Could Esports Be the Strip’s Next Big Game-changer?

VFD Marketing sure seem to think so

The Deshe brothers. Photo by Anthony Mair

For those of us who aren’t gamers, it’s hard to imagine that there are young adults out there who can make up to seven figures playing video games. But thanks to the recent exponential growth of esports—video game competitions—talented gamers are living very much like professional athletes.

In the past few years, esports competitions have been packing venues as big as Madison Square Garden, and the industry as a whole is expected to surpass $1.5 billion by 2020.

While competitions are often hosted at varied venues, from lounges to convention centers, a permanent esports arena is opening at Luxor in early 2018—and a dedicated space for gaming competitions should bring a whole new demographic to the city.

This comes as great news for VFD Marketing, a Miami Beach-based agency with representatives in Las Vegas. The firm just took on Echo Fox, an esports franchise owned by three-time NBA champion and retired L.A. Laker Rick Fox, to provide marketing services including sponsorship procurement and management as well as website development and design. A consortium of teams, Echo Fox groups participate in a multitude of video games, including League of Legends, Gears of War 4 and Mortal Kombat X. VFD initially focused on creating branding and sponsorships in more established athletics arenas, specifically UFC.

“In traditional sports, you have the L.A. Lakers, who just participate in basketball. What we do is more like the Olympics and Echo Fox is set up like a country,” VFD founding partner Elie Deshe says. “We want [Echo Fox] to be the USA of these sports and have a great program across different events … [while wearing] the same jersey [as part of] the same team.”

Putting video gamers and Olympians in the same athletic category is not a comparison that would come naturally to most people. However, Elie and his brother Daniel, a partner at VFD, say their players are treated like athletes, just like in any other sport.

“Our athletes are training on average around eight to 12 hours a day,” Elie says. “And, in addition to that, they also go to the gym every day to work out to get physical exercise so that they have the stamina when the games are being played.”

As Elie explains, the high level of competition and fan base around the game are what draw out the similarities between esports and other traditional sports.

“There’s practice, teamwork, strategy, stamina and endurance. It’s probably hard for some people to recognize it right away as a sport. There are some people who think that NASCAR drivers or golfers aren’t real athletes. I think most people who really appreciate [those] sports can recognize [those participants] as athletes as well.”

The fan base behind gaming is massive. The 2016 World Championship finals of League of Legends achieved a peak of 14.7 million concurrent views—about the same as the PGA’s Masters tournament. And, Las Vegas being the cutting-edge epicenter of entertainment that it is, it’s no surprise local entities are investing big. Beyond the worldwide support of the industry, there are many high-profile names attached to esports.

“[Rick Fox] was the first traditional sports celebrity to come into the space and validate what these kids do,” Daniel says. “After Rick, you saw a lot of dominos falling. Shaq came in, A-Rod, all these people started investing. NBA owners started buying teams. Rick was the linchpin in really making esports mainstream.”

While esports is quickly becoming more conventional, the average Las Vegas consumer is still unlikely to know what the sport is. But the addition of the Luxor arena has the potential to bring in a long list of monetization opportunities. There’s a worldwide audience of adults who not only play, but also would pay to watch the best in the world face off in a place where the production and experience are at their pinnacle.

The 30,000-square-foot space will feel just like any other sporting arena, with seating surrounding the competition stage, top-quality LED screens and food and beverage offerings.

Esports competitions are expected to reach a live viewership level of 6.7 billion by 2018. The World Championship at Los Angeles’ Staples Center sold out in less than an hour and had 43 million live viewers. TBS is airing Eleague games in prime-time slots, and ESPN and Yahoo also have dedicated coverage. The demand for the sport is high and is only getting higher.

Will esports one day surpass the Super Bowl in viewership? At least right now, that’s no longer an unbelievable idea.