NBA legend Michael Jordan makes his foray into eSports


FILE - In this Aug. 21, 2015, file photo, former NBA star and current owner of the Charlotte Hornets, Michael Jordan smiles at reporters in Chicago. A quarter century after being famously excluded from the cult favorite video game NBA Jam, Jordan is investing in esports. Jordan on Thursday, Oct. 25, 2018, was announced as an investor with aXiomatic, a major esports ownership group whose properties include powerhouse franchise Team Liquid. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast, File)

Michael Jordan is backing an eSports startup, the first foray by the legend of traditional sports into the burgeoning industry.

The basketball Hall of Famer and owner of the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets is joining an investor group putting US$26mil (RM108mil) into AXiomatic Gaming, which owns the professional-gaming franchise Team Liquid. The round is being led by Jordan, investing thorough his family office, and Declaration Capital, the family office of Carlyle Group billionaire co-founder David Rubenstein.

AXiomatic was formed in 2015 to capitalise on the eSports industry, which features professional videogame players competing for prize money in front of often-huge audiences. The following year it acquired a controlling stake in Team Liquid, a business now worth about US$200mil (RM837mil), according to recent valuations by Forbes. That would make it the third-most-valuable eSports franchise in the world.

AXiomatic, which was part of Walt Disney Co’s 2017 accelerator programme, also has invested in eSports coaching platform Gamer Sensei and local tournament organiser Super League Gaming. AXiomatic didn’t disclose the size of Jordan’s investment, nor the other investors in the round.

Though eSports remains tiny compared with traditional sports leagues, it’s expected to generate about US$906mil (RM3.7bil) this year, according to research firm Newzoo. Team Liquid got an early foothold in the industry nearly two decades ago in South Korea, where the popularity of StarCraft contests turned videogamers into well-paid celebrities.

In more recent years, competitions have spread to the US and beyond, packing audiences into venues like Madison Square Garden.

AXiomatic is co-chaired by Ted Leonsis, owner of the National Basketball Association’s Washington Wizards and National Hockey League’s Washington Capitals; Peter Guber, part owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Football Club; Jeff Vinik, owner of the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning; and Bruce Karsh, co-founder of Oaktree Capital and a Warriors minority owner. Earvin “Magic” Johnson, another NBA Hall of Famer and minority owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, also is an investor.

Jordan, who retired for the final time in 2003, has been active since he stopped playing. He became a minority investor in the Hornets, then the Bobcats, in 2006 and bought the rest of the franchise in 2010. In addition to his work with Nike Inc, he’s an investor in global sports data firm Sportradar, alongside Leonsis. He also has backed the hiring startup Gigster and headphone maker Muzik. — Bloomberg

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