There’s one crucial question at the heart of every esports organisation’s goals. How do we monetise fandom?
They may have tons of passionate fans but merchandise sales, sponsorships, and the occasional live event just aren’t enough to bring in enough revenue to make esports organisations profitable.
This isn’t a unique problem to esports. Silicon Valley is filled with companies who have tons of users but aren’t turning a profit yet. The goal is to simply reach critical mass. Recently companies like Twitter have gone from operating in the red to the green after over a decade of scaling. The secret, for better or for worse, was user data.
Yesterday, Team Liquid announced the creation of Liquid+, a gamified home for fans to connect with each other and get rewarded with prizes. While the organisation does not plan to sell user data like social media companies, a platform like Liquid+ gives them access to valuable information.
To use the platform, fans connect their various online accounts to Liquid+. Then, when they watch a Liquid streamer or comment on an LCS game thread on Reddit, they are rewarded with points on Liquid+.
“We wanted to create something like the stadium feel of traditional sports,” said Victor Goossens, Co-CEO and Founder of Team Liquid, to Esports Insider. “Esports has a lot of cool aspects, we are a digital sport with fans all across the world, but we don’t really have a place for fans to come together. We can bring fans together to celebrate in one place like traditional sports fans – at least used to do – in their stadiums.”
In all, Reddit, Twitch, Twitter, and Discord are integrated on Liquid+. It’s an interesting slate of platforms, namely because the vast majority of users on all of them except Twitter are anonymous. Compared to platforms like Instagram and Facebook, the user bases on these platforms are more secretive by design. While the platform rewards connecting those accounts to Liquid+, Goossens doesn’t think it is crucial to enjoying the platform.
“You can still get a lot of things out of the platform even if you don’t connect all your accounts,” he explained. “The team has done a good job figuring out the point systems and making sure you can still get rewarded even though everyone has their own personal tendencies and maybe isn’t connecting all the platforms.”
As for what Team Liquid gets out of the platform, the main benefit is information in the form of user data. Being able to quantify the fan base gives better data to prospective partners and allows the organisation to engage with fans in the most effective way.
“Throughout my entire life, I’ve enjoyed making decisions by being informed,” Goossens said. “Whether that was as a StarCraft player or a poker player or running Liquid, I love to get people’s input and use that feedback to make good decisions. Us understanding our fans better is going to be valuable in a ton of different places. Being informed leads to better leadership and we are able to accomplish that [with Liquid+].”
Again, Team Liquid does not plan to adopt the model used by social media companies by selling user data to advertisers. The information it gathers through the platform will only be used to guide internal decision-making and reward fans. Privacy is also a key concern for the team.
“We are fully GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) compliant and we have someone in that role making sure user data is protected,” Goossens said. “A lot of what is in GDPR is what we philosophically and fundamentally believe. Even though GDPR is a European regulation, we are holding ourselves to that standard worldwide. We are not going to sell individual user data and we have committed to that in our terms of service. Internally you aren’t going to find anyone in Liquid who even wants to do that.”
The other major benefit, and the one most tangible upon launch, is a better way to bring brand partners closer to the fans. Rewarding fandom with branded products is a great way to cement the brand partnership.
“We are able to integrate our partners into the platform,” Goossens said. “If we did a sponsored event or a sponsored stream, we are able to connect that to redeeming points and asking people to tune in if they’re looking to collect those points. We are also able to use partner products as rewards, there are a lot of cool applications for partners on the platform.”
The fan response to the launch was great. Within hours, Team Liquid closed the beta sign up. The launch of the platform itself is planned for December and the organisation will be opening up the beta periodically until then.
Clearly Team Liquid’s fans have been looking for a place to gather and they now have that in Liquid+. As stadiums in traditional sports remain empty, Team Liquid’s digital meeting ground could be a precursor to similar applications across esports and sports alike.