Last March 10 was a black day for the Giants of Malaga, the most successful club in the Professional Video Game League (LVP). The stands of his stadium, where professional players compete, were full. There were a hundred people dressed with flags, official equipment and megaphones. They had songs prepared and cheered like the fans of any football stadium. Only flares were missing. They motivated their team, which was playing for access to the playoffs of the League of Legends (LOL) competition. They lost and were left out of the fight for a title they had won the previous year. Without time to assimilate defeat, they have been reinforced to resume the path of victory in a tournament that has just started the competition again. Every year it goes more. In Spain, the professional league has an average audience of 600,000 people per game — more than many sports — and a turnover of 34 million euros. There are already fifty teams, including those promoted by soccer players like Casemiro or David de Gea. Also Gerard Piqué, who together with Ibai Llanos has founded KOI, just the club that left the Giants without possibilities that spring night.
The latest report on the video game industry in Spain says that there are 18 million users and that the turnover exceeded 1,795 million euros. It also reflects that eSports generate 820 direct jobs and predicts rapid economic growth. With a budget of 3.5 million euros, the Giants are one of the most powerful clubs on that scene. In their 12 years of history they have gone from being a group of fans to having a structure that includes 50 employees and a gaming house. In its facilities there is a trophy room, a kitchen, offices and an area with stands called a stadium, where professionals train and compete. To attract the best, the club seduces them with a house with a pool in Alhaurín de la Torre and many facilities, as well as support to develop their personal brand on networks. The Giants do not disclose the salary of their players. The sector encrypts the average salary of these and the rest of the around 300 in Spain between 2,000 and 4,000 euros per month. Some more. Others less. Always with the limit of the minimum interprofessional salary, that is, 1,000 euros per month. They are around 20 years old.
At the head of the Malaga club are Virginia Calvo and José R. Díaz. Both entered the world of computing in 2004 with the creation of Atlas. His company began as a wholesaler of computer cases or cooling supplies and then went on to develop brands focused on the gaming: Ozone and Krom (peripherals), Drift (chairs), Nox (computer components) and Life (accessories). In 2008 they made marketing agreements with the Giants and in 2011 they took a step forward by taking over the entity. Then they integrated it into a business group, Good Game Group, which includes the GGM studios, the Esportmaniacos channel and BCN Fighters, which brings together the fighting game community. They now have a presence in 15 games like Fortnite or Pokémon.
The growth of the Giants, their banner in the main eSports, has been constant. First with sponsors like L’Oréal and later, in 2018, with Vodafone. In 2019 they created the first all-girls team and just before the pandemic they raised three million euros in an investment round. In 2021 they renewed their brand by the hand of Alex Trochut, they presented themselves to the world with a video produced by Antonio Banderas’ Teatro del Soho Televisión and they inaugurated their new facilities with the presence of the president of the Andalusian Government, Juan Manuel Moreno Bonilla. The club has achieved roots in the capital of Malaga, with fans who pay their ticket to attend games that are only understandable for regular video gamers.
A magnet for brands
And where is the business? “Our goal as a company is the marketing of content through eSports competition,” explains Calvo during an interview at the new facilities. “Brands come to us to reach an audience they can’t otherwise reach,” he adds. Its official shirts, Nike, show the Burger King, Nesquik, KitKat or Chupa Chups logos, but there are also agreements with Sony Music or Babybel. Other firms that pay for specific actions. They also monetize the facilities by renting them out for events or receive income when they win tournaments. But its structure also includes a team of business intelligence, capable of analyzing users down to the smallest detail to segment campaigns, even helping with Andalusian Tourism. They also have agreements with streamers like Darío Eme Hache, Abby, Th3Antonio, Nissaxter or Le Chef Gamer, alias of Diego Gallegos, chef of the Sollo restaurant, with a Michelin star and who broadcasts cooking classes on Twitch. Together with the club, they have more than 30 million followers on social networks.
He knows in depth all the sides of the coin.
When Calvo is asked if the Giants are profitable, he responds with a question: “What if they make money?” He then tells how the sector is still very dependent on sponsorships, but that it is on the path to efficiency. “My great concern and occupation is that the ecosystem is sustainable: that the players can earn a living, that the clubs-companies are profitable and that we too. It is a circle that is now beginning to close after many years of work”, says Jordi Soler, executive director of the LVP, belonging to the Mediapro group. It is the only company licensed in Spain to organize League of Legends and Valorant competitions —the most followed—, although it also carries out CSGO or Free Fire competitions. With a presence in Latin America, it is also in charge of broadcasting the official Spanish FIFA competition organized by LaLiga.
“We do not consider ourselves a sport: we are entertainment and we compete for people’s leisure hours,” says Soler, who points out how national competitions have been consolidated with the commitment of clubs such as MAD Lions, Heretics, Fanatics, Bisons Eclub or some Movistar Riders in which Telefónica has just entered. Also thanks to investments like those of Ibai and Piqué in KOI, a turning point for eSports. His presence has generated visibility, but also inflation when it comes to signings, with salaries that are increasing due to the concern of clubs with less budget. Furthermore, the arrival of players such as Real Madrid player Casemiro or David de Gea raises the level. “Now not everyone can fit in one division, so we have created the second, with a promotion and relegation play-off”, emphasizes Soler, who hopes that —in the medium term— the clubs have geographical mobility and move to the stadiums of their rivals for matches.
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