20 Celebrities And Athletes Betting Big On Esports

Michael Jordan. (Charles Rex Arbogast/AP)

Nothing ends the debate over whether esports counts as a real sport like big-name athletes buying in. From the NBA to the boxing ring, game recognizes game. Check out some of the biggest names in traditional sports putting their money into the next generation of competition.

Michael Jordan

Michael Jordan, greatest NBA player of all time and current owner of the Charlotte Hornets, doesn’t make small moves. His investment into aXiomatic, parent company of popular esports club Team Liquid, testifies to that fact. Jordan joined other sports personas including Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and Golden State Warriors co-owner Peter Guber in the investment.

Shaquille O’Neal

Speaking of big, the legendary big man himself invested in NRG Esports in 2016. According to Shaq, the move made sense from the beginning. “I got to witness first-hand at CES this year how exciting the CS:GO world had become and how passionate the fans were and what type of dedicated athletes the players had become,” he said. “I wanted in.”

Kevin Durant

Kevin Durant put a hefty chunk of change into Vision Esports, L.P., an esports-only investment fund started by NBA legend Rick Fox, another big believer in the new competitive scene. Durant, who won multiple championships with the Golden State Warriors, now owns a stake in the Echo Fox esports team, one of the top teams in the world.

Steph Curry

Not to be outdone by his former teammate in Durant, Steph Curry joined a team of investors to commit a combined $37 million into the parent company of esports organization Team SoloMid in 2018. Curry and teammate Andre Iguodala joined Twitch chief strategy officer Colin Carrier in the investment. When sports legends join forces with an executive at the company that rocketed esports into the public consciousness, good things happen.

Mike Tyson

Thanks to an investment from Mike Tyson, Hearthstone-focused esports team Fade 2 Karma can build a new streaming facility for its players. Called “The Ranch House,” the new facility will include tournament stages, content studios, and livestreaming areas. Tyson says he didn’t do so well on his first try playing Hearthstone, but as he says, “You have to start somewhere.”

Steve Young

Steve Young has done more than well for himself since retiring from the NFL. A successful commentator and investor, Steve Young joined Steph Curry and others in the Series A for TSM in 2018. TSM’s 26-year-old CEO, Andy Dinh, has been making moves in the esports world since he was 17, and it appears Young’s confidence in the young CEO is well placed.

Odell Beckham Jr.

Crossing league lines to join MLB and NBA players, NFL superstar Odell Beckham Jr. invested in Vision Esports in early 2018. Beckham, who has played for the New York Giants and Cleveland Browns, made his mark during a sensational rookie campaign that saw him catapult into the ranks of the NFL’s best receivers. He and the rest of his investment group hope to see their stake in Vision follow the same trajectory.

Marshawn Lynch

Another investor in NRG Esports, “Beast Mode” Marshawn Lynch did more than just put his money into the ring. Lynch spent some time gaming with his new team in 2019. He even joined the San Francisco Shock onstage at Blizzard Arena.

Michael Strahan

Michael Strahan made his mark in the NFL as a powerful defensive lineman. In retirement, he has found a much gentler role as a talk show host on shows including “Good Morning America,” but he never lost that competitive spark. Fortunately for him, NRG Esports was happy to receive his investment.

Jerry Jones

Jerry Jones can buy just about anything he wants, and he sees great potential in the world of esports. The owner of the Dallas Cowboys joined real estate investor John Goff to purchase esports franchise compLexity Gaming in 2017. As part of the deal, Jones made some room at his Frisco, Texas football megacomplex, The Star, to house compLexity’s Dota 2 and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive teams.

Stan Kroenke

The owner of the St. Louis Rams has been involved with esports for a few years now. Kroenke Sports and Entertainment, run by Stan and his son, Josh, recently parted ways with esports company Sentinels to create their own front office to manage two esports teams in California. KSE spent a cool $25 million in August 2019 to secure the rights to a Call of Duty Global League slot.

Alex Rodriguez

“It is happening … and it’s going to be a monster,” Alex Rodriguez said of esports on CNN. A-Rod spent enough time in the major leagues to recognize great opportunities when he sees them. His investment in NRG coincides with those from fellow superstars Marshawn Lynch and Shaq.

Fernando Alonso

Drivers and esports stars have faced similar stigmas about their statuses as athletes, but Fernando Alonso doesn’t let that bother him. The two-time F1 champion sponsors seven esports drivers, who compete in games including “Gran Turismo” and “Project Cars 2.” Alonso partnered with Logitech on the deal.

Christian Fuchs

Leicester City defender and Premier League winner Christian Fuchs made headlines as the first EPL player to create his own FIFA team. The team, appropriately called NoFuchsGiven, focuses exclusively on soccer esports. Fuchs is all-in on the esports movement, as evidenced by his commitment to build a 1,000-seat esports arena in New York.

Álvaro Arbeloa

Thanks in part to Álvaro Arbeloa, esports team Origen returned to the League of Legends competitive scene in 2018. Arbeloa, a retired Spanish soccer player who made his mark at Real Madrid and Liverpool, works alongside his brother, an investment manager. Origen saw mixed results in its return to competition, but the team remains committed to rebuilding.

Wendell Lira

Most traditional athletes only invest in esports. Wendell Lira, on the other hand, competes. After being forced to retire from soccer due to injuries, Lira found renewed purpose after demolishing a top FIFA player 6-1 in a game. Since then, he has become an esports icon.

Demetrious Johnson

Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson terrorized the octagon in the UFC. Now, the fighter-turned-streamer works as the chief brand ambassador for Singapore-based ONE eSports. Part investor, part gamer, Johnson makes perfect sense for the role.

Parker Kligerman

NASCAR drivers and esports don’t make an intuitive pair, but that hasn’t stopped Parker Kligerman from forging his own path. Kligerman and NBC Sports analyst Jeff Burton co-own Burton Kligerman Esports, which competes in the eNASCAR PEAK Antifreeze iRacaing Series. The Series has found staying power with its diehard fans and finished its 10th season in October 2019.

Zach Hyman

Zach Hyman, NHL forward and children’s book author, diversified his already impressive CV when he announced plans to launch Eleven Gaming, his own esports company. His first investments went to Fortnite players, but Hyman plans to diversify his team’s impact in the future.

Evgeni Malkin

Another hockey star, Evgeni Malkin, joined the Pittsburgh Knights esports team as an investor in October 2019. Malkin has played in the NHL since 2004 and won three Stanley Cup Championships. The Pittsburgh Steelers have also invested in the esports organization.

These are just a few of the athletes investing in the future of esports. Several professional organizations in the world’s biggest leagues have also thrown their hats into the ring. From players to owners and everywhere in between, the world’s biggest names in traditional sports are making room for a new kind of player.

James Clarke

Co-founder of Gamer One

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