Why Everyone Loves Valorant

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The game on everyone’s mind is Valorant. Created by Riot Games, developers of League of Legends, Valorant is the first First Person Shooter (FPS) Riot has made. Valorant has already broken numerous records on Twitch, both because of the novelty of the game, and because of Riot’s unique marketing strategy using streamers. 

Valorant also has massive potential as an esport. It has a foundation in one of the most popular FPS titles (CSGO) and comes at a time when many esports players are looking for change. We break down why everyone loves Valorant below.

Twitch Streamers for Marketing

As we’ve highlighted before, streamers can be a large boon to a game’s release. The successful release of Apex Legends was largely in part due to top streamers such as Ninja playing the game on its release date. Streamers help set the tone for whether a game is cool and offer a look at game play before the viewers commits to buying or downloading the game. Riot partnered with Twitch to feature top streamers playing Valorant before the game is released this summer. Gamers can get early access to Valorant by watching these streamers. A lucky few will receive an email providing them with access to Valorant while it’s still in beta.

Email letting reader know that they now have access to Valorant.
Players had to wait for emails letting them know they got into the closed beta

Through this method, Riot Games created a Valorant community before the game was even released. Getting access to Valorant in closed beta creates a secret club of sorts – you either have access or you don’t. Across social media, fans would bemoan not getting access. For multiple weeks, esports social media has been captivated by whether you got a code or not. Demand grew quickly over fear of missing out on the next big thing. 

Valorant character upset he does not have access to the closed beta.

While this undoubtedly inflates Valorant’s Twitch numbers (people could leave the stream on while doing other things,) Riot successfully created hype for their newest game. In the future, more games and brands will use streams to “Twitch drop” products or access to exclusive content, games and more. 


Strong Foundation

For many hardcore players, CSGO is the gold standard for FPS titles. The game is constantly praised for its mechanics, its in game economy, and its balance between individual play making and the necessity of teamwork. Valorant has already drawn multiple comparisons to CSGO, which is very intentional of Riot. Some of Valorant’s lead designers either worked on CSGO or were professional CSGO players. Riot is looking to iterate on the success of CSGO and bring its own flair to the equation.

Valorant game play using first person perspective.
Valorant game play has been compared to CSGO

Valorant’s arrival couldn’t come at a better time either. Though not a direct translation, many of the skills of FPS games transfer over to other FPS titles. There are far more similarities between Apex Legends and Overwatch, two FPS titles, than there are between League of Legends and Starcraft, two different genres, for example. 

Many FPS streamers and professionals across multiple games such as Fortnite, Apex Legends, Rainbow Six Siege and Overwatch have frustrations with their games. Some because of how developers are handling their esports competitions, others for game design choices. ESPN hosted a Valorant invitational last week, and featured professionals from Fortnite, Apex Legends, CSGO, PUBG, Overwatch, Rainbow Six Siege and League of Legends. The team of Apex Legends won, even beating out the developers of Valorant. For many frustrated pros, Valorant provides another opportunity to make it big in esports.


The Next Big Esport?

Thanks to its strong foundation of players, Valorant has massive potential as an esport. The game is backed by Riot, which already gives it a massive lead. Riot has created professional competitions for League of Legends across the world. As opposed to being a new game from a young studio, Valorant has the backing of an esports pioneer. 

Riot has already announced its initial plants for Valorant esports, taking a more hands off approach. Using a tiered system, Riot outlines three levels of competition with increasingly larger prize pools. This creates a clearer path from amateur to pro, a common criticism of League of Legends. 

Notably, Riot requires that all Valorant competitions have blood turned off. FPS titles such as Call of Duty and CSGO have struggled with these issues in the past as rated M titles. These games have more realistic violence, which is meaningful to certain players. However, many brands that want to enter esports have problems with this, not wanting to be associated with blood and violence. This avoidance of violence is why we believe titles like Rocket League will be successful. By avoiding blood, Riot looks to capture the popularity of major FPS titles while still being brand friendly. 

What’s Next for Valorant?

Valorant continues to put up large numbers on Twitch as streamers explore the new game. Officially slated for release this summer, we can expect even more popularity on the game’s release. No game is guaranteed to be a major esports title, but Valorant has the right ingredients. A quality FPS title, already with a large community, backed by one of the most successful esports companies of all time. 


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What to Know Before Getting Involved in Esports

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As more sporting events across the country get canceled, attention has turned towards esports. Athletes, with more downtime, are streaming on Twitch and competing in esports tournaments. Nascar has adapted its racing events to virtual racing, known as iRacing, hitting massive viewership on FOX. This past Sunday, ESPN2 broadcasted twelve hours of esports content, including Rocket League, Apex Legends and Madden. ESPN2 will also broadcast the remainder of the LCS Spring Playoffs


While live sporting events are canceled, esports competitions have transitioned to online play. This makes esports one of the few competitions of any kind remaining during the pandemic. More esports events have been broadcast on linear television than ever before. Now more than ever, brands and event organizers are looking to esports as one of the few ways to capture attention during this unprecedented time. 

The demand for esports has never been higher, and new records are being broken every week. Twitch recently hit a new peak of 4 million concurrent viewers and Steam announced a new record of 22 million gamers logging in to play. In a recent article by the New York Times, esports and streaming were called “The Most Virus-Proof Job in the World.” However, despite its meteoric rise, the esports landscape has many moving parts, and it is difficult for brands to know how to enter esports. Here are a few guidelines to follow when considering your entrance to esports.



Authenticity is frequently mentioned as one of the most important factors in esports sponsorships. The esports industry and its culture are quickly on the rise, and its fans are acutely aware of when they’re being pandered to. When a new brand enters the space, it can be perceived as tone deaf or out of touch if handled improperly. However, this doesn’t mean new brands can’t find unique ways to activate in esports. 

League of Legends international events sponsored by MasterCard.
MasterCard has successfully sponsored esports events

Endemic brands, such as computer hardware companies and energy drinks, are no longer the only brands allowed in esports. Even financial service companies can enter esports, if done properly. As Brian Lancey, VP and global head of sponsorships at MasterCard put it, “We’re a financial institution … we’re not a Nike, we’re not a Red Bull — we’re not a really cool brand.” MasterCard has been a mainstay of competitive League of Legends for several years now, despite not being a “cool brand.” The key is to bring value to the community, and engage in a way that matters to your audience. Click here to read more about some of our favorite esports activations handled by non endemic brands.



