Normally, I wouldn’t write about this kind of company, as meal-replacement shakes aren’t the stuff of innovation. But there are some firsts here and some interesting people involved. New York-based Faze, a 10-year-old esports company with lots of teams, hasn’t invested in another company before.
And Ctrl was started by one of the fathers of modern esports: Sundance DiGiovanni, a cofounder of Major League Gaming, a company that was mocked for its vision all the way up to 2016, when Activision bought it for $46 million and used it as the foundation for its Overwatch League.
“Ctrl is a passion of mine,” DiGiovanni said. “At MLG, we saw the difficulty of getting quality food for the kids. And having three kids of my own, we started this two years ago and went through a process of learning about how to source ingredients and get the formula right.”
Why this may not be a stupid idea
There is also a trend here. More companies are being formed on the basis of overturning stereotypes about gamers. That subject was part of the discussion I had yesterday in a panel I moderated with Fullscreen on the gaming audience. Gamers have become a diverse group, and they’re not just nerdy and overweight young white males who live in their parents’ basements.
Last week, Kippo raised $2 million for a dating app for gamers. The joke used to be that gamers couldn’t get dates. But Kippo CEO David Park said that it’s perfectly normal for lots of people to meet through their passions, such as playing video games. And these days, gamers can be the cool kids. Similarly, Pokémon Go is a mobile game that was designed for fit people, or at least those who like to go for walks and catch little Pokémon creatures in a mobile game while they’re on those walks.
Likewise, DiGiovanni said in an interview with GamesBeat that it’s time to retire the stereotype that gamers are only interested in unhealthy snacks, caffeine drinks, and pizzas for marathon gaming sessions. “The classic image of gamers has changed recently,” he said.
Back in 2002, DiGiovanni had a vision, along with his MLG cofounder Mike Sepso, that esports would become as big as traditional sports. That vision has largely come true in terms of the number of people watching esports, though it took much longer than they were hoping. Now that games and esports have spread into mainstream culture, gamers themselves have mainstream interests. And that includes healthy diets, DiGiovanni said.
Ramping a new brand
Esports organizations, particularly before the lockdown, became obsessed with building fancy headquarters and offering great food to attract their professional esports players. Like traditional sports organizations, they have fitness programs and mental training for their athletes so they can be at their best, DiGiovanni said. They need to eat right as well to be great athletes.
“That’s where Ctrl can come in and help,” he said.
As for teaming up with Faze, DiGiovanni said, “We were looking at potential partners and thinking about how we wanted to really scale. It made a lot of sense for their evolving media brand. The responses to what we’ve been doing are really positive.”
As part of its ownership, Faze Clan will put its marketing clout, including 230 million followers and lots of devoted fans, behind Ctrl to grow the brand globally. In the future, Ctrl (which takes its name from the key on a keyboard) will collaborate with Faze Clan on new flavors for its meal replacement shakes.
Lee Trink, CEO of Faze Clan, said in a statement that his company has championed the importance of health and fitness for gamers. By taking a stake in Ctrl, he said, Faze Clan can bring attention to the importance of better nutrition and provide a healthy option built especially for gamers by people who understand this community best.
DiGiovanni is joined by Skyler Johnson, former professional gamer and founder of Team EnvyUs (now Team Envy), along with entertainment executive and attorney Glenn Delgado, who most recently served as general counsel for Major League Gaming.
Johnson said in a statement that Faze Clan is the ultimate embodiment of esports as a lifestyle brand, which has come to include everything from music to art to clothing. So far, nutrition for gamers hasn’t really been part of the conversation. Ctrl fills that niche and brings this topic to the forefront, he said.
DiGiovanni said that Ctrl’s line of powdered meal replacement shakes tastes like the bottom of a cereal bowl and contains nutritious proteins, carbohydrates, fiber, healthy fats, 22-plus vitamins and minerals, prebiotic fiber to promote healthy gut bacteria, and digestive enzymes to support healthy digestion.
Ctrl, which employs about 10 people, designed its products so they could fit in mainstream stores like GNC vitamin shops. Over time, DiGiovanni said the company will add new flavors and new kinds of products.
“We didn’t want to make the brand feel like it was locked into just the video game segment,” DiGiovanni said.