Mike Sepso is an esports pioneer and a cofounder of Major League Gaming (MLG). And now he’s become an executive at the New York Excelsior (NYXL), one of the 12 founding franchises of the Overwatch League and the first professional esports franchise to represent New York City.
Sepso most recently served as senior vice president of Activision Blizzard, where he helped run the MLG group that staged tournaments and created esports broadcasts. Sepso has joined as a strategic partner of the NYXL ownership group, operated by Sterling.VC, which is run by the Wilpon family that also owns the New York Mets baseball team. The Overwatch League is trying to match the local enthusiasm for traditional sports, and if it succeeds, there could be a gold mine replicated in local markets around the country. Market researcher Newzoo estimates esports will be a $1.65 billion business by 2020.
Instrumental in the design and launch of the Overwatch League, Sepso most recently oversaw global commercial partnerships for the company’s esports division, setting industry records in sponsorship sales.
“I’m looking forward to really building out a big community here in New York, which is underserved by the esports world,” said Sepso in an interview with GamesBeat. “We’re going to build this out over the next few years. It’s great to combine my passions for esports and New York City.”
Sepso and Sundance DiGiovanni launched MLG in 2002 in New York at a time when almost nobody believed in esports. He persevered through the long winter and took satisfaction in the eventual growth of global esports. His addition brings entrepreneurial vision, global relationships, and over 16 years of executive experience in esports to the NYXL organization.
“It was hard to build large events in New York as a smaller organization, but our fans constantly pushed us,” Sepso.
In 2018, NYXL finished its inaugural season in the Overwatch League as the top-ranked team in the regular season, winning the Stage 2 and Stage 3 finals and concluding the season with seven All-Star selections. NYXL’s top player Sung-hyeon “JJoNak” Bang was also named the Overwatch League’s first-ever Most Valuable Player. There are some esports events already held at Madison Square Garden, but the esports organization will look to expand that.
MLG became the largest esports league in the world. MLG achieved many of the industry’s first milestones, including launching the first professional esports circuit, securing the first televised series in esports, and launching the first over-the-top (OTT) broadcast platform for premium esports content. As a pioneer in developing the global esports industry, Sepso was also instrumental in signing the first major non-endemic sponsors (those that weren’t inherently tied to gaming) in esports including Dr. Pepper, Old Spice, and Boost Mobile.
“Mike has an affinity for the New York market,” said Scott Wilpon, partner at Sterling.VC, the principal ownership group and operator of NYXL, in an interview with GamesBeat. “We’re passionate and excited about Overwatch and esports as a whole. Having Mike on our team will help. It’s a very exciting hire for us.”
Wilpon said the NYXL’s success will help fuel the passion, and he said a lot of planning is now in the works for things that will happen through 2020.
NYXL is managed by Sterling.VC, the venture capital fund supported by Sterling Equities. Sterling is a family-run group that invests in sports, media, and real estate companies. Wilpon said he wasn’t quite ready yet to describe all the venues that Sterling has available for esports events yet. But they are likely to be considerable. Sepso said he expects to expand the NYXL team over time.
“New York is a great sports town with excitement and energy,” Sepso said. “We have a very aggressive plan. The success of our team in the first season has already attracted top talent.”