Esports pepper SBJ's influential people in sports list

Several executives and owners on SportsBusiness Journal’s 2017 50 Most Influential People in Sports Business list are associated with esports, including investors in the League of Legends Championship Series. Riot Games

Thirteen executives and owners associated with esports have been included in SportsBusiness Journal's 2017 50 Most Influential People in Sports Business list, released on Monday.

New to the list are Jarred Kennedy and Whalen Rozelle, the co-heads of esports at Riot Games. In October, Riot selected the 10 franchise partners for its North American League of Legends Championship Series, which included new groups backed by the Golden State Warriors, Cleveland Cavaliers and Houston Rockets, and granted them three-year licenses to the league. The franchises will pay Riot $112 million in fees over the course of the next few years.

Three on the list -- Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick and Turner executives David Levy and Lenny Daniels -- oversaw esports leagues this year. Kotick was able to recruit owners to his company's upcoming Overwatch League, the most ambitious project in esports. Meanwhile, Levy and Daniels oversaw Turner's ELeague, which ran events in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Street Fighter V, Injustice 2 and Rocket League throughout the year.

Among the top 10 of the list are three businessmen who have entered the esports business over the past year. NBA commissioner Adam Silver is No. 2 on the SBJ list; the NBA announced that it would launch an NBA 2K League with Take-Two Interactive in 2018. Sitting at Nos. 6 and 8 are Jerry Jones and Robert Kraft, respectively, who have invested heavily in the industry. Jones and business partner John Goff acquired compLexity Gaming in November. Kraft was the first owner to buy into the new Overwatch League.

Other owners associated with esports throughout the list are Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, AEG founder Phil Anschutz, Warriors co-owners Peter Guber and Joe Lacob and Washington Wizards owner Ted Leonsis. Gilbert and Lacob led the charge for the Cavaliers and the Warriors to obtain League Championship Series franchise spots, while Guber and Leonsis' Team Liquid also earned a slot in the LCS. AEG -- which owns the Staples Center, Microsoft Theater and the Novo Theatre in Los Angeles -- also invested in Immortals, which helped that team obtain a Los Angeles-based slot in the Overwatch League.

Investment in the esports industry reached an all-time high in 2017. The esports market is worth $1.5 billion across investments, sponsorship and advertising, merchandising and ticket sales, prize pools and betting, according to a Monday SuperData report. Newzoo had predicted earlier in the year that the industry would be worth $696 million in 2017, with that to reach $1.5 million by 2020.