Esports GFW (Goes For The Win) By Brewing Its Own Craft Beer

Food & Drink

For what appears to be the first time, a brewery has teamed up with a professional esports entity to produce a beer designed to appeal to fans of both. (For those unfamiliar with esports, it’s basically the game of playing online video games or watching other people play online video games. Click here for a primer.) Levante Brewing, in the Philadelphia suburb of West Chester, has released a hazy IPA called “AFK” in conjunction with a global company called Team Secret that owns pro-esports teams and provides advertising opportunities, product sponsorship and player development almost as sophisticated as any major-league sport. (Think psychologists and nutritionists in addition to coaches and management for often young players who might spend up to eight hours a day competing in a city, state or country far from home.)

The beer debuted at the major International Dota 2 (gaming) Championships in Shanghai this past August and can now be bought in a limited number of places in China, Japan, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland and direct delivered to 24 other states. In gamer-speak, AFK means “away from keyboard,” a message to let fellow online players know one is taking a break from the screen.

“We wanted to know what types of beverages were gamers looking for,” says Levante co-founder, president and brewmaster Tim Floros. “Team Secret came to the brewery and honed in on a light New England IPA. They told us it’s definitely what their colleagues, players and supporters would want to drink.”

Lest the uninformed misidentify AFK as yet another cross-promotional gimmick, this partnership seems to have serious staying power. Not only are Levante brass close friends with Team Secret CEO and craft beer lover John Yao, who lives in Philadelphia, but the company owns seven top professional esports teams. And esports doesn’t look to be going anywhere but up anytime soon, especially in the Philly region.

In a business that the Newzoo gaming analytics firm predicts will generate $1.1 billion in revenue on the professional level alone this year, Comcast sports subsidiary Comcast Spectacor is spearheading a $50 million project to open the western hemisphere’s first arena built specifically to host and publicly showcase international esporting events to more than 3,500 fans in 2021. Unwilling to wait until opening day, the Philly-based telecommunications giant opened an esports lounge in the neighboring Wells Fargo Center, which it owns, in October. Not coincidentally, the Spectacor-owned Philadelphia 76ers basketball team became the first pro sports team in the country to buy an esports team, in 2016.

“Esports is such an international phenomenon,” says Floros.

International and brimming with potential to bring in a shocking amount of bling. Global destinations like The Venetian hotel in Las Vegas are building viewing lounges and exhibition arenas, and Yao says the Shanghai tournament, which boasted a $35 million prize pool, sold out in seconds. Plus, Mercedes-Benz owns a team, among other things, and Louis Vuitton has actually licensed its clothing designs to outfit fictional game characters.

“Esports fans on average have higher income than traditional sports brands,” Yao says. “Louis Vuitton and craft brewing resonate with that crowd.”

AFK shows potential to do pretty well itself. The duo says they can’t send enough of it to China and they’re fielding requests from as far away as Australia. The first quarter of 2020 should see AFK and other Levante brands in the European Union (and on shelves in the brewery’s next two domestic markets, New Jersey and New York).

Floros says Team Secret is teaching his own sales team how to enter and operate in foreign markets and supporting them by having players Tweet endorsements or rallying crowds to establishments that sell the beer.

That said, Yao insists, “We want to be very authentic. AFK is not just a marketing play. It stands on its own.”

In this case, Yao doesn’t have to work hard to defend his record. From 720 reviews on Beer Advocate and Untappd, it boasts a formidable 4.1 (out of five) average rating.

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