In the past couple of years, a lot of money has entered esports. The industry is growing at an exponential rate in terms of revenue and will top $1 billion in 2020 according to projections by Newzoo.
With numbers constantly on the rise, investors have been eager to get their money into various facets of the industry. A lot of that money has come from traditional sports. Half the teams in League of Legends’ LCS are owned by NBA owners.
Athletes from all the major sports have invested in esports. Some have just put a bit of money in, but some have gone as far as starting entire esports organizations that are now internationally renowned.
Here are some of the most notable traditional sports athletes who have invested in esports.
The Los Angeles Laker, turned actor, turned esports organization owner is the most interesting example of an athlete who went all in on esports. While a lot of money has entered the industry in the past years, Fox was a trendsetter.
In 2015, he bought the LCS spot of Gravity Gaming for $1 million. For an example of esports meteoric rise, the Philadelphia 76ers owner bought a majority stake in the Houston Rockets’ Clutch Gaming for a price that puts the evaluation of a team spot in the LCS at $30 million. (Did I mention there is a lot of NBA presence in the LCS?)
Fox started it all. As the owner of Echo Fox he has built the organization into the fourth most valuable esports organization in the world according to Forbes. The organization is valued at $150 million because they own a coveted LCS spot and the most dominant esports organization in the fighting game community (FGC).
Fox also was a co-founder of Vision Venture Partners, an esports/gaming investment firm.
Odell Beckham Jr. and Kevin Durant
These two very different superstars are lumped together because they invested in the same company at the same time. That company is Rick Fox’s Vision Venture Partners.
With an initial investment by the New York Yankees and a follow-up investment by Durant, Beckham and the St. Louis Cardinals, VVP has touched three different sports in massive funding rounds. That funding round added $38 million in capital to VVP.
While neither Durant nor Beckham Jr. were quoted on why they put money into Vision, they both let their millions do the talking. For Durant, VVP is just another asset in a rapidly growing investment portfolio. The Durant Company claims to have early-stage investments ranging from 250,000 to $1 million in about 30 companies as of May, 2018.
The best basketball player of all time became a business mogul after he finally left the league. He is currently worth $1.9 billion according to an article in March of 2019 by Business Insider.
When Jordan does something, he wants to be the best at it. So it is no surprise that he invested in the parent company of the most valuable esports organization in the world.
Team Liquid is the most expansive and successful esports organization at the moment and aXiomatic, Liquid’s parent company, is a who’s who of old sports money. aXiomatic has four co-chairmen, three own sports franchises: Golden State Warriors co-owner Peter Guber, Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis, and Tampa Bay Lighting owner Jeff Vinik.
But it probably wasn’t them who attracted Jordan’s attention. The only other NBA player who can contend with Jordan as the best superstar turned businessman is Magic Johnson, a co-owner of aXiomatic.
The NRG Esports Investment board
When talking about big names invested in esports, you could impress the casual sports fan with only the list of names invested in NRG esports. NRG didn’t even crack the top 12 most valuable esports franchises, but the organization still has money from a bunch of hall of famers.
The NRG investment board includes Shaquille O’Neal, Alex Rodriguez, Marshawn Lynch, Michael Strahan, Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins.
They also have mainstream celebrities like Jennifer Lopez and EDM artist Tiësto.
NRG esports is another organization entrenched in traditional sports. The two co-founders, Andy Miller and Mark Mastrov, are also minority partners in ownership of the Sacramento Kings. Shaq is also a minority owner of the Kings under the majority stake of Vivek Ranadivé.
So far this article has been very NBA heavy, and for good reason, the NBA more than most other leagues has truly embraced esports. But there are still pioneers in other leagues that have led the way for athletic investment.
The Los Angeles Rams starting Left Guard in the Super Bowl, Saffold is the only other professional athlete to create their own esports organization from the ground up.
Saffold founded Rise Nation, an esports organization primarily focused on first-person shooters. Rise certainly isn’t to the caliber that Echo Fox has reached, but the organization has had some moments of brilliance.
They no longer field a Call of Duty team, but Rise Nation in 2018 was dominant. They entered the Call of Duty Pro League (CWL) on a tear winning 13/14 of their games. They took that momentum in CWL Atlanta and won the double elimination tournament without taking a loss.
After the Call of Duty team disbanded, Rise Nation’s website was non-existent and the Twitter account was inactive. Many people feared the worst for the organization but on April 8th they unveiled a new website and showcased their teams in Rainbow Six: Siege, Gears of War, and Fortnite.
Welcome to https://t.co/HLgP6UiKud‼️— RiseNation (@TheRiseNation) April 8, 2019
One place where together, #WeRise pic.twitter.com/7B7uLXLCff
### **Steph Curry, Andre Iguodala and Steve Young** What do these three bay area legends have in common? They have all helped bring multiple championships to the San Francisco area, and they were all part of the same $37 million investment round in Swift. Swift is the parent company of Team SoloMid, the second most valuable esports organization at $250 million according to Forbes. Bessemer Venture Partners, who contributed $25 million, led the majority of that investment round, but Bessemer also reached out to Curry, Iguodala and Young to get their support as well. Much like Durant, Curry also has an ever-growing portfolio of investments. That is one of the key reasons why Durant went to Golden State and both NBA superstars are following the blueprint laid out by Jordan and Magic Johnson. If you want more information about these different investments, be sure to listen to the podcast I produced on this topic. In there, I go over a bunch more names who have invested in the esports industry and even get a little off topic talking about traditional sports owners, the way these investments are often covered in the media and much more.