WePlay Esports: Total Investment in WePlay Ultimate Fighting League is $25M

Former undisputed world boxing cruiserweight champion Oleksandr Usyk and Ukraine-based esports tournament operator WePlay Esports will collectively invest $25M USD in a new fighting league that was unveiled in December, The Esports Observer has learned. 

At the end of last year, WePlay announced that it had partnered with Usyk to create a fighting game league called WePlay Ultimate Fighting League (WUFL). The joint announcement took place on Dec. 13,  the final day of the WePlay Dragon Temple tournament for Mortal Kombat 11.  

Speaking to TEO, WePlay Esports Managing Partners Oleg Krot and Yura Lazebnikov, and Usyk, revealed new details about the partnership and the company’s plans for expansion into new regions in the coming year, along with sustaining its efforts in the most popular esports in the region.

The WePlay Ultimate Fighting League “joint investment” amounts to $25M. WePlay did not disclose specific details on how much money it is putting into the total, nor Usyk’s commitment or other parties involved. The company also did not disclose terms, including if this is a single-year or multi-year commitment when asked.

The funds will be invested in the league’s development. They will be spent on the creation and distribution of high-quality content,” Lazebnikov said, adding that the “financial relationships are an internal matter.”

Usyk said that the idea of partnering with WePlay for some kind of collaboration began at the tail end of 2020 when he, Krot, and Lazebnikov started talking about esports during a chance encounter.

Back in November, we were recording an interview with my promotion company team,” Usyk said. “After the shooting, I spoke with WePlay Esports founders Oleg Krot and Yura Lazebnikov, and they told me about the esports industry and its perspectives in the entertainment field. That’s how we started negotiating.”

He added that in the early stages of this partnership he is “working jointly on the project” but soon they will “specify areas of responsibility for each partner.”

While the fighting game league was announced at a Mortal Kombat 11 event, Usyk expects that other games will be supported, but the league is still in its early phase of planning and no concrete decisions have been made about which titles it wants to feature:

“It would be feasible to focus on some other popular fighting games besides Mortal Kombat 11. For instance, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is a successful competitive game with a huge fan base among casual and hardcore gamers, he said. “Other titles that we are considering for sure are Street Fighter V and Tekken 7.”

While WePlay has plans to put some of its energy and resources into the new league, it will continue to focus on popular titles such as Dota 2 and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.  The jury is still out on if it will support new and emerging titles such as Valorant or Wild Rift.

“We will continue hosting CS:GO events since it’s especially popular among the CIS region audience,” Krot said. “And Dota 2 remains our mainstream discipline, so its fans won’t be disappointed in 2021. As for the other games and the move towards mobile esports — we’ll see. “

Lazebnikov also said that WePlay plans on expanding its presence in key markets, with a  focus on tapping into the U.S. audience. The company already has offices in Los Angeles, and was in the process of opening an arena in the city before COVID-19 added local restrictions on big in-person gatherings. 

“While we will be expanding our presence in Europe and North America, China is currently in our focus as well. At the beginning of 2021, we will open our second esports arena in Los Angeles, California. This step will help us engage more with the U.S. audience through content, services, and solutions, as well as build partnerships.”

Finally, Krot and Lazebnikov agree that WePlay Esports had a pretty successful 2020 despite the many challenges that it faced from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. As many other esports-related operations (save those that rely on revenue from physical real-world venues and live events) have indicated, the ability of esports to transition to all online/remote play helped the company to continue operating events. 

“When you are growing a global media holding company, perspective is much more important than the bottom line of one year,” Krot said. “We can say that 2020 turned out to be pretty successful both financially and strategically despite the difficulties it presented.” 

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