Gary Vaynerchuk Invests in Minnesota Call of Duty Team
The rapid growth and potential of esports is attracting a wide variety of investors from all over the world and all kinds of fields. One such investor is entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk, the CEO of social media agency VaynerMedia and chairman of communications company Vayner X. Recently, Vaynerchuk acquired a stake in Minnesota’s Call of Duty World League (CWL) team. The team will be playing in next year’s CWL, which will feature a home and away game format much like what Activision Blizzard has introduced for their Overwatch League.
Though this type of investment is new for Vaynerchuk, he has had his eyes on esports and gaming for a long time. In an interview with The Esports Observer, he says, “I’ve been really paying attention in the back row for four to five years. I literally remember when Justin.tv became Twitch, and so it’s been on my mental radar for a little while.” He also says that he has received “tens of thousands” of esports proposals thus far but rejected the vast majority of them.
What made him decide to invest in Minnesota’s CWL team, out of all the possibilities? One reason is his connection with the Wilf family, whose investment fund, WISE Ventures, owns both the CWL team and the Minnesota Vikings. Says Vaynerchuk, “I’ve known the Wilf family for almost 15 years because they actually live in the area where my wine business is. We’ve really had these nice human vibes towards each other for years, and then as my professional career started to evolve from wine into many other things, I started building even more of a relationship here and there, subtly.”
Another reason is his faith in the Call of Duty franchise and its ability to grow. “Call of Duty has proven to me over the last half-decade and more that it’s a franchise that can evolve,” Vaynerchuk explains. “I think that a lot of these leagues are predicated on: How long is the franchise? Are you Zelda and Super Mario, or are you Kid Icarus, right? That’s how I think about everything. Call of Duty intuitively feels like it has the potential to be more Mario than Kid Icarus, which then gives the league longevity. Otherwise, you’re at the mercy of the IP.”
A third reason is that Vaynerchuk believes strongly in the home and away game model for esports. While Minnesota is not currently an esports hotspot, Vaynerchuk thinks “most parts of the country” desire live esports events. Building an esports league around home cities takes advantage of that demand, and it provides teams with opportunities to recruit local esports talent, an area that Vaynerchuk is particularly interested in helping with. “I’m completely convinced that Minnesota and the five or six surrounding states right now have the best 11-year-old at some game in the world,” he says, “so I see it as an opportunity.”
Overall, Vaynerchuk is bullish about the future of esports. “I think it’s similar to 1999 internet,” he says. “There’s a lot of places to lose money, but I think that…in 20 years, the people that have navigated it thoughtfully and carefully have a whole lot to gain.” He also believes esports will achieve “macro acceptance” into mainstream culture, with more public appreciation for competitive gaming and more parents encouraging their children to play games competitively for scholarships. Wherever esports goes, Vaynerchuk wants to be involved. “I think esports is a top-four sport in America when I’m 62 years old, and I want to be a part of that.”
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Feature image from Garyvaynerchuk.com