Esports might appear to be a very niche league, but it’s actually being supported by true heavyweights in the world. I was astounded to discover some of the people investing in esports.
Who are the biggest esports investors? The industry should feel very good about their future when people like Michael Jordan, Drake, Tony Robbins, and Jerry Jones begin to invest in their product. In addition to these brilliant individuals; esports also has the backing of corporations like Red Bull and Airbus.
With viewership and revenue only growing year over year, it’s not surprising that more people are wanting to invest. I actually found great comfort in knowing some of these people were responsible for the future of esports. You’ll be stunned when you see the money being poured into these video game teams.
The Celebrities and Influencers
After all these years there is still a negative mindset with the esports industry.
A lot of people still consider it a very small and unwelcomed sports league. But when you have Goldman Sachs taking an interest in you it becomes easier to ignore the haters.
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Goldman Sachs put together this incredible report about the esports industry.
There are also very powerful people watching esports. I’m not talking about small-time celebrities and influencers either.
Many of these celebrities aren’t even associated with technology or video games. They’re athletes, entertainers, and business people.
Which tells you the universal appeal of esports.
I’m fully aware that you might not be familiar with all these powerful people. But trust me…you’ll want to pay attention to anything they invest in.
Seeing the number of professional athletes investing in esports made me laugh a little.
One of the biggest complaints against esports is that “it’s not a sport”. Well, then why is there so many sports icons investing?
These former champions know a winner and esports is quickly presenting itself as a good bet.
The first sports icon to support esports was Shaquille O’Neal. (One of my all-time favorite basketball players).
Shaq actually has a lengthy background with video games. Having had a few designed after his likeness.
Including the now infamous…Shaq-Fu!
He has become a spokesperson for the industry; appearing in various commercials for their tournaments and has invested millions into multiple esports teams.
His most well-known invest has been backing NRG Esports.
NRG Esports is a team management company that has athletes in various leagues.
Including; The Overwatch League, Hearthstone, Fortnite, and The Rocket League.
Beyond being an investor and using his influence; Shaquille O’Neal is also the acting general manager for the Sacramento Kings NBA 2K Esports franchise.
I’ll dive deeper into what the NBA 2K Esports League is later…stay tuned!
I’m very confident you’ll know this next basketball star turned esports mogul. It’s the one and only Michael Jordan.
Being from and writing from North Carolina; Michael Jordan means a lot to both my brother and myself.
Seeing his name alone piques my interest in wanting to know more about the esports industry.
Michael Jordan has been very smart with his wealth after basketball by not only investing in the Charlotte Hornets but also being a part of a 26 million-dollar investment group in the gaming company aXiomatic Gaming.
aXiomatic Gaming owns and operates one of the most popular esports team; Team Liquid.
Team Liquid has players and teams that compete in Starcraft, League of Legends, and Dota 2. They attract some of the best players in the world to play.
DID YOU KNOW?
Team Liquid’s combined team’s prize winnings are $110 million dollars.
Michael Jordan was a winner on the court so it’s not surprising to see his investment and Team Liquid be a winner in the world of video games.
Speaking of Team Liquid; let’s look at some of their other very well known investors.
It might not mean anything to all our teenage readers…but for all you parents out there yes, Tony Robbins is an investor in esports.
As one of the most successful businessmen today his financial investment in esports means a lot.
And neither are shy about showing their pride for their investment.
Both are known to share updates and news about Team Liquid on their social media channels.
In addition to their financial investments, some celebrities are using their social media following to grow the esports brand.
We’ve already talked about Shaquille O’Neal doing commercials for esports, but the singer/rapper Drake is also using his superstardom to bring attention to esports.
I had to include Drake in here to balance out my writing about Tony Robbins.
Drake is an investor in the esports team 100 thieves, who compete in the video games Call of Duty and League of Legends.
Beyond investing; the most famous endorsement he’s given esports is playing a match on the video game Fortnite between him and very well-known esports athlete Tyler ‘Ninja’ Blevins.
Their match drew a viewership totaling 635,000 people on the website Twitch.