As with all marketing campaigns, it’s important to keep in mind the target audience for your message. Not all esports fans are the same or play the same games, just as not all fans of soccer also watch basketball or golf. The most notable difference between esports fans of titles is in their ages. The average age of a competitor at last year’s Fortnite World Cup was sixteen. Compare that to the LCS, which is the third most popular sports league among American Millennials, which recently announced a Bud Light sponsorship. The FTC requires that the audience of digital media must be at least 71.6% of legal drinking age to have an alcohol sponsorship, indicating that the LCS audience is much older than that of Fotnite’s. 

Fortnite player Bugha wins the Fortnite World Cup.
Sixteen year old Bugha won last year’s Fortnite World Cup

Genre preferences are also important to consider. Those that are fans of League of Legends are not inherently interested in other popular esports titles such as CSGO. The games are drastically different for players, and therefore have different appeals for each individual. Many that play sports games such as NBA 2k have never touched Overwatch, and vice versa. Understanding that not all esports fans are the same is key. 



A frequent conversation we have with our brand clients revolves around tolerance of violence in video games. Many of the leading esports titles feature firearm usage. Games such as CSGO, Call of Duty and Rainbow Six feature realistic violence and depictions of warfare, which some brands are not comfortable with. 


The majority of our clients fall into one of three categories:


  • No Violence: Games cannot feature any violence at all. Suggested titles include Rocket League and NBA 2k.


  • Some Violence: Violence is acceptable so long as it is unrealistic and fantastical in nature. Suggested titles include Overwatch and Fortnite.


  • No Restrictions: Any game is acceptable for sponsorship. Along with the above, this category also includes CSGO, Call of Duty and Rainbow Six.


End Goal

The goal of your marketing campaign directly affects which channels will be most effective for your brand. A campaign to raise awareness for a new product or event has different KPIs than a campaign to drive purchases. While high impressions can be driven by a combination of social media and content integration on YouTube and Twitch, that would not be an efficient way to drive clicks to a new product page, or to increase social media following. By starting at the end, you can reverse engineer the goal of your esports campaign.


Closing Thoughts

Esports is having a moment as more sporting events are on hold and brands look for ways to reach their audience. As with any marketing campaign, having a clear message and goal is key. While esports is a new and emerging space, the hallmark of a strong marketing campaign doesn’t change. To succeed in esports sponsorship requires adapting your brand’s message to a new space while maintaining your values. 


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Esports Explained: MOBA

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In this new series by KemperLesnik, we will be exploring and defining popular esports terms. This article focuses on a genre of esports, MOBA, also known as Massive Online Battle Arena. 


What is a MOBA?

A MOBA, or Massive Online Battle Arena, typically puts a team of five players against another. Generally played on PC, MOBAs have the ultimate goal of destroying the enemy base. Players must work together to acquire items and territory using unique characters, each with their own advantages and weaknesses. Throughout the game players level up their characters by defeating minions (controlled by AI) and their opponents, acquiring both gold and experience. Gold is used to buy items, which provide stat boosts and unique abilities. Some of the most popular MOBAs include League of Legends, DotA 2 and Smite.


The first well known MOBA was released in 2003, as a fan made mod (short for modification) for the game Warcraft III. This mod became known as Defense of the Ancients (DotA), with many iterations to follow, most notably Defense of the Ancients Allstars, simplified to DotA. DotA grew quickly and was featured in some of the earliest esports tournaments, dating back to 2005. The mod was maintained by community volunteers, some of whom notably left to join Riot Games to develop League of Legends, today’s most popular MOBA. Game developer Valve acquired the intellectual property rights to the game in 2009, and released DotA 2 in 2013. 


League of Legends

The world’s most popular esport, League of Legends, was released in 2009 by Santa Monica based Riot Games. In the game’s ten year long history, the game has evolved from seventeen playable characters, known as champions, to a roster of 148 today. Riot has long been an innovator in esports, filling up arenas from the Staples Center to the Bird’s Nest in Beijing. There are franchised competitions all over the world, from the LCS in North America, to China, Korea, Europe and minor leagues in South America, Turkey, Japan and more. 

The LCS, the franchised league for competition in North America, features ten teams competing in a Spring and Summer Split. The top three teams from the Summer Split go on to compete at World’s, the annual championship pitting the best teams from all over the world against each other. FunPlus Phoenix, a Chinese team, won World’s 2019, beating a pool of twenty four top teams. The most notable franchises within the LCS are major organizations in American esports, such as Cloud 9, Dignitas TSM, Team Liquid, Evil Geniuses and 100 Thieves. 


What to Watch

The LCS Spring Split Playoffs are set to begin this coming weekend, with quarterfinals matches consisting of (w,x,y,z.) Cloud 9, the favorite to win Spring Split, has been absolutely dominant this split, winning seventeen out of eighteen regular split matches. Most notably, Team Liquid, North America’s best performing team these past two years, failed to qualify for playoffs, despite two world champions on their roster. Click here to see the LCS schedule. 


DotA 2

Released in 2013 by Valve, DotA 2 is the successor to the original DotA, the first MOBA to gain large popularity. Although League of Legends is more popular today, DotA 2 has noticeably large prize pools for its annual championship, known as The International. Last year’s event was held at the Mercedes-Benz Arena in Shanghai, with a prize pool exceeding $34 million. This is done by letting fans contribute directly to the pot with the purchase of a battle pass known as “The Compendium,” which rewards players with ingame currency and more for watching and competing in special challenges.

full stadium watching DOTA 2 championship.
The International has one of the largest prize pools in esports

The competitive circuit for DotA is much more fragmented, as developer Valve takes a more open circuit approach to its esports competitions. Certain events throughout the year are designated as “majors” and “minors” with prize money and circuit points being awarded to top performing teams of each event. Teams that perform well throughout the year are invited to compete in The International, along with regional qualifiers. Eighteen teams competed in last year’s championship, which was won by European OG.


What to Watch

ESL One Los Angeles, which was set to be held live in Los Angeles, has transitioned to an online format due to current circumstances. Online matches are currently being held for China, North America, South America and Southeast Asia, with the winning team taking home between $40,000 and $55,000. Click here to see ESL’s schedule.



