TNL Take: Last week on Activision-Blizzard’s Q2 earnings call, CEO Bobby Kotick revealed that the 8th slot for the upcoming Call Of Duty League has been sold. However, while the previous 7 slots have all been named, there was no mention of which investor or investment team purchased this slot and for what city.
The Next Level has been investigating this a bit, speaking with several industry insiders and researching additional information sources. We want to qualify this take by noting that we do not have direct sourcing or confirmation, but based on these industry conversations and piecing together the clues, the Next Level believes that Houston will receive 1 slot in the upcoming Call of Duty League. Let’s see how the dots connect.
1/OVERWATCH LEAGUE FRANCHISES
As reported by Jacob Wolf of ESPN last June (who seems to breaks almost all Activision-Blizzard related news), franchise owners in the Overwatch League have been given a first right of negotiation for the upcoming Call of Duty League slots.
That’s exactly what happened in May of this year when Activision-Blizzard announced the first 5 cities:
Atlanta (Overwatch League Team: Atlanta Reign)
Dallas (Overwatch League Team: Dallas Fuel)
New York (Overwatch League Team: New York Excelsior)
Paris (Overwatch League Team: Paris Eternal)
Toronto (Overwatch League Team: Toronto Defiant)
2/INFINITE ESPORTS AND ENTERTAINMENT SALE
As reported by Jacob Wolf in May, LA based Immortals raised a $30M series B funding round, rebranded to Immortals Gaming Club and were one of a few bidders looking at buying Infinite Esports and Entertainment, the parent company of OpTic Gaming and Houston Outlaws.
In June, Infinite Esports and Entertainment were indeed acquired by Immortals Gaming Club. However, Immortals Gaming Club already have an Overwatch League team with LA Valiant and Activision-Blizzard prohibits franchise owners to field 2 teams in the same league.
3/IMMORTALS GAMING CLUB
Following a similar pattern as the first 5 cities, Immortals (Overwatch League Team: LA Valiant) acquired the 6th slot for Los Angeles for the Call of Duty League in July. Immortals Gaming Club and Splyce are currently the only esports teams to have teams in all 3 current franchised leagues: League of Legends, Overwatch League and Call of Duty League.
The 7th slot went to Minnesota via acquisition by Wise Ventures, an investment firm founded by Minnesota Vikings owners the Wilf Family and VaynerMedia CEO Gary Vaynerchuck. This is the sole slot without a companion Overwatch League franchise.
Also Minnesota is a state, why wasn’t it Minneapolis-St.Paul, unless location is still being determined?
4/HOUSTON OUTLAWS SOLD
2 weeks ago as reported by Jacob Wolf (seeing a pattern yet?), Houston real estate investor Lee Zieben agreed to buy the Houston Outlaws for $40M from Immortals Gaming Club. The deal has not been executed but is expected to close in late August.
While southern California was initially the leading geographical area for teams, developers and startups, north Texas has quickly established itself as the next dominant domain for esports. Envy Gaming is based in Dallas. Complexity Gaming opened a massive complex adjacent to the Dallas Cowboys stadium in Frisco, which was also home to OpTic Gaming prior to their sale.
This is the biggest wildcard of all.
I first met Hector “Hecz” Rodriguez 6 years ago during my time at Major League Gaming. Not only is he one of the nicest people in the esports industry, the growth of OpTic Gaming, his hustle and drive are inspirational and he deserves significant credit for where the space has gone.
How popular is Hector? Just read the thousands of Twitter comments made during the OpTic Gaming transition. His recently launched Heczquarters merchandise is already sold out.
Hector is still based in Frisco, Texas and why wouldn’t you want someone who has been around the Call of Duty scene for many years and created the most popular team for that title. There is no confirmation on this but would fit perfectly. Yet another dot?
Hector created the OpTic Gaming brand and in my opinion the “new” LA OpTic Gaming is not the same without him.
This narrative is our hypothesis that Houston will receive one of the Call of Duty League slots. To end with the same qualification, while hearing from industry sources and putting together this thread, it’s still not 100% confirmed.
The Next Level reached out to The Zieben Group for comment but has not heard back as of this publication.
But again, the dots we are threading are:
Overwatch League franchises tied to Call of Duty League franchises
Recent purchase of Houston Outlaws by a wealthy investment firm
The growth of the esports industry in North Texas
The potential involvement of Hector “Hecz” Rodriguez
Doesn’t it make sense?