That is a lot of people watching a video game!
This kind of publicity is hard to put a value on. Many leagues, organizations, and teams would do anything to get that kind of viewership on their product.
While many esports teams call California their home there is a growing movement of setting up esports teams and organizations in Texas.
And you better believe you can’t do anything in Texas without drawing the attention of some of the most eccentric billionaires in America.
The first billionaire is the outspoken and very well known owner of the Dallas Cowboys, Jerry Jones. (The Dallas Cowboys are an NFL franchise).
He’s 75 years old, but even he can see the value of esports.
Jerry Jones is now the majority owner of compLexity Gaming. They have teams and players that compete in most of the significant esports leagues.
What makes compLexity Gaming different from the other esports teams is they will soon be calling ‘The Star’ their new gaming headquarters. The Star is Jerry Jones billion dollar training facility for the Dallas Cowboys.
The thought kind of makes me laugh…seeing American Football Players socializing and working out with some of the best gamers in the world.
The other well-known Texan billionaire that’s taking a liking to esports is Mark Cuban.
DID YOU KNOW?
Combined Jerry Jones and Mark Cuban’s net worth is $11 billion dollars.
Mark Cuban is the owner of the Dallas Mavericks, is a very influential businessman, and is very popular on the TV show Shark Tank.
His esports involvement is owning the Dallas Mavericks NBA 2K team.
The next celebrity may not be a household name, but I believe it’s important to know what he’s done for esports.
Rick Fox is a former NBA player and champion. Being a former NBA player, you better believe he understands the importance of nutrition and fitness.
Thanks to his background, he is credited for bringing a healthier lifestyle to the esports industry and to the athletes competing.
Rick Fox also started the esports team, Echo Fox. They have been very successful and have a very large following.
He wanted to make sure these gamers were getting the care and attention they needed to perform at their best.
As a parent, I appreciate seeing the effort he and others are taking to make sure esports athletes are properly taken care of.
It’s really nice to see some celebrities invest in esports for other reasons than to just get a bigger bank account.
One of these celebrities is actually Sean Diddy Combs AKA P. Diddy. He didn’t invest in an esports team but actually in an organization called PlayVs.
PlayVs is an organization trying to get more high schools to invest in esports. They help schools setup teams for high schoolers to play esports.
Very similar to having a baseball or football team at a high school. These esports teams give athletes a chance to show off their skills at tournaments against other high schools.
With the end goal being for these athletes to get access to the scholarships out there for esports.
There are more and more scholarships available to students who play esports. PlayVs encourages students to pursue these scholarships and lets them know that they’re even there.
I appreciate his effort to give these high schoolers a chance at a future.
One of the more unique investors in esports is actually Hollywood star Ashton Kutcher. His investment in the industry is different than the ones we’ve already discussed.
He is one of the premier investors in the company Unikrn.
Unikrn is the most popular site for placing bets on esports. Betting in esports is going to become more popular over the next few years.
They’re making it incredibly easy to bet on esports. You can bet on individual players, tournaments, and matches.
DID YOU KNOW?
It’s estimated esports betting will be valued at $12.9 billion by 2020.
These betting platforms are just another way for esports to become a 2 billion dollar industry.
Esports is not just an American phenomenon. Its quickly taken the world by storm and has seen investors from all over.
The name Alisher Usmanov may not mean anything to you, it didn’t to me until I started researching this topic.
But he’s actually one of the richest men in Russia.
Back in 2016, he made one of the most substantial investments in esports history by buying the esports team Virtus.Pro for 100 million dollars.
You don’t become the richest man in Russia by making bad investment decisions.
If you look at all these investments there’s a common theme…none of them are small investments.
These celebrities and influencers are staking a lot on the line for esports future.
I can only imagine the people that will continue to invest as esports just gets bigger and bigger.
It doesn’t matter what sports league you follow (NBA, Premier League, or the NFL) all the major sports leagues have one thing in common…corporate sponsorships.
Companies with very deep pockets wanting to get their product or brand in front of the millions of people watching esports.
