Eight years after acquiring his hometown NBA team, Michael Jordan is once again betting big on blue.
On Thursday, the 55-year-old NBA legend and owner of the Charlotte Hornets became the most recent sports icon to invest in esports as a part of a $26 million Series C funding round in aXiomatic, the parent company of Team Liquid.
Jordan, his family office Jump DC, Hornets vice chairman Curtis Polk and Declaration Capital -- the family office of Washington, D.C.-based billionaire David Rubenstein -- join the star-studded cap table of aXiomatic, one of esports' most valuable organizations. The Series C investment round also includes additional investment from existing chairmen of the company: Golden State Warriors co-owners Peter Guber and Bruce Karsh, Washington Wizards owner Ted Leonsis and Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik.
Jordan and Rubenstein's family offices, both of which are based in the Washington area, were both recruited into aXiomatic by Leonsis.
"The next generation of sports fans are esports fans," Leonsis said in a statement. "Esports is the fastest-growing sector in sports and entertainment, and aXiomatic is at the forefront of that growth. We are thrilled to welcome Michael and David to aXiomatic and look forward to working together on some truly cutting-edge opportunities."
In summer 2016, Leonsis and Guber co-founded aXiomatic and appointed former Sony Interactive Entertainment and Mattel executive Bruce Stein as CEO. Among the company's initial investors were Magic Johnson, AOL co-founder Steve Case, and Cubs president of business operations Crane Kenney.
"Now our group has both Jordan and Magic on the same team," Stein told ESPN. "For the purposes of bringing on traditional sports strategy, competitive training and being able to take best-of-class learning from other sports, it was pretty exciting for us to bring both Magic and Michael together in this group."
In September 2016, aXiomatic acquired a majority stake in Team Liquid, one of esports' oldest and most popular teams, based out of Los Angeles and Utrecht, Netherlands. Team Liquid holds teams in multiple esports titles, including League of Legends, Dota 2, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, and others.
In a $16.5 million Series A round in June 2017, Vinik invested in aXiomatic, alongside the likes of former Minnesota Wild CEO Jac Sperling and The Walt Disney Company (the parent of ESPN). Karsh joined the company in April as the lead in a $25 million Series B investment round that also included Chicago-based investment firm Vernon & Park Capital.
Jordan's interest in esports comes years after the Hall of Famer, who played primarily for the Chicago Bulls, famously refused to license his likeness for use in video games during his playing career. Now Jordan is the latest addition to a rapidly growing crossover between the NBA and esports.
Fifteen NBA teams, including the Wizards, Warriors, Houston Rockets, Philadelphia 76ers, New York Knicks and Miami Heat, have mutual ownership or partnership with traditional esports teams. There are 21 NBA team affiliates that will participate in the second season of the NBA 2K League. This partnership between the NBA and NBA 2K developer Take-Two Interactive is expected to launch in early 2019.
In NBA arenas around the U.S., thousands of esports fans have gathered to see some of the largest competitions in the competitive ecosystem. In September, Oracle Arena, the home of the Warriors, hosted the 2018 North American League of Legends Championship Series Summer Split Finals, where Team Liquid was crowned champion. Two weeks later, Brooklyn Nets arena Barclays Center hosted its third-annual ESL One New York.
In October alone, three major esports organizations have completed significant funding rounds. On Oct. 15, multi-game team Cloud9 completed a record-setting $53.7 million Series B funding round led by Chicago-based Valor Equity Partners. On Tuesday, North American League of Legends team 100 Thieves, which is co-owned by Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, completed a Series A round backed by Grammy-winning artist Drake and Scooter Braun, whose company manages Ariana Grande, Justin Bieber and Kanye West.