riot is well-aware of the challenges plaguing esports and has been significantly proactive in attempting to remedy the situation—an attitude that signals its willingness to continue to aid struggling esports teams.
- TSM slows down efforts in several games: One of the most popular esports organizations in North America dramatically downsized, doing away with several teams after a potential $210 million partnership with FTX collapsed due to the cryptocurrency exchange’s legal woes and bankruptcy.
- Shopify’s $10 million gambit: When Shopify declared its purchase of TSM’s LCS slot, it took the industry by storm. It was clear in 2023 that heavy-weight companies were still interested in and willing to invest in esports.
- Comcast Spectacor finds ripe opportunities in South Korea: 2023 taught us that having a global brand provides more room for investment and collaboration, as the US esports market declined. Many are now learning that creating brands in foreign countries, intending to return when esports regain traction in the US, may be a good strategy.
- GameSquare buys FaZe Clan: GameSquare revived FaZe Clan, a well-known esports and video game lifestyle brand, when they acquired it in an all-equity transaction. FaZe Clan, despite having financial issues post-IPO, remains arguably the most popular esports company in North America.
- The IOC lends more global validation: As esports strives for global acceptance as entertainment and competitive sports, its association with the Olympic Games would undoubtedly bolster its reputation. The IOC has been considering including esports, albeit with certain conditions, to attract a new generation of fans.
- The Overwatch League concludes as a franchised team endeavor: The Overwatch League, franchised by Activision Blizzard, was intended to be the next big thing in entertainment when it debuted six years prior. However, its final championship, held in September, signaled the end of a league that initially charged $10 million for a team slot.
- The International gives Climate Pledge Arena a food and beverage boost: The food and beverage sales during the Dota 2 world championship, The International, exceeded those of many traditional sports events in the Seattle building. It’s only one example, but it demonstrates that esports fans are ready to spend during occasions.
- Tennis ace Daniil Medvedev buys a stake in M80: Daniil Medvedev, currently ranked 3rd in world tennis, became a co-owner of Boston-based esports organization M80. An avid video game player, Medvedev believes that esports is the future of competitive sports.
- Lionel Messi becomes a partner in KRÜ Esports: Continuing with the trend of professional athletes investing in esports, Lionel Messi became the co-owner of Argentine esports organization KRU.
- Bobby Kotick, Activision Blizzard CEO, departs: Bobby Kotick, who had been instrumental in starting esports, announced he would be leaving his position as CEO of Activision Blizzard after 32 years. The last few years had been tough on him with him and Activision Blizzard facing several lawsuits over gender discrimination.
- The Rocket League Championship Series made a controversial decision to reduce its minimum competitive age to 13 years old. Although it seems a minor change from the previous 15 years, the implications are greater than at first sight. The RLCS is now one of the youngest-trending esports worldwide, in line with Fortnite, another game from Epic Games.
- The most viewed events of the year were the League of Legends Worlds, the M5 World Championship, M4 World Championship, and MLBB Southeast Asia Cup, and also the League of Legends’ Mid-Season Invitational — all detailed by Esports Charts (global audience).
- Dexerto notes that DSG, DisguisedToast’s esports organization, has severed ties with Valorant Game Changers after experiencing some issues with the league owned by Riot Games.