Intel® Extreme Masters (IEM) Cologne 2023 was incredible. The sold-out LANXESS arena in Cologne once again lived up to its name as the “Cathedral of Counter-Strike”. But besides the thrilling action of the best teams in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive battling it out on stage, there was also a lot to explore and experience behind the scenes.
For the second year in a row, we have collaborated with AWS for Games to host the Bayes Esports Roundtable. AWS for Games shares our vision of a sustainable esports ecosystem and is equally committed to finding ways to unite the industry around this cause. With such an industry giant by our side, we were able to bring together some of the most influential decision-makers in esports. This year, a star-studded panel of esports giants discussed “The past, present, and future of esports”. Joining our CEO and Managing Director at Bayes Esports, Martin Dachselt, were Jens Hilgers, Founding General Partner at BITKRAFT and co-founder of ESL, G2 Esports, and Bayes Esports, Ulrich Schulze, SVP Game Ecosystems at the ESL FACEIT Group, Alban Dechelotte, CEO at G2 Esports, and Christoph Thann, EMEA Director Esports at Ubisoft.
With representatives from some of the largest tournament organizers, professional esports teams, esports data and service providers, and game developers in the world, as well as the man who kickstarted the esports industry in Germany in the late 90s, this Roundtable gave everyone in attendance fantastic insights into the world of esports.
From the humble beginnings to current roadblocks and fields that show massive potential for the future of esports, let us take you through our second annual Bayes Esports Roundtable at IEM Cologne moderated by Max Groebe, Senior Account Manager at AWS for Games.
The beginnings of the German esports industry we know today were largely defined by one man: Jens Hilgers. He co-founded ESL, co-founded IEM Cologne 2023 Champions G2 Esports, and co-founded us, Bayes Esports. It is safe to say that without him, esports, especially in Germany, would not be where it is today. As such, it felt only right that it was he who opened the Roundtable discussion when he was asked what led him to pioneer esports in the late 90s.
Hilgers stated that it was his passion for competitive gaming that motivated him. Games such as Quake inspired him to create platforms that enabled other, similarly-minded people to come together to compete and socialize. In 2000 he wanted to bring that passion to the biggest of stages and co-founded ESL. “I wanted to create the NFL of esports, building the stage so that competitive gaming may be enjoyed by fans worldwide,” explained Jens. Since then, ESL has grown to be the biggest esports organization in the world and has been merged with FACEIT in 2022 to create the ESL FACEIT Group in a deal worth $1.5 bn.
Its success gave Hilgers the opportunity to take a step back and realize that there were many other areas in esports that still needed to be built up. With G2 Esports, he founded the prototype of a modern and successful esports team. Bayes Esports set in motion the movement for a regulated and official esports data market. Through BITKRAFT, a venture capital firm that specializes in esports, he is now supporting the next revolutionary ideas in esports from their very beginnings.
Through his unbridled passion for competitive gaming and esports, Hilgers has paved the way for the esports industry of today. An industry that, despite its successes, is seemingly still struggling to find the widespread recognition it deserves.
One of the most burning questions in today's esports industry was also a hot topic at the Roundtable: “Will esports ever be mainstream?”. Alban Dechelotte of G2 Esports answered: “Slowy, but surely, yes. It will happen organically in the long run. The question is if we can accelerate that process. We cannot miss the opportunities we are given and create an ecosystem that allows esports players to become athletes.” His answer tied into a sentiment shared across all panellists. With every generation that grows up with competitive gaming, the esports audience will grow as well, not only in age but also in size. Esports, as a result, will become more naturally ingrained in society as time passes.
However, during that discussion, Ulrich Schulze of the ESL FACEIT Group raised an important question: “How much more mainstream do we want esports to get? We are selling out the LANXESS arena every year. Other sports cannot do that.” With millions of fans worldwide being enthralled by esports and a plethora of game titles selling out arenas all over the world, perhaps the question can no longer be: “When will esports become mainstream?”, but instead has to be: “When will we realize that it already is?”
Esports might never be able to reach the older generations, and fans selling out the LANXESS arena to watch video games being played competitively might not be newsworthy for most mainstream audiences. But that also does not have to be its ambition. Esports is doing great as is, and there is plenty to look forward to.
The future of esports is looking bright, even if the industry is currently experiencing a recession. The esports boom during the COVID pandemic led to a lot of overinvestments. The consequences of which many esports organizations and teams are feeling today.
Still, Jens Hilgers remains calm and advises to be patient: “What investors need to understand is that esports growth is linear. Unlike other trends, it does not rely on groundbreaking technology but on its audience and fans. It is not a hype topic. There is a limit to how it can grow. But that also allows it to consolidate and develop a more stable ecosystem over the years.”
As for the areas that show the most potential for esports in the coming years, Ubisoft’s Christoph Thann identified that there is more to competitive gaming than just the head-to-head competitions we associate with esports. “All games can be competitive, for example, through Speedrunning, where players compete to try and finish a game in the shortest amount of time. We want to shift our focus from purely the esports ecosystem to also encourage competitive gaming in all kinds of games.” By not limiting oneself to established esports titles, Ubisoft can tap into the competitive nature of gamers through a variety of different approaches, ultimately accelerating the growth of competitive gaming as a whole.
Bayes Esports’ Martin Dachselt made the case for the accessibility of data being esports biggest avenue for improvement. “Neither casual players nor professional teams have access to all of the data from all of the esports titles. That is something that needs to change in order for game theories in esports to progress. Compared to chess, where there is data and game theory of thousands of different opening variations and concepts, game theory in esports is in its baby shoes. Data is necessary for the level of play to improve.”
Furthermore, Dachselt pointed out the importance of data for tournament organizers and game developers, as they need video data in particular to create engaging content, such as highlight videos for their fans. While terabytes of such data do exist, processing it is a resource and time-intensive endeavor. “We need to make that data more easily available and accessible, for both tournament organizers and for the community,” Dachselt summarized.
It has been an incredible and insightful panel to be a part of. We want to once again extend our gratitude to AWS for Games for hosting the Roundtable, to the ESL FACEIT Group for providing the perfect backdrop, and, of course, to our guests Jens Hilgers, Alban Dechelotte, Christoph Thann, and Ulrich Schulze for taking part in the discussion.
See you all again next year for the third annual Bayes Esports Roundtable!
Niklas is a working student here at Bayes Esports. Having started playing League of Legends back in season 1, he is one of our resident LoL Esports experts. If he is not at his PC playing games, chances are he is either sleeping or watching football.
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