At 24 years old, Nicolle Merhy (or Cherrygumms, as she is known in the gaming world) accumulates several titles: CEO of Black Dragons e-Sports, former professional player, digital influencer, youtuber, Under 30 by Forbes in 2019, and first gamer ambassador for Nike in Brazil. It was a long road from playing video games with her father when she was little to running one of the largest e-gaming teams in the country, today with a large operation and infrastructure - and ambitious plans to grow even more.
What was born in 1997 from a group of friends when Nicolle was just a newborn baby today is a severe and consolidated business run by her. Black Dragons have more than 60 titles in competitions (15 international championships trophies), 90 athletes in eight teams, a seven-floor, 27-room gaming house in São Paulo, and revenues of R$2.6 million in 2020 alone. Black Dragons achieved all without external capital - the only prominent national team without this kind of support (at least for now, since plans for a series A round of investments are underway).
"I suffered a lot to get sponsorship for Black Dragons and Cherry. For almost two years, 100% of my savings went to the team. There was a lot of personal investment. I even stopped playing professionally to start betting more on my influencer career and making money - which worked out very well. Today I have several brands. I use my personal media a lot to raise sponsorship and bring them to BD", explains Nicolle.
With more than 1.2 million followers on social networks, the versatile young woman has invested mainly in daily videos on YouTube and lives on streaming platforms such as Twitch. The strategy is working: Nicolle has represented over 50 brands worldwide, among them notable brands such as Nike, Acer, and Prevent Senior, with an average personal income between R$70,000 and R$100,000 a month, she revealed in an interview with Forbes, not to mention the awards’ nominations. Nowadays, her team has the third highest revenue in bonuses in the Brazilian scenario, having already won several international titles worth up to US$ 500 thousand - money reinvested in the company and its athletes.
With good numbers, Nicolle intends to increasingly consolidate Black Dragons as an international player in esports. This market recorded a growth of 14.5% worldwide in 2020, reaching almost 28 million users in Brazil. On this road, its next step is to raise private equity by October. "Until today, we haven't had any investment. I want to create a robust commercial area and go to market, but we haven't had this opportunity yet. We already have partnerships with Nike, Ambev, and Next Bank. Imagine with an investor?" she asks.
Assisted by the global management consulting firm Alvarez & Marsal, BD wants to sell a stake in the company along with an investment of R$2.5 million that will be used mainly as working capital and in the construction of the Arena project: a new space in the headquarters, with a stage for games and gamers tournaments open to the public, bleachers, an area to meet fans, a store, and a team museum - an unprecedented structure in the Brazilian e-Sports scene. The complex is expected to open in 2022, according to Nicolle. The company's valuation is still under analysis.
And, for the CEO, it is not just about financial capital: "I don't want just money, I want management. I'm after a person who wants to add, who will participate in the decisions and help me structure the company where I have been working for the last five years."
THE WOMEN’S PERFORMANCE
Ambitious and determined, Nicolle is undoubtedly the biggest female name in the current national esports scene and has represented women in different scenarios of the sector. She was, for example, the only player from Latin America in the official mixed championships since 2016 - a condition that only changed this year - and the only woman, among 75 candidates, to compete for “Prêmio eSports Brasil” in the "Personality of the Year" category.
Among other recognitions, the entrepreneur and influencer has already been called to the Federal Senate to give her opinion on the regulation of esports in Brazil and has given speeches and consultancies for companies such as Ambev. "I have always defended women in this scenario. Initially, I suffered a lot of prejudice to consolidate my name, but as I was on a team, I had friends and the support of a fan base - something that not all of them have. That is why today we have female players in BD, which is an inclusive space," she says.
And this is precisely what the gamer universe is for her: welcoming. "It is beautiful to see that, in electronic games, anyone can take part. You don't need to be physically fit; people with disabilities can participate, and there is no difference between men and women. It is much more inclusive than any traditional sport," she concludes.