As a lifelong gamer, someone who worked in the game industry, and now an eSports enthusiast, I started work on StickerItch.com at the end March 2016 as a side project which quickly became much more serious business due to the extremely supportive and encouraging community. Starting a successful business is (extremely) hard. Yet of all my prior projects (successes and failures), StickerItch really surprised me when I met some of the most encouraging and most motivating individuals, it had the most encouragement of all my prior ventures, and I really think that (partly) has something to do with the amazing gaming community itself.
As part of StickerItch's main plan I feel that sponsoring is still a win-win in that we helped each other promote and grow. After the launch around June 1st, this worked well, and I am very thankful for your support. Our next step would've been supporting organizations or non-profits related to something I believe in supporting. Due to the community support StickerItch had quite good traffic to the website in the first 3 months, compared to other projects it was doing surprisingly well, especially for a very early stage startup, and it had tremendous surges of support from our sponsored teams and individuals on Twitter, which was very exciting, we had sales from our sponsored teams and individuals alike all of which we were not expecting, we didn't plan for, and for which however we are very thankful for. You know who you are! We had in total hundreds of teams submitting applications to become sponsored, inquire about custom stickers, inquire about tournaments and teams, and many individuals just to say hello and show their support — but inquiries did not lead to sales, and we simply could not sponsor everyone. It was due to this major support and encouragement however that I decided to invest heavily into StickerItch with big plans for the future despite some red flags.
The main reason StickerItch cannot continue today (6 months later) is simple, like most startups that fail: I ran out of money and lost a lot of my own personal investment due to lack of new sales and are not able to pay back the initial investment. When all is said and done despite having great interest, despite being very careful with investment spending, despite having a clear path forward, StickerItch had lost and is losing a lot of money, and with no new sales coming in and subscription services keeping the systems running, I am left with no choice but to shut it down.
As much as I'd like to put it on ice, I think it will be some time before it will ever come back to life, if ever.
But ignoring the main primary hurdle of actually getting new sales or an apparent lack of demand, I feel there are many factors that combined into major hurdles for StickerItch that I'd like to mention here for anyone else that is considering venturing into supporting eSports teams, streamers and players with a promotional product.
1. It's all very new, it is much like a startup: chaotic, unorganized. It's wild. For the most part, our sponsored teams were highly professional, organized, and doing an excellent job and still are. However just getting more involved, we saw so many teams - hundreds of teams (and many more players) we came across in a short amount of time - that really showed an alarming lack of professionalism, organization, general understanding, respect, or loyalty. I spent a lot of time talking to individuals who expressed interest in supporting StickerItch: trying to understand the goals and futures of many teams and individual players who I found out had no major plans for future success.
2. Many teams and related organizations and individuals popped up merely to sell things and not be genuinely supportive of others, the primary goal was to sell things like controller grips, custom controller skins, energy drinks, powdered energy drinks, knives (this was bizarre to me), cheap graphics, cheap youtube intro videos, or the 'team' or 'gaming group' itself. While some of them are real teams or real companies that were supportive and were sponsoring real teams... and were very professional (you know who you are) - many of them were totally fake (they don't even have real players) some of them ran bogus or fake giveaways, some of them lasted a mere month before they are supposedly hacked (or just replaced), only for the cycle to repeat with a new rushed logo and strange new twitter handle to start all over. We had to create a long list of rules to be even considered for sponsorship. To those involved in this behavior, causing me to waste so much time, money, effort, and genuine hard work for teams that ended up being fake, all I can say is: you reap what you sow.
3. Loyalty in eSports is terrible, players are jumping all over the place every week. Player avatars and personal branding (Logos and branding, something that should only change at most once a year) change every week. (I spent a lot of time (nights and weekends) updating logos and branding, for many of the teams that never even made it onto the sponsored team directory and custom stores I built. For other teams I had to sadly throw away many stickers despite them being premium. Many stickers I sent out regardless with the hopes that the team would turn out to actually be real). Knowing this, there seems to be little reason a player would want to stick with a team for the long haul (especially if the team isn't real) - despite the fact that growing and establishing a (real) serious team takes tons of time, effort, dedication, planning, and not to mention requires the major support of the community and the loyalty and support of it's players. It's fair to say that if a team is not supporting you as a player (or is fake) you should be free to look elsewhere just like many other sports, however I should mention two things: some of the major teams right now seem only major due to some questionable ethics and choices, while other (real, dedicated, professional) teams may genuinely need some player loyalty to keep going and growing. Overall, it's a disappointing mess. There is actually other big reason related to this one and the 'industry' as a whole, but I'm not going to include it because I fear it would be too controversial to even mention.
4. Investment cost. We could only dream of getting a laser cutting machine. (You can get a good one for only $10,000). Dye cutting is much more affordable yet (despite the hassles) it would still require us to make more sales per month to be able to pay it back. The 'software as a service' developers that enabled many aspects of StickerItch to run has over time raised prices to earn primarily from agencies. If you are a Startup these days they are uninterested in helping you. You have to consider getting multiple subscription services each at $49 or so per month (Instead of what it used to be: $7.99 or so) to have your systems work together. Put them all together and suddenly you are paying the equivalent of an office rental. In the end I had to find solutions that were more affordable yet of equal value - but with much more initial time and investment. The barrier to entry has definitely increased.
5. Burnout is harsh, for streaming: players are streaming every day trying to develop a core following and might not be able to do much else. The expectation is that you can start streaming and earn a living in a short amount of time, but it's just not true. The streamers who are succeeding are treating their streams like a serious media production business in specific niches while encouraging a streaming behavior that might not be healthy. I could relate here sitting and working so frequently on StickerItch, while taking breaks to chat with many players through twitter. For competitive play: some teams (we did not sponsor) have players playing non-stop without taking breaks to exercise, stretch, and consider their overall health - just to get an edge in competition. This is very concerning.
6. While we had something quite new to bring to the table at StickerItch, when you mention the word 'sticker' people generally think of cheap, in large quantities, mass produced, and extremely difficult to remove (gunk and tearing). Our stickers were top quality, premium, produced in low quantities, easy to remove and safe for tech - but the expectations were not there from the start leading to some disappointed customers expecting large quantities for cheap, unconcerned about quality, longevity, or having them be tech-friendly.
7. Gamers just don't seem to have the income - or motivation - to spend on keepsakes such as stickers. While organizations and teams have more interest in finding ways to promote their organization, stickers are great for events - but much of the promotion is done online. This is the main reason I have to end the project today. Next to zero sales from gamers, individuals, or groups - ton's of interest in the idea itself, but not much interest in actually owning a custom sticker (demand).
Number 7 being the main reason. I am extremely thankful for the support and encouragement from the professional teams and organizations we sponsored over the past 6 months. I could see StickerItch succeeding in the future, but at this time, it will not. Overall I am very disappointed with the eSports community right now, not because StickerItch failed to succeed, but because of reasons 1-5 above, and in somber way, I am glad to be walking away from it while it all (hopefully) sorts itself out. To the teams, tournaments, and individuals we sponsored and remain professional and supportive, I am sorry that I will not be able to support you with promoting or stickers anymore — but I wish you all the best into the future.
- Stuart, Founder at Stickeritch.com - firstname.lastname@example.org