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Now that we have a macro view of the gaming industry and insights on how game developers are evolving, I want to focus on the rest of the gaming ecosystem. This is a whole new industry that is driven by esports. The bigger categories I break down by function, feature and use case. The smaller categories I just try to highlight trends or unique startup activities. Below is a chart of all of these categories outside of game developers.
This category focuses on platforms or services that create competition among players in any format. This category breaks apart in many ways, I included esports teams, fantasy leagues, online and offline gamer tournaments and organizations hosting competitions. These startups will lead the future of esports and how they are monetized.
This section focuses on how competitions are facilitated. The majority of leagues offer a combination of in-person or digital competitions. Competitions can range from one-on-one to massive tournaments. Many allow players to compete for free, cash or prizes. Leagues make sure they are a trusted third party to oversee fun but fair competitions. Examples of how startups in this category facilitate competitions:
1 – For Gamers
- Quarterback lets you play for you favorite influencers. Influencers creates clubs their viewers can join. An influencer’s club can compete with other influencer’s clubs.
- Unikrn offers a wagering service that allows viewers to bet on eSports matches. They also have in-game competitions that are based on events or actions completed within the game play.
- Challengeme helps players setup a custom game in seconds and challenge influencers.
- Majority of fantasy leagues like HalaPlay, Dream11, DraftKings, Fanduel, Winview and more, allow players to place bets daily on a variety of sports and winning criteria.
- FaceIT and Mogul create buy-in online tournaments daily.
2 – For Organizers
- FaceIT and Skillz provides game developers with the necessary tools to integrate matchmaking, tournaments, and leagues into their titles. Players can compete for free, cash or prizes within the game they are playing.
- Smash.gg helps college clubs, national eSports organizations, or brands supporting gamers create and manage tournaments or leagues.
- PlayVS helps high schools establish esports teams and encourage students to compete.
This sections focuses on additional perks leagues offer to drive fan engagement and more competitions. This section requires a lot of service and community building. Here are examples:
- Events: Majority of leagues are event based. They host competitions, tournaments, meetups or bootcamps. N3rd St Gamers holds bootcamps, meetups, tournaments and more. They also created an US eastern conference for professional esports players. Startups like Moguk host online tournaments daily.
- Arenas: Many leagues are building their own arenas to host their own tournaments and offer it as a gaming center for locals. Most leagues try to partner with local gaming centers to host competitions. N3rd St Gamers built arena in Chicago, D.C. and Philadelphia. Winstrike has an arena and lounge in Moscow with over 115 computers. Super League Games actually partnered with Top Golf to host tournaments within their facilities. ESforce opened a massive arena, called Yota Arena, in Moscow with 1000+ seat capacity, lounges and more.
- Prizes: Most leagues offer a combination of cash or other prizes that is supported by sponsors or by players/viewers entry fee. To increase engagement, leagues are also offering raffle prizes to viewers and players. Quarterback awards raffles to top gamers where they can win skins and ingame items. Challengeme offers weekly raffles for prizes. Majority of fantasy leagues offer promotions that will refund players if they lose their bets.
- Player Assistance: Leagues want to make sure players can compete fairly, have all the tools necessary to win and to stay engaged on their platform. Players Lounge gamers are matched with opponents with similar skill and offered a large variety of games. Skillzoffers player loyalty programs. Challengeme helps players track their progression on a variety of training maps and see how they improve over time. Here is where you see categories like management and analytics blend with leagues.
- Anti-cheating: This is one of the most important features of leagues. Cheating especially for cash prizes can be a big problem. FaceIT bans on average 1500 players a month from their competitions because of cheating. Many leagues offer anti-cheating solutions, and if they don’t, it will become a big problem in the future.
This section focuses the type of consumers leagues are trying to target. All leagues are focused on creating competition among the gamer community. How they monetize this varies. Here are a few examples of who leagues are targeting:
- Teams: It seems a handful of leagues use their platform to develop or recruit top esports players. N3rd St Gamers, Winstrike and ESforce each have their own esports teams. Some even promote their team’s streams on their platforms. Smash.gg doesn’t have a team but helps players search for free agents.
