The Aquilini family believes esports could be the next crown jewel in their sports and entertainment empire.
Owners of Canucks Sports & Entertainment (which owns the NHL’s Vancouver Canucks and Rogers Arena among other things), the Aquilini family is betting big on esports. Millions of fans all over the world are tuning in to watch. In fact, there were over 3489 esports tournaments with a combined prize pool of US$1.5 billion held in 2018, according to Influencer MarketingHub.
A Chance Discovery
In August 2018, the Rogers Arena in Vancouver hosted The International (the most prestigious Dota 2 tournament in the world). Dota 2 is a very popular online multiplayer game with over 10 million active players worldwide.
It was here that the Aquilini family got a close-up look at what esports has evolved into. The six-day long tournament featured over US$25 million in prizes and completely sold out the 20,000-seat venue. In addition to the roaring crowd in the stadium, an additional 15 million viewers tuned in online.
“It was eye-opening because we had no idea that fans would fill the arena for an entire week, and with a level of engagement that was amazing,” Trent Caroll, COO of Canucks Sports & Entertainment told the Financial Post.
From Living Rooms To Stadiums
The evolution from niche to the mainstream has transformed esports into a massive industry. According to Influencer MarketingHub, only 800,000 people globally had heard about esports in 2015. That number has risen to over 1.57 billion in 2019. In addition, the total hours spent watching esports went from 1.3 billion in 2012 to 6.6 billion in 2018.
The growth story for esports has been impressive so far and shows no signs of slowing down. The total number of global esports viewers was 380 million in 2018 and will reach 557 million by 2021. Revenues have increased by 30% year-over-year since 2016, from US$493 million to US$906 million in 2018. With that number expected to go up to US$1.6 billion in 2021.
A Fleeting Opportunity
What the Aquilini family saw in 2018, was a good opportunity to expand their existing empire.
“Getting into esports and gaming was a unique opportunity that allowed Canuck Sports and Entertainment to be on the front end of a very dynamic environment that presented a real opportunity to transfer our experience in traditional sports environments,” said Caroll. “It also worked the other way, because we can transfer what we learn from our e-sports teams back to our traditional properties.”
One of the factors that excited the Aquilinis about esports is how the demographics skew much younger. After all, over 50% of males aged 18 to 34 describe themselves as gamers. Robert Mason and Walied Soliman of Norton Rose Fulbright Canada LLP, led the legal team which helped the Aquilinis form their esports venture. Mason told the Financial Post, “esports has a sexy feel and represents a convergence of arts, gaming, sports, and media in a space where young people spend a lot of time.”
The rapid ascension of the esports industry has already drawn the attention of some prominent names. For instance, Robert Kraft, Stephen Curry, Drake, and Jay-Z are all involved with an esports organization – either as an investor or ambassador.
The Ambitious Gambit
The Aquilinis completed a four-way merger between J55 Capital Corp., Enthusiast Gaming Holdings Inc., Luminosity Gaming Inc., and Aquilini Gameco Inc. in 14 months. As a result, this formed the publicly-traded esports and gaming media company Enthusiast Gaming Holdings Inc. (EGLX). The Toronto based company specializes in video game advertising, content, media, and events.
“The deal, which included two acquisitions, four financings, a reverse takeover, and a go-public transaction was unique and the first deal of its kind for e-sports in Canada and perhaps in North America,” said Mason. As a result, Enthusiast became the largest gaming network in both North America and the UK and is one of the largest vertically integrated esports/video game companies in the world.
Events are also a key area of focus for Enthusiast. Every year, the company hosts its flagship event, the Enthusiast Gaming Live Expo (EGLX). It’s the biggest gaming expo in Canada and saw over 30,000 attendees in 2018. Enthusiast also hosts PG Connects, a global conference on mobile gaming.
Luminosity Gaming (Enthusiast’s esports division) owns and manages seven professional esports teams. This includes the Vancouver Titans in the Overwatch League and the Seattle Surge in the Call of Duty League. Enthusiast Gaming also boasts a team of “global ambassadors” to help promote the brand and the company’s various esports teams. These names include hockey stars Max and Tie Domi, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Richard Sherman, and singer/songwriter Tory Lanez.
The Aquilini family’s gambit has paid off as they have now become a powerhouse in the esports industry.
[Editorial disclosure: Enthusiast Gaming is the parent company of Gaming Street.]