Gary Vaynerchuk on Investing in Esports, the Opportunity Ahead


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Long before being announced as an investor in and member of the ownership group of the Minnesota franchise of Activision Blizzard’s upcoming geolocated Call of Duty League, Gary Vaynerchuk had his eye on the esports industry.

“I’ve been really paying attention in the back row for four to five years,” he told The Esports Observer. “I literally remember when became Twitch, and so it’s been on my mental radar for a little while.”

As the chairman of media holding company VaynerX and CEO of digital agency VaynerMedia, Vaynerchuk is one of the most visible investors to enter esports to date. The 43-year-old transformed his family’s wine shop into an online success story beginning in the late ’90s, and has gradually parlayed that momentum into a large social media presence (with several million followers across platforms), five New York Times bestselling books, angel investments in tech giants such as Twitter, Facebook, and Uber, and many other opportunities.

Given his status as a prominent investor, Vaynerchuk said that he’s seen “tens of thousands” of queries about esports-related opportunities pass across his desk over the years, but that only about 15 of them led to serious conversations and meetings. One potential opportunity came from an undisclosed Overwatch League ownership group early in the league’s genesis, said Vaynerchuk, but he didn’t pursue it.

Part of what made Vaynerchuk’s investment in WISE Ventures’ Call of Duty League franchise appealing was a close connection with the group’s Wilf family, which also owns the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings.


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“One thing that I’m realizing about myself is that I’m really about people, comfort, happiness, and control, and all of these things. I’ve known the Wilf family for almost 15 years because they actually live in the area where my wine business is,” said Vaynerchuk, who was introduced to the family by a senior executive in the Wilfs’ real estate organization in New Jersey. “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.”

Related Article: Activision Blizzard Announces Two More Teams for Call of Duty League

Vaynerchuk said that he was thrilled to see the Wilf family purchase the Minnesota Vikings in 2005, “especially when my career ambitions are to buy the New York Jets,” he added. He has also met with Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick and watched the evolution of the Overwatch League from an idea to a 20-team league on the verge of hosting matches in every home market, plus he feels that Call of Duty has the versatility and track record to thrive.

“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.”

Call of Duty has proven to me over the last half-decade and more that it’s a franchise that can evolve,” said Vaynerchuk. “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.”

Gary Vee-sports?


Minnesota isn’t considered one of the esports capitals of the United States at present, but Vaynerchuk sees that as an opportunity more than a challenge. He believes that there’s enough demand for live esports events “in most parts of the country,” and said that establishing a geolocated esports franchise in the region could also give the team leverage in mining homegrown talent from Minnesota and surrounding states.

“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 said, “so I see it as an opportunity.”

Vaynerchuk is a brand unto himself, and a very public face of his companies. He may be new to esports, but given his reach, reputation, and vibrant personality, it’s no surprise that he is likely to also be a public face for Minnesota’s Call of Duty organization. He anticipates being heavily involved with the team and believes that he will be able to help with recruiting talent.

“We spoke about that quite a bit, as you can imagine,” he said of his role on the team. “I’m in it for the learnings, because I want to be close to culture and youth, and innovation. Probably more than most things, in a lot of ways.

“Listen, I mean, this is a recruiting game,” he continued. “This is ludicrous for me to say, but as my level of awareness grows and a lot of esports players have a lot of entrepreneurial ambitions—I’m not remotely close to Jay-Z’s sphere, but when you think about Jay-Z and Roc Nation, Jay-Z’s impact on the Brooklyn Nets is real. Not that I carry that weight, but ironically to this set of entrepreneur-laden players, I do believe we will sign a free agent that really fucking matters on the back of me.”

“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.”

Given his status as a survivor of the dot-com bust, Vaynerchuk said that the rush for some investors to throw money at esports in search of success reminds him a lot of that formative time period in internet history. “I think it’s similar to 1999 internet,” he said. “There’s a lot of places to lose money, but I think that just like 1999 internet, that in 20 years, the people that have navigated it thoughtfully and carefully have a whole lot to gain.”

Vaynerchuk sees “macro acceptance” ahead for esports in mainstream culture, he said, as more people come to acknowledge and appreciate competitive gaming and its impact on entertainment and society. In fact, he believes that more parents will encourage their kids to play games at a high level to secure scholarships, “which is obviously the complete reverse of what parents did when I was growing up playing videogames,” he added.

Joining WISE Ventures’ Call of Duty League ownership group is Vaynerchuk’s first esports investment after a long period of consideration, but it won’t be his last. He’s not sure where his next investment in the space will come from, but he sees big things in the future.

“I don’t know what,” he said about potential next investments, “but 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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