In this piece — which is part one of ESI’s ‘Esports ‘n’ Beer’ series — we explore the fated partnership between North American org Evil Geniuses and renowned brewery Elysian Brewing, both headquartered in Seattle, Washington.
That Pacific Northwest (PNW) gem, Seattle, has long been both a mecca and port of export for nerdy cultural capitals.
Beer nerds the world over consume liberal amounts of hops grown in the nearby Yakima Valley; Washington State alone produced almost 70% of all North American commercial hops in 2019. Music nerds will be remiss not to recognise at least a handful of the rainy city’s iconic artists, in part thanks to the national treasure of a local radio station, KEXP.
Connoisseurs of the cross-sections of comic book, internet, and gaming cultures flock to the city each year for events like PAX West and Emerald City Comic Con. Bellevue’s Valve Corporation hosted Dota 2’s The International in Seattle Key Arena for the tournament’s first six years. Last year, the city was chosen for Enthusiast Gaming’s Call of Duty League investment, the Seattle Surge.
Across the street from the BarCraft gravesite, Elysian Brewing has stood since 1996, despite the tech boom that has spread like wildfire and the city’s accompanying gentrification.
Another change-resistant resident, esports org Evil Geniuses (EG) has been executing its plans for world domination from its Seattle HQ since before Y2K, though they’ve changed their appearance.
Seattle isn’t just a home of nerds; Seattle is an entire brand of nerd.
In late March, Evil Geniuses announced a partnership with Elysian’s Space Dust IPA. Esports Insider spoke with Nick Mallory, Director of Marketing at Elysian Brewing and Brian Millman, Director of Sponsorships at EG about the partnership’s seemingly preordained nature, the city of Seattle, and plans for the future.
One needn’t look hard to find an Elysian product amongst stockists and watering holes across the Pacific Northwest. In recent years, the brewery has been expanding ever further from its drizzly HQ. Poring over their consumer data, the team at Elysian noticed some trends.
“The GM at Elysian, Kyle Fitzsimmons, and myself had been kind of kicking around the idea of doing something in esports,” Mallory told ESI. “When we looked at the Space Dust consumer, and at the Elysian consumer as a whole, we wanted to know what our fans are into — and they really over-indexed in gaming.”
Evil Geniuses, meanwhile, was also taking inventory of their audience segments, Millman recalled, and the team found that their audiences were over-indexing in beer — especially craft beer. Surprise, surprise.
The location overlap of each brand’s audiences might skew this over-indexing: the Puget Sound area was home to almost 200 breweries in 2019 and Seattle ranked number two last year for Video Game Economic Output in the US. At least for the relatively local audiences of each brand, this overlap seems obvious, but it’s not just the PNW that loves beer. According to The Brewers Association’s official directory there are 9,827 breweries in the United States alone.
While entertaining the idea of activating within esports, Mallory said that he and Fitzsimmons found the opportunities lacklustre. Funny how a Facebook post can change things. A friend of Mallory’s, Bo Geddes, posted an update about his new role as Creative Director of Evil Geniuses, based out of Seattle.
“So I call Bo [Geddes] and I’m like, ‘Hey, man, you’re not gonna believe this’,” Mallory said, “‘But we’ve been trying to figure out what’s up with esports and we’re really interested in it. Our fans totally love it’.”
Via email, Geddes confirmed to ESI: “It was kismet. You know in movies where someone picks up the phone to call their friend and the friend is already on the line because they just dialed them? It was like that.”
At the same time Mallory was looking for something “new and fun that fit the Elysian brand,” Geddes said he and Evil Geniuses CEO Nicole LaPointe Jameson had been talking beer and she mentioned how much she loves Elysian. “I told her that I knew [Mallory] and could probably get the ball rolling on a partnership. I mean, it was meant to be.”
Combining Space Dust with Evil Geniuses — besides being a fantastic string of words — wasn’t the first time Elysian went wild with the product. In 2017, the brewery batched a special edition with literal (kind of) space dust for an event in NYC.
The brewery and the esports org began syncing calendars — an experiment that Elysian may be well accustomed to as the Official Craft Beer Partner of both the Seattle Seahawks American football and Seattle Sounders football teams. Observing the occasional nature of beer-drinking habits, the two looked into each other’s portfolios to find what would pair well.
Influenced by Europe’s pre-refrigeration traditional brewing culture and seasonal availability of fresh ingredients, there’s different beers for every season and occasion. But in Seattle, it’s IPA season year-round. Space Dust rose to the top of the brewery’s portfolio, and Mallory explained that the flagship IPA made the most sense to be the hero of the partnership.
“Number one, it’s our most recognisable product,” Mallory said. “Space Dust has been around since 2012. It’s now a nationwide product. I would say it’s what most people outside of Washington would know Elysian for.
