How Blast is finding esports success through the ‘co-production’ model

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As esports winter extends into 2024, Blast has claimed profitability for 2023, a stark contrast with the ongoing struggles of some of its competitors. The company’s secret: a co-production strategy that requires both Blast and its publisher partners to buy into the success of its esports products.

It’s layoff season in the gaming industry, and esports has been far from exempt from the wave of cuts. In January, Activision Blizzard let go of the majority of its esports staff; on Tuesday, Feb. 27, the competitive gaming giant ESL/FACEIT Group announced its own 15 percent cut. The news has some observers wondering whether game publishers or their partners are really in esports for the long haul.

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None of that doom and gloom was to be found at last weekend’s Six Invitational 2024, competitive “Rainbow Six Siege” event held in São Paulo in partnership between Blast and Ubisoft. Blast executives and staff at the Invitational projected confidence about their future, pointing out both the aforementioned profitability and the event’s record-breaking attendance and viewership. (Note: Ubisoft paid for this reporter to travel and board for the final weekend of the event.)

“We have a co-production, which is unique in the space, meaning that we’re partners with Ubisoft,” said Blast executive producer for “Rainbow Six” Chrystina Martel. “Which is really exciting for any executive producer — you don’t just have to do what you’re told, but you get to have a say and take part in the conversation and shape what happens.”

The fact that “Rainbow Six” esports is a co-production between Blast and Ubisoft means both partners have put money into the production and benefit from its revenues, though representatives of both companies declined to specify the exact split.

Co-production is a key aspect of Blast’s esports strategy because it means both partners are invested in keeping “Rainbow Six” esports healthy in the long run, even if their primary goals for the collaboration might be different. Blast wants to monetize esports and Ubisoft wants to use esports to market its core gaming product, but both require the esports scene to stay alive to accomplish these goals.

“We know going into any ecosystem that esports is retention — that’s what we’re there for. We want to engage the fans, we want to get them involved in the game. Obviously, from our perspective, we also want them involved in the broadcast, and that’s our focus; we want to put on an entertaining show,” Martel said. “So it’s kind of balancing two. It’s a partnership, so we have to keep both KPIs in mind.”

Per Martel, this type of in-depth co-production is still relatively uncommon in esports. It’s becoming more commonplace for publishers to contract with third-party companies to operate their esports leagues, but to some extent the whole premise of companies such as ESL/FACEIT Group is that they take all of the stress and expense of running an esport out of the publisher’s hands entirely. The relationship between Blast and Ubisoft represents more of a middle path, with both parties buying in — one that Blast hopes to take with more publishers and esports moving forward. In January, the company announced a partnership with Epic Games to run the publisher’s “Rocket League” events.

“We need to be as close as we can with the publisher to understand what they’re trying to achieve with their game, because if there are multiple differences between them all, we embrace those as brilliant, rather than ‘oh no, now we have to do it differently,’” said Blast chief business officer Leo Matlock. “We’ll probably be announcing a little bit of other work with publishers in the near future.”

Blast isn’t the only company looking to build a greenhouse to withstand esports winter. In spite of this week’s layoffs, ESL/FACEIT Group is still the largest league operator in the market at the moment, with strong ties to Activision Blizzard and its popular esports “Call of Duty” and “Overwatch.” EFG is also backed by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, giving it a larger war chest than Blast, whose largest investor is the Export and Investment Fund of Denmark. 

But Blast’s profitable year in the face of its rivals’ layoffs is a sign that its co-production model might just be the right path forward. Both game publishers and other league operators are sure to take cues from Blast’s successful expansion in 2023.

“It’s a two horse race, and one is obviously bigger than the other,” said Marco Mereu, CEO of the esports organization M80. “But I think Blast is doing a good job with what they have, and I think that ESL is doing a good job as well.”

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