- Developers: FaceIT and Skillz are focused on selling league platforms that can integrate within developer’s games. They help facilitate betting and cash prize competitions within the developer’s titles. Winstrike and ESforce built marketing agencies and video production studios that cater towards developers, brands and event organizers.
- Brands: Almost all leagues are pushing to get brands to sponsor their tournaments or give away non-cash prizes to their users.
- Influencers: To build exposure, leagues want influencers to be engaged or compete on their platform. Skillz pays influencers to host their tournaments on their channel.
- Organizers: Smash.gg providing event management software to anyone hosting a tournament or competition.
This is an exciting but extremely tough industry to compete because it’s still very early. The secret sauce is creating a community that keeps gamers and viewers coming back. To monetize, leagues are focused on sponsorship/advertising, volume of buy-in games or ‘whales’ betting. The leagues focused on buy-in online game play seems to be finding success. As an example, Skillz hit a $400M revenue run rate by allowing developers to create in-game betting tournaments. In-person tournaments look to be hard to scale, Super League Gaming reported only ~$201k in sales and ~$13M loss in 2017. The biggest winners are developers franchising or offering media rights to their popular titles. Teams are also driving massive revenue to their group. Team SoloMid’s estimated revenue was $25M in 2018. Fantasy leagues for esports will merge with streaming platforms in a variety of unique ways. The future of leagues will continue to be focused on sustainable, community-oriented competitions around popular developer titles. You will also start to see an increase in casual mobile game competitions and tournaments.
Top Gaming League Startups To Watch For:
N3rd Street Gamers, PlayVS, Fighting Esports, Winstrike, Players Lounge, Quarterback, Skillz, Unikrn, Smash.gg, Battlefy, FaceIT, Challengeme Esports, HalaPlay, DraftKings, Dream11, Boom Fantasy, Gameday, WinView Games, 100 Thieves, Cloud9, Team SoloMidand Fnatic
This category focuses on startups building analytic tools for gamers, publishers and developers.
This section will focus on the unique ways startups acquire and analyze data.
1 – Game Play Improvement
Majority of the analytics tools are focused on helping players improve their performance on popular gaming titles. Most analytical tools use developers APIs to pull game play data. Here are other methods used to analyze game play:
- Startups like Blitz and Visor created computer vision analytic tools. You can stream your game to their platforms and they will provide live analytics and recommendations.
- GOSU.ai extracts mouse movements from replays of the game to provide feedback and detect cheaters. They’ve also created a bot that provides recommendations for game play.
- DOJO Madness provides desktop and mobile apps for gaming analytics.
2 – Industry Analytics
There are a couple startups tracking macro-gaming data. Their purpose is to help game studios, publishers and esports teams to track the reach and engagement of their activities. One examples is Repable, who tracks social and broadcast statistics to provide insight on game titles, streamers, teams, and tournaments.
This sections focuses on features and breadth of analytics offered.
1 – Game Play Improvement
Most analytic tools offer pre match, live and post match analytics to help players make the optimal decisions to win a game. This can be a grey area as there has been push back regarding cheating. Some tools actually offers ways to catch cheaters during game play. Examples analytics include:
- Visor uses an intuitive combination of overlays, visual alerts, and audio cues to surface actionable information at exactly the right time so players can improve dynamically
- GOSU lets players train against simulators. They also have position, looting, dropping, weapons, aiming recommendations. They provide anti-cheating solutions and an AI to determine who’s best for your team.
- L2P releases meta data on latest matches and champions. They also provide raw statistics of game play and help identify a players weak spots. They even go as far as hosting their own tournament.
- DOJO tracks information about an opponent’s tendencies and they provide recommended tools to win matches. They also allow you to track your friends analytics.
- Mobalytics provides a breadth of statistics but also publishes infographics on games strategies to help players prepare.
2 – Industry Analytics
Most tools are either to help identity ways to improve game play, build your gamer profile or to understand the reach of a developer’s game across the ecosystem. Examples include:
- Gyroscope provides analytics on cohorts, triggers for in-game actions, event data, A/B testing and more. The purpose is to help game developers improve game engagement.