Released on PC in 2014 by Georgia based Hi-Rez Studios, Smite fields playable characters from mythology, such as Thor or Zeus. Unique in the MOBA space, Smite also features a “first person” camera, similar to what a player might see in a game such as Call of Duty. This is different from League of Legends or DotA 2, where the camera is “above” the action. Further separating Smite apart is the fact that the game can be played on consoles such as XBOX, PlayStation or the Nintendo Switch, which neither League of Legends or DotA features, though a variation of League of Legends for mobile and consoles is currently in the works

player using first person perspective to play Smite.
Smite uses a first person perspective for play

Smite features two world championships each year, one for console play and one for its PC league. The Smite Pro League (SPL), which features the top eight Smite PC teams, competes the entire year, with their performance determining where they seed during the annual championship. The finals are held each year in Atlanta, with a prize pool of $1 million.


What to Watch

The Smite Pro League starts this upcoming weekend, featuring the top eight PC teams. Notable esports organizations participating include EUnited, Pittsburgh Knights and Spacestation Gaming. Click here to see SPL’s schedule. <

Five of Our Favorite Esports Activations

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As esports has professionalized over the past few years, more and more non-endemic brands (brands not associated with gaming) have entered the space, and for good reason. In a world where it’s increasingly hard to reach young people, who are increasingly cord cutters or cord nevers, esports provides a way for brands to reach consumers that may not watch linear television or sports. The esports industry is estimated to reach $1.1 billion globally in 2020, according to a report by Newzoo, an esports analytics firm. 


KemperLesnik helps non endemic brands tap into esports in authentic ways, from educating them on the esports ecosystem to finding unique ways to activate in esports. Here are five of our favorite non endemic esports activations.



Bumble was released in December 2014 under Whitney Wolfe Herdd, a former Tinder employee. Described as a feminist dating app, it’s the second largest dating app in the country after Tinder. As a company founded and led by women in a male dominant industry (tech), Bumble has been a leader in promoting gender equality and supporting women leaders


Esports, another male dominated industry, has also struggled with treating women fairly. Fortnite, one of the most popular games in the world, has a player base that’s 35% female, yet there were no women competing in the Fortnite World Cup last year. To help combat this, Bumble partnered with Gen.G, an esports organization with offices in Los Angeles, Korea and Shanghai, to create one of the first all women professional Fortnite teams, Team Bumble. 


Since then, Team Bumble has promoted women in gaming through their streams and content. One of Team Bumble’s players, Tina Raes, recently won TwitchCon 2019’s Fortnite Showdown, helping better showcase that women can compete at the same level as men in esports. 



Wendy’s, the fast food chain known for its never frozen beef and sassy social media presence, took things a step further by creating content themselves. In a Fortnite promotional event last year, the game pit Team Pizza against Team Hamburger to determine which was the superior food. 


Catching wind of this, the hamburger brand created a Twitch channel, created a character resembling their mascot, and jumped into the game to represent Team Hamburger. Not only did Wendy’s compete in Fortnite, it also went to a popular battleground within the Fortnite map, a restaurant, and streamed itself destroying the restaurant’s freezers.


In a completely on brand move, Wendy’s both showed how much it detests frozen beef, and activated in a unique way within gaming. Soon, other streamers joined in the fun, streaming themselves destroying freezers and showing their support for Wendy’s, garnering millions in impressions across social media. 


Cash App

Cash App, created by Square, Inc., is a payment app similar to Venmo. Users can pay and request money from friends and relatives, and use it to pay at certain restaurants. In their new partnership with 100 Thieves, Cash App’s goal was clear – to quickly get new users. The Cash App now sponsors the entire 100 Thieves compound, one of the most talked about esports events of 2020 so far.


Along with promoting giveaways and free money to new users of the app, Cash App sponsored a streaming event held during the Super Bowl, produced by 100 Thieves. Leveraging 100 Thieves’ vast network of esports stars and influencers, the organization put on a $500,000 Uno tournament (you read that right), with giveaways handled through the Cash App throughout the event. 



The esports audience is young, and many are only now starting to think about purchasing their first cars. Wanting to start building a relationship with consumers early, Kia integrated itself into one of the biggest esports events in Europe – the unveiling of the LEC, the newly formed franchise league for League of Legends in Europe. 


Fans anticipated the wait for weeks as they waited for the new branding and schedule for the LEC. Europe was finally getting its own franchise League of Legends circuit, after both North America and China had already received one. Demand for the franchised league was high, and Kia saw the opportunity to be part of the grand announcement.


Using the LEC’s array of casters and commentators, a promotional video was created announcing the return of European League of Legends. Each commentator was recruited by lead caster Trevor “Quikshot” Henry as he drove around to find each of them for this very special mission. More importantly than being integrated into the content was the quality of the content itself – which was well produced but not meant to be taken too seriously. 



MasterCard may not be the first brand one may associate with esports. As Brian Lancey, VP and global head of sponsorships put it, “We’re a financial institution … we’re not a Nike, we’re not a Red Bull — we’re not a really cool brand.” Despite this, MasterCard has been a partner of League of Legends for multiple years at this point, activating at both the global and North American level. As Lancey put it, their goals were not to “over commercialize it because it was about [building] trust with these fans.”


One of the ways MasterCard did this was by integrating itself into some of the best stories League of Legends has to offer. One of those stories is the father of European League of Legends star Rasmus Borregaard Winther, better known as Caps. If you’ve ever attended an LEC event, you’ve likely run into Winther’s father, now known as Caps.Dad. The elder Winther is seen cheering on his son at all esports events, and has become somewhat of a father figure in the community. 


By highlighting this story, MasterCard not only associates itself with parenthood (so many think of parents when thinking of fiscal responsibility) but also as a leading financial institution just as many young esports fans are starting to take their first steps in personal finance. MasterCard has become part of the esports conversation by owning the fact that it will never be a “cool” brand, yet still finding ways to bring value to the esports community.


What are your favorite non endemic esports activations? Reach out!


