Just about everyone under the sun is trying to grab a piece of esports mania.
Others who are still in the dark are wondering what the heck all of the commotion is about.
Now two Dallas companies — a veteran in the esports events business and a sports marketing agency that includes Roger Staubach — have joined forces to cater to both worlds.
The Trade Group and LST Marketing just launched eGency Global to help esports teams, leagues, venue owners and hopeful corporate marketers figure out the lay of this land that’s expanding quickly.
In its most basic definition, esports is a multiplayer video game played competitively by amateurs and professionals for an audience. Most fans of a specific esport event are enthusiastic players of those games.
For the last six years — an eternity in this genre — the Trade Group has produced major professional gaming events, building stages and arenas and adding entertainment features for some of the biggest tournaments in the country.
Gaming competitions were once held in garages, then bars, hotel ballrooms and movie theaters. Now they take over places like Staples Center in Los Angeles and Verizon Theatre in Grand Prairie. They last several days, pay upwards of $2 million in prize money to the pros, and attract tens of thousands of fans who are just as rabid as those cheering for the Dallas Cowboys.
North Texas gold rush
New teams and leagues are forming. Billionaires are investing millions. Specially designed venues are cropping up.
And North Texas is at the epicenter of this activity.
That’s why the Trade Group and LST Marketing intend to strike while the iron’s red hot by linking their complementary expertise to create one of the largest marketing and events agencies focused solely on esports.
Chris Stone, founder and co-owner of Trade Group, is CEO of eGency, while Starke Taylor IV, grandson of the late Dallas mayor of the same name, is president of the venture.
The two were connected via a mutual friend in early 2017, when LST Marketing bought Roger Staubach’s 24-year-old sports marketing firm. Staubach remains a partner.
The Trade Group, primarily an event production company specializing in trade shows and outdoor activations for brands, entered the esport world through a backdoor when a major gaming publisher needed an exhibit for a trade show.
“I didn’t get it then, but I get it now,” says Stone, 55. “I’m not a huge gamer, but I certainly understand the audience and what they’re passionate about and the attraction from a brand standpoint in the interest in attracting that audience.”
Esports Ninja warrior
LST caught wind of esports about five years ago, when marketing execs from clients like DHL, Volkswagen and PVH, formerly Phillips-Van Heusen Corp., started asking for help in this segment.
“Esports has grown so quickly that big brands are having a hard time getting their minds around it,” Taylor says. “Bridging that gap is the driving reason and force of us forming the joint venture.”
Tyler "Ninja" Blevins, esports’ brightest star and biggest moneymaker, recently broke Twitch.tv’s streaming record with 678,000 fans simultaneously online as he played Epic Games’ super-popular "Fortnite: Battle Royale," the hottest title in gaming right now, mixing elements of crafting, third-person combat and cooperative play.
“The brands are interested in that kind of viewership and excitement,” says Taylor. “Esports reaches that specific young demo that’s hard and expensive to reach.”
Both companies are privately held and don’t give out financials. But industry sources place the event company’s revenue at $40-plus million and the boutique sports marketing agency at under $20 million.
Forget a five-year plan. Things are moving so fast, Stone says, it’s hard to see beyond the next quarter or two. “Within 12 months, I think we’re probably in the $3 [million], $3.5 million range. Going into 18 months, on an annualized basis, I think we’re going to be over $5 [million]. And there could be some significant exponential growth.”
“All of the big traditional agencies will be competitors,” says Stone. “They have relationships with brands and they’re not going to shy away from them.”
The billionaires’ club
The city of Arlington and Texas Rangers co-owner Neil Leibman recently announced plans for Esports Stadium Arlington, a $10 million, 100,000-square-foot mecca for competitive gaming bouts and other facilities for esports teams and fans. It will use space that was the city’s convention center.
Leibman, lead investor in Infinite Esports & Entertainment, is exploring ways eGency might help bring events and sponsorship partners to Arlington’s stadium, which is expected to open this fall.
“The growing business community and population in North Texas make it a key market for esports, its fans and the brands that are looking to capitalize on this growing sport,” says Leibman. “It’s only fitting that two respected companies in this community would form a world-class agency dedicated to esports that will enhance the region’s claim to being an esports hotbed.”
In addition to Leibman, the esports billionaire owners’ club includes Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, Fort Worth real estate magnate John Goff, and Ken Hersh, formerly of wheeling-and-dealing energy fame and now CEO of the George W. Bush Presidential Center.
Last week, the Trade Group finished Cuban’s studio in Deep Ellum for his team, Mavs Gaming.
“We are excited to be part of the esports explosion in North Texas,” says Cuban. “Working with partners like eGency will give us a unique opportunity to leverage Mavs Gaming and all of our esports assets.”
eGency’s first event will be OP Live Dallas, a collaboration with SMU Guildhall, widely considered the leading graduate school for video game design.
Guildhall was a natural fit for the concept debut, says Taylor. “The idea is to put together a successful event here in Dallas and then add others around the country.”
It’s slated for Sept. 22-23 on the 50,000-square-foot floor of the Irving Convention Center and is expected to draw at least 16 collegiate and a half dozen professional teams from around the country.
There will be a high school hackathon, where students will compete to identify, defend and terminate cybersecurity threats in a fictional small business.
In addition, competitions will be live-streamed from a number of platforms so fans can watch the action from home.
eGency Global expects 7,000 to show up and pay between $20 for general admission to $150 for the full VIP monty.
Mark Nausha, director of SMU Guildhall, was thrilled when eGency offered to produce and finance his stretch goal of hosting one of the largest esports events in the D-FW area.
“I can’t imagine a better group to work with in executing such an awesome event,” he says. “eGency Global has both the production and marketing capabilities in esports that no other group has in North America.”
His students will gain real-world experience helping with the event and learning about what makes esports fans tick.
OP Live will also show off the latest video games created by Guildhall students and alumni, pro esports player meet-and-greets, an exhibitor hall, mini-TED-like talks by industry experts and parental education.
“A big part of the event is about educating parents, students and professionals about career opportunities that are available within the gaming ecosystem,” says Stone. “If I’m a normal parent and I see my kids on the couch playing games day after day, I’m going to wonder if this is going to be a long-term problem. But there are significant skills that kids garner in doing that. And there are many careers where they can apply that passion.”
Chris Stone, president and founder of the Trade Group and CEO of eGency Global at LST Marketing in Dallas, Texas on May 8, 2018. (Nathan Hunsinger/The Dallas Morning News)
Title: CEO, eGency Global
Grew up: South Portland, Maine
Education: Majored in business at Bentley University in Waltham, Mass.
Personal: Married to Sue for 29 years. They have a daughter, 25.
Starke Taylor, CEO of LST Marketing and president eGency at LST Marketing in Dallas, Texas on May 8, 2018. (Nathan Hunsinger/The Dallas Morning News)
Title: President, eGency Global
Born and raised: Dallas
Education: Highland Park High School, 1987; majored in marketing at St. Edward’s University in Austin.
Personal: Married to Elizabeth for 23 years. They have a daughter, 18, and a son, 14.