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When Sports Meets eSports: 4 Athletes Who Invested in eSports

Outside of traditional sports, the world of eSports may seem intimidating or overwhelming to non-gamers. However, the thriving community has rapidly grown in the past few decades. Today, the global eSports market is projected to reach $2.06 billion in 2024 and $9.29 billion by 2032. Market researchers associate this with the growing trend of live-streaming games, rising viewership, engagement activity, and gaming investments.

Part of the reason for the heavy investment in eSports is that it may feel familiar or similar to traditional sports for most investors. For one, eSports's competitive nature and organizational structure are not new to those who follow traditional sports entertainment entities like the NBA and FIFA. Another similarity between the two worlds is the growing eSports betting culture.

Much like its traditional counterpart, the best eSports betting tips recommend watching live streams of tournaments to learn and pick up valuable in-game information that can help provide a betting advantage. While there are elements of luck and randomness in eSports betting — as is evident in sports betting — taking the time to research teams, players, tournament formats, and performance statistics can greatly improve your chances of winning.

With such a familiar betting culture, it's no wonder that even traditional sports athletes are gaining interest in the thriving eSports industry. However, their interest in eSports wouldn't manifest in competitive appearances but financially. Below, we'll look at four well-known athletes who have invested in eSports:

Lionel Messi and KRÜ Esports

Dubbed one of the greatest of all time, Lionel Messi's interest in eSports saw the soccer star investing in the Argentinian eSports organization, KRÜ Esports. In 2023, the organization announced the FIFA legend as a co-owner, partnering up with fellow Argentine soccer player Sergio Agüero, who owns KRÜ Esports. Currently, KRÜ is considered one of the most influential LATAM eSports teams. It has rosters for first-person shooter eSports title Valorant and a female team, KRÜ Blaze, for Valorant's female leagues. KRÜ's men's team recently rocked the Valorant eSports scene for going undefeated in the 2023 Americas' Last Chance Qualifiers, earning the team a spot in the international Champions stage.

Of course, this is only one of Messi's various ventures. In 2023, after he departed from Paris Saint-Germain, Messi joined Inter Miami CF. The team recently partnered with the leading hunger-relief organization, Feeding South Florida and Publix to honor South Florida Veterans on Veterans Day. The inaugural Veterans Appreciation Luncheon occurred at DRV PNK Stadium on November 11.

Shaquille O'Neal and NRG Esports

Former NBA superstar Shaquille O'Neal — or Shaq — is also one of many athletes who are interested in eSports. In 2013, Shaq attended an eSports event — the League of Legends Season 3 World Championship, which was held at the Staples Center. Three years later, Shaq teamed up with North American organization NRG Esports, investing a whopping $155 million in the company. Incidentally, the organization was formed by the basketball team Sacramento Kings' co-owners Mark Mastrov and Andy Miller. Today, NRG has roster divisions for various eSports titles, from the MOBA League of Legends to shooters like Overwatch and Valorant.

Shaq's investment into NRG was joined by other athletes, including former baseball pros Alex Rodriguez and Jimmy Rollins. In 2018, Dutch DJ and producer Tiësto joined NRG as an investor. Recently, Shaq showcased his support for NRG's Valorant team with a tweet promoting NRG's in-game purchasable bundle that included gun skins for use in the game.

Michael Jordan and Team Liquid

Another NBA legend, Michael Jordan, is no stranger to eSports. In 2018, the Charlotte Hornets' owner joined a $26 million Series C funding round by aXiomatic — an eSports and gaming investor whose various companies and organizations include Team Liquid, a multi-regional professional eSports organization based in the Netherlands. The remaining funding comprised capital from existing investors like Golden State Warriors' co-owner Peter Guber and Tampa Bay Lighting owner Jeff Vinik. Jordan is also joined by 1992 Olympic teammate Magic Johnson as a co-owner of aXiomatic.

The remaining funding for aXiomatic comprised capital from existing investors like Golden State Warriors' co-owner Peter Guber and Tampa Bay Lighting owner Jeff Vinik. 1992 Olympic teammate Magic Johnson also joins Jordan as a co-owner of aXiomatic. In 2021, five players signed by Team Liquid became co-owners, including amateur Super Smash Bros. player and Hollywood actor Asa "Stimpy" Butterfield.

Vinicius Jr and LOUD

Finally, another soccer player joins the list of eSports athlete-investors. Brazilian professional soccer player and winger for Real Madrid, Vinicius Jr, was announced as a co-owner of the Brazilian eSports organization LOUD in 2023. Vini Jr's participation goes beyond financial contribution. As co-owner, Vinicius Jr will assist the organization with content production and expand on educational initiatives created by the Vini Jr Institute. A fairly new organization in the eSports scene, LOUD etched its name in Valorant eSports history when its Valorant roster lifted the champions trophy at the Valorant Champions 2022, earning $300,000.

Of course, the four legendary athletes we listed above are only four of many sportsmen joining the growing eSports scene. Today, many Hollywood household names like Will Smith and Drake have also shown interest in eSports by investing in global organizations. As the eSports industry continues to grow, it'll be interesting to see what other sports legends will take an interest in competitive gaming.

By ML staff. Images courtesy of Wikimedia.


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