Sep 29 2016 - 2:10 pm

The most high-profile investments in esports teams so far

Earlier this week, two groups representing major names in traditional sports made major investments in esports: The Philadelphia 76ers, which bought a majority share in Team Dignitas and Apex, and a group including NBA team owners and basketball legend Ma
Saira Mueller
Dot Esports Managing Editor

Earlier this week, two groups representing major names in traditional sports made major investments in esports: The Philadelphia 76ers, which bought a majority share in Team Dignitas and Apex, and a group including NBA team owners and basketball legend Magic Johnson, which took a controlling share in Team Liquid.

Over the past year alone, there have been seven noteworthy esports investments. And this should hardly come as a surprise. The esports industry is putting up some well-reported and impressive numbers. The global esports market is currently valued at just under $900 million, and worldwide viewership sits at around 214 million, according to a July report from market research firm SuperData Research. By 2019, the industry will be worth over $1.2 billion and viewership will have increased to around 303 million.

Part of the excitement from traditional sports teams and venture capitalists could come from the esports audience demographic, which is predominantly 18 to 35 year olds, with 61 percent of the U.S. audience being under 25 and 85 percent male, according to SuperData. That's a demographic that is notoriously hard to reach due to the amount of time they spend online.

The interest of multiple NBA teams and players seems to be no coincidence: the NBA Board of Governors meeting featured a presentation on the growth of esports was given, something cited by Dignitas Chairman Greg Richardson in an interview earlier this week with Dot Esports.

Chances are more big investor news is coming. Multiple German soccer clubs have been rumored to pick up esports divisions, and a number of American basketball players and owners have hinted that they would like to get into the space. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has been circling the space for around a year, and has yet to pick up a team.

Unfortunately, the details (including sales price) of these deals are rarely released to the public. So here are the seven biggest recent investments in esports—in no particular order.

Philadelphia 76ers acquire Team Dignitas and Apex

In what's arguably the biggest North American esports investment news this year, NBA team the Philadelphia 76ers announced that it had acquired the majority stake in long-standing esports organization Team Dignitas, and League of Legends team Apex on Sept. 26.

The Sixers will help Dignitas secure sponsorships, work on player health and nutrition, and other infrastructure typical of traditional sports teams. Day-to-day management will still be left mostly to the current Dignitas staff. The exact stake and sum paid wasn't revealed.

“The Sixers organization will be actively involved on the business side, as we think about broader sponsorship relationships, as we think about how we might approach fan engagement, and giving the fans more of what they want, from merchandising to interacting with our players on a regular basis," Richardson said in the Facebook Live interview.

This will also include expanding the Dignitas infrastructure through leveraging the Sixers’ capital and expertise, although no details on those plans have been announced.

Immortals acquire Team 8 LCS spot, backed by venture capital funding

Last October, a new organization called Immortals purchased Team 8’s LCS spot. The most interesting part about the venture was its funding: It was the first esports group funded by major investors and venture capital firms.

The investment, which includes individuals such as Peter Levin, the president of Lionsgate Interactive Venture and Games, to businesses like Machine Shop Ventures, an alter-alias of the band Linkin Park, was the first of its kind in the esports scene.

Since then, Immortals has flourished. It’s picked up Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and Overwatch teams, and signed Smash player Jason “ANTi” Bates. The League team also dominated its LCS debut in the Spring regular split, topping the table.

Sacramento Kings co-owners buy Team Coast LCS spot, start NRG eSports; Shaq, A-Rod, and Jimmy Rollins invest in NRG eSports

NRG eSports hasn't been around for long, but it's already got a history of dropping big investor news.

Last November, two co-owners of NBA team the Sacramento Kings bought out Team Coast’s LCS spot and founded NRG. Then, in March this year, NRG announced investment from former pro basketball player Shaquille O’Neal—who would also serve as a sort of social media brand ambassador for the team, leading to some interesting videos and gifs on Twitter—New York Yankees player Alex Rodriguez, and Chicago White Sox shortstop Jimmy Rollins.

NRG was quick to diversify its stable of esports teams, picking up rosters in CS:GO, Gears of War, Overwatch, and Smite. It also has Smash player Nairoby “Nairo” Quezada on the books, and recently signed popular Hearthstone personality and streamer Jason “Amaz” Chan.

Russia's richest man invests into Virtus.pro

Russia's most famous franchise received one of the biggest investments we know of in esports last year: $100 million from UHM holdings, a company founded by Alisher Usmanov, the richest man in Russia. Virtus.pro's most famous side is its CS:GO squad, which recently won the first season of ELEAGUE, the televised league run by TBS. 

