‘More content is better than less’: An annotated Q&A with Esports World Cup CEO Ralf Reichert

In today’s competitive gaming industry, all eyes are on the Esports World Cup.

The event, which kicks off next month in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, promises to be the FIFA World Cup of gaming — an international tournament that is looking to bring new attention and engagement to the esports industry, both from fans and from the sponsors whose marketing dollars keep the industry afloat. 

With an eye-popping $60 million-plus prize pool, the Esports World Cup has been met with both excitement and skepticism by longtime observers of the space. On one hand, it represents a potential lifeline for an industry that is still struggling to find its footing; on the other, the event has been targeted by accusations of “esportswashing,” or using esports fandom to distract gamers from Saudi Arabia’s human rights issues.

To understand the Esports World Cup’s motivations — and how it plans to make money — Digiday spoke to Ralf Reichert, the CEO of the Esports World Cup Foundation, a Saudi Arabian government-founded non-profit organization, for an annotated Q&A.

This conversation has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

On the Esports World Cup’s long-term monetization strategy

Ralf Reichert:

“The clear focus, short term, mostly is the country hosting fees and sponsorship. The country hosting fee is new to esports. And sponsorship is the obvious piece of the puzzle. It’s there because it’s a large-viewership sport; that’s what esports has been built on. If you look at the other revenue streams from traditional sports, it’s obviously media rights, and this is a complicated discussion.”

Digiday:

It’s nothing new for esports events to rely on sponsorship revenue to turn a profit — so the more interesting part of Reichert’s answer to this question is country host fees, which the Esports World Cup Foundation CEO flagged as the event’s most promising future revenue stream. Though he declined to share the specific amount of money that Saudi Arabia is paying the foundation for the right to host the first Esports World Cup in Riyadh, countries have in the past paid tens of millions of dollars for the right to host events in other growing sports such as Formula 1. 

However, the future of this relatively untested revenue stream rests on the success of this year’s inaugural Esports World Cup. At the moment, it’s unclear which nations beyond Saudi Arabia would be willing to pay steep host fees for the right to host an esports event within their borders. If this year’s event goes well, it could go a long way in convincing more countries to buy in.

On the Esports World Cup’s impact on the industry at large

Ralf Reichert:

“I’m of the strong belief that more content is better than less, and the sheer amount of quality content we bring to this industry will help it to move forward. And is more content necessary to bring the industry forward? Yes, it’s something that brings the industry together.

And in the end of the day, every sport is driven by its stars. The best example of all time is probably Michael Jordan — how he globalized basketball. The Esports World Cup gives an outstanding chance to have this Michael Jordan effect.”

Digiday:

Reichert is confident that the Esports World Cup is “necessary” for the industry’s future, but it’s worth noting that his answer focuses on the large amount of esports content that will come out of the World Cup, as well as the opportunity for individual stars to build their fandom by using the event as a platform. While these are all valid reasons why the Esports World Cup is benefiting the broader esports industry, they are also strengths that could arguably be found in other tentpole annual esports events, such as the “League of Legends” World Championship.

The largest and most unique selling point of the Esports World Cup is the sheer amount of prize money involved. At $60 million, the World Cup represents the esports industry’s largest prize pool ever, and the organizers of the event are well aware, advertising it as “life-changing money” at affiliated events such as DreamHack Dallas. More than anything else, this prize money is the draw of the Esports World Cup. 

On audience pushback to Saudi Arabian investment in esports

Ralf Reichert:

“Look, it’s a country in transformation, and it’s absolutely normal that people have doubts, don’t know and actually are uncertain. So what is our answer?

I mean, we know everyone is safe. We know Saudi Arabia is a country in progress, and we’ve proven in the last few years that you can count on being there and having a good time, and we’re confident that this is going to continue to happen. If you ask any player who was there last year at [EWC predecessor] Gamers8 or the years before, everyone I spoke to basically said, ‘I had a framing in my head, I went there, it was so different, people are so nice — it’s such a welcoming culture, and they really mean to make this sport big, and that’s what counts, and that’s what I’m there for.’ And that’s why I’m confident we will deliver.”

Digiday:

Reichert’s answer about the safety of attendees tacitly acknowledges the biggest sticking points for esports fans who have protested Saudi Arabian investment in the industry: Saudi Arabia’s documented human rights abuses against its female and LGBTQ citizens. Though Reichert said that Saudi Arabia is transforming, it continues to prosecute individuals for expressing these aspects of their identity, including the arrest of a gay Twitter user last year and the jailing of the women’s rights activist Manahel al-Otaibi earlier this year. 

Per Reichert’s answer, esports fans and competitors who fly to Riyadh for the Esports World Cup are unlikely to face any legal repercussions for expressing any aspects of their identities. But these concerns are likely to be a significant factor behind the athletes who feel comfortable competing and those who decide to pass on the opportunity.

https://digiday.com/?p=547457

More in Marketing

Nike eyes marketing moment at the Olympics, as industry execs sound off on the brand’s challenges

The Olympic moment comes at a time that is all too critical for a brand like Nike, which some industry experts say is pressured to improve its standing among consumers after seeing a dip in sales as of late.

GoDaddy shifts gears: CMO Fara Howard talks about-face from provocative Super Bowl ads to focus on small businesses

GoDaddy is moving away from its quintessential sports-related spots to focus on small businesses and entrepreneurs, according to CMO Fara Howard.

election

Marketing Briefing: How the Democratic presidential election upheaval will impact the political ad market

While the communication strategy for the Democrats already included robust digital and social media placements that have become table stakes, those efforts will likely only increase in the weeks to come.