Michael B. Jordan Joins the Call of Duty League as Esports Investor

Esports brings in A-List backers as focus turns to building city rivalries

Actor Michael B. Jordan has invested in esports. Getty Images
Headshot of Mitch Reames

Some celebrities are quintessentially New York. Sinatra. Jeter. Biggie. From Central Park to Madison Square Garden, New York’s brand is strong. And the sports teams in the city have some of the most fervent fans in the world.

Andbox, a new multi-franchise esports organization backed by Sterling.VC (the owners of the New York Mets), is hoping to brings fans to esports. Next year, the New York Excelsior (NYXL) and the New York Subliners (NYSL) will be key teams in the Overwatch and Call of Duty Leagues, respectively.

“Our goal is to capture esports in New York and lay claim to this market,” said Farzam Kamel, the co-founder and president of Andbox.

In 2020, these Activision Blizzard leagues will lead the way on a crucial esports experiment. For the first time, esports will begin to resemble the home-and-away model of traditional sports. While the Overwatch League has been operating for two seasons, almost all the games were played in Los Angeles. In 2020, teams will travel from city-to-city competing in front of hometown fans throughout the season.

This geo-localized model is a new experiment for esports and could open up key revenue streams. Even before the games are played, that increased connection to the city helps bring on essential backers, like actor Michael B. Jordan.

“[Andbox] cared about the New York culture, they wanted to make sure they got it right,” said Jordan, known for his roles as Apollo Creed and Killmonger. “I’m from Newark, New Jersey, but I grew up in Manhattan. With Andbox, I felt like they really cared about New Yorkers and being authentic to the city.”

Bringing in new investors like Jordan is one of the significant benefits of geo-localizing. Call of Duty esports has been around for over a decade, and Jordan was playing the game that whole time, but the New York-based Subliners gave him a perfect entry point into the industry.

“I’m never the guy that just wants to cash out. I’m never the guy who just wants to be involved to put my name on it,” Jordan continued. “I have to have some passion for it. Call of Duty, if anybody knows me, they know that’s my shit.”

While Jordan may be new to esports, other investors in Andbox have been around since the earliest days. Michael Sepso and Sundance DiGiovanni were the founders of Major League Gaming (MLG), an organization that has been a pillar of the esports industry since 2002. The duo, along with Sterling.VC and Jordan, make up the ownership group of Andbox.

“There were definitely indications early on in esports that there were going to be some strong points of attachment among regions,” said DiGiovanni. “The thing that needed to happen was publishers needed to get to a place where they saw the value of owning and operating a league as a business, not a marketing expense.”

Esports organizations are being given lofty valuations due to the promise of the industry, but the revenue these organizations bring in cast doubt on those numbers. Building up a regional fanbase and engaging with local communities will be vital in helping esports revenue figures match the valuations.

With buy-ins reaching up to $60 million for expansion spots in the OWL, according to ESPN, places in these leagues don’t come cheap. With many of the new owners coming from the traditional sports world, understanding the model has been key to find people to pay these unprecedented buy-ins.

“It’s very easy to say ‘I’m a New York fan.’” said Sepso. “It’s something we can take from traditional sports and improve upon in esports.”

There are some potential downsides. Esports already has a burnout problem, and 2020 will be a grind. From February until August, teams will be continually traveling around the globe. In one 14-day stretch in the middle of the season as seen on the team schedule, NYXL will travel from matches in London to Washington D.C. and then to Paris.

Some well-known players like Jacob ‘JAKE’ Lyon announced his retirement with a tweet ahead of this season—at the age of 23. Not only will teams have to capture local fans, but they will also need to build players into stars.

Despite that cause for concern, the 2020 season of the Overwatch and Call of Duty Leagues will make esports more accessible to the casual fan esports ever have been before.

Mitch Reames is a freelance writer based in southern Oregon. A 2017 graduate of the University of Oregon school of journalism and communications, Reames covers a wide range of industry topics including creativity, agencies, brands, esports and more.