If you’re an avid esports follower, you know that the industry is going through a challenging time. Gaming and lifestyle brand 100 Thieves laid off about 20 percent of its workforce earlier this month (its second round of layoffs this year). Esports organization Evil Geniuses also went through layoffs and is possibly looking for a merger or acquisition deal, while seeing high-profile departures and dropping entire rosters. And, amid major financial losses and cultural problems, FaZe Clan was acquired by Gamesquare, which also owns Complexity, at a significantly lower price than its one-time $725 million valuation.
They’re enough to make anyone worry, whether you’re a fan or someone who wants to get a job in the industry. But, while she’s sad to see all of these hardships, Anne Banschbach, Esports Director at the French organization Team Vitality, doesn’t see any need to panic yet. “This contraction doesn’t come out of nowhere if you look at life cycles of companies in general or industries that are fairly new. That, paired with the fact that esports was really fortunate to survive the COVID period like we did — we were able to go back online and still cater to fans — so of course there’s a little dip in things,” she said during Thursday's Refinery29 Twitch stream. “We also experienced a bit of a bubble environment. Everyone was super excited about esports — it was a new, shiny thing that was going to explode. … There were hopes that we could commercialize that better, but now we’ve woken up to the reality and we need to do a bit of spring cleaning.”
Speaking with Refinery29 Entertainment Director and Twitch host Melissah Yang, Banschbach — who oversaw Team Vitality’s wins at BLAST.tv CSGO Paris Major and the Rocket League World Championship this year — explained that it’s not all bad news. Esports is still growing, just at a slower rate than in previous years. Still, more people in the mainstream are catching on, and, as Banschbach points out, after every downturn comes another rise. “Of course, we’ve had to look at and reevaluate our path to profitability as well. Our goal is to make esports — not just Vitality — sustainable,” she says. “I don’t foresee this as the end of esports. We call this the esports winter, and usually after winter, spring is right around the corner.”
In Banschbach’s view, organizations need to be smarter and more intentional with their choices (and spending) across the board. For Vitality, that means focusing on nurturing one project at a time rather than spreading themselves thin. Why try to branch out into other segments, like apparel or marketing gimmicks, or with more rosters, when they can use those resources to do what they do at an even higher level?
Making more mindful choices also means reaching out to demographics and communities who aren’t being targeted. Women account for roughly half of all gamers, yet only about 35 percent of esports fans. Banschbach and the whole Vitality team spend a lot of time thinking about how the industry at large can close the gender gap in the esports scene, both on the fan side and in terms of competitors. After all, converting more people into fans means more potential for profit and longevity.
We call this the esports winter, and usually after winter, spring is right around the corner.
Esports Director, Team vitality
Esports Director, Team vitality
That’s part of why Vitality signed the French Bees, its first all-women League of Legends team, earlier this year. “For me, [this was] the next logical step,” she says. “I’m going to be honest: I’m not here to only build female teams next to the pro teams, because they’re not called ‘male’ teams or ‘men’s’ teams. They’re called pro teams, and no rulebook has ever said they need to be [all] men.”
So, for Banschbach, signing the French Bees was also a step towards addressing larger industry problems. Now, this group of women will have development support, the time needed to hone their skills, and opportunities to compete at smaller tournaments so that they can, hopefully, work their way up. All women competitors need to be afforded the space to do so. And that, of course, comes back to the issue of money.
“LEC players didn’t just turn up one day [at League of Legends EMEA Championships] and were that good. They’ve had academy training, coaches, performance staff, nutritionists, personal trainers, and chefs. They’ve had time to work on their stuff,” Banschbach says, adding that this usually doesn’t happen on the women’s scene. “There is less of a pipeline of talent [for women]. … We want women to have the chances and to go from there, and it should not just be a marketing gig. It should not just be something we do to tick a box, but because we really believe in it.”
Progress is already starting to happen — Banschbach points to Riot Games’ VCT Game Changers as an example. But she also wants to see more demand from fans and increased financial support from companies, whether that means providing better production value for smaller tournaments women compete at (encouraging more engaged viewership), or thinking more carefully about how their money can be used to foster talent even as they try to become more profitable. “Luckily, we’re also at the point in time where our partners are interested in [women’s esports] … and really want to have meaningful storylines created around it,” she says of Vitality’s current efforts. “They really want a path to pro for women, they want to see it over the years, and they understand it can’t happen in three months — it’s a long-term project. But they’re here for the long-term, and that’s awesome to see. That’s the best support you can have.”