Chicago Esports Spotlight: N1 Esports

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In Chicago Esports Profile, KemperLesnik interviews the founder of a Chicago-based esports startup. This issue features Ryan Kim, Founder and CEO of N1 Esports, a first of its kind esports gym located in Old Town at 415 W North Avenue. Learn more about why we think Chicago is the next big esports hub here.


Ryan Kim (left) standing with his coaches at N1 Esports.
Ryan Kim (left) and his partner, Mackenzie Mickel (Center) with their coaching staff

Hi Ryan! Thanks for taking the time to chat with us today. Tell us more about N1 Esports.

Thanks for having me! Very excited to chat with you. 

N1 Esports is a members-only youth esports gym and lounge. It’s a brand new concept that takes the best of traditional sports and applies it to the world of video games. Our gym provides the in-person training, league organization, life skills development, and social space to transform young gamers into esports athletes. 

We have full seasons with weekly practices and matches led by our professional coaches. We integrate physical and mental wellness into all of our programs to promote a more balanced lifestyle. Our members can also take classes, take part in regular social events, and even learn to build PCs, all at our facility on North Ave. 

Ultimately, we want to create a physical space dedicated to providing an incredible athletic experience and a place to belong.

We have classes for League of Legends and Fortnite available now. We are currently developing programs for Rocket League, Super Smash Ultimate, and a few others that will be released shortly. Our gaming lounge also provides access to most of the popular titles out there today.

Room of computers to be used for esports training.

What inspired you to come up with this idea? What pain point does your business solve?

The idea first came to me when I was talking to a friend of mine who is a high school math teacher. He told me that some of his students were taking online private lessons for gaming, which got me excited because it meant more parents were becoming supportive of gaming. I grew up as a gamer but my parents were always wary of the entire industry. As I dug deeper into esports, I realized that there was a huge gap for youth participation and I felt there was a lot we could try to empower kids through gaming.

I think N1 solves two major pain points. One, kids are limited in ways to participate in esports – usually playing online with friends in their rooms or joining online competitions. It’s also difficult to find in-person esports competitions that calibrate for different age groups and skill levels so participation is often limited to very top players. At our gym, kids get the opportunity to not only play their favorite games, but be with teammates and compete against their peers. Being on a team lets you be the hero of your own story. Also, you can’t digitally replicate getting high-fives or looking your rivals in the eye.

Two, parents are often left in the dark with video games. They know their children love it but there are a lot of concerns and questions. Watching your children lock themselves in their rooms all day can seem like a waste of time and not knowing who they interact with online can be scary. N1 Esports creates the complete athletic experience, transforming a hobby into a productive activity. Our gym is also a controlled environment supervised by professional coaches so parents know exactly who their kids are interacting with at all times. We encourage kids to regulate gaming habits to more efficiently reach objectives instead of mindlessly playing for hours on end. Basically, we serve as a bridge to the world of gaming for parents.


N1 Esports' mission statement to provide the ultimate athletic esports experience.

Would you mind sharing more about your background? What led you to esports and what kind of work were you doing previously?

I grew up in Northern Virginia and attended a science and tech high school. I graduated from Dartmouth College in 2014. 

I was lucky to have parents who encouraged me to try everything, from learning to play the violin to painting watercolors. However, my first and greatest love was sports. I started with soccer but I dipped my toes in speed skating, tennis, hockey, football and even bowling. I loved getting up at 5 am to go to practices, gearing up games and talking about nonsense with my teammates. Sports taught me leadership, determination, and compassion. It also taught me how to deal with setbacks and how to cheer from the sidelines without giving up.

I was hooked on esports from the minute my cousin introduced me to Starcraft. To me, it was the same as any sport — you had to practice to get better, come prepared with strategy and ultimately play the opponent, not the game. However, I didn’t have the same support structure for esports that I had for other sports so it always remained a hobby. Now as an adult, it feels like I am getting a second chance to merge these two worlds together!

Before N1 Esports, I was a management consultant at Oliver Wyman. I started off in finance but ended up specializing in machine learning and data analytics. I had incredible mentors who empowered me to pursue my interests and I’m very grateful for all of the opportunities I had there.


How has it been working in the Chicago esports environment? How do you think it’s different than working in “esports hubs” such as Los Angeles or Dallas?

I am not very familiar with Los Angeles or Dallas but from the outside, I can tell there is a ton of energy and creativity packed into the hubs.

Chicago definitely doesn’t have as much of an esports presence yet but I believe the excitement and energy is the same. I think the lack of existing infrastructure or traditions encourages innovation and I see Chicago as a future leader in the space. I’ve also loved meeting industry professionals – the smaller scene certainly makes for a more intimate and supportive network.


Thank you to Ryan Kim for sharing his entrepreneurial story! For more information, you can visit N1 Esports at their website or at 415 W North Avenue! Be sure to support Chicago esports!

Why 2020 will be the Year of Rocket League

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Rocket League, developed by San Diego based Psyonix Studios, was first released in 2015. Described as “soccer but with race cars,” the game has steadily gained steam as both a casual title and as an esport. Psyonix created competitions at the collegiate level as well as a professional circuit, the RLCS. The most recent finals, held in Madrid in December 2019, peaked at 280k viewers, with 2.5 million hours watched over the weekend of competition.

Esports team NRG winning the Rocket League World Championship
NRG wins the RLCS Season 8 Championship

Epic Games, creators of Fortnite, acquired Rocket League and Psyonix in May of 2019. With this acquisition, Psyonix now has access to the deeply talented team at Epic Games, including its monetization and esports departments. The game has since changed parts of its commerce platform, and the company is currently hiring for new esports positions.


Esports Goes Mainstream

Esports is currently undergoing a massive transition as it breaks into the mainstream. Fortnite, which arguably created the mainstream breakthrough, takes a different approach to esports over the traditional, franchised league approach by games such as League of Legends and Overwatch. Fortnite promotes itself through a “mixed” approach. Along with more esports focused events such as the Fortnite World Cup, the popularity of Fortnite lends itself to events such as pro-ams, pairing Fornite stars with celebrities such as athletes, musicians and actors. 

image of several Fortnite professional players teamed up with celebrities
Many celebrities have competed in Fortnite Pro Ams

The widespread popularity of Fortnite lends itself to this strategy. If you haven’t personally played Fortnite, chances are good you know someone who has. Famous Fornite streamer Ninja is a celebrity in his own right, with his own Adidas shoe and television appearances on Jimmy Fallon and Ellen. The game is also played by musicians and athletes alike, such as Drake and Travis Scott or the Milwaukee Brewers


Enough people play and understand Fortnite that not all of its content needs to be for a more hardcore fan. Fortnite is a mainstream source of entertainment, as opposed to a more obscure game for diehard fans such as League of Legends. By combining hyper competitive events with more entertaining, celebrity focused programming, Epic aims to appeal to esports fans, casual gamers and people who don’t play Fortnite all at the same time. 


