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The future success of esports teams won't hinge on how much they can mirror the traditional sports industry, but rather on how much they can channel the magic of the Mouse House.
That's according to Carlos Rodriguez, founder and CEO of G2, one of the world's most well-known esports organizations, which managed to raise over $17 million in its last funding round in February. While it may be tempting to compare esports (short for "electronic sports") teams to the traditional sports industry, Rodriguez, who is a Forbes Sports & Games 30 Under 30 nominee, says esports are a whole different ball game thanks to the industry's dedication to digital content.
"When you talk about an esports team, you're already thinking about the L.A. Lakers of esports," said Rodriguez. "But we're not just the Lakers. We're also Disney."
A competitive edge may have earned Rodriguez's team its fandom, but the founder stresses the bread and butter of the business actually lies with media deals and branded content. "It's the content we generate, the IP we create, how we sell content, how creative we are on social media and how we're ahead of the curve on all those fronts," he said.
In fact, one of the biggest drivers that will take esports past the billion-dollar revenue mark, according to research firm Newzoo, is media deals in the space. The firm estimates that these deals will account for over a third of the total revenue generated in esports this year.
While many of these deals will be like the major partnerships signed last year between leagues, networks, and streaming platforms like Twitch, Rodriguez sees more deals being inked between teams like G2 and major broadcasters.
"We don't care that much whether the investors and brands consider esports as a sport, we care about entertaining," he said. "We are a branch of entertainment. The tournaments are a great way to accomplish that."
Rodriguez believes that you can even take that vision further. Given how dedicated many teams are to creating their own content, he wouldn't put it past esports organizations to create their own Netflix or Hulu – streaming services for their own in-house content that fans can pay a subscription fee to access.
"It ties into content, it ties into merch, it ties into making sure anybody can have full access to showcase that fandom in any way possible," he explained. "People nowadays are paying thousands to make their biggest idols and creators happy, why wouldn't that be part of it?"
Newzoo projects that the esports industry will generate over one billion dollars in revenue for the first time this year.