ESL, also known as Electronic Sports League, will be acquired by Savvy Gaming Group, using direct funding from the Government of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF). According to the LinkedIn of Savvy’s CEO & COO Brian Ward, Savvy is “a holding company formed with a mission to drive the long-term growth and development of esports and the games industry.” The Savvy CEO has over 25 years of experience in the industry, with tenure at major video game companies such as Electronic Arts, Microsoft, and specifically a Senior VP at Activision-Blizzard in 2006-2012. The deal, initially reported by German news outlet Handelsblatt, is set to close with an approximate payout of $1 billion.
It is not the first time the PIF has tried to enter esports: in 2020 another PIF-owned project, NEOM, entered an agreement with BLAST Pro Series. This $1m+ agreement, though, was terminated after backlash from talent and the community at large around Saudi Arabia’s human rights record.
ESL is a major tournament organizer in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. They host a plethora of large tournaments, help sustain ladder leagues throughout lower tiers of CS, and recently stepped up their efforts to expand the participating Pro League teams and more specifically expand the North American region. With the story still developing, there is no telling what the acquisition will do to ESL’s daily operations inside of CS:GO.
Additionally, the article states that Savvy has their sights set on ESL competitor FACEIT Ltd. for a reported $500 million. Purchasing these two major third party platforms would cause a major shift in the scene, leaving fans and players questioning the future of the competing platforms.
This deal would also bring both major third party matchmaking services, ESEA, owned by ESL, and FACEIT, under the same ownership. Many players looking to enter the professional scene make their names in hubs and pugs hosted by these two services, so purchasing both of them would leave Savvy Gaming Group with considerable ownership of not only the professional scene, but also the casual and sub-top scenes.