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Advertorial – this article is sponsored by Gfinity, as an official partner of The Esports Forum at Leaders Week London.
In early October, Gfinity’s dedicated esports arena in Fulham played host to the Broadcast Disruptors event, part of Leaders Week London. One day prior, as the sports industry’s top brass networked in Twickenham Stadium, Gfinity’s Global Brand and Marcomms Officer John Clarke sat down with The Esports Observer, and recounted the 25-year professional journey that led him to esports.
The last eight years of Clarke’s business career were spent first in Heineken N.V.’s Amsterdam HQ, then traveling the globe launching a craft beer to a passionate community that he believes shares many of the characteristics of esports fans…tribal and intense. “What it comes down to is talking about authenticity,” he said. “You have to be a fan, you have to be part of it, understand what motivates these people and give them a reason to go out [and] tell your story for you.”
Clarke joined the company in September 2018, a few months after Garry Cook, the former CEO of Manchester City F.C, was appointed the executive chairman. “What made Gfinity attractive to me was that [it] is a gaming company built by gamers. And a recognition that to continue to grow it needed more diverse business experience.”
These hires proved fruitful; Gfinity has reported £7.9M ($10.2M USD) revenue for the year ending June 30, 2019, above 80% growth for the second year running. This was followed by a £5.25M ($6.7M) capital raise in July to fund its future growth and to strengthen its commercial capabilities.
“We’ve done events in Mexico and in the U.S. We’re trying to create solutions that can be anywhere,” said Clarke. Despite a largely-British leadership team and position in the UK market, he emphasized that Gfinity’s events are global in their appeal. “By being in the UK and having an arena we are the go-to company for anyone looking to host events or shows in London for a global audience. Interestingly 60% of our content is consumed in the U.S.”
Gfinity utilized its UK roots when handling the Call of Duty World League London event in May. Publisher Activision Blizzard is well aware of the game series’ enduring popularity with British gamers, and Clarke compared the tournament’s fan fervor with the record viewership achieved by last year’s ePremier League. “The tribal nature of Manchester United versus Liverpool attracted the fans. You couldn’t ask for a better combination,” he said. “Then, when you get Call of Duty at the event we did in May, you had a great, passionate 3,000 plus crowd in the Copper Box singing and chanting. The American teams said they’d never seen anything like it!
“If you create the environment for people to be comfortable—obviously always being respectful—to have that humor, that tone, a little bit of ‘Britishness’, then you can create something special. We have the benefit of having that, but recognizing that we’re serving a global audience.”
Gfinity’s UK facilities and global strategy have provided a strong value proposition for traditional sports competitions, many of whom are keen to find their way into the growing esports phenomenon. “When Formula One came to Gfinity three years ago, they said they have an aging fanbase and wanted to design something to help them reach a younger audience,” explained Clarke.
The licensed Formula One video game has a high skill ceiling, and unlike other sports simulations, racing games are used as simulation training by real-life racers. While the foundation for an esports competition was there, it was Gfinity who could come in to ensure fair competition and a strong broadcast product.
“We’ve been able to get a great balance between strong game operations and an excellent online product delivered by our global head of content Amanda Lawson, who has brought experience from UFC and ITV to the gaming world,” he said. “We recognize that the quality of the content and the way you engage with a consumer goes beyond the game.”
As the New Balance F1 Esports Series is in the middle of its third year, another storied sports brand, the Premier League, is also prepping a second year of competitions with Gfinity as tournament operator. While only two English soccer clubs have contracted FIFA players, the ePremier League allowed all 20 teams to see a video gamer represent their colors for the first time.
“The clubs are recognizing that there are ways of connecting with esports fans,” said Clarke. “If they can get 10, 20, or 30 minutes of mind space for their brand, then that gives them an opportunity to build stickiness with that fan on a level greater than it was before.”
He believes that the plan for next year will be for clubs to put more emphasis on shoulder content and build storylines that other gamers will want to follow. “It’s just recognition of the way that FIFA players like to game,” said Clarke.
“The ritual on a Friday night of ‘I’m competing with my mates’ is now being added to. They are being given something even more interesting to do – trying to represent their club. If they go for it but don’t make the grade then the big challenge for the clubs is ‘how do I keep the gamer engaged in following the ePLstory?’ This is where great content comes in.”
Today, more esports companies are looking to go public, pitching the still-questioned profitability of competitive gaming against market scrutiny. Gfinity has itself been listed on the AIM London Stock Exchange since 2014, which has set commitments on the company in terms of finding new revenue streams. “You’ve got to show what your different revenue levers are to drive growth. If you can’t show growth, it can be a very cruel market environment,” said Clarke.
“[Esports is] no longer the shiny new toy. It has moved from being a space you’ve got to be in, to how are people making money? What’s your path and trajectory to profitability? For Gfinity, that’s something we’re working hard on. We’ve put the commitments in the market to grow, within three years, to be a £24M ($31M) revenue company. And as our recent results show, we are delivering.”
For Gfinity, these new revenue streams include community growth. The RealSport101 web channel, which focuses on sports sims and games enjoyed by a more traditional sporting crowd, generates 7M hits a month, with a return rate that’s going up to 40%. Meanwhile, the Gfinityesports.com portal has a visitor base of around 1.25M, and continues to grow. “If you do that well, you can start monetizing, so we’re now ad serving and working with publishers like Codemasters to launch its GRID game. through these channels. We are driving revenue that wasn’t coming in before,” explained Clarke.
The second area is the buying and sharing of commercial rights. “If you focus on request for proposal (RFP), and those RFPs don’t give you any commercial rights, then your margins are likely to be low,” said Clarke. “We’re prepared to invest in something where we can share in the commercial upside. More people are starting to get interested in this sort of model.”
Next year will mark the start of one of Gfinity’s largest projects to date: the Qatar Esports Wega Global Games (QEWGG). This Olympic-style competition will be a first of its kind international esports event in the Gulf. Gfinity has designed and developed a competition format with leading games that will see it deliver a series of events leading up to a grand final in 2022. This will be held in tandem with the FIFA World Cup in Qatar.
“That for us is another example of a transition of how esports is evolving, where the next wave of growth is going to come from. The consumer has decided that gaming is integral to their lives. Our job is to help publishers, sports rights holders, brands, and media companies to keep finding new and exciting ways to connect. We live in exciting times!”
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