It all started with legendary center Shaquille O’Neal becoming part-owner of NRG esports, followed by Rick Fox purchasing his own LCS spot and creating Echo Fox.
This offseason took the trend further with NBA franchises and owners now getting seriously involved. The Philadelphia 76ers acquired not one, but two, LCS franchises, merging them under the Dignitas brand.
With the 2017 NA LCS Spring Split teams now decided, an astonishing five of the 10 teams competing have ties to the NBA. Memphis Grizzlies owner Stephen Kaplan purchased a share of Immortals. Washington Wizards owner Ted Leonsis and Golden State Warriors owner Peter Guber partnered with NBA legend and noted entrepreneur Magic Johnson to buy Team Liquid.
Now Milwaukee Bucks co-owner Wesley Edens is throwing his hat in the ring. Edens just recently purchased the rights to Cloud9 Challenger’s spot in the upcoming 2017 NA LCS Spring Split. Of the new team, branded FlyQuest, Edens said in a statement:
“We are very excited to enter such a rapidly growing and immensely popular sport. FlyQuest intends to compete and win at the highest levels of esports and quickly become an internationally respected organization. Starting with our very talented League of Legends roster, we’re beginning the process of building sustainable success. We look forward to growing our brand globally as we help expand the reach of esports.”Edens’ new squad will include plenty of veteran faces. Three original Cloud9 players will be featured on this team, including top laner An “BalIs” Van Le, mid laner Hai “Hai” Lam, and support Derek “LemonNation” Hart. ADC Jonny “Altec” Ru also played for Cloud9 Challenger last split and was included among the four contracts. Thomas “Thinkcard” Slotkin will also continue on as coach.
Rounding out the roster is jungler Galen “Moon” Holgate, another LCS veteran who previously played for Team Liquid.
Initial reports are that Edens paid approximately $2.5 million — $1.8 million for the LCS spot and close to $700,000 for four contracts.
BAMTech purchases streaming contract with Riot
BAMTech, a Major League Baseball streaming platform that is backed by Disney, has just announced a multi-year deal with Riot to deliver exclusive esports content directly related to their flagship game, League of Legends.
BAMTech has stated it will be launching new ways to spectate and participate in LoL in 2017. The company will pay Riot $300 million through 2023 for the exclusive rights to distribute and develop LoL content, create and promote esports tournaments, and sell marketing ads and sponsorship deals.
Riot released an official statement on its website:
Today we’re thrilled to announce Riot Games and BAMTech have entered into a first-of-its-kind long-term commercialization partnership to deliver professional League of Legends esports content in regions around the world. We will be working closely with BAMTech to grow revenue in our sport through various means, including sponsorship and advertising.
Beginning next year, we’ll also be collaborating to push the boundaries of the esports viewing experience, leveraging BAMTech’s best-in-class technology to create additional possibilities and opportunities for fans to access, and connect with, League of Legends.
Disney also owns sports broadcasting giant ESPN, which launched an esports section last year. With this new investment, ESPN is planning to launch a new esports consumer subscription service.
Misfits now backed by an NBA franchise
Misfits will start their inaugural split in the EU LCS with the backing of a very prominent NBA franchise.
The Miami Heat have announced they have acquired a large stake in the multi-game esports organization, assisting in managerial duties surrounding the brand, including new sponsorship deals, marketing strategies, brand promotion, and even a rebranding of their logo and colors to match that of the Miami Heat franchise.
“The Miami Heat pride ourselves on being innovative in all aspects of sports and business,” Miami Heat CEO Nick Arison said in a news release. “For us, it made perfect sense to partner with Misfits, a young and ambitious franchise in a sport that is blazing a trail in terms of 21st century recreational competition amongst millennials.”
Misfits was originally founded by Syfy channel co-founder Mitchell Rubenstein and his son-in-law, Ben Spoont, in 2016.
After launching their new brand, the organization acquired the former NACS Renegades team. After their brief success of qualifying for the LCS, Misfits then expanded into Hearthstone, Heroes of the Storm, Overwatch, and Super Smash Bros.
Lionsgate invests in Immortals
It seems every week we have a new franchise or company investing in Immortals, and this week it’s film and television production company Lionsgate.
Now that Immortals has branched out beyond League of Legends and into markets like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Overwatch, and Super Smash Bros, the organization has been lining up investors left and right.
Lionsgate will be joining financier Michael Milken (co-founder of Oaktree Capital), Steve Kaplan (co-owner of the Memphis Grizzlies), investor Gregory Milken, entrepreneur Allen DeBevoise, Premier League’s Swansea City, and CrossCut Ventures.
“Our involvement in esports creates tremendous opportunities to develop new content and utilize our suite of distribution platforms for a coveted consumer demographic with compelling engagement metrics,” Lionsgate President of Interactive Ventures and Games Peter Levin stated in a press release. “Collaborating with an elite group of partners, the combination of the Lionsgate and Immortals brands will be formidable.”
Lionsgate carries flagship franchises, such as The Hunger Games and Twilight. It also purchased the rights to cable network Starz last month, kicking off its investment spree.
The film production company has also partnered with Pilgrim Media Group to begin producing ESL content. Its first series will be in partnership with Microsoft and will cover the Halo gaming brand.