First Person with…Zach Leonsis

Winning With A Great Crossover

How Esports and Gaming Tie Directly To Fan Affinity

We are obviously in the business of sports and entertainment at Monumental Sports & Entertainment. After all, we own teams in leagues like the NBA, WNBA, NHL, G League and more.

An area of focus that continues to excite us is a mashup between traditional sports, like basketball and hockey, and the virtual world of esports. It’s a rewarding experience to witness the crossover between the two worlds as we look to expand the scope of who engage with globally and how we reach those new audiences.

In L.A. recently, I made a trip to visit Team Liquid‘s Alienware Training Facility. Team Liquid dominates the endemic esports world, competing in over a dozen titles including League of Legends, Dota 2, CS:GO, Super Smash and more. The team has won the most prize money of any team in the last four years and it’s the only team to have a landmark deal with Twitch worth over $10 million per year.

Team Liquid’s League of Legends team is the first to win the NALCS four times in a row, and the team just won ‘Team of the Year’ at the Esports Awards, so from a business standpoint, we see how much things can grow with the right talent, the right facilities and the right leadership.

This is an effective and targeted investment, not just throwing money at an idea. Pretty simple, you plant the right seeds in the right soil and you watch it grow.

That being said, we also know that esports as a whole is a rapidly growing business that we are big believers in and we continue to learn more and more about how the team fits into the evolving ecosystem. We can’t do it alone for sure, nor do we expect to.

Core fit?

So how does this tie to our other core businesses?

Wizards District Gaming, competing in NBA 2K since May 2018

There are numerous nuances associated with endemic esports culture which sometimes can be seen as a departure from what many in traditional sports understand. The world is changing and we embrace it. Esports competition is cool and the communities that are built around these titles are authentic and impressive.

The crossover between traditional sports leagues and esports is now advancing at breakneck speeds with both Wizards District Gaming, our NBA 2K League team, and now Caps Gaming, leading the way.

Newly launched Caps Gaming

These sports titles take what is easily understood about the actual games of basketball and hockey and translate the experience to the virtual world. Association with the major leagues has helped our teams attract best-in-class professional players into the organization.

The NBA 2K League has been one of the biggest sports business successes since its launch, and we expect more as the league expands internationally in season three. Yes, the NBA is an incredibly global brand, but the NBA 2K League has the opportunity to be truly global as it potentially launches more teams outside of North America.

Diversity driver

Oh, and did I mention that the NBA 2K League is also co-ed? The league has placed a major emphasis on developing more female players and this year the 2K League’s women in gaming development camp had 15 female gamers travel and participate at the 2K League studio in New York City.

We need that type of diversity of thought and participation to grow together, and not many leagues can say that at this stage (although we are very excited to have a WNBA Champion, Kristi Toliver of the Mystics, now back for a second year as part of the Wizards staff and the expansion of women in NBA coaching roles grows every month).

It certainly is pretty cool, very progressive and extremely important from a business standpoint to see how this holistic integration by the NBA 2K league is advancing thought and competition as well as business.

Caps Gaming Showcase began MSE’s push into NHL esports

In the last few weeks we’ve seen a spike in interest around the announcement of our new Caps Gaming sub-brand.

Last year, we started our push into the NHL esports space hosting an online tournament followed by an in-person event. This year we’re taking it a step further by launching a separate team brand and by signing one of Chel’s* most popular streamers, JohnWayne. John’s been awesome so far, and we’re proud to have him represent the Caps.

Fan crossover — across both sports and continents

This area of potential growth is really important to us, as we see greater crossover from our traditional Mystics, Wizards and Caps fans with a younger demo that may be first encountering our elite athletes through the gaming world as opposed to in person at a game or on TV during a live broadcast. It opens up a different type of door where we help build fans of our teams for life first through their console or mobile device, and then hopefully at a live NBA, WNBA or NHL game in person…or on whatever device they choose.

FIFA Soccer is the world’s best-selling sports video game franchise, closing in on 300 million copies sold

By the way, this type of crossover engagement is not just something we see here in North America. When we were abroad in Spain meeting with FC Barcelona, we saw firsthand how FIFA has expanded the fan base of their audience by producing one of the world’s most popular video games. They’d love to do more in the gaming space.

There was a time when sports business industry leaders looked at “esports” and “video games,” as simply fun side businesses. Not any more.

Today, we’re witnessing these worlds morph together. We are proud to be at the forefront of this. Like anything that is new there will be growing pains with fits and starts. But with every day, we’re seeing more and more reasons to be involved.

Ballers and gamers, all are welcomed here.

 

*EDITOR’S NOTE: For those not as familiar with esports, “Chel” is short for NHL esports games derived from the pronunciation as in “en-ay-CHEL.”

Zach Leonsis is SVP, Strategic Initiatives for Monumental Sports & Entertainment and GM, Monumental Sports Network. In 2016, he led the transformation of Monumental Sports Network – co-owned by MSE and NBC Sports – from an ad-based blogging platform into a direct-to-fan service content provider.