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The burgeoning esports scene has received a massive shot in the arm after Canadian rapper Drake (pictured right) became the latest superstar to invest in a professional team.
The three-time Grammy Award winner has teamed up with Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, entertainment mogul Scooter Braun, private equity firm Sequoia and former Call of Duty pro Nadeshot (pictured left) in a formidable circle of co-owners at 100 Thieves.
The Series A funding that saw Drake hop aboard the gaming bandwagon has provided the team with a $25 million cash injection to fuel growth. But the endorsement of a star name like Drake could prove to be priceless for the world of esports.
Competitive gaming is no stranger to investment from big names, as the likes of Shaquille O’Neal, Ashton Kutcher, Steph Curry and Michael Jordan are all involved. Nor is Drake the first rapper to realise the potential of esports; Nas invested in a start-up earlier this year. But you cannot underestimate the global appeal of Drake, who has broken several digital music sales records. He has 37.6 million Twitter followers, compared to 2.2 million for Nas and 12.9 million for Curry.
He also transcends North America. Drake is in the UK so much and aligns himself so strongly with its music culture that he has joked about applying for a British passport. He has signed to independent UK label Boy Better Know, he has BBK tattooed on his back and his hits soar straight to the top of the UK charts. He has legions of fans on every continent and he appeals to a broad range of people. The legitimacy of esports is constantly questioned, but celebrity endorsements can help to cement its status as a powerful entertainment industry and it is hard to conceive of a more perfect ambassador than the Canadian rapper.
The tie-up with 100 Thieves also makes a great deal of sense for Drake. He took a calculated first step into the world of gaming when he played Fortnite with Ninja (pictured below, left) in a record-breaking Twitch stream, which attracted more than 600,000 views earlier this year.
Drake clearly recognises the vast potential of the esports industry, and he appears to have made a shrewd choice in choosing 100 Thieves to invest in. Former OpTic Gaming Call of Duty star Matthew “Nadeshot” Haag set up the team in April 2016 and it has since gone from strength to strength.
100 Thieves is a diverse lifestyle brand, boasting a range of clothing that regularly sells out within minutes of release. It provides gaming content and enjoys a level of credibility that makes it a viable investment opportunity for a star of Drake’s prowess. Scooter Braun brings a wealth of entertainment industry experience to the project, and talks about building an amazing brand within the field of competitive gaming. But chief operating officer John Robinson insists that it is first and foremost an esports team and that is crucial.
"The endorsement of a star name like Drake could prove to be priceless for the world of esports."
It is all well and good selling stylish clothes, but you need to enjoy success in popular games like League of Legends in order to be taken seriously, and fans will not want the sideshow to distract from the drama and entertainment of competitive gaming.
100 Thieves competes in Fortnite, Call of Duty and Clash Royale, but its flagship team is the LoL line-up comprising Ssumday, AnDa, Ryu, Rikara, Aphromoo and Cody Sun. Nadeshot initially secured funding from Cleveland Cavaliers and Quicken Loans owner Dan Gilbert in 2017, which allowed the team to secure a spot in the LCS. That was a massive step towards legitimacy, and the team went on to earn first place in the NALCS Spring Regular Series before going on to represent North America at the 2018 World Championships in South Korea.
The team just suffered a disappointing early elimination in the LoL World Championship, finishing behind London-based Fnatic and Invictus Gaming in the group stage, but they have a strong roster and there is every reason to think they will return even stronger for future competitions. The pull of being part of a project featuring Drake may be too tempting to resist for some of the world’s greatest LoL stars, and 100 Thieves has a great opportunity to bolster its roster in the months ahead.
Nadeshot helped put OpTic on the map with his Call of Duty exploits, but already 100 Thieves threatens to usurp that esports powerhouse in terms of popularity. The potential for the team to grow is vast. Nowadays a few of the very top esports stars can earn more than $1 million a year, and the world’s leading technology companies and sports franchises are investing heavily in it, while the likes of Mountain Dew are more than happy to sponsor teams.
Streaming is soaring in popularity on Twitch, YouTube and so on, and wagering on esports is now huge. Leading sites such as Unikrn offer a wide and competitive range of LoL markets for punters to bet on, covering plenty more popular games too, from CSGO to Overwatch, and that has helped accelerate the growth.
Betting on esports is now a multi-billion dollar industry and it has even overtaken popular sports like golf and rugby at some leading sportsbooks. It works well for betting because there are so many plays to make and many strategies to consider. You can really think outside the box when coming up with betting options, which has helped spark a great deal of interest in LoL tournaments. 100 Thieves can now set its sights on moving into an elite bracket of global esports behemoths alongside the likes of Fnatic, OpTic Gaming, Cloud 9, Evil Geniuses and Invictus Gaming.
"Some may view Drake’s acquisition as a cynical move to cash in on a popular pursuit, but endorsements like this can help esports continue its upward march."
The esports industry is expected to surge past the $900 million barrier in 2018 and it is tipped to rise to $1.65 billion by 2021 and then $6 billion (£4.7 billion) by 2028 as more and more people around the world join the revolution. Drake is perfectly placed to capitalise, and Nadeshot looks to have secured a dream team thanks to Scooter Braun’s clout in the entertainment world and the capital from a range of private equity investors.
Some may view Drake’s acquisition as a cynical move to cash in on a popular pursuit, and you might hear complaints that excessive commercialisation could rip the soul out of esports, but ultimately it needs endorsements like this if it is to continue its upward march.
Drake’s presence will help remove some of the geeky stigma attached to competitive gaming and open it up to a whole new audience. It could also open the floodgates for more popular culture stars to get involved, and the only way is up for LoL, Fortnite, DOTA 2, Call of Duty et al. Ultimately this will result in better organised tournaments, increased pay for professional gamers, an improvement at grassroots level and the ability for more people to enjoy esports.
And soon, Drake might have to push those Grammies to one side to make room for some shiny new 100 Thieves silverware to adorn his trophy cabinet.
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