Porn company to be official sponsor of eSports team

Team YP
Source: YouPorn
Team YP

One of the largest streaming porn sites is extending its reach into the video game world.

YouPorn, one of the portfolio holdings of MindGeek (formerly Manwin), has locked in a six-month sponsorship of the Madrid, Spain-based team known as Play2Win. The team will compete this Friday in the Gamergy competition in Madrid under the name Team YP.

The site began publicly mulling the idea of an eSports sponsorship in July with a tweet. The flurry of reaction spurred YouPorn to follow through.

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"We're so psyched to finally make our official entry into gaming and eSports," said Brad Burns, vice president of YouPorn in a statement. "This partnership has been a long time coming, and I believe that with our backing, along with the expertise that each member of Team YP brings to the table on the virtual battlefield, we can succeed in tearing through the competition."

Professional gaming—dubbed eSports—can be a confusing topic for non gamers, but it has exploded onto the pop culture scene in the past three years. The field gathers the top players in the world in games that range from Activision-Blizzard's "Call of Duty" and "Hearthstone" to Nintendo's "Super Smash Bros."

While the idea of watching people play video games may sound dull, the speed and efficiency at which some of these players compete is on par with the NBA or NFL. And the fan base is rabidly enthusiastic. Last year's League of Legends finals sold out the 15,000 seat Staples Center in Los Angeles (home of the LA Lakers) in under an hour. (Scalpers were soon commanding prices of up to $2,000 per seat, having paid somewhere between $45 and $100 originally.)

Team YP specializes in games like "HearthStone: Heroes of Warcraft," "League of Legends" and the popular "Warcraft III" offshoot, "Defense of the Ancients (DOTA) 2." That could make its new sponsor problematic in future tournaments. Many tournaments have policies that prohibit any advertising content promoting sites or products of a sexual nature.

To avoid that, the Team YP jerseys don't mention the YouPorn name—or have the site's URL or branding on them.

"We don't want the to steal the thunder from the actual team by exploiting our logo all over the place, so we're choosing to stick onlyTeam YP, that way the focus is on the actual gameplay, and what YP stands for is implied in the branding and logo itself," Burns says.

Even with the subdued branding, though, TeamYP may have to reduce the focus on one of its specialty titles. Riot Games says the team would not be allowed to play in either the professional or talent-building tiers of its League of Legends tournaments.

"Our rules prevent any [League Challenger Series] or Challenger teams from sponsorship agreements with companies who represent pornographic material," the company told CNBC.com.

Additionally, the increased focus on sexism in games and surrounding the game industry in recent months could add another layer of difficulty for the team. As developers reassess how women are portrayed in their games and tournaments strive to become more inclusive, a team sponsored by a company that features graphic videos where women are often dominated by men may not be welcome.

While the company won't be branded at tournaments, the viral nature of the Internet and word of mouth will likely help spread the word of its involvement in the field. And should Team YP start to chalk up victories, it could be a lucrative endorsement.

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The best eSports athletes earn a level of celebrity on par with traditional pro athletes—and many earn a health living doing so. Lee "Jaedong" Jae Dong, a 25-year-old South Korean who specializes in "StarCraft II," has earned more than $504,000 over 47 tournaments. And Johnathan "Fatal1ty" Wendel has pocketed over $450,000 in tournaments (and a lot more in endorsement deals).

The eSports audience largely tends to be made up of people in their 20s and 30s who spend a lot of time in front of their computers—and is the sort of audience the porn industry covets, which gives some insight into YouPorn's decision.

And with the number of game tournaments out there, that's plenty of exposure—though the team and YouPorn haven't yet decided where their next stop will be.

"Gamergy is step one," Burns says. "We'll definitely be attending more tournaments and events moving forward, but we have yet to discuss with the team what's next on the radar for competition participation."