Over the last few years, during a striking rebrand of the basketball and business operations since new ownership purchased the franchise in 2014, the Bucks have created and cultivated the developmental motto (and frequent hashtag), "Own the Future." And now, with the young team growing on the court and an impressive arena being built in downtown Milwaukee, one of those owners is investing in an expanding, potentially exploding industry that could be as much a part of the future of sports as the traditional one in which he currently owns a large share.
Bucks co-owner Wesley Edens, along with the Fortress Investment Group he founded, has launched the eSports brand FlyQuest, according to an ESPN report. It is a professional "League of Legends" team based in the United States that Edens and the group purchased from Cloud9 for $2.5 million in December. The team is the group's first foray into eSports, but may not be its only virtual venture, as Edens and Co. plan to explore other opportunities in the market that research firm NewZoo found experienced a 51.7 percent increase in revenue last year to $493 million.
Cloud9 Challenger, the sister squad of Cloud9, qualified for the North America League Championship Series in August 2016, but since LCS rules do not allow an organization to have multiple teams competing in the same league, it was sold off and renamed FlyQuest. Edens, who along with hedge fund manager Marc Lasry bought the Bucks in 2014, tapped his son Ryan, along with Fortress Investment Group managing director Sarah Watterson, to run the new brand.
The team has reached agreement with four of the former Cloud9 Challenger players – starters An "Balls" Van Le, Hai "Hai" Du Lam, Johnny "Altec" Ru and Daerek "LemonNation" Hart – for $700,000 of the $2.5 million total, according to ESPN. FlyQuest will start competing in the North America League Championship Series on Jan. 20, and the new franchise intends to assemble multiple teams to compete across a variety of eSports games and global competitions in the future, according to a press release.
FlyQuest will utilize the business and sports expertise of Edens and his group to develop partnerships, sponsorships and an engaged fan base with the goal of sustained growth and competitive performance.
"We are very excited to enter such a rapidly growing and immensely popular sport," Edens said in a statement. "FlyQuest intends to compete and win at the highest levels of eSports and quickly become an internationally respected organization."
While video game competitions have existed for years, the fast, massive growth of eSports is a relatively recent phenomenon. Over the past few years, the industry has been quickly organized, professionalized and monetized, with NewZoo estimating it could be worth nearly $1.5 billion and have an expected worldwide audience of 300 million by 2020. Where competition was previously confined to personal computers, eSports have proliferated on mobile decides, and venues such as the new Bucks arena could be used to host major events.
With Edens, the Bucks become the latest NBA franchise to move tangentially into eSports ownership. Memphis Grizzlies co-owner Stephen Kaplan, Golden State Warriors co-owner Peter Guber and members of the Philadelphia 76ers and Houston Rockets have recently become involved in eSports, as well as former player Rick Fox and others. Read about the NBA's forthcoming 2K eLeague here.
Born in Milwaukee but a product of Shorewood High School (go ‘Hounds!) and Northwestern University (go ‘Cats!), Jimmy never knew the schoolboy bliss of cheering for a winning football, basketball or baseball team. So he ditched being a fan in order to cover sports professionally - occasionally objectively, always passionately. He's lived in Chicago, New York and Dallas, but now resides again in his beloved Brew City and is an ardent attacker of the notorious Milwaukee Inferiority Complex.
After interning at print publications like Birds and Blooms (official motto: "America's #1 backyard birding and gardening magazine!"), Sports Illustrated (unofficial motto: "Subscribe and save up to 90% off the cover price!") and The Dallas Morning News (a newspaper!), Jimmy worked for web outlets like CBSSports.com, where he was a Packers beat reporter, and FOX Sports Wisconsin, where he managed digital content. He's a proponent and frequent user of em dashes, parenthetical asides, descriptive appositives and, really, anything that makes his sentences longer and more needlessly complex.
Jimmy appreciates references to late '90s Brewers and Bucks players and is the curator of the unofficial John Jaha Hall of Fame. He also enjoys running, biking and soccer, but isn't too annoying about them. He writes about sports - both mainstream and unconventional - and non-sports, including history, music, food, art and even golf (just kidding!), and welcomes reader suggestions for off-the-beaten-path story ideas.