Andy Dinh, the 26-year-old founder and CEO of the esports organization TSM, has always been fiercely self-reliant. Since TSM’s founding in 2009, Dinh has worn just about every hat there is in the industry: player, coach, manager, salesman, public relations. But now he’s getting help in a big way.
On Tuesday, TSM’s parent company, Swift, announced it received $37 million in Series A funding. Ethan Kurzweil of Bessemer Venture Partners leads a group of investors that include three-time NBA champion Stephen Curry and AME Cloud Ventures, a fund started by Yahoo cofounder and billionaire Jerry Yang. The investment also covers Swift’s other business segments, including its influencer content network and its analytic web services like FortniteMaster and ProBuilds.
Dinh, who remains the majority owner and head of the company, started TSM when he was 17 years old using the cash he earned from offering online guides for League of Legends. Wanting to compete in the game, he built a team and put on invitational tournaments of his own. In 2013, as esports became more formalized and the League of Legends creator began running its own official league, Dinh stepped down as a player to focus more on management. His ability to monetize the organization as it began winning championships at sold-out arenas like the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto nabbed him a spot on Forbes’ 30 Under 30 in Games 2017 list.
The investment is a move long delayed but necessary given the rapid evolution of esports. Last year, when the creators of League of Legends announced its groundbreaking plans to franchise its North American league, it was clear that TSM would be among the initial ten permanent teams. Dinh’s club is the winningest in the region with six championships. But as other esports teams raised venture capital to cover the $10 million buy-in, accepted buyouts or were pushed out by billionaire owners looking to get in on the ground floor of the burgeoning industry, it also became clear Dinh would be the last old-school owner in the league to be independent.
“TSM has always run a very lean operation, so we haven’t set ourselves up to take advantage of the fast growth that this market is experiencing, so that’s what we’re trying to prepare ourselves to do,” Dinh told Forbes. “We’ve got a really good group of investors … it’s going to help us accomplish what we want for TSM.”
Other investors in the Series A include:
Telstra, Australian telecommunications
Steve Simon, owner of Simon Property and son of Indiana Pacers owner Herb Simon
Andre Iguodala, three-time NBA champion for the Golden State Warriors
Steve Young, Hall of Fame NFL player
Yifang Ventures, led by Eric Xu, cofounder of Baidu
Colin Carrier, former chief strategy officer of Twitch
Walter Wang, CEO of JM Eagle
The capital will enable rapid growth endeavors as well as flexibility to make early bets in the industry as opportunities emerge. The company will use $10 million of the fund for acquisitions and investments in the gaming space, while $20 million will be allocated for both franchising fees and a new 15,000-to-20,000-square-foot esports facility in Los Angeles. It will function as a training place for the organization’s esports teams, a studio for its multimedia content and a way to directly engage with fans. Dinh hopes the facility unites its players across various games to compete at a higher level and to help collectively build the company’s signature brand.
“It’s really important to have one single base where we can build up that TSM culture,” Dinh said.
It’s an especially important aspect of esports. Market researcher Newzoo predicts industry revenue will hit $905 million this year, with 40% of it coming from sponsors. With hazy ROI metrics, brands look to social reach, and TSM is adept at building personalities and communities, with 1.8 million fans following on Twitter, nearly a million on Instagram and 1.4 million on YouTube. Its early bid this year into the billion-dollar game Fortnite about doubled fan engagement. Sponsors include non-endemic companies like Geico, Gillette, Dr. Pepper and Chipotle.
That kind of fan passion and corporate support was especially appealing to lead investor Ethan Kurzweil, who said Bessemer spent a year looking at the esports scene, talking to more people than any other funding roadmap it had before. “It was just really clear Andy was operating at the highest level,” Kurzweil said. “What he had done without any capital at all was two or three times as much as people who had raised a lot of money.”
Another aspect of TSM Kurzweil loved? Its founder’s competitiveness. As Dinh put it, “Second doesn’t feel great to me.”