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This esports ETF offers new way to cash in on the gaming craze

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Investors can now get their game on with a new esports ETF.

The Roundhill Bitkraft Esports and Digital Entertainment ETF (NERD) began publicly trading on the NYSE on Tuesday morning. The ETF tracks video game publishers, streaming network operators and hardware companies that have established themselves as key players in the esports, or electronic sports, industry.

Research firm Newzoo projects that the esports industry will raise over $1 billion in revenue this year.

Roundhill Investments, a New York-based registered investment advisor, partnered with esports investor venture fund Bitkraft Esports Ventures to launch the ETF after seeing “the excitement around the private markets” in the space, says founder Will Hershey.

Esports investments in 2018 had exceeded $4 billion in disclosed funding by November, according to Esports Observer.

“We [define esports as] the business of competitive gaming in front of a viewing audience, that includes anything from watching [a streamer] all the way up to big events like the Intel Extreme Masters and everything in between,” Hershey told CNBC.

“We’re really trying to identify the secular trends that dominate gaming today, such as multiplayer games and people streaming and watching one another, to isolate them,” Hershey said.

Roundhill and Bitkraft used that definition to select the 25 stocks in the ETF, which is mostly made of game publishers such as Activision Blizzard and Take-Two. However, hardware-related names such as chipmaker Nvidia, which has been involved in esports for years, also feature in the holdings.

Over half of the stocks in the ETF are Asian companies, many of which have a more broad-based foothold in the esports space. For example, AfreecaTV, a South Korean video streaming service known for broadcasting and sponsoring esports teams, leagues and events, is the biggest holding in NERD. The Asia-heavy regional breakdown is a reflection of where the industry stands, according to Hershey, even though the esports industry has been growing in North America and Europe as well.

But Hershey says that could change, especially as he believes there’s one big indicator this year that could mark where the North American market stands on esports: The Fortnite World Cup.

“I think it certainly meets our criteria for being in esports, and it will be a good barometer whether North America can really get on board,” he said. “I think with the user base that we have in Fortnite, especially in the U.S., it has the potential to really mark a diversification in what different game titles are going to be popular.”

NERD would be the second ETF that focuses on the esports space. VanEck launched the VanEck Vectors Video Gaming and Esports ETF (ESPO), which also boasts 25 holdings, in mid-October. Unlike NERD, however, ESPO consists mostly of game publishers, with some hardware names such as Nvidia and Advanced Micro Devices.

Jens Hilgers, founding partner at Bitkraft, emphasizes that unlike ESPO, the new ETF takes a more consumer-based approach that really captures the companies that are the most involved in esports.

“You have to think about what the core target audience is going to be,” Hilgers told CNBC. “This younger generation of esports consumers want to put their money where they truly believe their future is, and this ETF is truly conveying that message with how it functions and what it covers.”

ESPO is currently up 18% this year. NERD opened at $14.90.

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