Bluehole Denies Reports Of Tencent Investment
Late last week, reports emerged that Player Unknown: Battlegrounds (PUBG) game developer Bluehole Studio had taken on investment by Chinese internet giant Tencent. Few were surprised by the rumor, since Tencent has gone on an acquisition spree over the last several years in the gaming space, most notably fully acquiring League of Legends developer Riot Games for an undisclosed sum in late 2015 and taking a majority stake in mobile game studio phenom Supercell for $8.6 billion last year.
Bluehole denied the reports on Tuesday to multiple news outlets, clarifying that “These reports are not accurate. Tencent didn’t make an investment into Bluehole.”
Tencent has a reputation for aggressively acquiring game studios producing top-tier games and being comfortable paying top dollar to do so. Bluehole certainly fits that bill as creator of runaway hit PUBG, which sold more than 4 million copies in its first three months and is the only game not developed by Riot, Activision Blizzard, or Valve to consistently top the most-watched games list on Twitch.
We would certainly take Bluehole at their word that Tencent has not made an investment into Bluehole directly, but it would be surprising if Tencent hadn’t at least explored the possibility of making an investment in Bluehole given their dominant position and appetite for acquisitions in the games market. Indeed, some reports from South Korea indicate that Tencent has been quietly reaching out to VC funds and other Bluehole shareholders in connection with its interest in acquiring a stake in the studio.
These rumors are reminiscent of Tencent’s acquisition of mobile game titan Supercell, as Tencent acquired a majority stake in the company through its primary shareholder, SoftBank, with some reports indicating that Supercell was initially resistant to acquisition by Tencent, though ultimately the deal went through and Supercell was complimentary about Tencent as a partner once it was made public.
Bluehole has enjoyed incredible success with PUBG, and it will be interesting to see how they respond to Tencent’s reported interest in the coming months. If reports of Tencent’s interest are accurate, history suggests they will find a way to work together with Bluehole.
Big Weekend for Team Liquid
Team Liquid had quite the weekend. The weekend began with TL’s League of Legends team competing in the NA LCS Promotion Tournament against eUnited. After winning a best-of-three matchup against eUnited, TL advanced to face Phoenix1 with the winner securing the potential lower buy-in price. TL came out victorious for their first major win of the weekend.
Next, Team Liquid’s Dota 2 team fought their way out of the loser’s bracket to secure a spot in the finals of this year’s The International, the Dota 2 Championship. Liquid won and was rewarded with the largest prize in the history of esports: $10.8M. Finally, on Sunday, NuckleDu, a Street Fighter 5 player for Liquid won Summer Jam XI against a formidable opponent, Punk.
This incredible weekend for Team Liquid should bolster the team’s brand and fan engagement after two disasterous LCS splits. Although this year’s promotion tournament did not send the losing teams down a division, a loss would mean Team Liquid would have to pay $13M in franchise fees as an outside organization instead of the $10M fee for incumbent teams. Both of these fees are subject to Team Liquid being accepted into the new look NA LCS. However, the promotion tournament win creates another storyline that may strengthen the case for TL’s acceptance into the LCS next season.
Team Liquid’s Championship win will go down in history for largest prize pool in esports ($24.5M) and largest first place prize ($10.8M). While League of Legends, the most popular esport, moves away from eye popping prize pools and players are compensated with higher guaranteed salaries, the main competitor continues to break records year after year for largest prize pool. It is an unreliable source of income for these players but does succeed in engaging fans and generating revenues for Valve (publisher of Dota 2). The crowd sourced prize pool makes fans feel invested in the tournament because 25% of all revenue from digital goods sold during this time go towards The International’s prize pool.
Finally, NuckleDu’s win against Punk in Summer Jam XI was another win for TL in a different game genre. Although the tournament was overlooked by many outsiders with the two MOBA events going on during this weekend, TL showed their dominance across multiple games and genres. There is not much overlap between hardcore fans of each game, so TL’s strong weekend will be felt by several segments of the esports fan base.
NCAA To Consider Adopting Esports
According to a report by ESPN, the NCAA’s board of governors will revisit the topic of collegiate esports when they meet again in October. There isn’t much belief that esports will fall under the NCAA’s umbrella, but it will be discussed.
The National Association of Collegiate Esports currently serves as the governing body for more than 20 universities with varsity esports teams. The group’s executive director, Michael Brooks, said he would want to see major changes in the NCAA structure and doesn’t believe that esports will be adopted.
My initial reaction to the news involves a level of aversion. The NCAA certainly comes with a stigma these days, having been disparaged in recent years for its lack of transparency and restrictive policies. While the NCAA can offer collegiate esports increased structure and exposure, the limitations that stem from NCAA involvement may not be worth it. The NACE already provides collegiate esports with a legitimate governing body and possesses the wherewithal to coordinate large events. By maintaining its sovereignty, it would also bestow independence upon the athletes that those under NCAA jurisdiction can’t enjoy.
Most collegiate esports athletes are motivated by some combination of scholarship money and love of the game. Seeing as professional esports athletes usually make that decision before college, we should treat collegiate esports athletes as the amateurs that they truly are. The ability to get part-time jobs, enjoy other extra-curricular activities, and basically be a normal college student is a freedom not known by most varsity athletes. Restricting these for true amateurs who aren’t using college sports as a pseudo-minor league would be a mistake.
In addition, NCAA involvement could actually limit the growth of collegiate esports, instead of enabling its proliferation. Although Title IX has been a tremendous tool in promoting equality in sports, it has had a notably inhibiting affect on many male athletic programs. Due to the act, some male sports programs must often be sacrificed in order to stay in accordance with the law’s requirements.
What that means is, if esports, a male dominated field, were to become an NCAA recognized sport, schools would have to either add a female equivalent or drop another male program in order to have an esports team. Undoubtedly, this would create a huge barrier to entry for schools hoping to get involved.
Collegiate esports ought to maintain the essence of amateurism that has truly escaped the scope of the NCAA; while competitive, the esports community is ultimately defined by its inclusive and fun nature, something that I fear would be lost.