The world between traditional sports and esports has started to become blurred. World-class professional athletes — both current and retired — are buying up esports teams right and left. Traditional sports organizations are also investing in their digital counterparts. Clearly, these celebrity esports owners recognize a potential business opportunity.
We’ve compiled a list of some of the most notable acquisitions to take place over the last year and discuss what these celebrity esports owners could potentially mean for the esports scene.
Shaquille O’Neal, Jimmy Rollins, and Alex Rodriguez Join Forces to Buy NRG Esports
Three iconic athletes decided to join forces and put a stake in one of North America’s most prestigious esports organizations, NRG esports. The three former all-star and hall of fame players cited esports viewership numbers dwarfing those of traditional sports and how they wanted to “get in early” to the scene as reasons for the purchase.
Having such prestigious former players invest in an esports organization has silenced a lot of critics of the once “controversial” profession. Their stamp of approval has definitely helped bridge the gap between the sports worlds.
76ers Acquire Dignitas
In late September, the Philadelphia 76ers made headlines by becoming the first North American traditional sports team to purchase an esports organization. Their acquisition of the Dignitas and Apex organizations occurred after they hired a veteran executive of consumer tech and video games, Greg Richardson. The staggering data they found made it an easy decision. This is what Richardson had to say about esports;
“The market created itself and became a product that a quarter billion people are watching, and when they watch, they’re watching an hour and half a day,” Richardson said. “But at the same time, it’s an incredibly large, immature market that is somewhat of a Wild West.”
The Sixers say they plan to keep this entity separate from the “stick and ball” sports. This is their way of reaching the market of millennials who may not be interested in their basketball product.
FC Schalke Goes from the Pitch to Summoner’s Rift
Instead of having a hands-off approach to branding, FC Schalke decided to go all in. First, the team name was changed to Schalke 04. Then they changed the players’ “kits” to closely resemble the football club’s style and branding.
Unfortunately for Schalke 04, the team had a tumultuous season. They were relegated to the Challenger series, resulting in the removal of their original owner and coach. Regardless of their performance, Schalke 04’s early involvement in esports certainly opened some eyes.
Rick Fox Hears an Echo
While other professional sports stars have invested in the sports scene, few actually have their own team. Former Los Angeles Laker Rick Fox started his organization, dubbed “Echo Fox,” just last year. Starting with a League of Legends roster, his company now boasts teams or sponsored players in eight games. His innovative hands-on management style has many people taking notice.
Fox played for several championship Laker teams. He believes his championship pedigree can translate into building a successful esports organization. His player-first mentality will hopefully prove to be a model for other organizations to follow.
Steve Aoki Drops the Beat in Overwatch
Steve Aoki recently announced that he had bought a majority stake in the esports organization, Rogue, for an undisclosed amount. This makes him one of the first non-athlete celebrity esports owners.
A longtime gamer himself, Aoki has been an avid fan of the Overwatch game since its release in May 2016. This is how he first became involved with the Rogue squad. Here’s what Aoki had to say about his move into the market:
“As many of my fans know, I’ve been a gamer all my life and have been getting more and more involved in esports. I can finally take my love for gaming to the next level as an owner of Rogue, the professional esports team. As an avid player of Overwatch, their dominance caught my eye and after getting to know them, I realized that we shared the same goals and interests in team building and competition.”
Aoki might have entered the Overwatch scene at the perfect time; His new team has been placing in the top three at major tournaments. The recent Overwatch Open tournament recently aired its grand finals on TBS, where it attracted roughly 280,000 viewers.
We have a feeling the trend of celebrity esports owners is just getting started. As the esports scene continues to grow (and the associated money grows along with it), you can be sure more athletes and other celebrities will try to get in on the action.