Some brands have become iconic because of their association with sports. I can’t see the Nike swoosh without thinking of the NBA.
What brand comes to your mind when you think of your favorite sport?
Esports is no different, and they have seen incredible growth in corporate partners over the past couple of years.
While researching this topic, it was interesting to see the brand’s that have aligned themselves with esports.
The demographic watching tournaments and matches are predominantly younger (millennials) meaning only certain brands see the value and advertising to them.
Yes; I’m fully aware that we fall in that demographic.
Younger fans don’t want to see ads for products they consider old or outdated. They want to see brands that are young and fresh.
Knowing the audience and their desires have caused brands to get more creative with how they approach advertising to esports fan.
They want to show fans they care about the athletes competing, the games being played, and the overall growth of the industry.
So let’s dive in to see how some of the largest brands in the world are advertising to esports fans.
Some of esports corporate partners are very obvious like Intel, Blizzard Entertainment, and Alienware computers because of their direct ties to the technology in video games.
But there are a variety of brands and corporations that don’t necessarily have anything to do with technology and are aligning themselves with esports.
One of the most influential brands in esports is Red Bull.
It’s not surprising to see Red Bull invest so much into esports. They know many of the gamers competing and their fans use Red Bull products.
Having a drink that enhances your senses and alertness absolutely appeal to a sport where you need quick reflexes.
Red Bull also successfully created a niche for themselves as an exciting and young company investing in extreme sports.
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Red Bull has partnered with extremely popular esports star Tyler ‘Ninja’ Blevins.
You can trace their sponsorship all the way back to the beginning of esport tournaments. They were one of the first sponsors of Starcraft leagues.
In addition to Starcraft, they also now sponsor Dota 2 tournaments and have a specific Red Bull team called Tempo Storm.
It’s common to see shout-outs for their products on Twitch from their various athletes.
You’ll quickly notice a trend that beverage companies like sponsoring esports.
The Coca-Cola brand has can be seen everywhere while watching esports matches.
The most-watched esports tournament in the world is League of Legends and Coca-Cola is one of their main sponsors.
They don’t go small when designing sponsorship plans for esports.
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Coca-Cola partnered with FIFA to create an amatuer FIFA esports tournament called the eCOPA Coca-Cola.
During the most recent League of Legends World Tournament, they tried something new.
To capture the attention of casual esports fans Coca-Cola sponsored viewing parties at a variety of locations around the world. They broadcasted all the big matches in sold-out movie theaters.
They know most casual esports fans can’t travel to the League of Legends Championships so fans can now attend these screenings to feel a part of the action.
I’ve never attended these screenings but I’ll have to see if there’s any in North Carolina this year.
The ESL (one of the oldest and largest esports companies) isn’t going to be left out of the corporate sponsorships.
Car manufacturer Mercedes-Benz has become one of its premier sponsors.
Mercedes-Benz went beyond sponsoring ESL tournaments with their logo; they also started shuttling the athletes to and from hotels and corporate events during tournaments.
This was a genius branding strategy because the athletes we’re talking about the Mercedes-Benz cars across all their social media channels.
Another ESL premier sponsor is Mountain Dew.
(Yes; that’s another soft drink).
Mountain Dew has invested so much into esports they actually have their own league.
The Mountain Dew League is unique because it’s considered more of an amateur league. It gives newer gamers the chance to compete and to get their names out there.
They also sponsor multiple esports teams across various video games.
One of their more unique marketing ideas was hosting a new gaming shoutcaster competition. A shoutcaster is like a play-by-play commentator during esports tournaments.
It’s a very desirable gig because you get paid to talk about video games.
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For more information about the shoutcaster profession please check out our career guide.
Contestants would submit videos of themselves shoutcasting tournaments. Fans could then vote on their favorite shoutcasters competitors, and then the winners actually commentated at the Mountain Dew League.
As someone with a background in marketing; I love seeing the creativity some of these companies are showing.
Easily the most popular way to watch tournaments, matches, and players is on the streaming service Twitch.
Twitch has done more for gamers and the esports industry than any other sponsor or company.
