How TSM Expanded from a Single Esports Team to Multi-Vertical Media Company

The average sports fan doesn’t usually view their favorite team as an all-in-one events, production, and marketing company. Yet, all three can turn the star power of athletes into reliable revenue; and while competitive video gaming lacks the mighty media deals that sustain most sports teams, an increasing number of esports organizations are diversifying their portfolio through avenues which are only loosely connected to their pro roster.

Team SoloMid (TSM) has a long track record of building upon the personal value of its players. Founded by Andy “Reginald” Dinh and his brother Dan Dinh in 2009 as a League of Legends competitor, the organization has grown into a multi-entity media firm, Swift Media Entertainment. On top of the six commercial TSM partners, Swift provides value for hundreds more brands through its streamers/influencers, and thousands more with its portfolio of educational gaming websites.

I think teams need to have diversified revenue streams that are engaging the audience in a very productive way,” TSM chief revenue officer Brad Sive told The Esports Observer. “I think they need to understand what brands want and be able to scale up for that in inventory. 

“If you don’t diversify your portfolio as a team and turn yourself into a platform, I think long term there’s going to be headwinds for certain teams.”

TSM has long sustaining esports partnerships, including over five years with Logitech G, and an extended deal with Geico that began in 2016. These companies retain visibility through traditional sponsorship avenues—jersey logo placement and original content—but a scan through TSM’s content shows collaborations with others outside of the core partner circle.

Credit: Team SoloMid

Discounts and giveaway codes are abundantly made available through sponsored streams. The products promoted during the last year include Postmates, Nerf, and Venmo, with some personalities even undertaking sponsored playthroughs of new game releases. 

Many of the players featuring these promotions on stream were former competitors, retained as content creators due to their built-up personas and fanbases.

“We built [our strategy] over 10 years,” said Sive. “We have iconic players that are still part of our family, and our brand is cemented. People compare us to the Yankees; they might not be winning every year, but brands want to align with it.”

TSM may not have topped the League of Legends Championship Series table in recent years, but the team remains the most-watched in the league, Sive said, citing research from Nielsen and other research partners. Its active roster also participates in branded content segments, such as a Grubhub sponsored Mukbang (a South Korean trend of eating food on broadcasts).

Credit: Team SoloMid

TSM currently competes across 10 games, but in Fortnite, Apex Legends, and PLAYERUNKNOWN’S BATTLEGROUNDS, it boasts two simultaneous rosters: one focused on winning tournaments, the other more akin to typical streamers. The Fortnite streamer team alone boast over 13M combined followers on Twitch, and typically create collaborative content within a shared gaming house. 

“It’s a formula we used eight-nine years ago that we repurposed for Fortnite,” said Sive. “For us It was nothing new to activate, we just needed to understand the game and the ecosystem to mesh that together with the talent in the best possible way.”

Before COVID-19, TSM/Swift was also loosening the lock on a 25,000 square feet esports and gaming facility, which it states costs nearly $50M USD. Designed for live events including LAN and watch parties, the space would also play a crucial role in future content creation through studios and event spaces. 

“We pivoted quickly and what we’re doing now is online events, and competitions for our brand partners and new brands that want to engage with us,” said Sive. “That gives a lot of benefits to our brand partners and engages the community online in greater numbers.”

Another content offering, sparsely seen from esports teams, is a portfolio of websites and tools designed for the amateur or aspiring gamer. These were started as blogs by Andy and Dan Dinh in the early days of TSM, which later evolved into websites that helped fund their esports teams. Today it includes a collection of content apps and services, such as ProBuilds and LoLCounter. 

In 2019 Swift bought the Blitz esports desktop app, which has since branched from League of Legends to Teamfight Tactics and, most recently, VALORANT. Other esports organizations are similarly placing bets on player tools, such as T1 recently investing in gaming assistant tool Mobalytics.

Prior to joining TSM in 2018, Sive had spent 11 years at ESPN, seeing how U.S. sports franchises branched themselves out on the media landscape. He then spent two years with advisory firm Catalyst Sports and Media, which he said helped him understand what TSM would need to do to offer similar services. 

“If teams succeed [competitively], that’s good for TSM, the ecosystem, and the leagues we’re participating in,” he said. “But it would be wise for them to consider what ancillary avenues they’re going down to enable what they want to do.”