K-Pop has been a global phenomenon for several years now – thanks to bands like BTS who became the first K-Pop group to reach the top spot on the Billboard 200 in 2018 – and as part of the larger entertainment culture, we’re seeing a number of these Korean music icons getting involved in the esports space.
Back in 2018, former Chinese K-Pop star, Lu Han, acquired Armanni, a Chinese esports organization competing in PUBG, and renamed the team Lstars. Last June, Kim Hee-Chul, a member of Super Junior, invested in South Korean esports organization BRION E-Sports. In July, Exo member Sehun became a shareholder in LCK team SeolHaeOne Prince. Then in September, Jackson Wang, a member of the South Korean boy group Got7, invested in Chinese esports organization Victory Five (V5) and became the team’s partner.
Most recently, Honor of Kings team GK Gaming appointed former K-Pop star Huang Zitao as its new co-CEO and partner. The former Exo member ranked 37th on Forbes China Celebrity 100 in 2020 and has the ability to significantly raise GK Gaming’s profile – he announced the big news on his personal Weibo (the equivalent of Twitter in China) account where he has over 60 million followers, which is 100 times the followers of GK Gaming’s official account.
The increased interest from K-Pop’s biggest icons mirrors what we’ve seen in the West from hip-hop celebrities investing in the space, including Swae Lee, Post Malone, Offset, and many others. K-Pop stars’ “idol aura” could be key for esports teams in both China and Korea who are trying to broaden their base. Current sponsors of Asian esports orgs are heavily male-skewed, but K-Pop’s involvement in the business could open the door for more advertisers to connect with young women.
There’s a clear opportunity for music artists to connect with esports fans in China, according to Interpret’s New Media Measure: Global Profiles™, as the data indicates that 75% of Chinese esports viewers stream music weekly compared to 60% of the population. We expect to see a lot more music-esports crossover in the future.