AFK Weekly: G2 Sues NFT Organization for Millions
The Coca-Cola Company signing on as a worldwide founding partner of League of Legends: Wild Rift and its esports competitions is a very big deal (more below) and there's precedent to show the power of such a partnership; Coca-Cola really helped Riot establish League of Legends as a marquee, tier-one esport by serving as a founding partner from 2014-2016. More importantly, this is a milestone for both companies as they lean heavily into the burgeoning mobile esports competitive space. The question is, does Wild Rift have the stroke to create a viewing community in the West and in Europe that compares to mobile competitions in other regions such as Asia and India? The proof, as they say, is in the pudding.
Speaking of big plays in mobile esports, Krafton has secured a major partnership with Sony, making Xperia the official phone of PUBG Mobile–with Xperia devices being used during officially sanctioned PUBG Mobile esports competitions by pro players. It is unclear how this might affect esports organizations that already have existing partnerships/sponsorships with mobile device makers, so this is something to pay close attention to (some sponsors might not be allowed to show their branding during competitions, as an example).
With that out of the way, here’s a breakdown of this week’s most impactful and important esports business news and more in the latest edition of Esports Business Insights by AFK Gaming.
Coca-Cola signed as founding sponsor for Wild Rift
Coca-Cola has signed a multi-year partnership with Riot Games and will be a founding partner of Wild Rift esports. According to a release, Coca-Cola will co-create “unique fan experiences” for Wild Rift esports including “custom rewards and experiences” and a weekly content series with Riot to entertain fans.
The mobile title launched its first official competitive season this year with eight leagues in various regions across the world and will conclude with the “Wild Rift Icons Global Championship”’ the first world championship for the mobile MOBA title. This LAN event will take place in Europe later this summer and feature 24 teams competing in it.
The soft-drink maker had previously joined forces with the publisher for the League of Legends World Championships from 2014-16 to create collectible merchandise and customized viewing experiences.
Key Takeaway: Wild Rift has yet to overtake more established mobile titles in esports viewership and has made little impact in tougher mobile markets like the U.S., but Riot has repeatedly committed to a long-term investment in the esport. Coca-Cola is one of the most significant brands to enter mobile esports to date and could help bring legitimacy to mobile esports with brands and investors that are still skeptical. It is also worth noting that Coca-Cola has revived its partnership with Riot shortly after terminating its relationship with Activision Blizzard and the Overwatch League.
G2 Esports sues NFT organization for $5.25M
G2 Esports has filed a lawsuit against its former NFT partner, Bondly, for misleading its leadership and missing key deliverable deadlines, including payments. According to the Washington Post, G2 is seeking damages of up to $5.25M in the lawsuit against Bondly filed in the Los Angeles County Superior Court.
G2 originally signed the deal with Bondly in June 2021, following which the latter was announced as its “NFT partner.” According to G2, the two-year partnership would give Bondly access to its intellectual property in exchange for a $2M annual rights fee and a $1.25M advance guarantee fee. The first NFTs were scheduled to be released on Bondly's platform in June 2021. However, after Bondly received their first rights fee invoice, it allegedly sought to pause the agreement since it was “past the point of being able to successfully deliver an NFT program.”
As per the lawsuit filings, G2 rejected this proposal, causing Bondly to ask for the partnership to be terminated citing the former's unwillingness to find a solution. This has seemingly led to the current lawsuit.
“Bondly and its agents knew that their representations were false when they made them, or made the representations recklessly and without regard to their truth,” reads G2’s lawsuit filing. “They knew they could not perform, but cunningly waited until G2 had publicly announced its partnership with Bondly to its millions of fans to reap the benefits of publicity through the highly valuable G2 brand.”
G2 is currently partnered with another NFT company, Metaflex. The partnership was announced in January, but did not contain any mention of Bondly. However, the partnership announcement was subsequently deleted from its website.
Key Takeaway: This is the first time in recent memory that an esports organization has sued a partner, and to many who are still skeptical about the value and legitimacy of the entire NFT space, this feels like an “I told you so” moment. Ultimately it could prove to be a black eye for companies that are trying to show that NFTs have value and that partnering with companies in the space esports businesses–like many other sectors– have another avenue to generate tangible income.
TSM fires head coach after financial irregularities allegations
TSM FTX sacked its League of Legends coach and head of player development Zhang "Peter Zhang" Yi on March 19th citing “serious allegations of conflict of interest” leveled against him. According to a report from Dexerto, the coach allegedly had an agent-style setup, where he would earn a commission for securing spots for Chinese and Taiwanese players on the team. Additionally, he had also allegedly borrowed money from TSM members, and made excuses to avoid repaying them.
Zhang has denied allegations of being a player agent but apologized for borrowing money from TSM members.
Epic Games raises more than $50M for Ukraine relief
Epic Games announced a fundraising campaign to aid humanitarian efforts supporting the people of Ukraine through Fortnite’s in-game purchases. The campaign–which runs from March 20 through April 3–has already raised more than $50M, and has even received a thank- you note from Ukrainian Vice Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov.
Andbox rebrands as NYXL
New york-based esports organization Andbox is rebranding to NYXL and announced plans to make “an investment in the high-seven figures” in the city’s gaming community over the next year. Currently, the organization hosts several N.Y. based franchises including N.Y. Subliners of the Call of Duty League (NYSL) and the Andbox Valorant team, which will now go by the name N.Y. Fury (NYFU).
Overwatch League’s sponsorship struggles
According to a report by the Washington Post, the Overwatch league appears to be heading into its fifth season with no dedicated sponsorships. The league’s previous sponsors including Coca-Cola, Kellogg's, and State Farm halted their advertising partnerships last summer after a lawsuit was filed in 2021 detailing harrowing allegations of sexual assault and harassment within the company.
FTC asks Microsoft for more information on Activision Blizzard deal
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission is asking Microsoft and Activision Blizzard to furnish additional information about the proposed $68.7B deal. This development does not necessarily mean the FTC intends to block the proposed acquisition in any way or that there are issues with it, and is rather expected for a deal of this magnitude.
Epic Games debuts new production for Rocket League through Unreal Engine
Epic Games released a video featuring a sample Rocket League esports production. The video showcases the capabilities of Unreal Engine, which could potentially be used to enrich esports broadcasts and other forms of streaming content by using several tools like the Blueprint Visual Scripting and data tables in real time to level up the livestream.
People on the Move
It’s been relatively calm for movers and shakers in the esports and video games industry this week. I debated including a “firing,” but getting clipped is technically a “move” so I figured why not? Here are some of this week’s biggest hires:
Fnatic has hired Craig Edmondson as its new CCO, Nicola Packer as general counsel, Joshua Brill as its head of marketing, and Laura Ashworth-Cape as head of legal.
Ashley Gomez joins Riot Games as a global esports business developer & partnerships manager.
Elliot Shin joins Cloud9 as its new creative director of merchandise.
Kyu Lee joins Dignitas as its new senior video producer.
WWE executive Stephanie McMahon will join the FaZe Clan board of directors, among many others, when it goes public later this year.
Complexity Gaming brings on Dennis ‘Cloakzy’ Lepore as a creator and part-owner.
London-based Tundra Esports hires former Fnatic creative director Danny Lopez as its new director of marketing and content.
TSM FTX has fired League of Legends Coach and Head of Player Development Peter Zhang.
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