Lessons from Tech

Much like a new technology product, esports is in the process of transitioning beyond its early adopters to a more mainstream audience. Author Geoffrey Moore refers to this as “crossing the chasm”, as explained in his book of the same name.

Parabolic graph illustrating the adoption of technology products by different audience segments.
Esports hasn’t yet hit mainstream appeal

This strategy of appealing to both the mainstream, new fans (early majority) and endemic, current fans (early adopters and innovators) underlies the Fortnite model. The acquisition of Rocket League doubles down on this approach. The game is much easier to understand (soccer) than any other esport title on the market. Someone who’s never seen the game before can quickly understand what is going on, and even appreciate big plays. Just as someone who doesn’t watch football can appreciate an interception or can marvel at a three pointer in basketball, casual observers can be awed by a last minute block of the goal in Rocket League


Along with being the easiest esport to understand, Rocket League is also the most sponsor and brand friendly. Whereas games like Overwatch and Fortnite use firearms and are rated T for Teens, Rocket League is the only major esport rated E for Everyone. Some titles such as Call of Duty and Counter Strike go even further and are rated M for Mature and feature firearms, blood and gore. Some brands want to completely avoid any association with such violent titles, and this also extends to the education space. Rocket League is one of only a few titles played in the majority of high school and collegiate esports programs, with schools wanting to avoid similar controversies. 


Moving Forward

As the audience of esports grows, there will be more demand for titles accessible to larger portions of the market. However, accessibility doesn’t inherently mean more people playing the title. In fact, 63% of the Asian esports audience of Vainglory, a popular mobile title, don’t even play the game. A game can be accessible simply by being easy to understand, or by avoiding the violent stigma some associate with video games. As an esport, Rocket League is the rare combination of being brand safe while also being far easier to comprehend. Out of all of the major esports titles on the market today, Rocket League is the most poised to cross the chasm.

Three Takeaways from CDL Opening Weekend

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Two weeks ago, KemperLesnik attended the opening Call of Duty League (CDL) event in Minneapolis. Hosted by the Minnesota Rokkr, a team owned by the Minnesota Vikings and Gary Vaynerchuk, esports took over The Armory in downtown Minneapolis. Wanting to support Midwest esports, KemperLesnik attended to cheer on the Chicago Huntsmen, as well as learn what the future of esports may look like. Here are our takeaways from the opening CDL event.

The Military is All In on Esports

On site, both the US Air Force and the US Army had booths set up. Call of Duty fans could stop by the booths and play games, free of charge, competing against active duty service people. Attendants enjoyed competing against players from the military, and were surprised at how talented they were.

Man wearing Cloud 9 jersey in front of military jet
The US Air Force used to sponsor Cloud 9

In recent years, the military has used esports as a recruiting tool. In the past, this involved sponsoring esports teams such as Cloud 9. Recently, their marketing strategy has involved creating and sponsoring events, as well as creating their own esports team. Over 4,000 active duty members applied to join the US Army esports team, with top applicants signed on to play games for the Army full-time. These players will travel to colleges and high schools across the country to compete and engage with potential recruits.

The US Navy is also taking esports seriously. In a recent announcement on its 2020 advertisement spending, the Navy announced it was pulling out of the Super Bowl and investing more into esports and other digital channels. Esports Stadium Arlington recently announced a new partnership with the Marines, providing free gaming access to well performing students, courtesy of the Marines. The Army also recently put on a live event with top streamers, pairing them with active duty gamers.

When speaking with US Army Esports in Minneapolis, KemperLesnik learned that their goals were to be authentic first and foremost. The point of the activation was to show that there are plenty of gamers in the military – high performing ones at that. Joining the military doesn’t mean giving up a favorite leisure activity. In fact, if someone is talented enough, maybe they’ll get to join the US Army Esports Team and compete full-time.

Call of Duty is Betting on Crossover Appeal

The Call of Duty franchise is one of the oldest in gaming. A new Call of Duty has been released nearly every year since its inception in 2003, and the franchise had sold 250 million copies by 2016. Unlike other esports titles such as League of Legends or Counterstrike, which are harder to play due to being on the more expensive PC, many people grew up with the more accessible Call of Duty, or at least knew someone that played it. It was even featured in an episode of The Office.

Woman from TV show "The Office" saying she likes Call of Duty

The mainstream success of Call of Duty lends itself to a wider audience, much like Fortnite. The CDL has the opportunity to bridge the gap we currently see in esports. Esports has started gaining traction at the national level, as well as attention from investors in the tech and sports industries. Call of Duty, as a more well known title, has multiple celebrities that grew up playing the game. To that end, we will likely see more collaborations between celebrities and esports, such as the scheduled celebrity match between Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, Vince Staples and Michael B. Jordan.

Four celebrities announced they would play Call of Duty at the CDL opening event

Though the celebrity match was cancelled due to the passing of Kobe Bryant, the crossover appeal of Call of Duty is clear. Fortnite is taking a similar approach with its major events, such as the celebrity pro-am leading up to the Super Bowl this past weekend. As watching people play video games becomes more normalized, those that grew up playing video games will want to show off their skills too. Just as celebrities sign up with pro golfers for events, so too do rappers and athletes want to play with top Call of Duty or Fortnite players. Celebrities from other walks of life will help normalize watching gaming content, and Call of Duty is poised to lead the charge.

YouTube is Serious About Esports

Much has been written about the streaming wars engulfing esports, including us. Similar to how Netflix, Disney and others are battling for our media subscription dollars, online streaming platforms are competing in the same way. Twitch (Amazon), YouTube (Google), Facebook, Mixer (Microsoft) and Caffeine (Fox) are all competing to become top players in streaming.

