Texas Esports: Infinite problems
According to research provided by Code Red Esports, the agency owned and founded by Luckbox ambassador and esports godfather Paul ‘Redeye’ Chaloner, there are now 262 sports teams involved in the space in one way or another. Compared to even a few years ago that is a massive jump in investment, but the level of interest varies wildly, as does the investment in the ethos and soul of esports, from team to team.
This number was boosted over the past few months by a swathe of entries, including Man Utd, prompted by the formation of the ePremier League, another FIFA tournament run by football owners scared of their aging customer base continuing to age. While it is great to see teams like Manchester United on the ball and getting involved, it’s also worth pointing out that many of these groups are only halfway in, compared to the level of investment they could make.
Leagues like the ePremier are not a bad thing for esports per se, but the fact is that teams like to buy into them as they see ‘virtual football’ and equate that with ‘gaming’, which means younger fans, in their minds at least. This fundamentally misses the point of esports, which is not to provide a virtual alternative to existing sports, but new and different ways to compete, that are not available in real life.
The same goes for the NBA and NFL leagues, run by rich men who want to get money from the kids who can’t afford to go to the real games. If the likes of Manchester United, the LA Lakers or Real Madrid were to follow PSG’s example, and support Dota, CSGO or other elite esports orgs, rather than the virtual counterparts to their existing stars, it would be massive for the scene overall, although there are examples from 2019 that show how risky it can be to dive all the way in.
Infinite money, infinite stress
One of the biggest and most exciting investments esports has seen in recent years is the purchase of OpTic Gaming and creation of Infinite Esports by Texas Esports, LLC, a firm led by Texas Rangers owner Neil Leibman. Leibman is a billionaire according to most sources and, unlike many investors, his firm decided to buy in real esports knowhow, purchasing one of the most storied and famous names in the game.
The investment went further, too, with spots in the Overwatch League and the LCS purchased, and heavy spending on a CSGO team that never got off the ground, but apparently it hasn’t paid off. The end of last year saw multiple headlines reporting that OpTic and Infinite were looking to ‘restructure’, ostensibly to set themselves up for a more successful 2019.
As it turns out, they were just cleaning the place up to sell, and ESPN’s Jacob Wolf reported that the group has decided $150m is a fair price if you want Infinite problems. While they do own those League and OWL spots, as well as a recovering Call of Duty dynasty, that is a massive amount of money for a group that has spent the last twelve months failing to capitalise on all of those wonderful assets.
The reason for the sale is basically chronic mismanagement, with many hires from inside the esports scene obviously flawed (like the notorious Alicus), but it does show the complexity and to some extent unpredictability of investing in our growing scene. Even with experience and a proven brand, Infinite have shown it is possible to fail spectacularly, and it will be fascinating to see what becomes of the group once it has been transferred to a new owner.
This is not to say Texas Esports necessarily went about their business in the wrong way of course, but to demonstrate why such a large percentage of the sports teams involved in esports have chosen to spend small, on the virtual version of the game they know. For every PSG.LGD in the TI Grand Final we have at least a couple of Norths, where players are being paid tier one wages and turning in tier three performances, and OpTic is another example of that.
The key to moving on from this issue perhaps lies with the likes of Code Red, and other firms that can act as a bridge between old money and new esports (not new sports) to facilitate better deals. Whether that is not going into multiple games at once, or waiting for the right CSGO team to come along rather than getting the best you can on day one, the advice will vary from situation to situation, but is going to be very valuable for the foreseeable future.
Then again, it still relies on the incoming party to find the right consultant, as Redeye swims like a shark in a sea of fake experts, who can be considered discarded plastic bags in our metaphor, no longer wanted by their owners and looking to make a quick buck in a new industry. Today there is no ‘right’ way to invest in esports though, or at least guarantee success if you do, rather than end up with an Infinite list of issues.