Not only does Twitch sponsor tournaments but they also give athletes the chance to advertise on their own streaming channels.
Many of the most famous esports athletes have their own streaming channels on Twitch where anyone can watch them play video games. They will talk about strategies and you can follow along as they do what they’re best at.
During these streams, the athletes have the ability to control when ads are played. For example; if they’re backed by Mountain Dew they have the right to give specific shout outs to their sponsor while playing
Some of these streaming sessions can last up to 8 hours meaning the eventually will need to take various breaks.
Especially if they’re drinking lots of Mountain Dew!
Twitch has given athletes the ability to play ads for their sponsors during breaks.
This also limits interruptions while they’re playing.
Gamers want to have control over win their sponsors get love, and the viewers don’t want to see ads pop up right in the middle of playing time.
I love seeing a significant company showing respect to the athletes competing.
Esports continues to be so popular because it’s so diverse and includes all people.
Airbus wanted to show their support of inclusion by sponsoring an all-female League of Legends team.
In 2017 they became the sole sponsors League of Legends team Out Of The Blue; it’s made up of five female games.
With esports being a worldwide phenomenon companies are also investing in talents and teams across the globe.
The computer company Asus invested 16 million into China and Taiwan. They wanted to create local esports teams and leagues.
These Asian countries are incredibly important to the future of esports because of the future athletes that live there. I’m sure Asus is just the beginning of more companies expanding their reach globally.
You better believe it wasn’t going to take long before clothing companies wanted in on the esports action.
One of the most recent partnerships deals was between esports team OpTic Gaming and Champion Athleticwear.
Champion started to design and create clothing specific to OpTic Gaming and their fans. It’s the first deal of its kind!
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You can purchase their merchandise here.
I’m sure more companies will follow Champions example and find more teams to partner with.
For professional gamers, it’s a really fun perk to have these corporate sponsors invest in them.
If you’re signed to a significant esports team that has deep-pocketed sponsors you very well could be living the good life.
If esports is going to continue to thrive it needs to gain more corporate backings and partnerships.
NBA Takes a Chance
It’s fascinating and kind of weird to see other sports franchises creating and sponsoring teams in esports leagues.
This is what makes esports so fascinating! Anyone can play and invest in the future.
The NBA is the first sports league to create a simultaneous esports league that they operate. Using the game NBA 2K; NBA franchises created teams to compete in the NBA 2K League.
Not every NBA franchise has an NBA 2K team, but I’m sure it won’t be long before all 30 teams do.
These NBA 2K franchises have some of the best gamers competing in their league. They travel the country and compete against other teams almost identically to the NBA.
All eyes are on the NBA 2K League to see if this is actually going to be a success. They had their inaugural season this past year in 2018 and found some success.
The NBA 2K game series is one of the most popular sports simulator games meaning the interest in the league is very high. It appeals to a lot of amateur gamers trying to actually join a team.
Beyond their own esports league, the Philadelphia 76ers NBA franchise purchased esports teams that compete in other video games.
They own team Dignitas; they have athletes competing in League of Legends and Dota 2.
On a worldwide stage, the most popular sports video game is FIFA.
For all our UK readers you may have heard the news The Sun newspaper has created their own esports team to compete in FIFA tournaments.
Their team is called Dream Team gaming, and it’s going to be interesting to watch how they compete on a worldwide stage.
Even the Premier League in England has launched their own FIFA esports league.
Another sports video game that has its own league is F1 Championship.
Actual Formula 1 teams have sponsored an athlete in the F1 Championship series. So not only can you cheer on your favorite F1 racer but you can also cheer for their esports athlete.
My prediction is that the NFL and MLB will be following suit shortly by creating their own esports leagues.
It’s incredible to me to see the crossover between all of these different sports organizations and franchises.
Esports has really ascended beyond its humble beginnings it has become a corporate powerhouse.
How do I get my own corporate sponsorships? Every gamer wants to have a corporate sponsor which makes them very difficult to get. The best way to get sponsored is to win and when big at various tournaments. Or start a Twitch channel and gain a tremendous following.