Esports organization Gen.G announced Wednesday it has raised $46 million in a funding round led by some big names in sports and entertainment.
The latest investors include actor Will Smith and Japanese soccer player Keisuke Honda's Dreamers Fund, as well as Los Angeles Clippers minority owner Dennis Wong and Alibaba Group's former chairman of U.S. investments, Michael Zeisser.
The round also brought in tech-focused venture capital firms such as New Enterprise Associates and Battery Ventures.
Gen.G CEO Chris Park, a former executive vice president at Major League Baseball, told CNBC that the $46 million investment further cements the "incredible excitement" around the growing esports industry. "We were actually over-subscribed" in terms of potential investors and sponsors, he said. "We had to take a step back a bit and determine the right kinds of partners for what we're trying to do, [to see] who had their own unique way to contribute their time, expertise and experience to areas we're trying to grow."
Park stressed that Gen.G, which fields teams in eight professional esports leagues, is focused on a mission to be a global esports organization. The Gen.G CEO says the investors reflect the organization's desire for worldwide expansion and "have a very specific vision, through investment, to bridge East and West" while also putting a big focus on tech.
"We have a roster of investors that understand the challenge of being truly global and have a record of helping brands and companies meet that ambition," added Park. Rick Yang, partner at NEA, said esports' status has become a "truly global phenomenon."
Asia had been the bedrock of esports — organized, multiplayer video game competitions. Its expansion in North America, Europe, and Latin American — to name a few growth regions — in recent years has been due to the space being "the next generation of social, content and commerce," according to Yang.
NEA has over $20 billion in assets under management focused primarily in tech and health care. Gen.G is its second esports investment. Last year, the firm led a $15 million Series A financing round for PlayVS, a start-up focused on building the high school esports landscape.
Ultimately, Yang views Gen.G's position as a "bridge between the East and the West" as very much in line with NEA's status as a global venture capital firm, especially given the background of its top executives like Park and Chairman Kevin Chou.
"You have this completely unique mix of proven, truly global entrepreneurs who have built businesses that were global," said Yang. "[That makes them] able to bridge this funny gap between the business and entrepreneurial practices in Silicon Valley [with those] stemming from East."
Other investors in the round include MasterClass co-founder and CEO David Rogier, as well as Conductive Ventures, Canaan Partners and Stanford University. Silicon Valley Bank has been named Gen.G's banking partner and will be working with the esports organization on future events and content through 2020.
The esports industry is projected to generate more than $1 billion in revenue this year, according to research firm Newzoo. Over a third of that revenue is estimated to come from the North American market.