Exclusive: Hank Baskett and Denial eSports Talk About Their Partnership
TNL Take: Over the past two years, almost 50 Pro Teams and Leagues have invested in eSports. Here's who's joined the party so far in 2017:
As usual, European soccer clubs continue to dominate and in the US, the NBA is leading with both teams and the upcoming NBA2K ELEAGUE.
We even saw the 2nd Pro Hockey team with Delaware North - whose Chairman owns the Boston Bruins - partner with eSports team Splyce.
Notice a big US sport missing?
Not one NFL team has made an eSports investment to date, although the Dallas Cowboys have been rumored to make a move. While NFL teams haven’t jumped into the pool, several NFL players have.
Outside of the co-ownership announcement, no other details were given about the partnership. However, Baskett has been involved in Gaming and eSports for a while now.
There seems to be a continuing trend: Denial, Splyce, and Rogue, which have all seen investment, were all established in the past three years. It will be interesting to see what happens to the “ relatively old” eSports teams that haven’t reaped the rewards yet.
I use the term “ relatively old” because measuring time in eSports is tough. Do you start counting over a decade ago when it first started or the last two years as it’s gone mainstream?
In 2014, Baskett was co-owner of GAEMS, which makes a portable console/monitor system, and minority owner of eSports squad Team EnVyUS. He also said how eSports is similar to playing in the NFL.
After all the global Pro Sports team investment and NBA’s upcoming ELEAGUE, the NFL remains quiet.
I think I may know why….but we’ll save that for later
I spoke with both Hank Baskett and Denial eSports Co-Owner Robby Ringnalda about their recent partnership:
TNL: Hank, congrats on your recent involvement with Denial eSports. What made you choose them?
HB: It all started with Robby reaching out to me on Twitter. Over the years I had heard a lot about Denial as I was always doing my best to keep up with eSports. I grew more and more interested in Denial as he spoke. Once he finally asked if I was willing to be a part of the organization as Co-Owner I didn’t hesitate. To be part of one of the original organizations was an opportunity I could not pass up, especially due to the fact that I was the first person that Robby had reached out to in regards to ownership.
TNL: You’ve had an interest in Gaming and eSports for a while now. In 2014, you became the co-owner of GAEMS. What’s so enticing about the space for you?
HB: I have always been a gamer and dedicated to sports. I was fortunate to play 5 years in the NFL so that gave me the opportunity to understand what it was like to be a professional athlete. Once I stumbled upon eSports I saw something that I thought would be a game changer in regards to professional sports and how they are seen both nationally and internationally. A true global sport that brings athletes together from every continent across the globe. Football for instance is not followed in foreign countries as it is here in the US. Overwatch and League of Legends are just a couple titles of the many out there that have teams representing countries near and far. I believe that video games have changed drastically over the years. By this, I mean there are so many games out there that everyone can find that one game that truly sparks their inner gamer.
TNL: You were one of the first athletes to see the eSports opportunity. Over the past two years, we’ve seen an explosion – 35+ Pro Teams, Team Owners, and even a Poker player. Do you see more professional athletes making direct investments because they see everyone else doing it?
HB: I do believe that with the growth and awareness of eSports there will continue to be those that jump into the culture because it is seen as the thing to do. However, I feel that some of those that have invested and ones that may invest in the future will do it because of their passion for gaming and the eSports industry. I mean, who can blame them, the growth of eSports has become widely covered in the media while the industry I believe hasn’t event reached it’s infancy stages!
TNL: About 2 ½ years ago you said that “Within the next 5 years, eSports will become the first truly global sport”. We’re now halfway towards your prediction. How do you feel about that statement now?
HB: I think my guesstimate was pretty accurate. You look at how many eSports tournaments are taking place globally. You have more and more developers integrating new formats into their previously successful titles with the hopes of their games being added to the numerous titles already entrenched in the eSports world. This is because the growth in the numbers of eSports followers. eSports organizations have created massive fan bases, with fans continuously following their favorite teams as well as buying as much merchandise as possible. Sounds very similar to other professional sports don’t you think! The growth chart at least for a few more years to come is going in one direction and that way is up!
TNL: I agree that eSports will become the first global sport. However, we still have issues with players/casters not getting paid, infrastructure problems, multiple leagues for the same game. What’s the biggest issue for you that eSports needs to overcome to become a global success?
HB: Those are indeed problems and I think that the industry as whole are working to fix those. It will take time. Anytime something is new and grows as fast as the eSports industry has there will be initial flaws. The only way to fix these flaws or learn how to manage them is to do it as a collective. Leagues, organizations, owners and players all must decided whether or not they want to grow as a whole or grow separately. I personally feel that at some point though they will come together. Look back at professional basketball. We’ve had the ABA and now the NBA. It will take time, because if it’s rushed it will have to be done all over again. That would not be good because a major set back for eSports would be held against it from all the naysayers. The opportunities are endless for eSports as a whole and I’m proud to say that I was a believer from the moment I found my way into it’s world and even more so that I am an owner.
Thanks for your time Hank.
TNL: Robby, first, congrats on the partnership with Hank for Denial eSports. How did Hank get involved?
RR: I messaged Hank about a year ago and wished him a congratulations for being one of the first NFL players to get involved in eSports with Team EnVyUs. To me it looked like an organic involvement because he loved gaming.
When we spoke, he said he was no longer involved with Team EnVyUs and we should get lunch next time I was in LA. Our talks went great, our ideas for eSports seemed to link up and by the end of the night - he was a Co-Owner of the organization.
TNL: Outside of financial involvement, what are some other ways that Hank will help Denial grow?
RR: Hank is going to bring the value of his rolodex and work on business development for Denial so we can start to connect the dots and continue to grow.
TNL: You and Ray have been running Denial since first starting. This year you added Robert Bowling from Infinity Ward and 2 more co-owners in the past week, why the rapid change?
RR: I originally talked to Robert Bowling last year about bringing him on and it seemed like it would work out so we moved forward. However, he got very busy with his charity and other companies so we both mutually agreed to discontinue his involvement with Denial.
Ever since the formation of Denial, l I have tried to run the company organically with sponsors being the main arm of support. With the recent massive investments from VC firms and Pro Sports teams I knew that I had to make a strategic effort to not fall behind. In this space that moves so fast if you don’t evolve you die.
TNL: You currently have teams in CS, Overwatch, H1ZI, Street Fighter, Smash 4 and Rocket League. Any plans that you can share in what areas or titles Denial is looking to grow next?
RR: That’s our current roster and we just announced Vainglory. We want to get back into League of Legends in the next 6 months. We have had so many close failures getting into the LCS since the birth of Denial without the funding that the other teams have now. We think with these changes we have a great shot at re-entering the LCS.
TNL: The most important question of all – can you beat Hank in Street Fighter?
RR: Well I have been Pro Gamer before J I think in football, Hank has got me beat but I have some gaming skills left up my sleeve.
Thanks for your time Robby.