Rockets First NBA Team to Dedicate Front Office Slot to EsportsBy
Sebastian Park, 25, named director of esports development
Owner Les Alexander looking to invest in $500 million industy
The NBA’s Houston Rockets have hired an esports executive to guide the franchise into the rapidly growing world of competitive video gaming.
Sebastian Park, who starts Thursday as director of esports development, will assess how the Rockets and owner Les Alexander can join the $500 million industry, both as an investment and to expand the reach of the 49-year-old basketball franchise.
“Nothing is off the table,” said Park, 25. “We’re going to look at everything.”
That could mean buying teams, or getting involved at the event or league levels. It also could place the Rockets brand directly into the world of competitive gaming, a step taken by various clubs in Europe, but not yet adopted by the handful of other NBA owners who have recently invested in esports teams. Those decisions will be made over time, Park said, a luxury that the Rockets have.
“What really drew me to the Rockets was their ability to say, ‘There are things we know, and things we don’t know. We know the esports space is valuable, now let’s take time and really figure it out,”’ Park said.
Alexander is just the latest National Basketball Association owner to see that value -- a belief shared by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver -- but the first to dedicate a front-office executive. Earlier this year, the owners of the Philadelphia 76ers purchased and merged two esports teams. Sacramento Kings co-owners Mark Mastrov and Andy Miller have also invested in a team alongside Shaquille O’Neal, while Washington Wizards owner Ted Leonsis and Golden State Warriors part-owner Peter Guber teamed up to acquire another.
Competitive video gaming will generate about $500 million in 2016, according to a recent Newzoo report. That’s up from about $200 million just two years ago, and Newzoo projects it to eclipse $1 billion by 2019.
The competitions, which include fantasy games likes League of Legends and Overwatch, and sports games like EA’s FIFA soccer franchise, have about 292 million viewers worldwide -- mostly young men, many of whom consume media not via the traditional cable television model, but rather through digital avenues like Alphabet Inc.’s YouTube and Amazon.com Inc.’s Twitch.
That’s the audience that sports franchises across the U.S. are struggling to reach. Alexander and Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey, known for his interest in emerging technology and analytics, have followed esports for a while, but the world of professional gaming is fragmented, disorganized and global. The Rockets executives will rely on Park to make sense of it all.
That means managing an industry where the popular games are constantly changing, and gamers move around from team to team with little regulation or framework. That can be hard for smaller esports companies, but presents a unique opportunity for the Rockets, who have a billionaire owner and can take a long-term approach.
“A lot of people look at esports myopically, as something that needs to explode in the next week to make ends meet, and I was there, I ran a team in that manner,” said Park, who co-owned Team Archon until earlier this year. “The Rockets can approach this not from the perspective of a start-up, but as an organization that can make bets with the purpose of being a major player in this space.”
Park broke into the competitive gaming world by running the esports sponsorship division at domain registrar NameCheap in Los Angeles. He left his position as Chief Executive Officer of Team Archon earlier this year and has been consulting for the past six months.
— With assistance by Scott Soshnick