ESL FACEIT Group (EFG), the leading independent esports event organizer conglomerate, has acquired Vindex to support and expand its operations. Vindex specializes in data, technology and infrastructure solutions for esports events, making it a prime acquisition target for EFG.
Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Vindex’s value add
Vindex’s portfolio includes end-to-end solutions for data analytics and production.
“One of the things we tried to solve with Vindex was to give publishers one big institutional partner that to work with,” Mike Sepso, CEO of Vindex told GamesBeat. “At Activision Blizzard, I learned firsthand that there were many interesting small companies that focused on different parts of the esports value chain. It’s really tough for a very big company to work with 20 different partners and vendors all over the world.”
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The Vindex Intelligence Platform provides brands, publishers and creators with robust omnichannel consumer data and analytics. Vindex focuses on optimizing broadcasts, measuring engagement and showing the ROI of reaching esports and gaming fans.
Esports Engine produces broadcasts, physical and metaverse events for esports, gaming and creator audiences. While the company itself is not owned by a publisher, it works closely with them on a white label basis. Esports Engine has been a production partner for the Halo Championship Series, the Apex Legends Global Series, The Call of Duty League, The Overwatch League and more.
This is a marked difference in strategy compared to EFG’s ESL, FACEIT and DreamHack brands. EFG’s labels primarily produce events under their own branding. Craig Levine, co-CEO of ESL FACEIT Group, confirmed that part of the appeal of acquiring Vindex was to be able to offer more partnership opportunities to publishers, both in a white label and partner model.
Vindex has also developed new technologies for its broadcast partners. “We’ve moved to almost an entirely remote broadcasting capability. We used to have to rent multiple satellite TV trucks, have 20 to 30 people working on a broadcast and have the observer camera on-site. Now, we can do that anywhere,” Sepso added. “Because we’re dedicated to esports, we can achieve the kind of technical innovation if you wouldn’t necessarily see just operating one league inside of one publisher.”
Prior to the deal, Belong Gaming Arenas — a chain of physical esports and gaming venues in the U.S. and Europe — were also a part of Vindex’s portfolio. In September, Belong switched from an exclusively owned and operated model to a franchise model. While the two companies will continue to work together in a professional capacity, Belong will be spun off into its own separate entity.
Levine confirmed this decision was due to a difference in the focus of the business with EFG’s priorities. “The Esports Engine and VIP businesses that Vindex operates are core and complimentary to who we are at ESL FACEIT Group,” Levine said. “Spinning off Belong into a standalone entity was about fit and focus.”
EFG formed when Savvy Games Group (SGG) acquired ESL Gaming, its subsidiary DreamHack and FACEIT for a total of $1.5 billion in January 2022. Savvy Games Group is funded by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund and the controversial Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud serves as its Chairman.
Since the initial merger was announced, the esports and wider gaming community have debated the ethics of receiving funding from Saudi Arabia. Critics argue this is a form of “esportswashing” to distract from the country’s human rights record.
Savvy Games Group has ramped up its esports investments recently. In September 2022, SGG unveiled plans to invest $38 billion in the wider gaming industry, with $533 million earmarked for growing early-stage gaming and esports companies. By February 2023, SGG invested $265 million in VSPO, a Chinese esports tournament operator. Unlike ESL FACEIT Group’s acquisition of Vindex, VSPO will operate separately.
“We’re connected to the PIF through Savvy Games, but EFG is a purely commercial entity. We operate completely autonomously,” Levine emphasized. “We’ve made sure that all of our customer data is really insulated an operational level. Nothing changes for Vindex’s data because of the independence that we have within Savvy.”
The other clear concern is the rapid consolidation of independent tournament operators within esports. Earlier this week, competitor Beyond the Summit closed its doors. While many publishers were already working with either EFG or Esports Engine, the acquisition leaves fewer options.
According to both Levine and Sepso, the size and scale of businesses matter more during challenging economic times.
“Ultimately I’m not too worried about fans being concerned with how many businesses like ours are out there, because Craig and I can’t do our job if it’s not for publishers like Activision, Valve, EA, Microsoft and Sony,” Sepso said. “We need these big companies to continue taking big bets on great games and esports. Only then, we can do our job which is everything outside of the game.”
Rivals to Colleagues
The esports industry is rather niche today, but both Vindex and EFG’s leadership teams are easily veterans of the industry. By coincidence, Sepso, his perennial business partner Sundance DiGiovanni (Vindex’s co-Founder and chief strategy officer) and Levine began their esports careers in New York in the early 2000’s. All three studied at NYU but met through the growing local esports scene.
Sepso and DiGiovanni would go on to found Major League Gaming which was acquired by Activision Blizzard in 2015. Meanwhile, Levine founded his own agency and tournament operator that was acquired by ESL in 2014 to kickstart its North American expansion.
“We’ve literally known each other for 20 years. We’ve helped build this industry, but this group of people have never been under the same roof before. When we first started talking about it, we joked that this is was like the Dream Team of esports professionals. We competed with each other pretty hard at times over the years, but now it’s the first time we’re putting these historic players on the same team,” Sepso said.
So what’s first for the new super team of executives?
One piece of low hanging fruit is giving access to the VIP platform to both internal teams at ESL FACEIT Group and partners. Content optimization and measuring engagement and ROI are top priorities, but there could also be opportunities to integrate existing EFG data sets, such as that from FACEIT’s online tournament platform.
DreamHack was also mentioned as an early focus for the acquisition. DreamHack’s unique events blur the lines between esports tournaments, gaming conventions and festivals. The EFG group experimented in June 2022 with a sports-focused event in The Netherlands. However, the team is eyeing its U.S. efforts as its first priority.
Sepso will continue to serve as CEO and DiGiovanni as Chief Strategy Officer at Vindex while taking on leadership roles within EFG.
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