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It's just the first step in getting in on the "next evolution of entertainment."
That's how Jonathan Wilf describes his family's, and subsequently the Minnesota Vikings', first esports play. On Tuesday, Activision Blizzard revealed that the Wilf family's WISE Ventures investment fund, founded by Vikings owners Mark and Zygi Wilf, will become part of its upcoming Call of Duty league by fielding a Minnesota-based team.
And while the Vikings owners have had their eye on the esports industry for awhile, it was Activision Blizzard's approach to building the space that led them to finally get in on the hype. Just like their Overwatch League, the gaming giant intends to run another city-based franchise with Call of Duty as inspired by traditional sports leagues.
"Having watched closely as the ecosystem evolved and matured with the first few years of franchised leagues, we are confident in the long-term potential of what Activision Blizzard is building and in the esports industry as a whole," Wilf told CNBC.
This makes the Vikings the latest traditional sports entity to charge into the esports industry, which research firm Newzoo projects will generate over one billion dollars in revenue this year. That's a year-on-year growth of 27% with the North American market accounting for over a third of that $1.1 billion revenue.
But the Vikings are also entering a field where a good number of traditional sports giants have already snapped up slots in various leagues or started their own esports branches. Take-Two's NBA 2K League, for example, features 21 teams that are each owned by their respective city franchises. Activision Blizzard's Overwatch League, which features city-based franchise teams, also boasts a few traditional sports entities including the owners of the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Rams.
These same traditional sports entities have also been wheeling and dealing in the space. In 2017, the Houston Rockets paid $13 million for a slot in Riot Games' League of Legends North American league. This past April, the Rockets sold their League of Legends team, known as Clutch Gaming, to Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment, the parent company of the Philadelphia 76ers, the New Jersey Devils and esports team Dignitas, for a reported $20 million.
But despite their later entry into esports, Wilf emphasizes that the Vikings owners were waiting for what they perceived as a strong investment that would give them a solid foothold in the space.
"For us, investing in esports was never about being first, it was about finding the right opportunity at the right time," said Wilf. "The proven staying power of Call of Duty as a franchise certainly factored into our thinking."
Wilf also revealed that WISE Ventures is looking to expand into other games, and that they are exploring the possibility of building an esports-dedicated arena in Eagan, Minnesota on the Vikings Lakes campus.
The Call of Duty league is set to launch in 2020, and its addition of the Wilf family brings the total number of announced teams to seven. Back in March, ESPN reported that franchise spots for the new esports league were being sold at $25 million per slot, though Activision Blizzard has never confirmed that number.