eSports is a sport. Often times when we think of the definition of a sport, there is not only a skill aspect, but also a physical one. Sport purists often insist on the definition relating to physical athleticism, but culturally we’ve been seeing a shift of trite and old description. When we think of sports in the U.S., the majority picture the NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL. But we know tennis, soccer, boxing, volleyball, and hundred of others to be classified as a sport as well. NASCAR, Chess, and Bridge are recognized as sports despite their lack of athleticism: they both require mental skill and prowess, important attributes often overlooked across all sports.
But what makes eSports different and worthy of your eyes, ears, and of the press? Before diving into the structure, the hype, the tournaments, the countless different category of games, the teams, and much more, a great place to begin is identify the people who are already involved in esports. Even if you are a general sports fan, you’ve probably heard of at least some of these people. And if these people, who are already involved in professional sports, are invested, you probably should at least be paying attention to the same things they are. After all, esports is on track to surpass $1.5B by 2023.
Let me convince you on why paying attention to eSports is worth your time by showing you who is involved. Let’s start with a heavy hitter.
Michael Jordan. Yeah, that guy. The same guy who did these things:
Arguably the GOAT of professional basketball, Michael Jordan had other interests after his basketball career concluded in 2003 (not his first or second retirement, I’m talking about his the third and final one). While currently being the majority owner of the Charlotte Hornets, Jordan’s many investments span across a plethora of different industries, one of them being eSports. In 2018, he invested a reported $26 million in the eSports group aXiomatic Gaming. But MJ was not the first major NBA star to join this eSports group. Magic Johnson was actually the first back in 2016. For the business basketball nerds out there, Peter Guber (co-owner of the Golden State Warriors) and Ted Leonsis (Wizards owner) acquired Team Liquid, one of the most popular and successful esports franchises, which is under the ownership of aXiomatic. So MJ, Magic, Guber, and Leonsis are all under the same umbrella. That’s quite a powerhouse of investors.
Also a fun fact, the 76ers became the first North American sports team to own an eSports team (just a day before the official aXiomatic announcement on their website). Dignitas, another popular eSports franchise, was acquired.
I could go on to completely nerd out and give an in-depth explanation on other players and common relationships among the majority of current/former professional sports players and owners, but I’ll spare you the pain. Instead here are some notable names below who are involved in eSports:
- Rick Fox (former Lakers player)
In December 2015, Fox bought a previous team called “Gravity Gaming” and rebranded to “Echo Fox”, which initially focused on the game “League of Legends”
In Feb 2018, a private equity firm founded by Rick Fox created an esports-only investment fund named Vision Esports which closed $38 million in funding. Durant was one of those investors, in addition to Odell Beckham Jr, and the St. Louis Cardinals. As a result, KD owned a stake of the Echo Fox team
- In March 2016, Shaq, Alex Rodriguez, and Jimmy Rollins invested in NRG, another successful eSports franchise. In 2017, Marshawn Lynch contributed to a Series B funding. There are many other notable investors of NRG that you may recognize as well, here.
- One of my favorite groups, Team Solo Mid (TSM), had Steph Curry joined a team of investors, a combined $37 million in 2018. Andre Iguodala was also involved in that round of investment, as well as Steve Young
- Gordon Hayward, a gaming enthusiast, is sponsored by HyperX gaming. Though not an eSports franchise, HyperX creates many gaming products that pro players use across the numerous franchises.
- And if you were curious about a few more, check out this list
The most prominent sports players and owners you’ve heard of (and maybe never heard of) have been paying attention to eSports. Not only because there is money to be made, but also because of industry’s culture, format, hype, and so much more. Though you might not be able to invest millions of dollars like they can, you can just find out what all the fuss is about by watching.
In the next few blog posts about eSports, I hope compare and show you the many similarities to other “pro sports” in an easy and intuitive way. Though the intricacies, gameplay, and technical lingo may by confusing at first, I promise you’ll become at least proficient in your understanding of the industry. In the meantime, enjoy the hype: