It doesn’t matter what your plan was for 2020, it didn’t happen. A year of global turmoil caused every company, content creator and employee to adjust.
While 2021, by law of averages, almost has to be more stable, Covid timelines are still completely in flux. Are we due for a return to normalcy in Spring? Summer? 2022? All options still seem on the table.
Esports and the video game world was lucky to be insulated from many of the impacts of the pandemic. That’s not to say the year went smoothly for most companies, just that impacts were muted in comparison to most other industries. Still, by extrapolating trends from 2020 and before, we can come up with some solid predictions for the gaming world in 2021.
Mobile Games Continue to Explode with One Reaching Top-Tier Status in Esports
This one almost feels like cheating. Mobile games have been growing steadily for years, on the esports side they are becoming a consistent mirror of all major esports. Fortnite and Warzone have mobile versions. Apex Legends is planning to release one in fiscal year 2022 according to EA.
All of the sports simulations – NBA 2K, Madden, and FIFA – have mobile versions. Overwatch recently launched a mobile version. Tencent, the Chinese company that owns Riot Games, already effectively made a mobile version of League of Legends called Honor of Kings (Arena of Valor in the west). While Honor of Kings is still massively popular in China, Tencent decided to scrap the focus on the EU and NA markets, instead putting that energy into Wild Rift, an official mobile version of the most popular esport directly from Riot Games.
Gaming is international and mobile games are already the most dominant esports titles in many countries. In India, PUBG Mobile was the most popular title in the country before being banned by the Indian government due to the games ties to China. PUBG Mobile is in works re-launching in India with a game specifically designed for the Indian market.
In Brazil, the dominant title is Garena Free Fire. The mobile battle royale is crazy popular in the region driving it to be the most downloaded mobile game globally in 2019. LOUD, a Brazilian esports organization, became the first esports organization to reach one billion views on YouTube. They accomplished the feat in just over a year. Since they broke that record in the summer of 2020, the organization has added an additional 700 million views.
FaZe Clan also topped one billion views last year but they accomplished the feat over the span of ten years. Considering LOUD creates all content in Portuguese, narrowing their audience compared to English, Spanish or Mandarin, LOUD’s success really highlights the potential for audience growth purely based on one mobile esport.
When it comes to what mobile esport will emerge as a dominant force, the leader is PUBG Mobile. The mobile scene of the game has already surpassed the PC-based version with a total prize pool of $5M up for grabs in the 2021 season. Following PUBG Mobile are Honor of Kings / Arena of Valor / Wild Rift and Garena Free Fire. In many regions the transition has already happened, for the rest of the world it’s coming soon.
Athletic Apparel Brands Quicken Pace of Esports Partners
Nike, Adidas and PUMA have battled for years in traditional sports fields. They compete for individual athletes, teams and league deals. Over the last two years, that battle has started to work its way into esports.
Prior to 2021, PUMA signed deals with GenG and Cloud9. Nike focused on Asia by signing T1 Sports & Entertainment, SK Gaming and the League of Legends Pro League. Adidas has been focused on Europe working with Team Vitality, North, Lyon and Team Heretics.
On January 14th, Adidas signed G2, one of the biggest esports orgs in Europe. This year is going to mark a much quicker pace when it comes to working with esports organizations. The race is on.
Nike has the only league by working with the LPL. By the end of 2021, I’ll wager that at least two more leagues are signed by one of the big three brands. In addition, at least another five esports organizations are signed as well. Adidas also has worked with Ninja, more streamers are going to be picked up as well considering the inherent value they drive with their audiences.
Clearly all three brands see the value in esports. That inherent competition is going to quicken the pace considerably. In addition, I’ll bet we see more collaborations. 100 Thieves and FaZe Clan are both turning into streetwear brands in their own rights, working with a massive brand like Nike, Adidas or PUMA helps cement them in those communities. FaZe Clan has already worked with Champion on a collaboration and they work directly with athletes already signed to the big three apparel companies. A collaboration isn’t a question of if, but of when.
But the real way for one of these companies to take a big lead in the race? Acquire a company like We Are Nations (17 esports organizations signed up) or Raven (5 esports organizations and the Call of Duty League). 2021 might be too quick to see a major acquisition but keep your eye on that opportunity for these major brands. Nike did something similar in the extreme sports era of the early 2000’s when they acquired Hurley and Converse.
More Streamers Go Independent, Relying on Maturing Sponsorship Deals
This trend has already started to take place. In the past, only a few major streamers operated independently of esports organizations. Many are still signed on to various rosters.
We saw this firsthand when Fortnite took off and Tfue became one of the biggest names in gaming. Shortly after he found success he filed a lawsuit against FaZe Clan, trying to push his way out of the leading organization. That lawsuit was settled out of court and we still don’t know the specifics but the balance of power is shifting.
Individual streamers are commanding bigger audiences than brand names. Luminosity is a great example, formerly the home of Ninja, the star streamer went off to forge his own path. Now XQC leads a large roster of content creators and his brand is also outpacing Luminosity.
In the past, streamers relied on esports organizations to bring together a large number of content creators and find brand deals that targeted the entire roster. With the growth of streaming platforms, and brands understanding of how to work with them, suddenly deals are becoming more plentiful.
FLUUID is helping make that process easier for both brands and streamers. While esports organizations still carry weight, many streamers are finding plenty of success going solo. They are free to pursue their own deals, play their own games and not share those profits with a larger organization.
In 2021, we will see a lot of content creators contracts end and not be renewed. For brands, they should pay attention to when streamers leave contracts and could be open to new deals. Instead of an esports organization with its own agenda, FLUUID will help be that glue between brand and content creator that creates powerful partnerships in the new year.