Publisher’s Note: In a special 3-part series on the Top 10 most influential people in Esports for 2019, Ben Feferman and Niaz Dhanju collaborate to provide the InvestorIntel audience with the final 4! (Click here for Part I, Part II)
Let’s recap 10-6…
10: Brandon Beck / Marc Merill, Co-founders of Riot Games
9: Andy Miller, Co-founder and Co-CEO of NRG Esports
8: Yilliang “Doublelift” Peng, League of Legends player
7: Kirsten “KittyPlays” Michaela, Twitch Streamer
6: Faze Banks, Owner of Faze Clan
5: Carlos, “Ocelote” Rodriguez, Founder, CEO of G2 Esports
- Robert A. Kotick, CEO Activision
Who is Robert Kotick? Kotick, an American businessman, is the current CEO of Activision Blizzard and a board member of The Coca-Cola Company. Robert grew up in New York and would eventually attend the University of Michigan for art history, where he would run a company that developed software for Apple II. In 1983, Steve Jobs urged Kotick to leave school and focus on the company full-time, advicee which Robert capitalized on whole-heartedly. Robert would then pursue various ventures, up until 1990, when Brain Kelly (current chairman of Activision Blizzard) and he would finally purchase a 25% stake in Activision. Just a year later, this swift businessman would earn the CEO title. This was not done in vain, however, for under Robert’s direction, the company would eventually grow to new heights, acquiring various esports organizations and merging with Blizzard, one of the most iconic game publishers in the world.
Why they matter in 2019? In 2019, Activision Blizzard managed to exceed their revenue projections quarter after quarter. This would eventually result in the company having a 26.97% return in 2019. Aside from competitive financial performance, the company has made tremendous noise in the esports landscape as well. The company’s portfolio already includes three major esports (Overwatch, StarCraft, Hearthstone) that captivate fans year after year, and it only seems to be growing. With the addition of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and Call of Duty League, the announcement of Overwatch 2 and the various expansion for Hearthstone and WoW, Activision/Blizzard has continued to dominate in 2019.
- Astralis, Esports Team (ok, we are cheating a bit, including a whole team)
Members: dev1ce, dupreeh, Xyp9x, Gla1ve, Magisk
Who are Astralis? Astralis is a force to be reckoned with, not only excelling but dominating professional CS: GO competition. In August 2019, Nikolaj Nyholm and Jakob Lund Kristensen, cofounders of RFRSH Entertainment, decided to leave the company and buy out Astralis and Origen to build their own team under the Astralis Group banner. After their separation, the pair would inaugurate the company’s first FIFA team, which was also sponsored by Audi. Though the other groups continued to improve, the focus has been on Astralis due to the legendary performance they achieved in just three years.
Why they matter in 2019? With skills, finesse and strategy, oh and a little bit of funding! Astralis’ path of destruction includes the shattered monitors used by their opponents. The team is unique in that each player has breathtakingly mechanical skills and employs synergistic teamwork. As a result, the team has consecutively won the last three CS: GO majors, with the most recent being the StarLadder Berlin 2019 in September. Not only did this give them the most total major wins (4) of any CS: GO team, it is also a feat unmatched by any other team in the game’s history. These efforts have allowed Astralis to earn over USD$8 million in winnings, with about USD$2 million coming from 2019 alone. Aside from gaming, the company has also made history by being the first competitive esports team to IPO. Not only will this serve as a benchmark for esports team valuations, but also sheds light to an industry that is largely privately owned.
- Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, Streamer
Who is Ninja? At one point, Ninja was synonymous with Fortnite, but today he is perhaps the most recognized gamer on the planet. In 2017, after the launch of Fortnite, Epic Games would market the game using content creators and streamers. This would allow them to procure a higher degree of engagement as well as feedback that would be critical to the success of the game. At the time, Ninja was a professional Halo player, who was building up quite a viewing streaming battle royale games such as H1Z1 and PUBG. It was not until after a PUBG tournament when Ninja first picked up Fortnite. Honestly, this may have been the single most important event in both Fortnite and Ninja’s gaming history. As Ninja grew, so did Fortnite, and as Fortnite grew, so did Ninja. The two forces were entangled, synergistically giving exponential rise to its counterpart. From 2017 to 2018, as Fortnite crowded the gaming environment, Ninja amassed over 2 million followers on Twitch, up from 500 000 in 2017. He would also set viewership records on Twitch as he played with high profile celebrities such as Drake and Travis Scott. Ninja has since managed to become the largest Twitch streamer with 14.7 million followers. In addition to his streaming pedigree, Ninja totals 22.3 million subscribers on YouTube, as well as 14.8 million and 5.37 million followers on Instagram and Twitter, respectively.
Why they matter 2019? The grandiose reason behind Ninja’s allure in 2019 is his move from Amazon’s Twitch to Microsoft’s Mixer. The news erupted the gaming industry, as gamers had limited streaming options and felt streaming on any platform other than Twitch would not bear any fruits. However, when Ninja immigrated over to Mixer, he brought along with him a large audience that helped populate Mixer’s community. This effect was clear, as Shroud, a retired professional gamer and streamer, and many others followed soon after. Ninja’s influence is widespread, and even a small stimulus can be a catalyst for an exponential effect. He has rose to the status of a coveted athlete with his own Adidas shoes, and has converged past just gaming alone.
Drum roll please…The most influential esports figure in 2019 is….
- Matthew “Nadeshot” Haag, Founder & Co-owner of 100 Thieves
Who is Nadeshot? Nadeshot is a retired professional Call of Duty Player, who is currently the founder and co-owner of 100 Thieves, a professional esports organization that competes in Call of Duty, League of Legends, Fortnite and Counter Strike: Global Offensive. Nadeshot emerged onto the professional esports scene in June 2010, when he joined OpTic Gaming’s Call of Duty team. In April of 2015, he would eventually retire from competitive play and focus his attention on content creation under OpTic Gaming. However, this relationship would not last. Soon after in 2016, Nadeshot would severe his connection with OpTic and create his own esports organization called 100 Thieves, whose Call of Duty roster would consist of King Papey’s players (former NA Call of Duty team). This was a decision he would not regret. Even though Nadeshot had a prolific Call of Duty Career and achieved high placements in various major tournaments over 5 years, what set him apart from the rest was his incredible content and popular esports team, 100 Thieves.
100 Thieves was not just your average esports team; it was a lifestyle brand. Nadeshot had made this vision clear through the content he created and perhaps, it was the secret behind the team’s rapid success. About a year after Nadeshot created 100 Thieves, Dan Gilbert, the owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Quicken Loans, made a multimillion-dollar investment that would help spur the organization. Following this investment, 100 Thieves would receive $25 million in funding from notable partners such as Drake, Scooter Braun and Marc Benioff in 2018. Nadeshot had a unique blueprint and these investors believed that the company could conquer new heights and break out its shell as just a gaming brand.
Why they matter in 2019? Those investors were not wrong! In 2019, 100 Thieves raised another USD$35 million from Aglae Ventures and Groupe Arnault in another round of funding. No longer bound by financial restrictions, Nadeshot would expand the team to cover four esports, while also acquiring content creators that were crucial to the 100 Thieves brand. The esports operations remained robust as the team went on to win Call of Duty CWL London and Anaheim and came 2nd at the Call of Duty World Championships in 2019, earning a total of USD$665k from Call of Duty alone. Many of the team’s Fortnite players also did well in 2019 placing in duo and solo events at the Fortnite World Championship to bring home almost USD$2 million in prize money.
All of these accolades are fitting for someone on this top ten list but one particular event shook the esports world profoundly. On August 29th 2019, Nadeshot announced that 100T would not participate in the Call of Duty franchised league citing franchise fees and geolocations as some of the reasons. This announcement sent shockwaves through the esports world which was already very divided on the franchise vs. non-franchise model.