Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov, who invested 80 million euros in competitive video-gaming last year, is seeing the money put to work as the company he backs, ESforce, attempts to dominate the growing sport in eastern Europe.
ESforce is hosting eastern Europe’s biggest online-game tournament next month, having lined up Western sponsors and players, according to a statement from the company Monday. It’s also spending 4 million euros to build an e-sports arena in Moscow for local competitions and buying content rights from teams to parlay into revenue from online broadcasts and sales of both virtual and physical goods.
Usmanov, who co-owns London’s Arsenal football club, is betting on rising popularity for the events, which can attract tens of thousands of paying spectators and hundreds of thousands more online.
“We have exactly the same monetization tools as offline sport teams like Arsenal do, and even more of them,” Anton Cherepennikov, founder and chief executive officer of ESforce, said in an interview. “E-sports is already comparable with traditional sports such as football or hockey by audience and is rapidly catching up by revenue.”
E-sports took off in South Korea in late 1990s as faster broadband-Internet speeds helped attract users to multiplayer games, allowing the best teams to make money as fans watched them compete via online broadcasts and television.
Asia accounted for about a half of the global $748 million e-sports market last year, researcher SuperData estimates. The market is set to grow to $1.9 billion by 2018 as other regions led by the U.S. and Europe are boosting spending on e-sports, according to SuperData. Former NBA players Shaquille O’Neal and Rick Fox have also invested in e-sports.