March 27, 2019 / 11:56 PM / 7 months ago

Washington sports investor Leonsis eyes esports as distribution opportunity

OXON HILL, Md. (Reuters) - Ted Leonsis, who owns several Washington, D.C.-area professional sports teams and co-founded the esports company aXiomatic, said on Wednesday that he has invested in esports ventures partly in hopes of using their platforms as global distribution channels for his data and content.

The sports mogul, who is founder and CEO of Monumental Sports & Entertainment which owns Washington’s hockey and basketball franchises, said game developers that are creating their own platforms “are going to have their own streaming and... could be partners with us.”

“I’d like to see us get more active in streaming our data and our content outside of the U.S., and that’s why I’ve been making such big bets in esports,” he told reporters during a sports betting conference sponsored by the American Gaming Association.

With the boom in competitive video gaming and tournaments that can fill arenas with young fans, traditional sports and media companies have been trying to figure out how to enter the evolving space.

At the same time, technology and game companies are creating cloud-based gaming platforms.

Electronic Arts Inc, maker of games including The Sims, FIFA19 and Apex Legends, said in October that it was working on such a platform - where a game resides on an EA server instead of a gamer’s device - called Project Atlas.

The platforms could add another potential player in a widening field of digital, direct to consumer and over the top streaming options for sports and esports content.

Like some other combinations of traditional sports and esports, Leonsis’ holdings illustrate how the two realms are merging.

Monumental owns five sports teams, including the Washington Capitals hockey team and the Washington Wizards basketball team, the Capital One Arena, training facilities and a regional sports network that streams live games directly to fans.

Leonsis is also a co-chairman and owns a stake in aXiomatic, which has a controlling interest in Team Liquid, a global esports powerhouse with professional teams in 14 games.

Axiomatic invests in Epic Games, creator of the wildly popular game Fortnite, and China’s Tencent also holds a stake in Epic.

Esports is especially popular overseas, and that appeal is expected to keep growing in coming years.

“If you’re a young person in India or China, you’ll probably have more understanding ... of one of our e-sports players in 20 years than you will our person playing in the arena,” Leonsis said.

Reporting by Hilary Russ

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