David Blitzer, a co-owner of the 76ers and Devils, says he didn't know all that much about esports. But after reading a news article about how popular esports has become, Blitzer decided to do some research.
"I felt like we ultimately learned enough where we said, 'We want a seat at the table,'" Blitzer said Wednesday.
Esports was among the key topics that Blitzer and others discussed at the CAA World Congress of Sports in Dana Point, California. The consensus was that while it is too early to get a sense of who the winners and losers might be within the industry, investing in esports is a worthwhile pursuit. Madison Square Garden president David O'Connor said his company is looking to buy an esports team.
Blitzer's ownership group, which also has a piece of Crystal Palace in the English Premier League, bought two esports teams in September and then merged them.
"It's a little unclear as to what we bought, and it is absolutely the wild west," Blitzer said. "We bought a seat at the table, we bought a brand, we bought some management that had been in the industry as gamers and then managers and coaches and owners, so they understand the ecosystem. They have a lot of great relationships and we have slots in a lot of the key areas. We're in CS:GO, we're in DOTA, and obviously League of Legends being the largest one right now.
"But your players can leave. They're not under long-term contracts. So what are you really buying? You're buying a place in this new ecosystem. You don't know exactly how it's going to play out over time, and you're trying to make a variety of bets in that equation."
Turner, whose traditional sports offerings include the NBA, MLB and NCAA basketball tournament, has televised two second seasons of the ELeague, a partnership between the broadcaster and talent agency WME/IMG. Turner president David Levy said he could see esports evolving the way golf has.
"There are pro golfers that play in tournaments and win purses and prizes, and that's sort of what esports is right now," Levy said. "But what people aren't really focusing on is the amateur. All the country clubs that people play golf in, they are ranked and handicapped ranked. I want to see if we can have a relationship with the amateur, because if you have a strong relationship with them, you can set up amateur tournaments and be involved at an amateur level."
That type of engagement will benefit the esports industry in general. To continue his analogy, Levy said, "You're still going to have to sell golf clubs to all the amateurs. If you could rank these amateurs in some way, shape or form, where you can bundle all the handicap-seven people to play the seven people ... you could do pro-ams."
The NBA has created a competitive league for its NBA 2K video game. It will begin next year with teams operated by actual NBA franchises.