Stratton Sclavos, general partner at Vision Venture Partners

If there are still brands sitting in the outfield wondering whether esports is a legitimate business to explore, the New York Yankees have provided a great reason to swing for the fences. The iconic Major League Baseball team is the latest traditional sports organization to enter into esports by investing in Vision Esports (part of Vision Venture Partners), the umbrella company for Rick Fox’s Echo Fox, Jace Hall’s Twin Galaxies and Vision Entertainment, which creates video content for esports.

Stratton Sclavos, general partner at Vision Venture Partners, told AListDaily that the Yankees bring great credibility to the esports world in general and Vision Esports in particular, thanks to the team’s global brand recognition.

“Their endorsement signals to the world that esports is going mainstream,” Sclavos explained. “We’ve already seen tremendous new interest in Vision Esports and our three portfolio companies since the Yankees’ announcement.”

Sclavos said that the Yankees’ marketing and sponsorship teams have longstanding business relationships with in-demand non-endemic brands, so the introductions and bundling opportunities alone are invaluable.

The Yankees will bring its marketing, sales and partnership experience to help all three companies accelerate their growth and expand their business relationships. The sports franchise and Vision Esports leadership will manage the three esports properties in a manner that’s similar to traditional professional sports properties. Sclavos said this philosophy includes seeking to maximize revenue opportunities for advertising, sponsorships, media and broadcast rights, merchandise and ticket sales, naming rights and original content programming for both broadcast and streaming distribution formats. In addition, the two will collaborate on marketing and sponsorship initiatives across assets.

“The Yankees have a number of business assets that we hope to access through our new relationship,” Sclavos said. “Beyond the obvious brand affiliation, we hope to find ways to work with their sales organization to create new advertising and sponsorship packages that couple their traditional offerings with our esports offerings. We will look for opportunities to utilize their physical venues for live event productions.”

Vision Esports has been designed to service the professional esports ecosystem, which itself has grown to replicate the traditional sports ecosystem through league level governance, official league sponsors, and revenue sharing with teams. There are also team-level sponsors, advertisers, fan base monetization, and player endorsements in addition to broadcast rights licensing for national, local and international distribution of live event programming. Not to mention the creation and distribution of original content programming with media rights licensing.

Sclavos said Echo Fox mirrors a traditional professional sports team organization with rosters, players, fan base monetization, and original content for “local” programming. Echo Fox teams compete in games such as League of Legends, Call of Duty and H1Z1 along with several fighting game titles.

Twin Galaxies mirrors a traditional professional sports league with governance, broadcast rights licensing, official league sponsorships and original content licensing while Vision Entertainment mirrors a traditional entertainment studio focused on development and production of professional esports content, both in scripted an unscripted forms

“Gaming culture is unique, and our management team has decades of experience in video game publishing, technology innovation, original content production for both broadcast and online distribution, and professional sports team ownership and management,” Sclavos said.

One of the early Vision Esports initiatives is the H1Z1 Pro League, which will launch in early 2018 through a partnership with Daybreak Games. Twin Galaxies was on hand at the recent $500,000 H1Z1 Invitational at TwitchCon 2017 to capture video content and begin organizing the league.

“We believe that the H1Z1 Pro League will be the next successful esport league,” Sclavos said. “The battle royale format, where 15 teams all compete against each other every week, is full of drama and ripe for team and player rivalries. We’ve already seen interest from established esports team organizations that is five times our expectations.”

The H1Z1 Pro League will use Twin Galaxies for league rules, team selection, league governance, official league sponsor sales and broadcast rights licensing. Rick Fox was one of the first team owners to commit to H1Z1 as an esport, and Vision Entertainment will handle the production of all 24 weeks of Pro League live events and shoulder both original and player streamed content. Pro gamers are being offered a baseline salary of $50K, a comprehensive Player Bill of Rights, no entry fees for teams joining the league, and revenue sharing between the teams and league and much more.

While H1Z1 faces formidable challenges from similar games and other esports titles, this is one area where the marketing muscle of the Yankees can come into play. H1Z1 has the potential to appeal to both core gamers and a more mainstream audience, so Vision Esports needs to leverage the Yankees marketing muscle to help it take off.