Unless you’re a sports fan that’s been living far, far removed from society over the past decade, you are probably at least somewhat familiar with the rapid rise in esports. Even those who don’t know much about specific tournaments, teams, players, prize pools and all that other stuff at least have a hold on one thing: The industry is mushrooming in popularity.
Signs of this ascension are everywhere, most notably on the financial side. There is a lot of money to be made and fought for in esports. Player salaries are still somewhat on the lower end compared to other sports, but they are able to bag pretty lucrative sponsorships. Events are betting staples all over the globe, with esports competitions being heavily featured at reputable sportsbooks such as Bodog. In fact, gambling revenue from esports alone nearly hit $2 billion in 2020.
That much money is bound to attract big-time investors—yet another sign of esports’ mounting cachet. This includes bigwigs who already own live-sport teams and arenas. The National Basketball Association, for instance, has an entire league dedicated to 2K, with a draft, free agency and everything. Many of those squads are owned by the real-life franchises.
And yet, because esports organizations are relatively cheap compared to those of live sports, they have also attracted A-list professional athletes and celebrities, most of whom are millionaires rather than billionaires.
The sheer breadth of marquee names with some form of a stake in the esports industry should tell you all you need to know about its viability. Let’s run through some of the biggest.
“Michael Jordan” by Brock Williams/Getty is licensed under CC BY 3.0
Michael Jordan is most known for being one of the two greatest NBA players of all time. Post-career, he is known for being the primary owner of the Charlotte Hornets, a minority stakeholder in MLB’s Miami Marlins and his booming Jordan Brand shoes.
Recently, though, his Airness took the plunge into the esports industry, leading a group of investors that funneled nearly $30 million into the esports gaming company aXiomatic Gaming, which owns the esports organization Team Liquid.
Say what you will about the lack of success the Hornets have experienced under Jordan’s leadership. The value of the Charlotte organization has more than doubled since he took it over, and Jordan Brand does billions upon billions of sales each year. If he’s investing in something, there’s a pretty good chance it turns to gold.
There is perhaps no active rapper more famous than Drake (whose real name is Aubrey Graham). His music video budgets routinely reach or exceed $1 million—a lot of money for a three- to four-minute piece—and he has an estimated net worth close to $200 million.
Drake, who also happens to be listed as the brand ambassador to the NBA’s Toronto Raptors, has spent some of his fortune getting his feet wet in esports. Along with a business partner of his, he invested an undetermined amount of money in 100 Thieves, a wildly popular esports organization that competes in games such as League of Legends and Call of Duty.
While the exact terms aren’t public, we do know Drake became part-owner of 100 Thieves as a result of the agreement. And though many will think he’s in this just for the money, he has been known to dabble in some video games himself—namely Fortnite.
“Stephen Curry” by Carlos Osorio/Getty is licensed under CC BY 3.0
On the court, Stephen Curry and Andre Iguodala are (former) NBA teammates who won three championships together with the Golden State Warriors. Off the court, they are partners in an esports venture.
Back in 2018, the duo joined an investment group that put $37 million into the esports organization TSM, which is best known for fielding squads to play League of Legends and Fortnite.
If anyone’s looking to gain even more confidence in the esports industry, they can find solace in Iguodala’s stake with TSM. He is among the most well-regarded investors among professional athletes, someone who has made millions and millions off the floor in tech and built a rolodex of business partners and mentors you could only dream about. This is all to say: He seldom puts money where it shouldn’t be.
Much like Iguodala, Kevin Durant has become known as a titan among big-time investors. He is most active in the tech industry, and he even founded a company that specializes in tech investments.
You can also add esports to his growing catalogue of business. Durant joined a group that invested $38 million Vision Esports, an esports investment fund and management company that has reeled in many other former and current pro athletes.
Heck, Vision Esports was even founded by an athlete, former NBA player Rick Fox. And in addition to Durant, the company’s other investors include members of the New York Knicks and St. Louis Cardinals.