OAKLAND, Calif. - The Warriors are trend setters - on the actual court and the cyber court. They’re hopping aboard the burgeoning bandwagon that is… eSports.
“In the last 5 years, eSports went from nothing - people operating independent tournaments around the world, gaming conventions - to hosting championships at Olympic soccer stadiums in Korea, 40,000 fans,” notes Warriors eSports head, Hunter Leigh.
More than two billion gamers worldwide have made this a hundred billion dollar industry. The NBA is capitalizing with the NBA 2K league starting this May. The Warriors are one of 17 franchises that will field teams.
“The cool part is literally anybody in the world could be on our team this year,” says Vice President of GWS Sports Ventures Kirk Lacob. “Once you've won 50 games against all sorts of other players you're eligible to be part of the combine. That's where you'll have the chance to shine and get seen just like the regular NBA combine you see on ESPN.”
“It's not like traditional sports where you look at an athlete and say he's a foot taller than me, weighs 100 pounds more, I can see why I'm not in the NBA,” ads Leigh. “There’s something really approachable about esports. This ‘everyman’ idea that if I get good enough at the game, I'm going to be a pro player someday too.”
The eSports explosion isn’t confined to playing games. Turns out, it’s a legit spectator sport. The Bay Area is about to have its own 16,000 square-foot, 1,000-seat arena right next to Jack London Square.
“We're gonna have well over 100 computers in here,” says Tyler Endres, COO of Allied eSports International. “PCs, Xboxes, Nintendos, play stations. Basically catering to every gamer there is and every gaming event there is.”
This will be the third esports Arena. The first two – in Orange County and Las Vegas – have been enormously successful. Gamers come to play. And watch. And most importantly, interact.
“The #1 competitor to us is someone's bedroom,” says Endrus. “So what's it like getting someone to leave their home desk and come here and compete? It's the same reason I don't like drinking at home by myself I like going to a bar, spending more money and drinking there. It's the social experience.”
An experience which would seemingly play anywhere. So why here?
“It's all - I'm from NorCal, I'm from SoCal. You have a lot of the bay area rivalries with SoCal. Sharks - Ducks, Warriors-Lakers. We wanted to build that organic rivalry with eSports.”
Which brings us back to the Warriors - ready to foster those cyber-rivalries - not knowing exactly where the bandwagon is heading, but certain that they want a front row seat.
“The sky is kind of the limit,” says Lacob. “We have an opportunity to do something really cool, we just have to continue to work at it, and not be surprised by anything that happens, and we will end up somewhere really awesome.”