Stephen Kaplan recently became the third NBA owner to purchase stake in an esports team in less than a week’s time. On its surface, these investments into esports teams may seem like nothing more than that—investments. Dig a little deeper though and you discover a world of possibilities.
Did you ever think of what esports would look like under a single governing body?
Well, you’d better take it into consideration, because this snowball of investments is only just beginning to roll. More NBA owners—and likely other sports owners—are sure to join the charge and they all know a thing or two about organized sports business.
Yes, the World Esports Association (WESA) has formed, attempting to form a global governing body similar to FIFA, but still in its infancy, it could use some much needed direction.
One thing about this is certain—the NBA’s continual investment in esports will usher the sport into a whole new era, one you may not recognize when it’s all said and done.
And this is a good thing! Let me tell you why.
One league, one voice
Despite all of the success and growth we’ve seen with esports over the past several years, we’re still looking at a largely unfinished product. The pieces are there, but nothing ties them all together.
That’s not unusual for a relatively new entity, but something that is sure to change as esports grows and needs become more critical. With multiple NBA owners now in positions of power within eSports, they have the platform and the experience to make those necessary changes.
In every major sport, a governing body regulates and controls everything within the league. For esports, that could include items like:
- Prize money structure
- Contract structure
- Owner vs. team revenue split
- Competition rules
- Marketing and advertising
The NBA, as pro basketball’s governing body, has long been one of the more successful leagues and is actually close to negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement with its players that would run through 2020. With this being a hot ticket item right now for NBA owners, it would behoove those who have invested in esports teams to consider the same for their sport.
The NBA brought in more than $5 billion in revenue last year and has seen that figure steadily increase over the past several years. If esports wants to mirror those figures, who better to lead the way than those rich with comparable experience?
There are several steps that need to be taken here.
Aggregate games and leagues
Games like League of Legends and Counter Strike: Global Offensive have set the groundwork for esports, and several others maintain huge followings and a huge opportunity.
The issue is that there’s no cohesiveness from one title to the next. Each game holds its own tournaments, its own payout structure, and its own sponsors. That’s fine in certain cases, but when you’re looking to grow the sport as one, there can’t be these huge discrepancies.
Unionized player roster
The owners aren’t the only voice that needs to be heard when it comes to league business. That’s why in every major sports league, players have a union to handle their side of the business and speak on their behalf.
If an organized entity is the best way forward for esports, the players will need to unionize. Proper representation will make sure someone looks after their best interests and create a balance that every professional league needs to succeed.
If the NBA owners can push esports toward a similar model, everyone will have a voice — and this will foster a sense of congruency.
Regionalism and rivalries
If there’s one thing, as a sports fan, that I’ve noticed about esports, it’s that there are no regional biases. You may have bias by country, but I’m speaking on a more granular level (by state or city). In itself, that’s not an issue, but as a fan, I find it very difficult to get behind.
I grew up in Boston and was born into the tradition of Boston sports. Everywhere I walked, I was surrounded by those who shared the same passion for my teams.
When it comes to esports, the competition exists online. There are live tournaments, sure, but there is no home team for fans to rally behind. With esports team purchases from NBA teams and owners, they have the power to change this!
I want to support those in my proximity. I want to help build a tradition of eSports in my city that I can pass on to the next generation.
If the Boston Celtics’ owners were to purchase a team, that’s something I could get behind. I’m sure thousands of other fans would feel the same way.
The more NBA teams and owners get involved in eSports, the more it will begin to gain regional traction. That’s something eSports’ needs to take their next step.
Just as NBA owners can create a regional flavor from their team purchases, so too can they build up regional events.
Think about it—the Philadelphia 76ers now have two teams under their ownership. What’s stopping them from using the Wells Fargo Center to host home esports matches or perhaps a massive tournament?
I can imagine a league, much like the NBA, where esports teams share an arena with their NBA and NHL counterparts. The draw is there; the fans are there—now we just need management to make it happen.
If esports is to evolve and go the route of other respected sports leagues, who better to guide them down that path than NBA executives?
As I mentioned earlier, the NBA is a $5 billion industry and has grown every year since the 2001-‘02 season (sans the lockout-shortened ’11-’12 season). Not only that, but their international presence continues to grow at a significant pace.
With NBA teams and owners taking the reins, you have the brain power and notoriety necessary to bring the same influence over to esports. That will mean more sponsorships, more national visibility, and most importantly, more money (for players and owners).
It’s crazy to think how many people with NBA affiliation have supported the esports movement. It’s even crazier to think of the opportunities that lay ahead for esports because of these people.
No matter how you look at it, the NBA is going to change the course of the esports landscape. It’s not a matter of how, but when.
Jay Selig is a die-hard sports fan that loves to write and never goes a day without his fix of both.