Dec 31 2016 - 7:02 pm

Most Important people in Esports 2016: Odee

The veteran owner secured the future of his organization for years to come.
Thiemo Brautigam
Dot Esports
Screengrab via ESL/YouTube

It was another watershed year for esports, one defined as much by people and personalities as the games themselves. For nine days straight, Dot Esports is profiling the most important people in the industry in 2016, from players to businessmen to industry visionaries. Yesterday, we profiled the best player in one of the industry's biggest games: Marcelo "coldzera" David. Today, we look at another industry veteran who made his biggest mark yet on the industry in 2016.

If anyone’s career in esports can be described as an Odyssey-like epic, it’s surely Michael “ODEE” O’Dell’s. The 45-year-old ODEE is a true veteran of what tends to be a very young industry. In fact, he began in esports before the term had really even been coined. But in that time, he’s gone from a Duke Nukem tournament in 1998 to founding Team Dignitas in 2003 and, finally, to that team’s acquisition by the Philadelphia 76ers in September.

Thanks to ODEE, 2016 will be remembered as the year when the first North American professional sports team went full speed into esports. It was a groundbreaking deal that paved the way for the future. And it was, to a large degree, the result of ODEE’s hard work over nearly two decades. ODEE led Dignitas with conviction in both good times and bad and established one of the longest-standing and most successful franchises in esports. This year, it paid off big time.

It’s no coincidence that ODEE established one of the first such partnerships in North America. He has a sure sense of occasion. Under his direction Dignitas nurtured great talent, some of whom became household names in their respective scenes. League esports legends like Michael “Imaqtpie” Santana, William “scarra” Li, Alberto “Crumbzz” Rengifo, and Alan “KiWiKiD” Nguyen were all wearing Dignitas jerseys at the height of their careers as professional players.

ODEE’s Dignitas also consistently had a place for all kinds of shooter games—which makes sense, considering ODEE himself came from an FPS background. Dignitas fielded players in multiple Battlefield-, Quake, Call of Duty, Team Fortress, and Counter-Strike franchises. Towards the end of 2008, Dignitas’ Counter-Strike: Source team was recognized as the best in Europe. Heading into the latest iteration of the franchise, CS:GO, Dignitas lived up to that earlier success. Dignitas’ former Danish squads, which included in-game leaders Finn “karrigan” Andersen and Mathias “MSL” Lauridsen respectively left their mark on the scene. Although no longer with Dignitas, both rosters consistently perform among the top ten teams in the world, even today.

ODEE’s management style was built on trust towards his players. Talking about his League of Legends team, he once admitted that he don’t even know how to play the game and only got ranked Bronze 4, the second lowest tier in the game. That didn’t prevent him from being one of the first team owners willing to experiment with Korean imports back in 2014.

ODEE has come a long way, and 2016 was his biggest year yet. Dignitas success’ story probably has only just begun. With the resources of a professional sports club like the Sixers, ODEE’s brainchild is expected to grow up quickly.

Jan 19 2017 - 4:07 pm

Esports aren't selling out, they're just making money—and fans need to learn the difference

If you want esports to grow, you've got to accept that businesses need to make money.
Thiemo Brautigam
Dot Esports
Photo via Negative Space

A couple of hours into ESL One Genting earlier this month, host Paul “ReDeYe” Chaloner announced the event’s sponsors. The response was entirely predictable: People complained. Lots of them. Chaloner was sick of it.

It’s almost a guarantee at this point. As soon as an event host does what he or she is contracted to do—give sponsor shout-outs—viewers get angry. “Sell-out!” they cry. Different occasion, same idiocy: A news outlet publishes an article with a headline that makes readers actually want to read it. “Clickbait!” they mourn.

In either case, I can’t help but think: “Are you serious?”

You want to enjoy your content without these so-called “sell-outs?” Well, in turn, you’d have to pay for access. You don’t want to pay? Stop complaining, then. There we have it. Easy as that. I could stop writing at this point—’nuff said—but I won’t. I can’t escape the feeling that many esports enthusiasts simply don’t get it. So, I’m going to shine a little light on the economic necessities.

Numbers on the global esports market are contradictory. Depending on which analyst you believe, the total market was valued somewhere between $500 million to $1 billion in 2016. Tellingly, there’s less discrepancy when it comes to the share of sponsorships and advertising. About 70 percent of the market is “indirect revenues,” or simply put, brands spending money for ads and sponsor appearances.

