Esports

'Like Disney and Real Madrid': the man taking esports to another level


“I cannot tell you whether we are more like a football team or more like a media company”, says Carlos “ocelote” Rodríguez. “Whether we are more like a Disney or a Real Madrid, I think we are a perfect combination of both. We look up to these teams, we look up to Real Madrid. But I’m sure, maybe not publicly, that they look up to us too.”

Speaking down the Zoom line from his home studio, with a fridge full of Red Bull in the background, Rodríguez describes himself as “ambitious, maybe blindly ambitious”. But as the CEO of one of Europe’s biggest esports teams, and certainly the only one to have his face on a range of Adidas apparel, he has reason to be confident.

The German sportswear giant announced on Thursday that it would become the “proud” partner of G2 Esports in a multi-year arrangement. The first step will see Adidas design the kits G2 players wear when in competition, with an emphasis on fabric that is light and absorbent enough to stop the athletes getting sticky during lengthy sessions. Each shirt will also include a “subtle” hologram of Rodríguez.

Ocelote is the handle the Spaniard used when he was himself a successful – if controversial – player of one of the biggest esports, League of Legends. After his retirement he founded G2 (then Gamers2) in 2014 and has since made them a force in LoL, with a podium finish in the last two world championships. Estimates put the total amount of prize money G2 has earned in six years at just under $8m. Based in Berlin, their copious list of sponsors includes BMW and Mastercard.

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As for Adidas, this is not their first foray into the billion-dollar esports industry. They made their first kit for the gaming spinoff of FC Copenhagen three years ago and designed some trainers for G2’s French rivals Vitality in 2019. The relationship with G2 is broader, however, with official kits to be followed by a range of clothing and other merchandise that would be more comparable to Adidas’s “originals” collaborations with Pharrell Williams or Beyoncé’s Ivy Park range. It’s a shift that acknowledges esports is more than just competitive gaming, even if the question of what that more amounts to remains a little vague.

“At the end of the day we are a media company, a digital media company focused on video games”, says Rodríguez. “Many of those video games we are focused on happen to have a lot of competition involved with it. But some of the games we play we play for fun and for entertainment purposes only. So there is a portion of our business that is purely focused on media properties and content formats, reality TV shows and things of that nature.

“More and more as we keep growing you see that it becomes an overall entertainment prospect. More and more professional players take part in podcasts and other forms of content that are just beyond what they do in competition. Our job in all of this is ultimately to get the eyeballs and the support from the new generations.”

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G2 estimates they have a fanbase of 25 million people around the world and 80% of those are under 35. While the connection between competitive success and online popularity is not direct, an ability to attract the next generation of consumers is clear. More importantly, perhaps, esports entrepreneurs like Rodríguez are not reluctant to talk in terms of marketing and of “eyeballs” in a way more long-established sports might quail at.

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What esports is remains malleable, and maybe it’s the case that a team like G2 are more like a pop band, that goes in and out of fashion, than a gold standard organisation like Real Madrid. But the willingness of esports teams to go where the viewers are, and the willingness of sponsors to follow, should make traditional sports organisation pay close attention.



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