An esports franchise backed by David Beckham is to list in London within weeks.
In what would be a first for the City, Guild Esports intends to float on the main market of the London Stock Exchange in the autumn, possibly even next month.
It is looking to raise about £20 million from its initial public offering that would value the company at about £50 million, significantly less than the £100 million that bosses were reportedly seeking in the summer.
Guild has four esports players on its books and the extra cash will be used to recruit up to another 20 professional gamers in the next 18 months. To begin with the players will compete in four video games: Fortnite; Counter-Strike: Global Offensive; Rocket League; and Fifa.
The plan is for the team to make money by claiming some of the lucrative prizes on offer in esports while Guild has hired Fergus Purcell, the artist and fashion designer, to design a range of branded T-shirts and hoodies to sell to fans.
Bosses will also try to use Mr Beckham to attract further sponsorship and endorsement deals.
The former Manchester United and England footballer is understood to be the company’s second-largest shareholder with a “significant minority stake” in Guild. With other existing shareholders, it is expected that Mr Beckham will retain his shares after the listing.
Guild is run by Carleton Curtis, a former executive at Activision Blizzard, the American owner of the Call of Duty franchise.
“Guild will be the first esports franchise to join the London stock market, which will provide us with the caché, credibility and capital to fulfil our ambition to become one of the world’s top ten esports franchises within three years,” Mr Curtis said.
Esports has surged in popularity. In 2012 an estimated 134 million people watched gamers competing against one another online. By last year, that number had rocketed to 443 million, according to Newzoo, the esports data group.
The audience growth has been matched by the finances, with Newzoo expecting the industry to generate revenue of $1.1 billion this year.
While young people have taken to esports, Guild’s float will be a test of the City’s appetite for companies involved in the sector. Gfinity, which hosts esports tournaments rather than competes in them, went public in 2014. Shares in the company, which until March was led by Garry Cook, the former chief executive of Manchester City FC, were floated at 17p but trade at less than 4p.
Guild’s IPO could also net a windfall, on paper at least, for Blue Star Capital, the Aim-quoted investment group, which owns 11.7 per cent of Guild.