Brooklyn Nets point guard Jeremy Lin is the face of Vici Gaming’s new Dota 2 team, VGJ. Boston Celtics forward Jonas Jerebko owns esports organization Renegades. NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal is the impassioned voice and deep pocketed investor of NRG Esports. The NBA loves esports—but until today, it’s been on an individual level.
Today, the Philadelphia 76ers acquired two esports organizations: Team Dignitas and Team Apex. With teams in five games—League of Legends, Overwatch, Heroes of the Storm, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, and Smite—the newly purchased organizations will be mashed together into under one banner, Team Dignitas.
Why is the NBA so interested in esports?
We’ve asked this question before: Why is the NBA so interested in esports? Some think it’s because of its setup—”the five-on-five format of popular esports like League, Dota 2, and CS:GO is obviously, definitely, totally closer to basketball than any other sport,” according to The Meta’s Justin Groot. Personally, I think it’s more about the business model; the NBA was merely the first to embrace it. Sixers CEO Scott O’Neil, and, apparently, NBA commissioner Adam Silver, agrees. Silver brought up the potential of esports at an NBA Board of Governor’s meeting “quite some time ago,” intriguing many NBA owners with the wide, weird world of esports. “A lot of us around the table were very intrigued by the market size, by the incredible growth, and the distribution channels,” O’Neil said. “Twitch, in particular, seems to be taking the world by storm.”
An organization with over fifty years of history and three championships, the Sixers are partially owned by Josh Harris and David Blitzer—two folks very interested in being the first in the business to do anything. “Again, the Sixers are a mature business,” O’Neil said. It’s an organization with history. A legacy. Together, Harris and Blitzer acquired seven other sports franchises, one of which—the New Jersey Devils—O’Neil is the CEO of as well. The Philadelphia 76ers are quick to remind press that it’s a team that likes being first. Let’s call it “out of the box” thinking. The Sixers have the biggest training facility in the NBA, innovation lab included. (Side note: the training center doesn’t currently seem to be working, though; the Sixers only won 10 games last season.) Though many fans weren’t too keen on it, the Sixers were the first NBA team to partner with a company (StubHub) on jersey patches. But it goes without saying that the 76ers are a business. They like money.
But it goes without saying that the 76ers are a business.
Everyone says that esports, as a whole, is the Wild West, a term that O’Neil thinks is pretty funny, by the way: “I love a world of big thinking entrepreneurs who dream and work and scratch and claw.” Regardless of whether or not esports is a Wild West, the Sixers can put some polish on esports that’s got nothing to do with the in-game happenings—O’Neil admits he knows “very little” about that. “Where we’ll be adding value,” he said, “is in sponsorship, sales, and social and digital media. Some brand building, some corporate PR.” Consistency, in regards to everything including minute details of an internal brand style guide, is what O’Neil is aiming for. Stuff like “how and when to use your brand in different situations,” O’Neil added. For instance, it was probably not in Team Dignitas best interest for organization president Michael O’Dell to go on an expletive-filled rant about certain League players. Even worse, O’Dell did so from an account clearly linked to the Dignitas name—a classic, and admittedly obvious, way not to use your brand.
As for that whole actually doing esports thing, that’s where Team Dignitas’ new chairman, Greg Richardson, comes in. “We’re smart enough to know where our level of competence and experience can help,” O’Neil said. Which means O’Neil and the 76ers are smart enough to know where it won’t. Richardson, along with O’Dell and Team Apex general manager Michael Slan, will be running the day to day stuff—you know, like trying to recruit the best players in the world. “We fully understand what lane (maybe they play MOBAs after all?) we each play in,” O’Neil said.