- GameAnalytics tracks studio games performance to help developers improve their games engagement.
- 5Rocks, before they were acquired, provided a detailed analysis of users for different types of games. The intent is to support development and marketing of new games.
This section focuses on target consumer for analytic tools.
- Games: Majority of gaming analytic tools are catering to esports gamers. Whatever games that happen to be the most popular at the moment. Examples Visor focuses on Overwatch; GOSU focuses on Dota 2, CS:GO and PUBG; L2P focuses on Dota 2 and LOL; DOJO focuses on Overwatch, CS:GO, LOL and Dota 2.
- Player Skill: Most analytic tools seem to support players at all skill levels. Others cater to professional teams.
- Demographic: Most of these tools are focused on the largest esports countries. Languages I’ve seen supported so far are English, Spanish, Chinese, Russian and some other languages within Asia.
- Developer: There are a handful of startups that I’ve mentioned above that cater to game developers and advertisers to help optimize reach and engagement.
Why this is important?
As the esports industry grows, analytics are extremely important for professional players to improve and developers to build more compelling games. As more cash prizes for esports competitions rise, managing cheating players and rigged games will become a priority for this industry outside of game improvement. In addition, gaming analytics are features developers, marketplaces, management, leagues and teams are all trying to offer to differentiate themselves. You should see new gaming analytics tools popup from many angles but you will also see tools in this category partner with many other categories. Eventually you should see gaming analytics tools evolve to offer their own leagues, teams, management tools and more.
Top Gaming Analytics Startups To Watch For:
Visor, L2P Limited, GOSU Data Lab, DOJO Madness, Gyroscope Software, Mobalytics and HEROZ
This sections focuses on game infrastructure for performance, speed, distribution, or payments. More companies can be found in the game developers category.
1 – Distribution
These are startups that believe existing networks or the end devices are not tuned for optimal gaming performance. Each are focused on improving different parts of the ecosystem. Here are a few examples:
- CDNs & VPNs: Startups like Wtfast, Network Next, Hast or Gaikai are focused on improving the latency of online games by optimizing and stabilizing connections of game servers. This can be through VPNs or improving content network connections.
- Streaming: Rainway, Liquidsky and Parsec are building game streaming platforms that lets users play their favorite games on different devices anywhere. OnLive attempted this but burned through cash and shut down. AppOnboard takes a different approach where they allow you to demo games before downloading them.
- Servers: These tools help developers offer games without having to worry about the backend. Improbable and Gameye are helping developers build server capacity that dynamically scales based on the current player load and historical patterns.
2 – Development
Majority of gaming engines/tools are created by developers. This section focuses on tools that help developers build more immersive games faster and lighter. Examples include:
- Design: These are any design tools used to create games. DreamCraft helps developers create games without coding or drawing. Quixel and Absentia are building 3D graphic editors, animation and modeling toolkits.
- Stack: These are products that try to encompass development, optimization and distribution. Game Closure technology platform provides game studios with tools to author, distribute, optimize, and operate messenger games.
3 – Payments
These are startups building payment gateways, tokens or cryptocurrency for games. This is a hot category for blockchain startups. This category mainly competes with payment gateways outside the gaming ecosystem. Developers also seem to build their own payments tools within their own games. Startups here have to really differentiate themselves to compete. Here are a few examples:
- Revlo, before it was acquired, helped broadcasters build custom currency into their Twitch channels, so they could reward loyal fans.
- Betable enables any developer to legally offer real-money play in their games and apps on any platform or device.
- Mo9 is creating a play first then pay platform. This is a unique form of lending.
- Ryu Blockchain Technologies, Playgame, EOT Protocol, Gamedex, Alphaslot, COCOS Blockchain, Fuel Games and Enjin are all helping developers integrate blockchain or cryptocurrency as a payment tool for developers.
Top Gaming Platforms Startups To Watch For:
Betable, Mo9, Network Next, DreamCraft, Improbable, The Future Group, Quixel, Parsec, WTFast, LiquidSky Software, ABSENTIA and Game Closure
This section focuses on tools that help gamers communicate with each other.