“Number two, it’s an IPA. IPA is still sort of the undisputed champion of the craft beer world. It’s still growing like crazy, it’s still massively popular. I think people would expect a Seattle-based partnership to have an IPA craft component to it. From a marketing perspective, a Northwest IPA is easily exportable.”
Widely distributed across North America and abroad and easily recognised on the shelf by the intergalactic hop on the label, the Space Dust IPA comes in at an 8.2 percent ABV. (At such a high ABV, the beer is technically classified as an IIPA, or Imperial IPA, but that’s just beer-nerd semantics.)
Space Dust’s strong history, heritage and flavour within craft beer matched EG’s claim to the oldest esports org in North America, Millman said. “The commonality between the orgs, their philosophy, the way they do business — it just made it a perfect match. And there’s that Seattle-to-Seattle connection.”
The neighbourhood where Elysian was born, Capitol Hill, has long been affectionately referred to as the ‘Gaybourhood’ by locals. Many businesses proudly fly their support of LBGTQIA+ and other marginalised communities at street level and the brewery is no exception. In 2019, Elysian hosted a Pride wedding together with ‘Queer Eye’s Johnathon Van Ness, brewing a special Guava Vanilla Brut IPA for the occasion.
EG’s website boasts a proud Diversity, Equality & Inclusion programme, showcasing the org’s commitment to initiatives like Women in Gaming, Gaming for All, and its ‘Live Evil & Live Well’ employment perks scheme. This past February, EG FGC athlete Ricki Ortiz was featured in an Absolut Vodka ad — another Evil Geniuses Partner.
Not only do Elysian and EG each have their own portfolios — Elysian with its beer programmes and EG with its roster of esports athletes and creators — both companies are part of larger conglomerates’ portfolios. Elysian was purchased by global beer monolith AB inBev in 2015. EG was acquired in 2019 by Chicago-based Peak6 Investments.
Just three weeks before the org’s partnership with Elysian was unveiled, EG announced a partnership with Bud Light — also owned by AB InBev. At the time of this writing, Bud Light has active partnerships with esports orgs CLG, Team Liquid, and Fnatic, as well as the premier North American League of Legends competition, the LCS.
With Bud Light’s existing investment in the LCS, Millman said that the light lager brand will “pulse a little bit stronger with [EG’s] LCS side of the business,” but both he and Mallory attested that the craft-beer-and-esports-org partnership was not driven by corporate interests.
According to Millman, there is “a void of partnerships within the alcoholic space and esports and there is a huge opportunity to fill that gap from an awareness perspective.” Content plays an imperative role in generating awareness in online communities. Internet and youth culture has asserted that content is communication and communication is content.
The two teased at ‘Open Spaces’ — the slated collaborative content series and primary activation for the two brands, aiming to integrate EG’s esports roster to talk about Space Dust while engaging fans. The org’s fanbase will get to know more about the beer and the brewery’s fanbase will get to experience the unique content that esports orgs produce centred around a fan-favourite product.
The community response to the partnership announcement was “rather significant,” Millman said. “And it wasn’t just from the Pacific Northwest. Whether it was Orlando or New York or Munich, people reached out saying, ‘this is incredible. Can you hook me up?’” That Seattle cultural-capital distribution network showed its reach.
“I want to give credit to [Mallory] and his team,” EG’s Millman said. ”Our sessions with them are just this free-flowing exchange of ideas where we just build and build and build upon ideas. The natural connection that we saw to [create] the partnership is manifesting itself in the way we bring the partnership to life. It’s truly a great partnership.”
For Mallory, this type of brainstorming is the name of the game in the North American craft beer world. Elysian has brewed over 500 recipes since opening, according to their website. Of the current lineup of Elysian beers, 10 of them feature a collaborative element.
“The reality of it is with [the EG] partnership, we just want to connect with our fans and our friends and our consumers and our communities,” Mallory said. “It really is at the core of who we are. A craft brewery in a community is such a stalwart of that particular community. Seattle is our home. It’s where we were born 25 years ago, in Capitol Hill. We just want to connect and we found another community that loves our beer and we want to show them some love back.
“And that that’s really kind of the beginning of it and we think that Evil Geniuses is the absolute perfect partner to do that in the Seattle market.”
But the Seattle market isn’t the be-all and end-all for either party, and both know that their communities stretch much farther than the Puget Sound. Both enterprises are doubled down on connecting with their fans, friends, and consumers deeper, better, and further.
In Greek mythology, the Elysian Fields (also the name of the brewery’s South Seattle pub, just north of CenturyLink and T-Mobile field) is a reference to a sort of paradise for heroes destined for immortality. For these two Seattle titans, the partnership seems to have been conceived in such a place.
Icons used in the dividers courtesy of Becris Design via ShutterStock. Photos in the header illustration courtesy of Elysian Brewing and Shutterstock. Other images are courtesy of Evil Geniuses and Elysian Brewing.