Sway House co-founder weighs in on esports growth, innovation.
For generations, buying a sports team was the ultimate signal of having made it into the upper echelons of the uber-rich. When the LA Clippers went up for sale in 2014, a veritable who’s who of the world’s most wealthy expressed interest in buying the team, from Matt Damon and Dr. Dre to Oprah Winfrey. (Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer ended up buying the team for a cool $2 billion.)
In recent years, the playground of the super-wealthy has shifted locations. While you’ll still find these titans paying close attention to the happenings on the basketball court and the football field, the setting has gone virtual. Today’s celebrities and billionaires are placing their bets on esports teams.
Exhibit A? Jerry Jones. As the owner of the Dallas Cowboys, Jones knows a thing or two about purchasing high-profile sports teams. In 2017, he bought a majority stake in compLexity Gaming, a North American esports franchise. The brand has continued its upward trajectory, partnering with beer brand Miller Lite and even teaming up with the U.S. Army for a “Soldier Showdown” tournament series.
In 2016, the Kraft family (owners of the New England Patriots) became one of the very first investors in the Overwatch League, an international esports league launched by Activision Blizzard. With 20 city-based franchise leagues, it has brought home game fandom to the esports universe. In 2017, Stanley Kroenke and his son Josh (owners of the Los Angeles Rams) joined in to control the league’s second team in Los Angeles.
Also, no stranger to traditional sports, basketball legend Shaquille O’Neal also threw his hat into the esports ring when he purchased stakes from NRG esports in 2016. Other notable investors in NRG include former baseball pros Alex Rodriguez and Jimmy Rollins, singer Jennifer Lopez, and legendary DJ and producer Tiesto.
While not a household name in the U.S., Alisher Usmanov is one of the biggest names in the Russian business world. As an early investor in Facebook, an owner of stakes in Xiaomi and other telecoms, mining, and media companies, Usmanov is worth over $16 billion. In 2015, he invested $100 million into Virtus Pro. Usmanov invested wisely; the organization has players competing in Dota 2, Rainbow Six Siege, PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds, Fortnite, Apex Legends, Starcraft II, and more, and its former Polish Golden Five CS: GO team is considered one of the best teams in the history of Counter-strike: Global Offensive.
For years, esports organizers and players have pushed back against the idea that their events were “just video games” or childsplay. Over time, as events grew larger and attracted the attention of corporate sponsors, that perception has slowly started to change. With teams and leagues now getting backing from big names and huge money, those who have stood behind them are feeling validated...and esports is finally well on its way to being taken just as seriously as traditional sports by the big players in the sports and investment worlds.
Photo by cottonbro, from Pexels.
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