This sections focuses the methods used by players to communicate. The goal for most startups are to offer simple communication tools that don’t interfere with your game play across platforms. This section competes with traditional CPaaS and video solutions. These tools are the core of building a community and developers, marketplaces and leagues are all trying to incorporate these tools in their platforms to boost engagement.
- Messenger/Voice: Voice and chat are default features most social gaming tools provide. Discord, Evasyst, Kaiheikeji Digital and more are all building chat/voice interfaces for gamers and developers.
- Video: Bunch and Evasyst provide tools that allow players to broadcast, stream or play with their friends over video chat.
- VR: Teleporter and a handful of developers are creating VR worlds that allow gamers to watch streamers play, chat with one another and play games together.
- Feed: Laoyuegou is creating a social media feed people can gossip about the gaming industry. Palringo creates groups of communities similar to that of subreddits. This section merges with gaming content section.
- Offline: These are startups focused on creating meetups and competitions in person. We see developers create in-person events but you’ll find leagues are using this strategy the most.
This section highlights added features that help social platforms build a community and encourage usage of their communication tools. Here are a few examples:
- Integration: Social platforms are partnering with as many developers as possible to include chat within their games. Discord and Bunch are both trying to expand their presence across developers so gamers can use their social tools in-game.
- Platform: These social tools try to be available across gaming platforms. Discord works on desktop and mobile, where as Bunch focuses only on mobile.
- Marketplace: Social tools are also building marketplaces for their audience. Discordprovides gaming subscription and a marketplace. Zengaming also developed a marketplace for trading skins and game products.
- Identity: Social tools are giving users the ability to create their own unique profiles. Evasyst allow users to create profile pages that share their favorite games, players origin and play style. Popbase allows you to create a virtual persona.
- Content: Many tools try to add content to their platform to keep it more engaging. Examples Kaiheikeji Digital provides education to help gamers train. Gamewith offers news and reviews of games.
This section focuses on what type of audience social tools are built for. This is how social tools differentiate themselves among traditional CPaaS solutions.
- Casual: These are tools built for casual gamers. Majority of social tools focus on this demographic. Evasyst goes a step further by helping gamers hop into friends’ live games, and discover new parties, groups, and people to play with.
- Professional: These are networks built for the purpose of meeting and building esports teams. This is very similar with leagues and games management section. Kaiheikeji Digital is a social network where novice gamers can meet pro gamers. Zengaming is a professional network for esports players.
Top Gaming Social Startups To Watch For:
Discord, Evasyst, Bunch, Kaiheikeji Digital and Zengaming
This category focuses on tools that help gamers or developers broadcast their gameplay. This section blends with social. This is the preferred content of gamers.
This section focuses on how streaming tools differ by their method of broadcasting. There are a handful of open source broadcasting solutions available, most notably OBS. Most broadcasting solutions focus on the simplicity of streaming and avoiding interfering with gameplay. Here are examples:
- Genvid provides an SDK that enables developers to create and deliver broadcasts to live streaming audiences.
- Mobcrush helps you stream to all other platforms like Twitch or Youtube.
- Medal provides mobile and desktop broadcasting solutions, plus they offer free cloud storage.
- Shou and Chushou are only focused on mobile broadcasting solutions.
This section focuses on features that help streaming platforms become more engaging. The goal for all streaming platforms is to become the go-to gamer community. Almost all streaming platforms offer live streaming and social tools within the gaming social category. Features include:
- Influencers: To build communities, streaming tools are trying to attract influencers. Chushou allows users to purchase gifts for influencers or live streamers. Mobcrush will help influencers receive sponsorship opportunities. Boom.tv allows you to make predictions about games and help influencers monetize their audience.
- Player Control: To encourage more engagement, streaming tools are allowing viewers to control what they want to see and/or control the game play itself. Genvid allows viewers to display player/game information, take control of camera views and gameplay elements while watching an esports match. Znipe.tv provides exclusive player perspectives, multi-POV with maps and the ability to track other matches played at the same time. Twitch offers crowd control, which allows the audience to help or hinder a streamers game play.
- Advertising: Streaming platforms are incorporating advertising into their platforms. Genvid enables embedding of targeted ads and marketing elements. Mobcrush helps streamers get sponsored and they add ads into streams that can be triggered at anytime.
- Leagues: Some streaming platforms allow viewers to bet on players and for players to compete in tournaments. You’ll see more of this in leagues. Boom.tv allows viewers to bet on players and win prizes.
- Streamer Tools: These tools helps streamers improve the viewing experience for their audience. This category includes tools I mentioned above in player control. Other examples, Plays.tv allow streamers to bookmark key events and must review spots within a game. Medal helps streamers record with a hotkey. Boom.tv provides instant replay.
- Content: The larger streaming platforms are creating voice over and exclusive content within their platform. Twitch is creating a music library. Medal offers post-game clips and a social feed. Mixer produces their own shows that review game plays, similar to traditional sport networks. Znipe provides access to exclusive matches and digital passes to tournaments.
This category focuses on users streaming platforms are targeting. Streaming platforms are starting to expand into non-gaming content to attract a new user base or keep gamers on their platform longer. Examples include:
Top Gaming Streaming Startups To Watch For:
Chushou, Genvid Technology, Boom.tv, Plays.tv, Mobcrush and Longzhu TV.
This section covers services that help teach players how to become better gamers. There are a small number of startups in this category. Most education content is provided by streamers on social networks. Here are some highlights:
- Education platforms are mainly service oriented.
- Some have pro-gamers share advice, similar to MasterClass format.
- There are some platforms that offer P2P training advice.
- Mostly education platforms focus on a select few games – LOL, Fortnite, HearthStone, CS:GO.
Top Gaming Education Startups To Watch For:
This section covers services that help game developers raise capital to create their games. This category is important for indie game developers. The common trend among fundraising platforms is keeping the contributors engaged and a part of the development process. All fundraising platforms have a heavy vetting process before developers can list their project. Some highlights of this category:
- Fig created a Kickstarter style of fundraising for indie developers. If a developer does not meet its fundraising goal, the developer does not get any capital. Fig also develops their own games.
- Brightlocker has the same functionality as Kickstarter but contributors buy tokens to fund games. If fundraising target is not met, developers still get to keep contributions. Brightlocker shows the game development status and the contributors get to participate in the creation of the game.
- Matcherino is focused on crowdfunding for esports tournaments and teams. They build at platform to help organizers manage donations or contributions to a prize pool.
Top Gaming Fundraising Startups To Watch For:
Matcherino and Fig
This section focuses on platforms that manages esports teams or tournaments. These tools make sure teams operate in sync, manage their professional presence and they can source the best players. These tools are important for upcoming esports players and existing teams. These management tools are merging with leagues. Examples of management tools:
- DreamTeam helps teams source for new players. Free agents are verified and filtered by skill level. They also help players manage sponsorships, media rights, prize money, salaries and transfers. They also offer game play analytics and the ability to practice on their own game servers.
- ReadyUp helps teams manage their roster, events, messaging, availability and fan pages. They allow players to showcase achievements, statistics and videos of their game play.
- Guilded provides teams with forums, calendars, matchmaking and document sharing tools. They also help facilitate scrims.
- Repable offers a streamer management platform to helps brands and sponsors track engagement.
Top Gaming Management Startups To Watch For:
DreamTeam, Guilde and Repable
This section focuses on developer/brand marketing, advertising or tools to drive fan engagement. This seems to be a tough area for advertisers as a handful of startups notably closed, including IGA, Double Fusion and MZ’s Cognant. Nonetheless, advertising and sponsorships drive the majority of revenue outside of game sales. Fan engagement, marketing and advertising solutions are also becoming features of leagues. You should will see more collaboration or competition from leagues. Examples of startups within this marketing category:
Advertising: This category competes with traditional DSP, SSP and advertising platforms. Some ad networks mentioned above have closed because they had too many publishers and didn’t focus on making publishers happy. If you look at many of the app store complaints of mobile games, most report too many ads are disrupting their game play. Here are some gaming advertising startups:
- Adverty focuses on placing ads inside games to make it very immersive and non intrusive. In addition, they provide powerful analytics to help advertisers understand the success of their ad placements.
