Globally, gaming is by far the world’s largest publishing entertainment form. Need proof? October 2023 saw the ink finally dry on Microsoft’s acquisition of game producers Activision at the sum of 69 billion dollars – 22 million more than Musk paid for X! What’s more astonishing is that this takeover makes Microsoft’s gaming division only the third largest in the world.
Unsurprisingly, merch plays an integral part in contemporary esports. So, we were keen to go deep when we hopped on a video call with Swedish esport organisation Godsent’s Head of E-Commerce and Merchandise, Anthon Wansland and its CEO Ludwig Sandgren. The hour that followed was a lively and passionate discussion on merchandise, Godsent, the gaming climate, and how it's pushing the sport forward.
Arriving at the lobby, Wansland is already readied up, and soon, we’re joined by Sandgren, striding purposefully through the streets to Godsent’s HQ, already projecting a sage-like presence. We begin at the beginning and ask Sandgren for a quick background check on Godsent.
Ludwig Sandgren and Anthon Wansland
“We’re a gaming organisation with a legacy forged in Counter Strike. Godsent has been in the top 20 of competitive Counter Strike since we began in 2016. Our vision is to become the best organisation in the history of the world!” he says with absolute conviction.
Based in Malmö, Wansland and Sandgren explain that Sweden has always been a strong gaming force, particularly in Counter Strike. “Sweden is a strong force in Counter Strike, one of the world's finest gaming titles. Counter Strike is one of the legacy esports games with a place in gaming history. It’s very close to our hearts and where we found our footing. We’ve tried to play and be active in other games, but Counter Strike is where our brand roots lie.”
According to Sandgren, Counter Strike is the most established game in esports, alongside League of Legends. Godsent’s own Head of Esports holds a very special place within the Counter Strike community. “If you ask ChatGPT who the best Counter Strike player is of all time, one of the names guaranteed to come up is HeatoN. Retired from professional gaming, he’s our Head of Esports and an 8-time world champ back in the day.”
We ask Wansland and Sandgren to walk us through the structure of Godsent as an esports organisation. The parallels with other professional sports soon become abundantly clear. The pair describe Godsent as a specialist organisation compared to other organisations that might have 20+ individual teams in regular competition. “Including players, we number around 40-50 people, comprising players, coaches, academy players and content makers,” notes Sandgren.
At Godsent, each team has its own coach, and three teams are currently operating. There are plans to add many more as part of a push to onboard younger players to its academy. A significant development within the past 12 months in Sweden has seen esports recognised by the country’s national sporting board as a legitimate professional sport.
“Having this recognition adds a huge legitimacy to what we do and validates the dedication and skill of our players,” says Sandgren.
We’re keen to know his thoughts on how it might impact the esports framework in Sweden and its accessibility to players from all walks of life.
“I see a scenario where kids have access to a club framework for esports a little like the one they’ve had for a while in Denmark. There you see a healthy infrastructure and ecosystem supporting young aspiring players,” says Sandgren.
We switch tack to focus on merchandise for a spell. If you’ve ever watched an esports contest, you’ll have seen that players, teams and fans are often heavily branded. Does Godsent have a similar stance?
“Merch is a part of our branding strategy to use merchandise and an important part of our brand extension. Everyone within our organisation represents us. And the merch plays a vital part in projecting who we are,” explains Wansland.
Looking at Godsent’s merchandise line, there’s more of a subtle and contemporary edge than other organisations – less of the logos and more contemporary in regards to its artwork. A conscious decision, perhaps?
“On average, we have a pretty young audience, and clothing is a perfect way to connect with them. We deliberately make relevant merchandise and apparel that people want to wear casually, regardless of the situation. We want to make it contemporary and encapsulate the identity of Godsent but also speak to anyone who connects with our vibe. We have, I think, the most sophisticated merch collection in the Nordics. There’s a level of fashion awareness that other brands don’t have,” he concludes.
With time running out, we return to Godsent’s younger members – many of them younger girls, creating and streaming content across multiple platforms. Sandgren explains that Godsent has just completed a manifesto for the gaming industry to smash down barriers of gender, race and social status. Having seen a copy, we can attest to the document’s progressive stance – something other sports, businesses, groups or individuals could learn much from. Refreshing and positive, hopeful and warm.
Before we go AFK and log out, we ask how new players can take things to the next level. Wandsland says gaming is one of the only sports where the stats don’t lie. Unless you’re hacking, your skills and numbers say everything an organisation like Godsent needs to know, with dedication and sportsmanship coming a close second.
Sandgren concludes with a smile; “If you dream to be a professional player and strive to achieve that with skill and sophistication, then never give up. Unless you suck – then definitely give up!”