It's not clear how the money has and will be used, but Anton Cherepennikov, Virtus.pro's managing partner and co-owner, said at that the time that the main goal was "to increase the popularity of e-sports in Russia, and this is what USM's investment will go towards." 

"The funds will primarily be used to launch new tournaments and various new gaming disciplines, as well to create media channels to cover the sport and to construct e-sports arenas," he added. 

FC Schalke 04 acquire Elements LCS spot

German soccer club FC Schalke announced in May that it had purchased Elements EU LCS spot, becoming the first traditional sports franchise to get into the league, and one of the first to branch out of sports games like FIFA.

The team competed in the Summer split, but after a disappointing run in the regular season they were relegated to the Challenger Series. This sparked a lot of conversation in the League community about the current structure of the LCS, and how the promotion and relegation system could deter traditional sports companies and outside investors from jumping into the scene. LCS teams are expensive—in the low seven figures, generally—and the potential of relegation makes such an investment highly risky.

FC Schalke has said it will not sell its Challenger Series spot, however, instead focusing on improving the team with the hopes of making it back to the LCS next year.

Controlling interest of Team Liquid sold to NBA owners, Magic Johnson

Team Liquid's big announcement came just a day after the 76ers news.  The iconic organization revealed on Sept. 27 that it had sold controlling interest to an ownership group that includes leading names in traditional sports, such as NBA player Magic Johnson.

The new investment group, aXiomatic, is led by Monumental Sports & Entertainment CEO Ted Leonsis and Mandalay Entertainment Group CEO Peter Gruber. Together, they own seven national sports teams, including the Golden State Warriors, Washington Capitals, and Los Angeles Dodgers.

What the acquisition means for Liquid has yet to be announced, but the management team will continue to stay on to guide the future of the organization. Liquid started as an esports website in 2001. It first picked up players with the release of StarCraft: Wings of Liberty in 2010, and now has one of the biggest rosters in all of esports with teams and players in League of Legends, Overwatch, Dota 2, CS:GO, and Smash, among others.

Rick Fox acquires Gravity Gaming LCS spot, founds Echo Fox 

Another LCS buyout that parlayed into a full-blown esports franchise, Echo Fox was founded when former professional basketball player Rick Fox purchased Gravity Gaming’s LCS spot in December last year.

It was the first of the NBA-related investments in the scene, with Fox buying the spot for “roughly $1 million,” according to a Dot Esports report from last year. The organization quickly expanded beyond League, signing a CS:GO team to compete in the inaugural season of TBS’ esports league, ELEAGUE. It has since picked up a Call of Duty roster, Smash god Jason “Mew2King” Zimmerman, and Street Fighter player Julio Fuentes.

Fox himself is actively involved in the organization and the esports scene, regularly making appearances at events and tournaments, and cheering on the LCS team live from the Riot Games studio in Los Angeles.

Celtics player Jonas Jerebko buys out Renegades

Last month everything changed for troubled esports organization Renegades. After a turbulent first year, which included owners getting banned and the organization being forced by Riot to sell its LCS team after the Spring split, Boston Celtics NBA player Jonas Jerebko stepped in to set everything right again.

The sale, for an undisclosed amount, also included the CS:GO team, which Jerebko moved from Australia to Detroit.

“It was the CS:GO team that made us want to buy Renegades at first, we would never have bought it without the opportunity to keep the team,” Jerebko told Dot Esports.

While Jerebko has his own career to think about, he says he will be as involved with the team as he can and try to provide them everything they need.

Jan 16 2017 - 8:53 pm

2017 NA LCS Preseason Rankings

The LCS is back this weekend! We ranked each NA team heading into week one.
Xing Li
Dot Esports
Photo via Riot Games

Season 6 in the North American League Championships Series was something special. Play reached a new level as two teams basically ran the table in both spring and summer. And for the first time, a North American team made the final at a major Riot-sponsored international tournament.

After a hectic offseason, we are almost ready to dive back into LCS play. Before we start, Dot Esports took a look at the NA LCS landscape and ranked the teams for the Spring Split. Ranking teams at the start of the year is extremely difficult because of roster changes and a new meta, but that won’t stop us from trying.

With a couple strong teams choosing to keep their rosters together and a few potential contenders adding exciting foreign stars, Season 7 could be the best yet.

1) TSM

We start where Season 6 ended: with TSM on top. For most of last summer, nobody could touch them as they out-laned, out-jungled, and out-macro’d everyone. Nobody could match Soren “Bjergsen” Bjerg in the mid lane, which unlocked the whole map for Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen to roam.

