Blast, the esports tournament organiser owned by RFRSH Entertainment, has secured €12.5m ($13.5m) in a funding round led by Rocket Software chief executive Johan Gedda.
The round also included contributions from Denmark’s sovereign wealth fund, Vækstfonden, as well as existing venture capital investors Creandum, Heartcore and Maki. The funding round was largely secured via video conferencing software.
Blast chief executive Robbie Douek told SportBusiness that Gedda’s involvement will accelerate the company’s plans to build its own streaming platform.
Blast wants to offer enhanced coverage of its tournaments, experiment with new production techniques and create a direct relationship with consumers and fans.
Douek said: “We like working with Twitch and all of our current partners, and we’ll carry on working with them in the short to medium term – maybe even the longer term. But we know that consumers want more.
“We have been watching Counter Strike in the same way for the past six or seven years. That doesn’t make much sense to us. Fans want to have an integrated experience and that’s where we thought there was an opportunity to develop our own direct-to-consumer play. That’s where we’re going to focus our effort.”
Blast is also keen to improve its understanding of customers and fans. Much like rights-holders across esports and traditional sports, Blast distributes its content on third-party platforms that collect and control data on its fans’ preferences and behaviour. The company is keen to cut out the middle-man in order to improve its marketing efforts.
Douek observed: “Why is Netflix so successful? Because they own that relationship.
“It’s difficult to build a relationship and understand what your consumer wants from a content perspective if you don’t own that relationship. It’s important for us to have a better understanding from a data perspective.”
Blast has specialised in Counter Strike: Global Offensive tournaments and leagues since its inception two-and-a-half years ago, often experimenting with new tournament formats, production techniques and marketing plays. Blast will soon begin experimenting with other games such as Dota 2.
The combination of lofty tech ambitions, rapid growth and a will to experiment attracted Gedda to the company, despite the fact he and Douek had never met in person.
Douek explained: “It really depends on the VC [venture capital] fund or the investor. There were certain investors that really wanted to be part of this round, but they really wanted to see the whites of our eyes and meet the rest of the team. They don’t want to do it on Zoom or Google Hangouts.
“Some VCs say they are weathering the storm and are protecting their portfolios. But there are others seeing that there’s an opportunity here to pivot and invest in a company that is going to go gangbusters.”
Blast has expanded quickly since its initial tournament in Copenhagen back in December 2017 and has since become one of esports’ top-tier tournament organisers, not least due to continued support from the Danish government and other Scandinavian investors.
Douek says that Blast pitches itself as a sports-entertainment business with esports at its core, which has helped the company secure blue-chip investors and sponsors such as Red Bull, Sony, HP, Burger King and Toyota.