Dallas is getting a new sports franchise, albeit one whose star players look more like the members of a high school AV club than superstar athletes.
Team Envy is a leader in Overwatch, an online multiplayer video game from Blizzard Entertainment. In the game, fast-fingered players control a variety of characters on opposing teams, combatants in a sci-fi world of colorful mayhem and bloodless PG-13 gun violence. How the playing of a video game has escaped the domain of living room tournaments with friends and entered the realm of multimillion-dollar franchise deals remains a bit of a head-scratcher for those stuck on the image of basement-dwelling Dungeons and Dragons types firing up an Atari. But in short: a lot of people play video games, and a lot of people like to watch other people play video games. “Nerdy” is cool, video games are mainstream, down is up, cats and dogs are living together.
That’s how some top-ranked eSports players pull in salaries big enough to make me wish I’d spent even more time in college playing video games, and it’s why Kenneth Hersh and his Hersh Interactive Group bought a significant piece of Team Envy, precipitating the gamers’ upcoming move from Charlotte to Dallas. The team will play in the new Overwatch League, which counts New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft among its investors and recently announced franchises in Houston and Philadelphia.
Why would a Dallas oilman send a rumored $35 million toward a bunch of joystick jockeys? It’s possible that Hersh, a director of the Texas Rangers and longtime George W. Bush satellite who now leads the former president’s center at SMU, is a hardcore gaming enthusiast, someone who spends his free time watching Twitch streams and flexing his fingers to work on his APM. It’s more likely that Hersh has a good nose for investments, and eSports absolutely reeks of money — Goldman Sachs valued the industry at $500 million last year, a number projected to increase over the next few years.
I have infrequently played the game Overwatch (I’m on PlayStation; come at me) and enjoyed it, but can’t say I fully get the appeal of watching eSports. Am I missing out? Will rooting for Team Envy bring me the same highs, lows, and moral dilemmas of supporting the Dallas Cowboys of the National Football League? Is there an Overwatch move that can match the grace of the Dirk Nowitzki one-legged fadeaway? An eSports personality as large as Jerry Jones?
Regardless, Dallas is a big town, with room for plenty of sports franchises, virtual or otherwise. And everybody loves a winner: an industry awards show named Team Envy 2016’s team of the year. Where can I get a jersey?