eSports Monetization Analysis: 100 Thieves, the Future of eSports Monetization?
100 Thieves represents the future of monetization for eSports organizations. While traditionally, eSports organizations focused on building the best teams to compete for the championship title, 100 Thieves concentrate on building their brand around influencers, content creators, and merchandise. This creative new strategy could be attributed to a combined effort from Dan Gilbert, the owner of Cleveland Cavaliers, along with celebrity investors like Drake and Scooter Braun.
Very early on, the team hired Doug Barber, the former brand manager of Reigning Champ, a Canadian streetwear brand that has previously collaborated with Adidas, Converse, NBA, and Major League Soccer as their VP of Brand and Apparel. With Barber’s experience in the Streetwear industry, 100 Thieves began producing merchandise and apparel heavily inspired by popular streetwear brands like Supreme and Off-White. Additionally, these apparels were not immediately available to the public, instead were released during “drops” inspired by the streetwear industry. “Drop,” a common brand management strategy in the streetwear industry, is a form of hostile brand management, which means that new products are released on specific dates in limited quantities. According to Harvard professor, Youngme Moon, “hostile brands are brands that play hard to get. Instead of laying down the welcome mat, they lay down a gauntlet…In this regard, hostile brands don’t market in the classical sense of the term; they anti-market.” In essence, hostile brands refuse to follow traditional marketing strategies that cater to the biggest audience possible. Instead, they make the process of acquiring their products quite challenging to access, and thus, add more value. Using their army of influencers and their professional teams, 100 Thieves began promoting their merchandise on streams.
Additionally, 100 Thieves signed on big-name content creators and influencers across Twitch and YouTube, such as Valkyrae, Yassuo, CourageJD, and BrookeAB. The acquisition of content creators and influencers was a strategic plan by the newly formed team to gain more brand recognition across the gaming industry. Furthermore, the content creators working for the team would also promote new merchandise sold by the team.
In January 2020, 100 Thieves announced their new headquarter, the 100 Thieves Cash App Compound. This compound was created with several investments coming from sponsors with the majority of investment coming from Cash App, a subsidiary of Square Inc. Some of the other sponsors included Red Bull, Chipotle, Totino’s Pizza Roll, Rocket Mortgage (sponsoring the League of Legends training room), NZXT (sponsoring computers), Razer (sponsoring mouse and keyboard), and Secret Labs (sponsoring gaming chairs). Despite being a relatively young team, with only 2 years of history, 100 Thieves were able to secure several major sponsors using stellar marketing and brand management strategies. Furthermore, aside from their sponsors, the team has received 16 investments from several VCs all on the premise of “enabling eSports fans to support the teams in major league competitions and acquire merchandise to further show their love and support.” These major investments and sponsors investing in 100 Thieves despite its short history and mediocre team performances represent why effective branding and merchandising are the future of eSports monetization.