The big question for this team is who replaces Doublelift as a late game shot caller. We think it should be Vincent “Biofrost” Wang. Having an experienced lane partner in Jason “WildTurtle” Tran will also help him navigate the duo lane. But he will have to do better controlling vision and winning contested objectives. They’ll need stronger initiations that layer the abilities of all five members.

Deliver on that and TSM fans may be able to forget all of their 2016 disappointments.

Best case: Semifinals at Worlds

Worst Case: Semifinals in the NA LCS playoffs

2) Cloud9

After making it to the bracket stage at Worlds, there’s reason to believe that Cloud9 will be even stronger this year. Remember, the team initially struggled to integrate Jung “Impact“ Eon-yeong at the beginning of the Summer Split. Those memories were put to rest by Impact’s flashy “top die” plays at Worlds.

The real question is whether new jungler Juan “Contractz” Garcia can give the team better initiations and map control. William “Meteos” Hartman played a valuable role but didn’t have the mechanics to dictate games. Shot calling will be crucial now that Contractz doesn’t have Hai Lam, shot caller extraordinaire, next to him. Someone on this team will have to become its voice. We’re not sure who.

Coach Bok “Reapered” Han-gyu has a lot of work to do to make sure his team executes on their strategy and communicates effectively. He made great progress with the team last Summer, but can it continue?

Best Case: Contractz is the solution and they make someone nervous in the bracket stage at Worlds

Worst Case: Meteos is brought back in and they have to scrap their way into the LCS playoffs

3) Team Dignitas

There’s a lot of risk putting Dignitas this high. But the team has put a lot of thought into how to build this roster. It’s clear that they want to play around the solo lanes, where Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho and Jang "Keane" Lae-Young will benefit from Lee “Chaser” Sang-hyun’s pressure. Meanwhile, Benjamin “LOD” deMunck was quietly one of the better AD carries last summer.

How this team communicates with two new Korean players will dictate their place in the standings. The jungle especially requires special synergy with the team. Dignitas has said all the right things about playing together and identifying communication as a major early issue. Knowing those things is one thing; executing is another.

Ssumday and Chaser have a shot at being the best top/jungle duo in NA. But the team could take more than one split to jell.

Best Case: They make the LCS finals in their first year together and compete for a Worlds spot

Worst Case: Communication is an issue all year, they can only win hour-long slog fests, and they fall to the relegation zone

4) CLG

We’re now getting to teams with major question marks on the roster. For Counter Logic Gaming, it’s mid laner Choi “HuHi” Jae-hyun. We wrote about HuHi in our “Players to Watch” piece. Mid lane’s priority could increase in a jungle-focused meta. And the rest of the team is ill-suited to make up for HuHi’s shortcomings.

It’s been a while since Darshan Upadhyaha has served as a consistent carry. Trevor “Stixxay” Hayes is probably their most consistent damage dealer, but playing around the AD carry is risky with regards to meta changes. Coach Tony “Zikz” Gray’s team is always well prepared and has some of the best early-level strategies in the game. But they desperately need some mid-lane pressure to start exploring next-level strategies.

Best Case: HuHi figures it out, they play multiple winning lanes, and split people to death

Worst Case: HuHi is the same, the competition has leveled up, and they miss the playoffs

5) Team Liquid

There is a risk that we’re ranking Liquid too low. Stars like Chae “Piglet” Gwang-jin and Kim “Reignover” Yeu-jin can be terrifying. New coach Matt Lim is highly regarded for his work on Team Liquid Academy last year. They should have better communication with Reignover calling the shots. What’s not to love?

Like CLG, it goes back to the mid lane. It’s not clear who will start, but it will either be a Challenger player who’s never put it all together on the LCS stage (Grayson “Goldenglue” Gillmer) or someone who hasn’t even seen the stage in years (Austin “LiNK” Shin).

This is a roster that has the talent to win it all if a few breaks go their way.

Best Case: Things click between Reignover and Piglet and they break the fourth-place curse on the way to Worlds

Worst Case: They never find a solution to the mid lane and we get version two of the Donezo Manifesto (or Break Point, part two)

6) Immortals

We’re now getting to teams where the win condition is not immediately obvious. For Immortals, it starts with the jungler they basically traded Reignover for: Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett. He can be a win condition in himself.

But there are more question marks than certainties. Top laner Lee “Flame” Ho-jong hasn’t really been at Flame Horizon level (+100 CS over his lane opponent) for some time. The bot lane is a mystery. Finally, there’s the potential that Dardoch self-destructs.

Best case: Flame and Dardoch click, Cody Sun stays alive, and they compete for a playoff spot. Dardoch keeps an even keel and their steady improvement gives fans something to hope for

Worst case: Dardoch blows up, everyone blows up

7) Phoenix1

This was one of the hardest rosters to rank.

