Evil Geniuses’ new partnership signals esports industry’s continued interest in crypto and betting sponsors

The major North American esports organization Evil Geniuses has announced a new partnership with Thunderpick, a crypto and online esports betting platform. The partnership is evidence that some brands are still interested in using esports orgs as a conduit to the gaming audience — and that esports orgs are still open for business with cryptocurrency companies, even after feeling the cold of crypto winter last year.

This new partnership hinges on Evil Geniuses’ three “Counter-Strike” teams, for which Thunderpick will become a “Marquee Partner.” Thunderpick and Evil Geniuses representatives declined to comment on the financial details of the partnership, but did say that it was a multi-year deal.

Through activations including branded tournaments, giveaways and watch parties, Thunderpick intends for the partnership to reflect its support of both Evil Geniuses’ female teams and women in gaming in general. The company also hopes to leverage its relationship with Evil Geniuses to raise its profile within the “Counter-Strike” community, which Thunderpick believes is more open to betting than other prominent esports scenes.

“‘Counter-Strike’ has been around for 20 years, and some of these players and bettors are going into their 30s and early 40s, whereas some of the other leagues are new, and they’re skewed to a much younger population,” said Thunderpick head of strategy Kelly Sanders. “So it just made sense, from an audience perspective.”

As some brands reduce their esports marketing spend in anticipation of a recession, Thunderpick’s partnership with Evil Geniuses — which has been in the works since November — shows that brands that find the right audience alignment are still ready and willing to work with esports orgs to reach gaming fans. It also demonstrates how Evil Geniuses’ strong brand identity, which hinges around a mission of diversity and equity, allows the org to differentiate itself in an increasingly crowded field. 

“The ESL Impact [women’s league] team that Evil Geniuses has is important to us, and trying to find a partner like Thunderpick, who also aligns with that, was key in our outreach and focus on looking for a partner for our ‘Counter-Strike’ teams,” said Evil Geniuses Chief Innovation Officer Chris DeAppolonio.

Before April, all of Evil Geniuses’ listed sponsors came from more relatively established business sectors, including computing, energy and gaming equipment. Thunderpick represents the second betting partner the company’s signed since April, on the back of a partnership with the online betting platform VKGAME announced last month

“As the organizations and tournament operators we work with start to look at changes to sponsorship category opportunities, it’s an opportunity for Evil Geniuses to bring in partners who previously may not have been able to partner with teams,” said DeApollonio, who added that the timing of his company’s recent betting sponsorships was more of a “happy coincidence” than an intentional strategic shift.

Brand partnerships remain the lifeblood of most esports organizations, and signing a new sponsor signals to Evil Geniuses’ investors that the company is still chugging along despite the mounting esports winter. But it also shows how esports orgs are increasingly willing to partner with brands in growing industries such as crypto and betting, despite the fact that some orgs were burned last year after teaming up with doomed cryptocurrency partners such as FTX. 

“When you’re talking about betting companies, and particularly crypto betting companies, you’re inherently dealing with a higher category of risk, when it comes to the entire sponsorship categories, because they’re more speculative sorts of partnerships,” said Jason Chung, director of esports and gaming at New York University. “It’s up to the organization to figure out whether they want to lend their name and their fan base to this kind of endeavor.”

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