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Michael Jordan jumps into esports, joins Team Liquid ownership group

NBA legend Michael Jordan announced an investment Monday in international esports ownership group aXiomatic, which operates Team Liquid. (Ian Langsdon/EPA)
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Basketball legend Michael Jordan will invest in international esports ownership group aXiomatic Gaming, pushing his business empire into the ever-expanding digital sports industry.

The company declined to announce the value of Jordan’s investment, but said it comes during a $26 million round of Series B funding.

It also comes as esports' popularity is booming and professional gamers can make millions of dollars in international competition. Team Liquid’s European team won The International 2017 tournament for the popular game title “Dota 2,” an event that featured an $11 million grand-prize purse.

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But analysts say esports' largest upside comes in the consumer and audience market, where American customers alone spent $29.1 billion on video game content in 2017, according to the Electronic Software Association trade group.

Jordan is not the first NBA great to invest in aXiomatic. Magic Johnson is a major investor. The firm’s ownership group includes Washington Wizards and Capitals' owner Ted Leonsis, Golden State Warriors co-owner Peter Guber, Warriors board member Bruce Karsh and Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik.

Billionaire financier and philanthropist David Rubenstein also joined as an investor.

Leonsis and Karsh led the way recruiting Jordan and Rubenstein, aXiomatic co-founder and chief executive Bruce Stein said in a phone interview. Those talks began over the summer, Stein said, as both Rubenstein and Jordan expressed investing interest in esports, but wanted advice on whom to partner with. Leonsis and Jordan have a relationship that extends back to Jordan’s NBA days, when Leonsis helped recruit him to the Washington Wizards as a part owner and player following his retirement from the Chicago Bulls.

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“It’s all kind of a new Star Trek journey and you have to pick the ship you want to join,” Stein said. “That’s how they went about their own analysis.”

AXiomatic investors courted the pair for their “intellectual capital,” Stein said. As the gaming industry expands and the capital market grows increasingly sophisticated, Rubenstein and resources from his family investment firm Declaration Capital can help steer aXiomatic financially.

Jordan, owner the Charlotte Hornets and namesake of Nike’s Jordan shoe and clothing brand, brings insight into content creation, Stein said, and building a sports franchise.

“AXiomatic is a platform for building the esports and video gaming audience and ecosystem. Our ideal investors are people who bring something that we don’t already have,” he said. “With David and Michael we get two very unique perspectives that we don’t get anywhere else.”

Stein said aXiomatic had not discussed co-branding opportunities with Jordan, such as outfitting Team Liquid’s squads in Jordan brand gear, but called it “an exciting place for us to explore.”

“Michael is the ultimate competitor and he’s curious,” he said. “Bringing his competitiveness and drive to our group is important not just from the esports part of it, but from the audience part of it, because he knows how to engage an audience."

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