South Korean private equity firm ATU Partners has announced the launch of a $17-million growth fund that will invest in esports space, becoming Asia’s first fund focused on the burgeoning industry.

ATU esports Growth Fund, considered as the first in the region that is solely dedicated to investing in esports related companies, is backed by Kakao Games, The E&M, Woori Technology Investments, and SB Partners.

The fund has already acquired Korean esports organisation Kingzone Dragon X, which was rebranded to DRX, and invested in California-based talent agency AZYT, one of the top three agencies in the world.

DRX is one of the most prestigious League of Legends team, having produced the first place winner in the League of Legends Championship Korea competition twice.

The launch of the fund comes as the esports market is expected to grow from $1 billion in 2019 to $2.7 billion in 2022, according to data from Goldman Sachs. The number of global esports viewers is also forecast to reach 280 million by 2022 from 200 million at present.

“The esports industry has been growing rapidly at 30% YoY over the last couple of years. Followed by the investment boom in K-Pop and K-Beauty, we forecast that esports will become the next big investment trend capturing Korea’s strength in the industry,” according to ATU CEO Jamie Park.

Park, who was previously head of the global business at OGN, the world’s first esports broadcasting channel, is managing the fund. He founded ATU Partners in May 2019 as a PE firm focusing on lifestyle companies.

Allen DeBevoise, an investment expert in media and esports, who is managing director of marketing firm Third Wave Digital, will serve as the chief advisor to the fund. He will help ATU access the North American market as well as setting up strategies for the fund’s portfolio companies.

The esports industry has been gaining attention from advertisers, who seek to target the millennial/ Gen-Z consumer groups and investors who see the potential of this space.

One of those who have made big bets in the industry is Alibaba Group Holding co-founder Joe Tsai, who is investing $10 million in Berlin-based competitive gaming franchise G2 Esports.

G2 is hoping to use the investment from J Tsai Sports, and Tsai’s expertise, to expand in Asia, more specifically China, where esports are incredibly popular but Western teams have yet to fully penetrate, according to a Bloomberg report.

In November, Singapore-based startup EVOS Esports raised $4.4 million in its series A funding round, backed by Insignia Venture Partners.

EVOS currently manages 50 gaming influencers exclusively and partners with another 250 e-sports talents. The e-sports influencers form the pillar of live-streaming and content platforms.

Bangkok-based esports startup Infofed, developer of the country’s first esports platform eArena, also secured an undisclosed amount of seed funding in February from Singapore-based venture capital firm KK Fund and Thai marketing platform Event Pop.

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