- Ad2games is a gaming focused ad agency that helps with audience engagement, website branding, TV and native advertising and fraud detection.
- Loots is focused on building video ads during streaming.
- Yodo1 is creating an ad platform for games in China. In addition, they also help developers launch games within China.
Marketing: This category is focused on player analytics, fan engagement and sponsor management. This category will blend with game management category. Here are some examples of marketing platforms:
- FanAI is creating an esports event management platform. They help brands with audience analytics. They also help teams target the right sponsors.
- Ader is focused on connecting gaming influencers with brands. They help with live streaming, youtube, tournaments, chat sentiment analytics, content creation and more.
- Playnomics, before they were acquired, helped marketers and developers predict player value and behavior, and immediately act on those insights with customized messaging.
- Monetizer helps developers offer rewards to players based on behavioral incentives.
- Indiboost is more of a PR firm but they help create press for indie developers. They also help match advertisers and developers with influencers.
Top Gaming Marketing Startups To Watch For:
FanAI and Yodo1
This section focuses on marketplaces selling gaming related items. Marketplaces and publishers are very similar. They try to differentiate by the products sold on their marketplace or how they build a community around their marketplace. Examples of some unique startups within this category:
- Overwolf created a marketplace to sell games, tools, skins, mods and more. Majority of their items are for free. It seems they are monetizing by displaying ads within their products sold. To build a community around their marketplace, they’re sponsoring Fortnite challenges and teaching gamers how to build apps.
- Robotcache helps gamers resell digital games. They’ve build their marketplace on a blockchain. To build a community, they allow players to mine coins.
- Green Man Gaming offers traditional PC, VR and Playstation games for sale. They build community through blogs, forums and a newsroom.
- Gameflip is a P2P marketplace where players can actually sell their gaming skills. In addition they sell games, collectibles, accessories, consoles, movies and more.
- Jump Gaming is offering subscription service for indie games.
- Blacknut is a subscription gaming service that lets you play their games on any device – computer, android or TV.
- Humble allows gamers to pay what they want when purchasing games.
- DMarket and Stardust is a blockchain-based marketplace for turning virtual items into real assets that can be traded between players.
Top Gaming Marketplace Startups To Watch For:
This category is focused on tools gamers or streamers can use to improve their performance or have more fun when playing. Some examples include:
- Athenascope provides computer vision tool that recaps highlights of your gameplay.
- Minkonet creates 3D replay solutions.
- Mixed Dimensions provides 3D printed game animations.
- Pwnwin creates extensions that allows viewers to vote whether in-game events occur or not.
- Facemoji creates avatars for live game streaming and video chat.
Top Gaming Tools Startups To Watch For:
Athenascope and Facemoji
Blockchain startups could have been included in other categories but I put them in a separate category just to highlight them. Blockchain startups still face the same challenges all other categories face when building gamer communities and relationships with developers. I won’t get into the details how they differentiate other than highlight the industries they are targeting.
Top Gaming Blockchain Startups To Watch For:
Mythical Games, Dapper Labs, Alphaslot, EOT, Gamedex, Hash World, Fuel Games, Unblockable, chiliZ, DMarket, Decentraland, FunFair Technologies and TOK.tv
Note: I did not include hardware or content within this article. If you have questions about these categories please contact me.
The new gaming industry is exciting to watch. It is still in its infancy. There are a couple established players but I think there is a lot of room to see new big players. Expect to see more competitions, communities, teams and leagues.
Thanks for reading my report on the gaming industry. I created these articles for personal development and to help our fund make better investment decisions. The purpose for sharing them was to encourage investors to invest more capital into the gaming industry and help gaming founders think of new ways they can differentiate their platform. I hope it helps. Apologies if there are a few grammar mistakes. Any questions, message me.