Entertainment, Tech Investors Acquire ESports Franchise

Investors include Lionsgate’s Peter Levin, Honest Co. CEO Brian Lee and Machinima chairman Allen DeBevoise.

A group of entertainment, media and technology executives are entering the fast-growing world of eSports through the acquisition of a professional video game team.

The consortium — which includes Lionsgate Interactive Ventures president Peter Levin, Oaktree Capital principal Steve Kaplanand Machinima chairman Allen DeBevoise, among others — announced Wednesday that they have purchased Team 8, an e-sports franchise that currently competes in the League of Legends North American League Championship Series.

Under the new ownership, the team will be renamed Immortals. Noah Whinston has been named CEO and Crosscut Ventures’Clinton Foy will assume the role of chairman.

“Esports is a topic that’s really blown up within the last year, but it’s something I’ve been excited about for my whole professional career,” Foy tells The Hollywood Reporter, adding that he became interested in investing into professional e-sports athletes after attending the League of Legends Championships at the Staples Center in 2013. “These are the people garnering a lot of attention.”
Immortals’ new investors come with a diverse set of backgrounds in the media, sports and technology industries. Venture capitalist Kaplan is the co-owner and chairman of NBA team the Memphis Grizzlies, and Levin was the founder and co-owner of Arena Football League team the Chicago Rush. Additional investors include March Capital Partners managing director Gregory Milken, XPRIZE chief operating officer Paul Rappoport, Honest Co. CEO Brian Lee, Yoshimoto Kogyo CEO Akinobu Yorihiro and Machine Shop Ventures, the venture arm of rock group Linkin Park.
“This investment is driven by passionate individuals who really love e-sports and believe its the future of sports,” says Foy.
Whinston says the group eyed Immortals for the acquisition because it represents a group of young players who are helping to drive attention to the e-sports industry in North America. The group currently competes in League of Legends, an online title developed by Los Angeles’ Riot Games where teams play in a battle arena, but Whinston says he hopes to expand the franchise to include teams for other popular e-sports titles. “As the scene continues to grow, we will look to have broad penetration into the different game titles so that we can access a more widespread fan base,” he adds.
The investment comes at a time when e-sports is growing in popularity, especially with young men. Research firm NewZoo estimates that the audience for e-sports in the United States is currently more than 30 million people and projects the market to grow to 50 million by 2017. That desirable demographic has attracted many Hollywood and media investors. For example, in late September WME-IMG announced a partnership with Turner Broadcasting System to launch a league devoted to professional competition around Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, which will be broadcast on TBS.
“There are very few sports that allow for a global opportunity and e-sports is definitely one of them,” says Levin.
Immortals will relaunch with marketing and technology partner AMD, a computing technology company.