A holding company owned by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund has bought esports event organizer ESL Gaming and tournament platform FACEIT, pending regulatory approval.according to sports business magazine, both companies are priced at $1.5 billion.As part of the acquisition, the two companies will merge into ESL FACEIT GROUP, and plan to combine their technology and expertise to “create the ultimate platform for competitive gaming.”
Headquartered in Cologne, Germany, ESL hosts major CS:GO, Dota 2 and other tournaments, as well as the combined Dreamhack LAN event in 2020. FACEIT is a competitive gaming platform that provides anti-cheat, matchmaking and tournament organization for players and game publishers. After the merger, ESL CEO Craig Levine and FACEIT CEO Niccolo Maisto will jointly lead the new organization.
The goal of the ESL FACEIT Group is for games and players to “go from casual to arena events on one platform” — essentially, the entertainment, minor and major leagues of every esports. In addition to the general statement of intent, the company also delved into its deeply involved game plan: Counter-Strike. ESL FACEIT Group expresses plans To “promote the stability of the CS:GO esports scene in North America” by increasing the number of tournaments, creating more incentives for professional teams, and improving the infrastructure available. Ultimately, it aspires to be a “truly global ecosystem” for CS:GO esports, providing “accessible, well-connected competitive circuits” for everyone.
The holding company behind the merger is called Savvy Gaming Group. Founded in 2021 “with a mission to drive the long-term growth and development of the global gaming and e-sports industry”, it is wholly owned by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, which controls at least $500 billion in the country’s wealth and is funded by Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Savvy Gaming Group itself is led by CEO Brian Ward, a former Activision executive who helped lead the integration of Blizzard in the 2008 merger.
Last year, the Saudi Public Investment Fund controversially led the collective takeover of Premier League football club Newcastle United. One of the biggest critics of the deal, Amnesty International, called it a “sports purge,” which is defined as the use of well-known sports teams or events to divert attention from human rights abuses, in this case, in particular Refers to Saudi Arabia’s imprisonment of activists and dissidents. After the transaction is completed, Premier League says It has “obtained legally binding assurances” that the Saudi Arabian government will not take control of Newcastle United.
“Despite assurances of separation from the Saudi state, ownership of St. James’ Park is now very much about the image management of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and his government,” said Amnesty International last October. “As the season progresses, we hope the fans, players and staff behind the scenes at Newcastle United will take the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia seriously and be prepared to speak publicly about someone like Abdulrahman al-Sadhan who has been sentenced to 20 years in prison for tweeting. There was support just hours before the Newcastle deal was done.”
The next big ESL event is the $1 million CS:GO tournament IEM Katowice 2022, scheduled for February 25.