Esports is frequently labeled as one of the fastest-growing industries in the world, but the past couple of years haven’t been the easiest for the companies who contribute to that label. With in-person events and activations largely off of the table, esports businesses had to find new ways to monetize and keep themselves afloat — many of which raised money through investment in 2021, hoping to propel them to new heights in the future.
Venture capital investments are nothing new at this stage of the esports industry, nor is the prospect of large traditional sports clubs betting on the future of competitive gaming by investing heavily themselves. The trend firmly continued in 2021.
From 100 Thieves (a ‘lifestyle’ org which counts Drake as an owner) to OverActive Media (which is heavily influenced by traditional sports strategies), esports investments in 2021 didn’t slow down across every facet, despite the struggle the industry has been facing due to the global health situation. We even had the largest sponsorship deal to date, with TSM receiving $210m over 10 years from crypto exchange FTX.
We’re now in 2022, a year we all hope will mark the cemented return of live events across all competitive games, but it’s worth taking a look at the last year to see where the largest sums of money went. Here are the biggest esports investments of 2021.
Biggest esports investments of 2021
10. NODWIN Gaming
Date: March 9, 2021
PUBG owners Krafton invested £16m ($21.5m) in Indian esports solutions company NODWIN Gaming, a subsidiary of Nazara Technologies which helped the likes of ESL and DreamHack host events in India. The idea behind the capital injection was to assist NODWIN with their “global growth”.
9. EXCEL ESPORTS
Date: July 2, 2021
British esports organization EXCEL ESPORTS secured a £17m ($22.9m) investment led by their majority shareholders JRJ Group, with contribution from IPGL, the private investment office of Lord Spencer, the ICAP founder, and former Conservative Party treasurer. The org plans to use the funding to go from a “household name in UK esports” to an “internationally recognized, diverse British gaming brand.”
8. GameSquare Esports
Date: June 30, 2021
GameSquare Esports invested in North American esports organization Complexity Gaming for a total cost of $27m, with the org’s previous ownership becoming major shareholders in the new parent company. GameSquare are listed on three public exchanges.
Date: August 24, 2021
Esports data and technology company Abios were acquired by sports betting service provider Kambi Group in August for SEK150m ($16.5m) in cash, with SEK120m ($13.2m) to be paid in earnouts in the future. This deal will total an investment of $29.7m.
6. Team BDS
Date: June 29, 2021
Team BDS invested in the European League of Legends competition LEC in June when they acquired the slot owned by German football club FC Schalke 04. While not an investment in the traditional sense, the Swiss esports organization have committed $31.5m in hopes their position in the LEC will one day be worth much, much more.
5. Misfits Gaming Group
Date: September 23, 2021
The parent company of Misfits, Florida Mayhem, and Florida Mutineers, Misfits Gaming Group received a $35m investment back in September. The round was led by legacy media group The E.W. Scripps Company and saw MGG receive $10m directly. They have franchise payments to meet in the LEC, Call of Duty League, and Overwatch League, and ambitions to become “the largest organization of esports and gaming ventures globally”.
4. OverActive Media
Date: April 13, 2021
The parent company of MAD Lions, Call of Duty franchise Toronto Ultra, and Overwatch franchise Toronto Defiant, OverActive Media raised $40m in April 2021. The capital came from NHL team Montreal Canadiens, as well as professional ice hockey players Phil Kessel and Carl Hagelin, after they announced intentions to become a public company.
3. Envy Gaming
Date: May 10, 2021
The parent company of Envy, Dallas Fuel, OpTic Texas, and OpTic Gaming, Envy Gaming raised $40m in a new round of investment led by Gray Television. The media company contributed $28.5m and named two directors to envy’s board of directors. Later in the year, Envy Gaming acquired OpTic Gaming.
Date: January 22, 2021
Chinese esports organizers VSPN raised $60m in January 2021, following a $100m investment led by Tencent in October 2020. While serving as one of the most prominent organizers in China, this funding was sought out to help them expand their services internationally.
1. 100 Thieves
Date: December 2, 2021
100 Thieves, an organization that focuses on competing, content, and apparel, raised $60m to help fuel their next stage of growth. Their Series C funding round valued them at $460m and will be used towards expanding their current verticals, as well as launching new businesses and making more acquisitions like their Higround deal.