76ers get into e-sports with purchase of Dignitas and Apex pro gaming teams

The Philadelphia 76ers became the first American professional sports franchise to own an e-sports team with the purchase of pro gaming outfits Dignitas and Apex. If this isn’t proof positive that online pro gaming is big business, I don’t know what is.

The terms of the deal were not disclosed, but they’re not paying in Mountain Dew, that’s for sure. Dignitas, which will absorb League of Legends team Apex as part of the deal, now has about two dozen gamers on its payroll and competes in CS:GO, Overwatch, Heroes of the Storm and Smite.

It’s been in the works for a year or so, and Michael O’Dell, who’s owned Dignitas since 2003, is optimistic.

“I’ve seen the good times. I’ve seen the bad times,” he told Slingshot. “The fact that the 76ers are coming in now will help me legitimize what I’ve been doing for such a long time.”

Scott O’Neil, meanwhile, CEO of the Sixers, hasn’t played a video game since Pong. But you don’t have to play the game to play the game, if you know what I mean.

“We were smart enough to know what we didn’t know,” he told ESPN. What they did know was that tens of millions of people (young people, with disposable income!) were regularly watching e-sports, paying for tickets, buying merchandise and so on.

The purchase is really just dipping a toe in the market, considering the quantities of cash pro franchises handle regularly, but it sets an important precedent and, if it’s successful, will likely be the first of many such moves by the big teams.

For instruction, they would do well to look to Europe and Asia, where pro gaming has been mainstream for years and structures for partnerships, events and publicity are well established.

The deal is full of possibility, but everyone involved is speaking only in the most general terms; check out the press release if you like enthusiastic quotes.