Fnatic looks to NFTs to bolster community engagement

Gaming and esports companies have had a mixed relationship with crypto and NFTs over the last year. While some believe in NFTs as a way for gamers to participate in ownership and to be able to trade/sell digital assets securely through blockchain technology, others have heard the loud cries from the gaming community about potential environmental impact or, worse yet, pump-and-dump scams. Four members of esports org FaZe Clan were embroiled in a crypto scam last year. UK-based Fnatic, which launched its first-ever membership program in partnership with Crypto.com at the end of March, believes its approach to NFTs will win over fans.

According to Fnatic CEO Sam Matthews, with traditional subscription-based membership programs, you’re just “renting” a membership. “With our memberships, you can now fully own it for as long as you hold the key. And yes, that also means you have the freedom to sell it on the open market!” he explained. Matthews also notes that NFTs enable Fnatic to offer higher value perks from the beginning and that the limit on the number of people holding a key means the organization can commit more value to the program.  

Fnatic fully acknowledges the presence of “sharks” who have scammed many consumers with NFTs, and Matthews admits that even calling something an NFT currently “does us a big disservice, [but] we’re more interested in the technology.” One big appeal of the NFT-based membership program is how Fnatic plans to connect fans with its pro-player and creator rosters. The goal is to leverage community-driven activations.

According to Sports Business Journal (SBJ), the program should allow Fnatic to reduce its reliance on traditional social media platforms to connect with its audience. “It’s crazy that gamers are so upset about this, because three years from now, they will be making money from their favorite pastime. … We can take a bit of hate if it means being the guys that hopefully open a few eyes to what is a potential future,” Matthews told SBJ.

It’ll take some time for gaming and esports companies to work out the best approach to NFTs and crypto and for gamer backlash to dissipate. However, according to Interpret’s New Media Measure®, there’s already some synergy between esports and crypto, as crypto users over-index on watching esports compared to the general US population (22% vs. 18%).