E-sports acquisitions must put fan experience first

Nrhari Duran

Last week, the Philadelphia 76ers became the first professional sports franchise to own an e-sports team when they acquired Team Dignitas, which is best described as the 76ers of the e-sports world (both teams have been starving for wins since 2015). On the opposite end of the skill spectrum, Peter Guber, executive chairman of the Golden State Warriors, who set an NBA record by winning 73 games during the 2015-16 season, finalized a partnership with the internationally ranked, popular e-sports franchise Team Liquid, forming the e-sports ownership group aXiomatic. It seems power follows power.

This year has been a big one for American e-sports, which is commonly known as competitive video gaming. What began with 10,000 participants in a Space Invaders tournament in 1980 is now a 150-million-person global fanbase that includes icons such as Shaquille O’Neal, Magic Johnson and DJ Steve Aoki — each of whom has invested in e-sports franchises. Having come from such humble beginnings, the introduction of organizations as large as the 76ers and the Golden State Warriors marks a significant pivot for e-sports. 

Besides the publicity, the financial gambles by big organizations give investors a sense of security in funding teams that subsist on tournament winnings. Team backers, onaverage, lose $180,000 per team, a daunting fact for investors. Teams that don’t win big or often will usually disband; a team’s loss is a loss in a team’s stock value. As more influential organizations invest into these digital gaming teams, it becomes increasingly important to consider what precedents these NBA franchises set with e-sports teams.

While the terms of the 76ers’ acquisition of Team Dignitas and Apex Gaming are still not clear, an email interview with Team Liquid’s co-CEO Victor Goossens explained why the franchise’s new partnership with aXiomatic would set a positive precedent. 

Goossens explains that while aXiomatic now has a controlling interest, Team Liquid will retain its internal hierarchy, both co-CEOs will keep their titles and team players will have the same amount of autonomy as always. 

“This deal would not have gone through if we had wanted to leave Team Liquid, and that shows how much Peter values our direct involvement,” Goossens said. “[My co-CEO] and I are excited to learn as much as we can from our [new] partners, but we know we can also teach them a thing or two about our industry.” He claims the new partnership would exchange Team Liquid’s “product” for more financial stability, access to resources and networking opportunities than he could have dreamed of.

This is not the story of an NBA titan claiming a digital gaming franchise nor is this the story of a gaming franchise left with a label and none of the associated resources. Mutual profit is all fine and dandy, but for competitive gaming fans and players, the preservation of each e-sports team’s brand, streamers and associated communities are paramount. As Goossens puts it, “This is about a group of co-owners coming together with the same goals and vision,” and this balance ought to be the goal for future e-sports partnerships. 

Duran is international relations and global studies freshman from Spring. Follow him on Twitter @BboyDeadfish.