The shift to Digital 3.0 will include sports — in fact it will have two business models.
One will be live gaming with teams competing for cash and prizes in arenas full of thousands of screaming fans. The other will be the millions of digital natives playing sports games at home — where kids don’t want to grow up to be the world’s best soccer player, but the world’s best soccer gamer.
As the chief commercial officer and co-founder of Copenhagen-based Astralis Group, Jakob Lund Kristensen walks both sides of the eSports line. Astralis is a group of eSports teams that is pioneering the approach to the eSports industry by treating its gamers like athletes. Its focus on those teams has produced some of the best teams in the EU eSports league, which includes League of Legends and FIFA.
Kristensen has been involved in the eSports industry for more than a decade, with experience in every corner of the ecosystem. He said he’s most proud of his Counter Strike team, which competes for cash, prizes and glory within what used to be an online-only shooter game. (Think Call of Duty in front of 20,000 screaming gamers.)
Kristensen said he wants his digital-native audience to play at home, then go watch Astralis compete at the arena.
“I think a lot of people really have their mind blown when they see the first big live events,” Kristensen told PYMNTS CEO Karen Webster. “One of our clients brought his son to one of our events, and he said he'd never seen his son that excited about anything. It's jumping up and down and screaming and fist bumps — all the stuff that we would usually associate with really hardcore sports fans.”
“What always surprises people is just energy,” he added. “It’s excitement. It’s passion. You simply cannot get that on a broadcast.”
The problem is that arenas and stadiums have been locked down since March, leaving Kristensen, his teams and his players waiting to leave their virtual worlds for the big arenas again. The eSports opportunity is one of the fastest growing elements of Digital 3.0. While in lockdown, Premier League's eSports league alone secured over 150 million video views.
“The product itself is constantly developing,” Kristensen said. “I mean, if you look at the baseline of the game for us, we're constantly developing. Soon it will be VR [virtual reality], the next is AR [augmented reality].
“And look at mobile gaming. All of a sudden, mobile gaming went from being only Candy Crush to now you can play Call of Duty on your mobile in India. We're seeing massive success on mobile. It's a complete full-on ecosystem in itself, especially in India, with tens of millions of players every single day. So, yeah, I think it could absolutely go on. I think the boundaries of what it is can grow way, way beyond what we can even imagine in being now.”
Astralis sells sponsorship deals in a similar fashion to the NFL, NBA and FIFA. It’s completed several major such agreements so far this year.
These go beyond the typical “cash-for-uniform logo” arrangement. The most recent deal was with Nordic challenger bank Lunar, which inked a pact on May 26. Details are still being finalized, but so far include a co-branded card and a “content universe” of interviews, merchandise and team strategy available through the Lunar banking app.
The deal comes as Lunar recently received a full banking license from the Danish government after operating as a mobile-based financial management app. It now offers a basic account, money transfers, bill payment, budgeting tool and credit lines.
Kristensen said Lunar loves the deal because it blends banking and entertainment and appeals to its core audience of digital natives. He said, to his knowledge, the opportunity is unique within the eSports space and will provide a value-add for the club’s fans.
“Lunar is in many ways sort of [to banking] what we are for sport,” he said. “When we talk about them, we compare them to us a lot. When we say we are a sports league, you sort of have an idea of what it is and what it could be. But then something completely new and digital pops up, and they will automatically attract a younger, more tech-driven, more tech-savvy audience — which fits very well with our audience. So, they're actually going to be interesting. We can together help each other advance what we see eSport being and where we see banking.”
As eSports and Astralis grow, Kristensen said he looks forward to leveraging new technologies like AR. Even though he says gaming is best experienced in an arena, he knows that the individual playing at home needs to have positive digital experiences.
“You can really heighten the viewership experience [with AR],” he said. “And I think especially from someone sitting at home, you could definitely be elevated quite a bit. … That's going to be one of the really, really interesting opportunities around these sports in the coming years.”