Saudis take over ESL for $1.5B | ESL Gaming and FACEIT merge

ESL Gaming and FACEIT, two of esports’ biggest tournament organizers, have announced a merge to be finalized in Q2 of 2022.

It comes shortly after German business newspaper Handelsblatt reported the two companies, ESL Gaming and FACEIT had been purchased by Saudi Arabian government-backed Savvy Gaming Group for a combined $1.5bn.

ESL Gaming and FACEIT merge

ESL is headquartered in Cologne, Germany, and hosts major CS:GO, Dota 2, and other esports tournaments, as well as the Dreamhack LAN events. 

FACEIT is a competitive gaming platform that provides anti-cheat, matchmaking, and tournament organizing for players and game publishers.

Savvy Gaming Group is reported to have paid $1bn (~£740m) for ESL Gaming and $500m (~£370m) for FACEIT. Savvy Gaming Group is backed by the Saudi Arabian government’s Public Investment Fund. The fund recently purchased the English Premier League football team Newcastle United.

According to its website, Savvy Gaming group is a ‘long-term investor’ formed to drive the growth and development of esports and the wider games industry worldwide.

ESL Gaming was previously owned by Swedish holding company Modern Times Group (MTG), which purchased a majority stake in ESL in 2015 for €78m. MTG increased its investment in ESL’s parent company Turtle Entertainment in 2018.

ESL Gaming CEO Craig Levine said: “Our mission remains unchanged: to create a world where everybody can be somebody. Our merger with FACEIT, along with the backing of SGG, will give us more know-how, capabilities, and resources than ever before to deliver on this vision. Whether you are competing or watching, doing so socially or at a professional level, every stage of the pathway will be improved through this merger.”

Saudi Arabia has somewhat of a controversial history in esports. BLAST and Riot Games pulled out of a partnership with Saudi Arabian futuristic city development project NEOM in 2020 following community backlash over the country’s human rights record. 

The Public Investment Fund also has a sizeable stake in Activision Blizzard, EA, and Take-Two after investing more than $3 billion in the companies in 2020.

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