Team Dignitas boss Michael ‘ODEE’ O’Dell has told PCR that pro gaming’s first seven-figure sponsorship deal is not far away, but eSports needs a governing body to truly flourish.
The team has just signed a one-year deal with networking vendor TP-LINK and is about to sign its first agent to go after big global brands – not just PC or gaming-focused ones.
"I can’t give you the specifics, but sponsorship deals can go up to six figures," he told PCR. "Some of the deals are getting close to seven figures at the moment with the big companies.
"eSports is growing every single month, the figures are just going up. I can’t say who it is yet but we’re looking to sign with one of the first eSports agents."
But ODEE added that while the UK is growing within eSports, it still has a long way to go – and to help it get there an independent governing body is key.
"I don’t know why we’re lagging behind a lot of the other countries," he commented. "I think it’s mainly educational – so what eSports actually is. In the past, companies have come in with a one hit bang and hope it sticks, but it doesn’t work like that. So in the UK we definitely need to catch up – there aren’t enough internet cafes, and the funding is not fully there in this country at the moment.
"At the minute everyone is trying to position themselves into being a governing body, but the problem is unless you have something completely independent, how is it going to govern? At the moment developers like Riot Games are the governing body for what they do with their own games."
(Coincidentally, Riot has recently been caught up in a scandal where a pro player was threatened by his manager – and had to undertake its own investigation and take action on the matter.)
ODEE continued: "We’re a member of [UK video games industry trade body] UKIE which has an eSports panel, and they’re discussing how the UK can actually support the eSports scene, and help make it grow. So there are things moving to actually make that happen – and it will happen.
"If we can get a governing body one day it will mean that even more money will come into eSports, and it will mean I can go out and pay big salaries to the best players.
"Once the Government starts getting involved and recognising what we do, we can become another industry that can turn over a lot of money for the UK I’m sure. In this country UKIE is the only thing I’d trust right now that would actually have everybody’s interests at heart."
Within football, the FA Premier League generates most of its money through TV rights – it just made £5.14 billion this week selling rights to Sky and BT Sport – which is filtered down to the teams, players, agents and so on, benefitting the sport on a financial basis.
"That’s eventually where eSports will get to but the FA is 100 years ahead of us – eSports is still in its infancy. I’d like to see that happen and for TV rights come into play, but the TV companies haven’t really woken up to eSports yet," ODEE added.
Team Dignitas has also just signed a new team for PC game SMITE, most of whom are British.
"Finally we’ve got a team that is mostly from the UK," added ODEE. "We have the players here in the UK that can compete on a global level."
"In Counter-Strike at the moment the UK teams are struggling because they are all at university and don’t earn enough money. If they earned enough money, we’d have the best teams in the world."