Graphic showing hours watched per streaming platform with Twitch at 75.6%

Source: Geekwire

While Twitch has long since been the dominant platform, YouTube has quickly risen to contend. Signing away multiple streamers such as Valkyrae and CourageJD, YouTube took another swipe with its announcement that it would be the home of CDL, OWL and Hearthstone esports tournaments. Not only has Twitch lost multiple top streamers in the past six months, such as Ninja and Shroud, it’s now also lost top esports content.

YouTube has slowly been building up its arsenal of gaming content for a long time. Among Twitch streamers, what was considered best practice for years was to stream on Twitch and then post highlights to YouTube. Streamers were “double dipping” by making live content for fans on Twitch, and then letting others watch highlights and major moments that they may have missed on YouTube. Some of the biggest Twitch streamers were also big YouTubers by doing this. Because of this repurposing of content, YouTube has accumulated a wealth of gaming content that can be watched at any time, not just live.

Graphic showing share of gaming content with video on demand at 83%

Ryan “Fwiz” Wyatt, Head of Gaming at YouTube, shared the above graphic to highlight this phenomenon. Most people don’t watch gaming content live – they watch Video On Demand (VOD) content at their leisure. As platforms battle to provide the best live experience for fans, YouTube already dominates the way most view their gaming content. By bolstering their VOD content with top streamers and esports competitions, it could quickly overtake Twitch as the biggest gaming platform.

What’s Next?

Following the event in Minneapolis, the Chicago Call of Duty event coming in April is what’s exciting the KemperLesnik team the most. We don’t think there are enough esports events in Chicago, and we’ll be sure to cheer on the Chicago Huntsmen on April 4th and 5th at the WinTrust Arena. Get your tickets and we’ll see you there!


Header image courtesy of the Washington Post


High School Esports – The Next Frontier

*Header image courtesy of Orange Country Register*

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Across the country, high schools are starting esports programs, where just like traditional sports, students will form teams, develop strategies and compete against other schools locally or digitally. Practice may occur in a computer lab if there is school support, or completely online. Teams even have coaches, drawing further parallels between traditional sports and esports. 


The benefits of high school esports are the same as any other extracurricular – a sense of community, teamwork skills and leadership. Unique to esports are the participants themselves. Many esports clubs have kids that wouldn’t normally participate in after school programs. By providing these students with a sense of community, a way to compete and build teamwork, schools can build engagement with an often neglected part of the student body. 

College esports scholarships have grown to $15 million in 2019.
Scholarships grew to $15 million in 2019

Esports also offer high school students a path to higher education. Chicago’s own Robert Morris University was the first in the nation to offer esports scholarships back in 2014. Now, colleges and universities across the country are also getting involved in esports, offering $15 million in esports scholarships in 2019. College esports athletes enjoy competing and representing their schools, with top competitors earning additional scholarship money as well. In 2020, the first place League of Legends team will earn $10,000 per player in scholarship prizes.

Students celebrate winning the 2019 League of Legends College Championship
Students from UC Irvine win the 2019 League of Legends College Championship



While offering similar benefits to other extracurriculars, high school esports faces its own set of challenges. The largest issue for high school when introducing esports is deciding what games students will play and compete on. Many of the most popular esports, such as Fortnite, Overwatch and CSGO, use firearms. Wanting to avoid violent topics in schools,educators have banned such games from being part of their esports programs. This leads to a restriction of titles for students to compete on. League of Legends, the world’s largest esport, and Rocket League are two of the most common high school titles because of this.


However, violence is not the only issue with game selection. As for-profit  companies with intellectual property, video game publishers have final say over who is allowed to compete and profit from competitions featuring their titles. Professional tournament organizers, such as ESL or Estars Studios, and high school-specific organizers such as PlayVS and Interscholastic Esports, must secure a license from the game publisher in order to offer that game to their participating schools. These licenses typically come with a large price tag and just because an organizer has secured a competitive license for one year doesn’t guarantee the developer will provide the license again. 


Costs also keep schools away from investing in esports. Initial setup costs can be hard for districts to justify when quality PC gaming setups are at least $800 a station. Additional costs from electricity and IT support can quickly pile up, in addition to fees from tournament organizers. With schools already spending large sums on more popular programs like football, which can range from $11,000 to $133,000 annually, it can be hard to justify the return on an esports program. 


Another challenge for students interested in starting an esports program is that often school administrators are unfamiliar with esports as a concept, which is understandable given the novelty of esports. The games are complicated and far harder to understand than football or basketball. The technology demands are also daunting. Platforms like Discord and Twitch are commonplace in esports but confusing to the uninitiated. All of these moving, unfamiliar parts can ultimately intimidate districts from starting a program.


What’s Next?

Demand for talent is growing at both the collegiate and professional levels of esports. Half of the players in the LCS, North America’s professional League of Legends league, are foreign – and there would likely be more were there not rules in place to prevent teams from fielding all foreign rosters. Despite importing so many players, the LCS has struggled to compete consistently on the international stage, leading many to question whether an investment into training domestic talent would be more valuable.


With so many imports and older players, as well as a drought of rookie talent, LCS teams will need to start recruiting players with experience from the high school and collegiate levels. Colleges and other bodies have begun to host combines, similar to the NBA, to determine the best high school esports talent. Some will receive scholarships, with others being recruited straight to the pros. Thanks to the digital nature of esports, data can be immediately stored and tracked as these players compete, letting students from anywhere in the country prove their worth to talent scouts. Riot Games has started an annual “Scouting Grounds” for their teams to recruit top, unsigned talent. 

Rookie players are recruited at Scouting Grounds to sign to LCS teams
Top teams recruited new talent at Scouting Grounds


As the world of esports grows, so too will it grow in academic settings. The benefits of socializing a normally disengaged group are enormous. Many students who feel that their interests are ignored by their schools will soon enter a world many of us are familiar with – the world of sports and competition. Sports provide students with a community, teamwork skills and opportunities to be leaders, not to mention potential scholarships. Schools may struggle to implement esports into their curricula in the short term, but someday, we may see no distinction between sports and esports when it comes to high school athletics.

