Detroit, long known as a sports town, is also seen as an emerging hub for digital esports by at least one growing online gaming company.
The Immortals Gaming Group, a Los Angeles-based, esports business affiliated with League of Legends, a nearly $2 billion team-based video game, plans to set up shop in metro Detroit in the next few months as part of a broader initiative aimed at expanding professional gaming’s presence in the Great Lakes region.
Immortals is in essence an events company that puts on video game tournaments, and its teams play the games League of Legends, Valorant and Wild Rift. By moving to Southeast Michigan, a small professional sports league is essentially setting up shop in the area.
As part of the relocation, the league will add an all-women Valorant team based out of the new headquarters. Immortals’ League of Legends team will remain in the Los Angeles office, according to a statement.
Historically, the industry’s presence has largely been in Southern California, said Jordan Sherman, CEO of Immortals, himself a metro Detroit native and graduate of the University of Michigan with a career working in traditional professional sports, including Major League Baseball.
“By Immortals coming to the Great Lakes (region), I think it underscores the fact that there’s tremendous demand, and very low supply,” Sherman said. “And now there’s a pathway to either engaging as a fan, as a player, as talent, or even just as an industry observer. Whereas before, you had to leave the state to do it.”
Relocating to Michigan should also generate considerable cost savings for the company, he added.
Sherman said the company is still seeking office space and visible ground-floor space in areas such as downtown Detroit, Royal Oak and Ann Arbor and expects to have its “hub” established in the coming months. Immortals also plans to open so-called “spoke” facilities in other cities and college towns around the region, including Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin as part of the initiative.
To that end, the company rolled out an “Immortals Invasion Takeover” in Ann Arbor in early November. The invasions are video game-focused events at rented spaces around communities.
“Immortals sees an opportunity for competitive gaming to be a driver of civic pride and economic growth in the (Great Lakes region), and we want to be the catalyst,” Ari Segal, the company’s executive chairman, said in a news release announcing the move.
The company also boasts business executive Meg Whitman, former CEO of companies including eBay, Hewlett Packard and then-Southfield-based FTD, as a major recurring investor and board member. Whitman’s family office led a $26 million investment round into Immortals last year, according to media reports.
Sherman declined to provide a revenue figure for Immortals, but said it is able to generate income from all of its teams, which he called “rare” for the industry.
Investment has been pouring into esports for a number of years. However, the industry still remains a fairly small segment — just more than $1 billion in total revenues, according to a joint report from venture capital firm BITKRAFT Ventures and research organization Naavik — of the overall $335 billion global gaming market.
But the report’s authors expect the esports market — which struggled amid the pandemic — to grow.
“(E)sports revenues are still relatively small in comparison to the broader gaming market. As we (hopefully) exit pandemic lockdowns, esports viewership — and by extension, revenues — could accelerate,” the report says. “This is also likely to be strongly correlated with the success or failure of new gaming IPS (monitors). As new competitive games are introduced to the market, further esports ecosystems could develop around them, bringing in new fans, new events, and eventually new revenue streams.”
While Detroit may be well known for the dismal Detroit Lions and the rest of the city’s currently rebuilding professional sports teams, the region has also grown several well-known esports personalities.
Delane Parnell, a Detroit native and the founder of Los Angeles-based esports company PlayVS, has netted more than $100 million in venture capital investment for his growing company. Parnell has also increasingly been making inroads in Detroit’s business community, as Crain’s has reported.
Well-known video game streamers Ninja, whose real name is Tyler Blevins, and Nicholas Kolcheff, known as Nickmercs, also hail from the Detroit area. The two streamers have combined more than 8 million followers on Twitter.
Blevins, in an emailed statement to Crain’s, noted his longtime connection to the Detroit Lions, and the football team’s connection to the region. Professional gaming has the same opportunity, he said.
“The Lions are a part of the fabric of the city, with the fans,” Blevins said in the email. “It’s the same with esports, and gaming in general, it’s all about fans and connecting with them. Obviously being in a city like Detroit brings a different connection to the fans there. I was just out in (Los Angeles) and doing some things with (esports organization) 100Thieves. They’re integrated into LA, into the city, and do (things) to connect with their fans there.”
Given the celebrity status of the streamers who have come from the area, it’s only natural for a company like Immortals to put down roots here, according to Immortals chief Sherman.
“We’ve known there’s talent here, but there’s no infrastructure,” he said.