That’s a huge chunk of the money that’s floating around in esports. Sure, traditional sports are loaded with ads and sponsors too. Formula 1 driver suits are plastered with brand logos, NBA broadcasts display more ads than action, and a lot of people only watch the Super Bowl because of its hilariously expensive commercials. These sports all have something else in common, though. Highly profitable sources of revenue like merchandise, ticket sales, and—most importantly—TV deals.

Esports hasn’t established these sources of income to the same extent—yet. And the industry even shies away from it to some degree. That’s reasonable. Nothing is more cringeworthy than a stadium-event without a crowd, which is why tickets are still comparatively cheap. The same holds true for merch. “Better sell some than none” seems to be the dominant motto for most orgs. TV deals for exclusive broadcast rights are barely heard of, though many are clearly in the making.

One of the reasons for all this is deeply grounded in how most fans—the millennials—grew up using the internet. They’re used to online access to everything, instantly, and for free. This is where the conflict stems from. The fans want esports to be entertaining. They want a flawless production from the organizer, high-end performances from the players, and thrilling storylines from the media. But they don’t want to pay for it.

Everything comes at a price, though. Today, esports is part of the mass media entertainment industry. It’s not a hobby. It’s not predominantly relying on passion anymore, it depends on money. For many, it has become a career that’s supposed to pay the bills. Which is great! It’s a dream come true for a generation of gamers and nerds.

As fans, it’s equally awesome. They’re lucky enough to be able to enjoy esports almost 24/7. Esports is always on. But someone has to make that happen. Someone needs to prepare those puns you laugh at, someone has to gather those statistics you wow at, and someone has to practice again and again to impress you with amazing skills. It’s work. A lot of work. And thankfully, it’s paying people more or less competitively nowadays. That wouldn’t be possible without you looking at an ad or logo every once in awhile. To me, it sounds like a fair trade.

So, the next time you feel the need to shout “sell-out,” better stay quiet and be grateful that someone else paid for what you enjoy.

Jan 19 2017 - 2:30 pm

Indian billionaire and sports club owner set to invest $15 million into esports

He helped to turn Kabaddi into India’s second most watched sport. Now, he's eyeing esports.
Thiemo Brautigam
Dot Esports
Photo via Nicholas Raymond (CC BY 2.0)

Indian self-made billionaire Ronnie Screwvala knows how to transform a fringe sport into a spectator sport. He was vital in turning Kabaddi, an ancient Indian contact sport, into the country’s second most watched sport. Now, he’s looking to do the same thing with esports. Screwvala is set to invest about $15m into the launch of India’s first major esports league, according to reports in multiple national news outlets.

The “UCypher” league will feature 10 teams competing in PC, console, and mobile games. Neither the teams nor the games were revealed, yet. Dota 2, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, FIFA, and Clash of Clans are likely to be the frontrunners for selection, according to Indian sports news Sportskeeda, which spoke with a player familiar with the situation.

The first of two annual seasons is set to start in May. His company, USports, which is running the league, is in talks with TV stations to negotiate broadcast rights.

Screwvala’s media conglomerate UTV, founded in 1990, produced some of Bollywood’s most successful blockbusters and was responsible for starting the careers of many of today’s biggest Bollywood stars.

In 2012, Disney completed the acquisition of UTV in a $454 million deal, a process that began in September 2006 with taking over a 14.9 percent stake. Screwvala left the company in 2013 to focus on private equity investments in ecommerce and philanthropy programs in higher education. 

Screwvala is also owner of U Mumba, a Mumbai-based Kabaddi team participating in the Pro Kabaddi League (PKL). The league was founded in 2014 but quickly established Kabaddi as India’s second most watched sports after cricket. PKL clubs received popular funding from some of Bollywood biggest movie stars, partially due to Screwvala's efforts and networking.

Esports in India is still small by international measures but has high-potential for growth, attracting the interest of brands like PepsiCo, Flipkart, and BenQ, which all hosted esports events last year. European esports tournament organizer ESL, meanwhile, launched the ESL India Premiership, the country’s first annual tournament series boasting a record prize pool of $64,000.

That figure that easily could be dwarfed thanks to Screwvala’s deep pockets. Assuming he and his peers from USport did their homework, India’s esports scene will witness a heavy boost this year.

After all, for someone who helped transform an ancient sport into a national pastime, taking esports to the mainstream shouldn’t be a big deal.