Why Chicago Could Be the Next Esports Hub

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When people think of American esports, Los Angeles is often the first city that comes to mind. The proximity to multiple game studios, universities and the entertainment industry make it a natural fit to serve as America’s esports capital. Surprising many, the biggest esports hub outside of LA is the Dallas area. Team Envy and Complexity call Dallas home, as do multiple professional service companies. Nearby Arlington is home to Esports Stadium Arlington, the largest esports-focused facility in the United States. 


While admittedly a bit biased,  KemperLesnik believes Chicago is set to become the next big esports hub. We’re welcoming our first franchised team, Call of Duty’s Chicago Huntsmen, this year, and Chicago offers a central location with access to top schools and a growing community of innovators. This prime location makes it ideal for esports growth and events, such as ESL’s 2019 Intel Extreme Masters for Counterstrike: Global Offensive held at the United Center or the League of Legends 2016 World Championship Quarter Finals held at the Chicago Theatre. We think things are just getting started for the Windy City!


Innovation Hub

Chicago is home to many innovators, in startups as well as esports. Robert Morris University was the first school in the nation to offer an esports scholarship back in 2014. Collegiate esports has grow to the point that in 2019, $15 million was offered in esports scholarships across the country, with no signs of slowing down. Multiple universities have started to offer courses and build facilities to host esports events, including Division 1 schools such as Marquette University. Multiple esports stars got their start in Chicago as well, including Ninja (Fortnite), Nadeshot (100 Thieves) and Hector Rodriguez (Optic Gaming, NRG).


RMU esports in their practice facility.
RMU Esports in their practice facility

There are also multiple gaming and esports companies headquartered in Chicago. Ignite Gaming Lounge, a pay by the hour gaming lounge, features locations in Skokie and Chicago. Lightstream, a supplemental service for streaming platforms like Twitch, and NetherRealm Studio, who works on Mortal Kombat, both operate out of Chicago as well. 


This innovative nature extends beyond esports into the broader tech community. 1871, Chicago’s top business incubator, is considered the best in the country, and among the best in the world. The State of Illinois awards the second-largest  amount of computer science degrees in the US, placing only behind California. Many Illinois STEM graduates are now electing to stay in Illinois as well, with graduates 4.5 times more likely to stay in Illinois than go to San Francisco, the second top location. STEM students make up over half of those participating in their college’s esports programs, according to a study done by Midgame, an esports analytics company. 

Over half of college esports participants study STEM fields.
Source: Midgame.gg

The STEM students of today will become the biggest esports fans of tomorrow. As Chicago grows as a hub for innovation and the demand for talented STEM workers grows, so too will the demand for local entertainment. 



Chicago offers proximity to multiple colleges and universities, providing ample opportunity for company partnerships for developers, teams and professional services. Robert Morris is the obvious example, thanks to its successful esports program, but there are numerous schools teeming with esports talent, as well as potential fans. 


Universities like Northwestern and the University of Chicago are considered some of the best in the nation, while DePaul University, Columbia College Chicago and Loyola all feature popular entrepreneurial programs. In 2018, DePaul University entered the esports space with multiple lounges across its two campuses. The Blue Demons also have a Rocket League team that recently won the EGF Big East Invitational, proving that DePaul Esports can compete on a high level. Only a few hours away is the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, not only one of the best engineering schools in the country, but home to one of the best collegiate League of Legends teams.

Illini esports logo.
Illini Esports is quickly becoming a top team

Esports in higher education cascades into the high school level in Chicago as well, with a robust competitive system and state-level governing body, IHSEA. Ben Bruce, a local high school esports coach for Barrington High School, a school in the northwestern suburbs, notes growth within his school’s program as well as the number of schools competing. “This is only the second year of our program at BHS, but our numbers have grown since last year. I see new schools starting programs, and have been reached out to often by other high schools for guidance. High school esports is growing rapidly in Illinois.” These high schools often compete in tournaments hosted by Robert Morris University, and will even travel out of state for events. 



Chicago serves as a hub for the entire Midwest. O’Hare International Airport is the country’s busiest airport and many train lines and roads converge in Chicago. Thanks to these numerous and convenient travel options, the city serves as a focal point for not only the Midwest, but the entire country. As more esports events pop up, Chicago will grow to become the ideal location for Midwest esports events, and also a central location for both national and international events.


Chicago’s location is also convenient due to the many food and beverage companies located within the city and surrounding region. Esports has proven to be a successful way to connect with an increasingly hard to reach audience of young people. F&B is an ideal esports sponsor, and with multiple F&B companies headquartered in Chicago, esports enterprises will be able to easily connect with potential sponsors directly.


Wrigley, makers of DoubleMint, Juicy Fruit and more, is often the first Chicago-based company that comes to mind thanks to Wrigley Field. However, many other food companies call Chicago home. McDonald’s, Kraft-Heinz and ConAgra are all headquartered in the Chicago area. GrubHub, one of Chicago’s tech darlings, sponsors esports team TSM.


Moving Forward

Astralis winning IEM Chicago 2018.
Astralis wins IEM Chicago 2018

With multiple events coming to Chicago in 2020, including two possible Call of Duty events and IEM Chicago, more attention will come to the Windy City as the next big thing in esports. More events will welcome more sponsors and more demand for Chicago esports, encouraging more schools to invest in esports and more teams to participate in Chicago. With all of these changes, the KemperLesnik esports team looks forward to being part of the growing Chicago esports movement!

The Top 3 Esports Trends of 2019

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2019 has been quite the year for esports. From a record breaking prize pool of  $34 million for the Dota 2 International, the announcement of a Call of Duty franchised league and massive investments into esports companies around the world, esports continues to see massive growth. This year followed up on 2018’s breakout year of Fortnite, when Ninja became a household name thanks to streaming online with Drake, Travis Scott and more. People are more familiar with esports now than ever before, and are starting to take gaming celebrities seriously. Here’s a list of the top three esports trends of 2019, and where that will bring the industry in the new decade.


Esports Becomes a Lifestyle 

For decades, gaming has been seen as the activity of the antisocial. Stereotypes depict gamers as basement dwelling, junk food consuming, antisocial young men. The reality is that gaming is a cultural staple for the vast majority of today’s youth, not to mention vast swathes of older generations – the first Super Mario Bros was released in 1985. Gaming is increasingly part of everyone’s lives – all ages, genders and beliefs. 


