🎮 Happy Wednesday! We're trying something new: a mid-week special edition with an afternoon send time. Might do it again, might not. Let us know your thoughts.
Today's word count: 1,562 words (~6 mins).
Kyle "Bugha" Giersdorf after winning the $3 million first-place prize at Sunday's Fortnite World Cup. Photo: Eric Ananmalay/ESPAT Media/Getty Images
Esports can be a difficult thing to grasp when you're on the outside looking in, but here's something everyone can understand: It has quickly become big business for traditional sports.
Driving the news:
The big picture: The burgeoning relationship between esports and traditional sports speaks to how much interest there is in reaching the esports demographic — and is proof that something big is happening.
Yes, but: The esports boom is being fueled by massive amounts of venture capital, and some industry veterans fear the numbers that attracted investors were inflated, creating a "completely unsustainable" situation.
""When you're seeing teams right now raising over $300 million valuations on revenues under $25 [million], you're kind of like, what?"— Jason Lake, founder, Complexity Gaming, per SBJ
The bottom line: What the esports industry will look like when this period of sky-high valuations and high-intensity growth comes to an end remains to be seen.
In 2009, South Korea's Lee Jae-dong won the most prize money in esports, collecting $86,265 over the calendar year.
Flush with funding, esports organizations are beginning to build their empires and turn their long-term visions into realities.
The intrigue: Those visions vary greatly from organization to organization. Some are focused exclusively on gaming, while others see a much larger opportunity.
Let's explore both models in the two stories below...
Photo: Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for Blizzard Entertainment
Overwatch is one of the most popular games in the world, and when its lead developer, Blizzard Entertainment, launched the Overwatch League (OWL) last year, it blended esports and traditional sports in a myriad of ways.
Details: First and foremost, all 20 OWL teams are tied to a city (13 in the U.S. and 7 abroad) — a common model for traditional sports but unusual for esports, which is full of free-floating teams and one-off tournaments.
How to play: Teams consist of six players, each of whom controls one of 26 "heroes" — cartoonish characters with unique skill sets who fall into one of four roles: offense, defense, tank or support.
Go deeper: Esports' grand Overwatch experiment
Matt Haag (L) and John Robinson. Courtesy: 100 Thieves
Founded by former star Matthew Haag and co-owned by Drake, 100 Thieves is one of a handful of organizations that are exploring what's possible in an industry that's still figuring itself out.
How it works: Similar to how European sports clubs like Real Madrid have teams that compete in various sports, 100 Thieves has teams that compete in various games.
Between the lines: While competitive gaming is at the heart of everything 100 Thieves does, the most interesting part about the business model is how far beyond gaming it expands.
The big picture: If you think of each esports game as being a different "sport," 100 Thieves is kind of like one company owning an NBA team, an NFL team and an MLB team — and housing them all under one recognizable brand name.
"The best way to describe 100 Thieves is that there's a part of us that wants to be the Lakers (sports), a part of us that wants to be 'The Ringer' (media) and a part of us that wants to be Supreme (apparel)."— John Robinson, President/COO of 100 Thieves, tells Axios
Go deeper: The rise of live-streamer style
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios
Imagine what the NFL would look like if big-time college football didn't exist and very few high school students played football in a formal setting.
1. High school: The Electronic Gaming Federation (EGF) just announced a partnership with Disney to host its high school national championship at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex in Orlando for the next five years.
2. College: In addition to operating high school leagues across 14 states, EGF is also one of several organizations angling to become the NCAA for esports.
30 years ago today, Nintendo's Game Boy was released in the United States, bundled with the game Tetris.
Go deeper: Game Boy changed the way America played video games (Smithsonian)
Imagine if, 10 years from now, human beings stopped playing basketball altogether and replaced it with a different sport. The esports industry lives in constant fear of something similar happening to a game.
The state of play: The top esports leagues are built around games (aka, "sports") that aren't guaranteed to be popular in the future, which makes paying millions of dollars to join such a league a risky proposition.
The big picture: While every game is vulnerable to a decline in popularity, certain titles have attracted so much investment that they're almost guaranteed to be around for a while, esports consultant Rod Breslau tells John Wall Street.
"It's become a case of 'too big to fail'. So much money has been invested into [some] games … that it would take an incredible catastrophe for the game's popularity to decline far enough ... for it [not] to exist at a professional level. League of Legends, Fortnite, Overwatch and Counterstrike, they'll all be around in 2050."
NBA commissioner Adam Silver announces the No. 1 pick at the first NBA 2K League Draft at Madison Square Garden last April. Photo: Mike Stobe/Getty Images
Inside an NBA 2K team: The Pistons' 2K team is having a brutal season and their reasoning, per The Athletic (subscription), sounds a lot like real sports: They made a trade and it destroyed team chemistry.
The next big thing (or not): Apex Legends exploded onto the gaming landscape in February and looked like it might be the next big esports property. But just five months after its release, the hype has slowed down and only a handful of one-off tournaments have been announced.
New metric: OWL developed its own player-performance metric called player impact rating (PIR), which appears to have been inspired by basketball's popular player efficiency rating (PER).
See you tomorrow,
Kendall "Who wants to play me in Madden" Baker