Bumble is swiping right on the esports industry by partnering with one of the world's biggest teams.
The women-first social networking platform announced Tuesday that it has partnered with Gen.G, a global esports organization originally founded in South Korea.
It will sponsor Team Bumble, Gen.G's first-ever all-female team, which will consist of professional Fortnite players. Additionally, the platform will become the official partner for Kristen Valnicek – known widely as KittyPlays – a content creator and Twitch streamer who Gen.G named the head of new gaming initiatives back in October.
The partnership's core mission is to essentially connect and empower women who are gamers, with Chelsea Maclin, Bumble's vice president of marketing, emphasizing the company's desire to "support the women building incredible communities in gaming."
Women make up 46% of the over 166 million adults in the U.S. who play video games, according to the Entertainment Software Association. This represents a slight increase from 2018 when the association found that 45% of the American gaming population was made up of women.
But given that the gaming industry has traditionally been male-dominated, Maclin said connecting female gamers has become paramount to not only fostering healthy communities, but to growing gaming and esports as a whole.
"I think we can help esports grow by making it easier for gamers to find and build meaningful relationships with other players in their neighborhood," she said in an interview.
The desire to build those connections is there. Maclin said Bumble's research showed gamers were using Bumble BFF, the friendship-finding mode of the Bumble app, to try and find fellow gamers. The app now has a "gaming" tag that can help users sift through and locate gamers more easily.
"We also know that playing games with others helps people form more meaningful connections," she said. "Healthy, equitable relationships are at the core of Bumble's DNA, and it's important for us to partner with communities that help us fulfill this mission."
Bumble has components on its app for dating, friendship and professional networking, and has more than 65 million users worldwide.
But the search for other female gamers can be difficult. While almost half of the U.S. gaming population is made up of women, various research over the years has suggested that women are still less likely to publicly identify as gamers than men given a lot of widely held perceptions about gaming and the lack of support for women that still permeates much of the space.
"I've never had women friends I've connected with specifically around a love of video games, and it'd just be nice to make some," said one user who wrote to CNBC. The person wished not to be identified for fear of being harassed online, but said she wanted to connect with fellow female gamers after she picked gaming back up as a hobby following a hiatus in her late 20s. (Bumble said it has a zero-tolerance policy for harassment, hate speech and misogyny. Users can block or report any other user to Bumble's moderation team.)
She had set the Bumble app's "gaming" filter to help her, but the one person she found with the filter didn't live in her area.
"The app let me know that there's no one else with the 'gaming' filter on in my area," she added. "So just finding other women, or femme folx, with that shared interest is a challenge even on an app that seems like it has decent functionality to facilitate that."
Chris Park, Gen.G CEO and a former Major League Baseball executive, also wants to achieve this with the Bumble partnership.
"A central part of our mission and thesis as a company is that this generation of gamers is not only bigger today than most people realize, but is going to grow to larger proportions than people realize," he said. "A critical element of that is giving voice to the big segments of the community that are emerging and have a real significant place on streaming platforms, tournaments and casual fans."
He added esports audiences tend to engage with media in a more active way than their traditional sports counterparts and older generations.
"They've been empowered by the explosion of media tech, and they have great sensibilities as content creators themselves," Park said. "So they're not the passive audience that we've seen in past generations, they're active supporters who are able to take the objects of their fandom to the next level."
That has already led Bumble to think of new ways to use the tools at their disposal for a more digitally heavy and interactive audience.
"Video calls are now available on Bumble on all three platforms: Date, BFF and Bizz," said Maclin. "We're certainly thinking through ways we can integrate video calls into our partnership with Gen.G. One idea is to have [KittyPlays] connect with other gamer girls through video calls on Bumble BFF as part of our 'Asking for a Friend' program."
Bumble's partnership with Gen.G gives the platform access to an industry that research firm Newzoo predicts will generate more than $1 billion in revenue for the first time this year, up 27% year over year. The total global esports audience is expected to growth of 15% by the end of the year to about 454 million, the researcher said.