Steelers invest in Pittsburgh Knights, city's esports franchise
The Pittsburgh Steelers’ latest investment can’t tackle, run for first downs or kick the ball through the uprights.
It doesn’t even play football.
At least not the kind on a real field with real people and a real ball.
The Pittsburgh Steelers and the Pittsburgh Knights announced this week that the storied football franchise had invested in the city’s new esports franchise.
Esports is competitive video gaming. Players, often times professionals earning five- to six-figure salaries, play against each other. The games are broadcast live to audiences that have filled traditional sports arenas and streamed to millions around the world.
The terms of the deal were not disclosed. A spokeswoman for the Knights said the Steelers would support and help grow the the esports franchise.
“To have a franchise as storied and significant as the Steelers invest in us is very gratifying because it means all of our experience and hard work is being recognized. We’re very happy to have the Steelers embarking on this journey with us,” said Rob Lee, CEO and co-founder of the Knights.
The Knights were started in 2017 by Lee and co-owner James O’Connor. Lee had founded a handful of successful esports franchises. Co-owner James O’Connor was once among the top Counter-Strike players in the world and a sought-after coach.
The Steelers had not invested in esports before. The team has hosted Madden Challenge events at Heinz Field where gamers competed against each other in the popular NFL video game. The New England Patriots, Philadelphia 76ers, Miami Heat and other professional sports teams have invested in esports.
“We see the younger generation’s growing interest in sports, and we saw an emerging organization in the Knights that our staff and expertise would partner well with,” said Nick Sero, a spokesman for the Steelers. “We appreciate the Knights’ holistic approach to sports. The founders are also from Pittsburgh and are building something for the city. They have had great success in the short time that they have been in business.”
Esports are expected to generate $1.48 billion in revenues by 2020, according to the market research firm Statista. About 380 million people watched some form of esports in 2018. Nielsen reported that 103.4 million people watched the Super Bowl this year.
The investment will help the Knights continue to manage teams and players and host online sports tournaments and local, live events in Pittsburgh. The Knights plan to launch a team appeal line and clothing brand and develop esports training academies and camps.
The Knights field teams to play Super Smash Bros. Melee, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG), Fortnite, Call of Duty and other games. While the franchise is based in Pittsburgh, its players live and compete all over the world. The Knights announced in November that they had a team selected for the prestigious PUBG European league.
The Steelers investment could allow the Knights to add teams and games. The franchise is researching which games to add.
The franchise announced this week it was also fielding its first all-women PUBG team, the Dames of PUBG. Less than 1 percent of professional video gamers are women.
The team is currently competing in its first tournament in Shanghai.
Aaron Aupperlee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Aaron at 412-336-8448, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @tinynotebook.