Esports are the Wild West right now. There’s clearly a huge potential for the industry to become incredibly lucrative, but everything from the infrastructure of competition to the overall culture isn’t quite ready for prime time.
This introduces a huge opportunity for the tech world to get in on the action. We’ve seen traditional VC money start to sniff around esports in ways big and small. Bessemer Venture Partners has invested in Team SoloMid, while Sequoia has invested in 100 Thieves.
Today, Gen.G has announced that it has accepted investment from the Entrepreneurs Roundtable Accelerator, a longstanding New York City-based accelerator program.
Gen.G started as KSV (Korea plus Silicon Valley) in mid-2017 with a debut in the Overwatch League. In 2018, after expanding to other games, including Heroes of the Storm, PUBG and League of Legends, KSV eSports rebranded to Generation Gaming (Gen.G) and launched a Clash Royale esports team.
At the end of 2018, Gen.G made yet another huge move. They lured Chris Park from his position as executive vice president in charge of product and marketing at Major League Baseball to join Gen.G as CEO.
Since then, Park has been thinking about the long-term opportunities for the esports org and the industry as a whole. He secured $46 million in funding from Los Angeles Clippers minority owner Dennis Wong, Will Smith’s Dreamers Fund, NEA, Battery Ventures, Canaan Partners, SVB Capital and Stanford University, among others.
And he signed a partnership with dating app Bumble to create Team Bumble, an all-female professional Fortnite squad.
Gender inclusion is one of the biggest misses in the esports world right now. Data shows that 46% of gamers are female (ESA) and that nearly one in four esports viewers are female (Nielsen). Despite no physical differentiators between men and women, women are severely underrepresented in the esports world.
Not one female competed in the Fortnite World Cup in 2019, despite the fact that qualifiers were completely open to any player. A big reason for the disparity here is that the gaming community isn’t generally a safe environment for female gamers, in big and small ways. Many female gamers experience abuse while playing games, like this streamer, and it’s gotten bad enough to push a small percentage of female gamers away from playing entirely.
But exclusion comes in many forms. Ninja announced in August 2018 that he won’t be streaming with female gamers, which you can read about here.
Beyond general principles about equality, the female gamer is a lucrative demographic that has yet to be properly tapped by any particular esports org, publisher or otherwise. Gen.G is now ahead in the race to acquire female gamers as fans, customers and future talent.
Another forward-thinking move by Gen.G is its recent partnership with the University of Kentucky to help create and manage its esports program. We’ve seen startups like PlayVS look to build out the infrastructure and connective tissue that will eventually bind education and professional sports, as has been the case with traditional sports for generations. Gen.G is now tackling that ever-important bridge from academia to professional life by looking at universities.
The funding from ERA, the amount of which has not been disclosed, not only allows Gen.G to grow its foothold on the East Coast — it also gives the esports org a strategic partnership with ERA, which invests in super early-stage tech startups. As more founders tackle the mounting challenges in esports, Gen.G is now in a prime position to watch over those deals closely and potentially tap into some of the solutions and services sure to sprout up in the next five to 10 years.
“We are focused on ways to make it easier for people in the gaming community to connect,” said Park, hinting at some of the technology in which Gen.G is interested. “My hope is that over time, platforms as well as teams treat fans and athletes as more than just users, and more like collaborators and partners.”