Evil Geniuses, one of the first professional e-sports teams, is selling a minority stake in its business to China’s Fosun Sports Group, the DealBook newsletter was first to report. The transaction, announced on Wednesday, values the squad of elite video gamers at more than $250 million, which would make it one of the most valuable in the sector.
The team, which was founded in 1999, well before e-sports became a billion-dollar industry, is also teaming up with an English Premier League soccer club, Wolverhampton Wanderers. That venture is aimed at tapping Asian markets, where the “Wolves” have training facilities, as well as at cross-promoting the teams to each other’s fan bases.
DealBook spoke with Nicole LaPointe Jameson, who took over as the chief executive of Evil Geniuses two years ago after its sale to the private equity firm Peak6. Three years earlier, Evil Genius’s players had bought back the company from Amazon’s Twitch, leaving it rudderless and struggling in competitions. Ms. LaPointe Jameson, 27, has also had to navigate the sometimes toxic culture of video gaming, including claims of harassment and racism by players on the team she runs.
“Two years ago, we were worth nothing close” to the company’s current valuation, said Ms. LaPointe Jameson, who is the first Black chief executive of a major e-sports team. When she arrived, the company “had to make decisions at the $5 level very carefully,” she said.
Since she took over, Evil Geniuses has expanded into more games, notably League of Legends, and has hired a more diverse set of influencers to attract attention to its players (and sell merchandise and sponsorships).
“When I came into the e-sports space, I was unexpected in many different ways,” she said, noting her private equity background, where she specialized in turning around distressed businesses. “I kind of came out of Mars for them.”
Ms. LaPointe Jameson said she “won’t shy away from the negative reputation” of gaming, and described tackling reports of harassment by players as well as financial troubles as “trial by fire.” The company’s “robust curriculum” about antibullying should help reduce the stigma that turns some off from the industry, she said.
“We are happy to tackle that,” she added, “but it is a bit against the grain because that is not the easiest path to proceed as a company.”
Ms. LaPointe Jameson has focused on recruiting — more than half the members of her leadership team are women — and she has introduced benefits like parental leave.
“It was important for me to make sure those types of ‘unsexy back-end components’ were brought in,” she said, so people “who had never heard of e-sports would consider coming here.”