P1 was ascending in the latter half of the Summer Split. Then they signed Ryu Sang-wook and No “Arrow” Dong-hyeon. Unlike other teams adding Koreans, P1 should have a better time integrating these two. Ryu has played in Europe since 2014. And AD carry is an easy position to integrate communication-wise, as long as there’s good synergy with the support.

Whether Arrow and Adrian can develop synergy is the primary question. Adrian was able to do some great things for the carries on Immortals in 2016. But his champion pool was also called into question and his duo lane was not usually a strength.

Best Case: Inori and Ryu stand out with flashy plays, Arrow is the second best ADC behind Piglet, and the team makes it to the LCS semifinals

Worst Case: Arrow and Adrian never jell, they get beat in the macro and late game, and head to the promotion tournament

8) Echo Fox

Echo Fox has two star solo laners: Jang “Looper” Hyeong-seok and Henrik “Froggen” Hansen. Beyond them, the roster is a complete mystery. Not that players like Yuri "Keith" Jew are unknown—we just don’t know what their true talent level is. It’s not clear how many players on this team are really LCS-level.

Then there’s the question of shot calling. It’s anyone’s guess how this team coordinates. You can’t turn every game into a farm fest (though Froggen would surely prefer that). At some point, someone needs to go in with Looper and start fights.

Best Case: The make a surprising run at the playoffs behind unstoppable play from Looper and Froggen. Who needs a jungler?

Worst Case: Froggen sets another CS record, but Echo Fox can’t survive the promotion tournament

9) Team EnVyUs

This team started out strong in their first LCS split last summer. Behind stellar play from top laner Shin "Seraph" Wu-Yeong, they went 5-1 in series before other teams started figuring them out.

The team will need to regain their footing in 2017 and play more patiently around Seraph. New jungler Nam “lira” Tae-yoo may help, but his addition results in a strange situation with three Koreans in the solo lanes and jungle and two native English speakers in the duo lane. Can they figure out how they want to play and stick with it?

Best Case: They don’t get relegated. The duo lane follows the Koreans around and Seraph and Ninja put their carry pants on

Worst Case: None of that happens, they make too many mistakes, and there’s not enough talent on the roster for Seraph to carry

10) Fly Quest

It may seem obvious to stick the new team at the bottom. But this decision was not made easily. The reason? Hai.

We don’t know how teams like P1, Echo Fox, or even Dignitas will communicate. Not so for Fly Quest, who should continue relying on Hai’s impeccable shot calling. There’s a lot of value to a team being on the same page and knowing what to do as a unit. Just ask TSM about their experience with that last spring.

The problem is, it’s unclear what Hai is working with. Stomping on Challenger squads is completely different to facing LCS competition each week in best-of-three settings. Teams are going to identify Fly Quest’s weaknesses quickly and pounce repeatedly. It’s just hard to find winning matchups anywhere on this roster.

Best Case: Hai’s shot calling allows the team to grind out late-game victories off of superior macro play. They go .500 in the regular season and get a game in the playoffs

Worst Case: It becomes apparent that they just don’t have LCS-level stuff anymore. They go back to the Challenger Series where they romp

All photos via Riot Games

Jan 16 2017 - 6:06 pm

Third-person health bars make competitive Overwatch easier to spectate

And Blizzard has added them to the game's public test region.
Nicole Carpenter
Dot Esports
Image via Blizzard Entertainment

Thank you, Blizzard! Overwatch in-game spectators can now toggle on third-person floating health bars for both teams.

It's a feature that's going to make Overwatch esports much more pleasant to watch—and it'll have a positive influence in caster analysis, too. Blizzard quietly implemented floating health bars for spectators in the latest Overwatch public test region patch, though the feature is expected to make it to the live server soon.

"I think this is going to help casting quite a bit in some of these bigger fights," OGN Overwatch caster Erik "DoA" Lonnquist said in a video on the feature. "You call tell the narrative of the fight a little bit more. You can kind of see who is getting lower."

Previously, this information was only available in the third-person perspective by looking away from the fight and to the team lineup bars at the top. And given how chaotic Overwatch can be, looking away for any amount of time could cause confusion.

Third-person health bars are one of the features fans and casters have been clamoring for, with Blizzard promising that increased spectator functionality would continue to roll out. "I think it really shows that [Blizzard] is listening to us," DoA added. "They're looking at what needs to be done in spectator mode. They're taking the steps they need to make it better. Props to Blizzard for putting it in there."

Blizzard has not commented on when this feature will hit Overwatch's live server, but we're guessing DoA wants it before he starts casting season two of the OGN Overwatch APEX on Jan. 17.