For the better part of a decade, esports organizations such as FaZe Clan and Optic Gaming have built content around their lives as gamers. Not only were these guys great gamers, they were also cool to be around. Young people across America idolized the likes of FaZe Banks and Hector Rodriguez, they were top players as well as great personalities. Supported by content that brought fans into an inner circle, these top gamers were emulated much like professional athletes. Imagine if Michael Jordan released vlogs every week when he was at the top of his game, discussing how he’s playing, his personal life and his favorite food, music and more.


Faze banks discusses his life in his videos

FaZe Banks engages fans with stories from his life


This type of lifestyle content has started to build a culture of its own, with its own values, jokes and even fashion. Fans buy apparel from esports orgs and streamers to be part of something bigger, similar to how one buys merchandise at concerts or to support their favorite sports team. Much like how skateboarding was an underground phenomenon that eventually hit mainstream fashion (Vans, Supreme, Santa Cruz), 2019 has been the year of esports apparel drops. In five minutes, 100 Thieves sold $500,000 worth of clothing in an exclusive release. FaZe Clan’s New York pop up shop had to be shut down due to massive lines. 


100 Thieves has taken apparel a step further. In July, the esports organization raised a $35 million Series B and announced it would be opening up a storefront in Los Angeles. The world of esports is hitting retail and traditional brands are taking notice. Sportswear brands such as Champion, Adidas and Nike have all released esports lines in partnership with esports teams and players. Not only available online, shoppers can find this esports influenced sports apparel across the country. League of Legends LCS jerseys are sold in Walmart. Being a gamer, formerly a taboo, is finally cool.

100 Thieves creates streetwear inspired esports apparel


Livestreamers Sign Exclusivity Deals

Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, the biggest household name in gaming, made waves in August when he announced he was leaving Amazon’s streaming platform Twitch for Microsoft’s Mixer. As one of Twitch’s top performers, Ninja made thousands a month from his subscribers (more on that here) and thousands more from deals with Red Bull and other sponsors.


Long the market leader, Twitch is the go-to platform for watching live gaming content, such as esports tournaments, but also streamers like Ninja and others. In Q2 2019, over 72% of livestreamed hours were watched on the platform, eclipsing YouTube, Facebook and Mixer. 

Livestreaming market share

Twitch dominates the livestreaming space

While Ninja’s departure to Mixer has not appeared to have made significant impact on Mixer’s viewership share, this hasn’t stopped platforms from signing streamers away from Twitch. Mixer has gone on to sign shroud and FaZe EwOk, YouTube has signed Courage and Facebook acquired both Mkleo and DisguisedToast. Protecting itself from bleeding more streamers, Twitch recently signed deals with top streamers already on Twitch, as well as signing away a few from other platforms. Similar to the “streaming wars” between Netflix, Disney and more, these platforms look to draw viewers by having the best content. 


As we’ve written about previously, streamers serve as taste makers and influencers among the gaming community. If a streamer tries a new game out on stream, their audience may be more inclined to buy it. Similarly, if a streamer declares a game to be boring, or “not cool”, the game may be doomed to fade away into obscurity. Apex Legends notably used a streamer centered strategy to promote its release in early 2019 and was downloaded over 50 million times in its first month


By using streamers to highlight new features of the platform, each company looks to differentiate itself in the streaming marketplace. In the future, we will likely see more integration between the platforms and their parent companies. Amazon will provide Twitch users with bonuses on Amazon Prime and for the games they develop. YouTube may integrate with Google Stadia and Facebook can offer support through Instagram, Whatsapp and Oculus VR. Microsoft, a longstanding member of the gaming community, can use Mixer to show off XBOX as well as exclusive games such as Halo, one of the largest franchises in gaming. 


Esports Finally Goes Mainstream

Now that gaming is officially cool, the mainstream media has started to cover the space with more depth. Multiple esports stars have appeared on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, including Ninja, Fortnite World Cup Winner Bugha and players from the San Francisco Shock, the winners of this year’s Overwatch League Finals. Dr. Disrespect also appeared on Jimmy Kimmel and the League of Legends World Championship was parodied on Saturday Night Live. Esports has also appeared on shows like Ballers, and esports television shows are currently in development.

Ninja appears on Jimmy Fallon.

Ninja appears on Jimmy Fallon

With this coverage comes a need to educate the mainstream about the space. One of the most common mistakes by the media is the use of “e-sports” or “eSports” when referring to esports. This has gone so far as shirts have been made mocking those that use these terms – it’s a telltale sign that someone isn’t familiar with esports. 

Esports spelled incorrectly on t-shirt.


Because the space is so new, it’s often met with criticism when first encountered by mainstream journalists, particularly those from traditional sports. People will declare that esports “aren’t sports” and immediately dismiss an entire industry. An entire industry that is expected to reach $1 billion by the end of this year, and has taken plenty of investment from athletes like Michael Jordan and Rick Fox, as well as notable sports companies such as Kroenke Entertainment and the Kraft Group.


Over time, this misunderstanding of the industry will fade away. The lines between esports and the mainstream have already started to blur, as esports stars become celebrities, and celebrities try their hand at esports and streaming. Several rappers, including Lil Yachty, Post Malone and Offset have streamed themselves gaming. Football player Juju Smith Schuster reportedly earned $100,000 streaming himself watching a football game, and has appeared at Fortnite Pro-Am events. Gaming and esports will soon be viewed in the same light as film, music and sports, with those at the top as mainstream celebrities, not just personalities of the gaming world. 


What’s Next?

In 2020, we can expect gaming and esports stars to have a bigger influence on all things pop culture, be it apparel, food, movies and more. Celebrities, wanting to capture the same magic, will start streaming, with mixed success. Those that have always gamed, and know how to leverage the unique engagement that live streaming provides, will flourish and extend their personal brands. Those that stream but don’t take it seriously will flop and be seen as fake. 

As we’ve covered previously, brands must be authentic to succeed in esports. Many brands have taken this to mean going all out with messaging claiming that they support gamers and always have. This approach often falls flat. The esports audience will quickly dismiss any brand that comes off as ingenuine. A better approach is that of Mastercard’s. By approaching esports the same way as it does traditional sports, Mastercard has successfully become an “uncool” esports brand. By focusing on its values and what those values mean to esports fans, Mastercard has gotten in on the ground floor of the next big thing in entertainment.