Comcast Spectacor, seeking to make a splash in one of the world’s premier esports market, announced a new global joint venture Monday with South Korea’s giant SK Telecom, linking the Philadelphia company to one of the most fabled teams playing the League of Legends video game.
Owner of the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers and landlord to the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center, Comcast Spectacor acquired the rights in 2017 to operate Philadelphia’s esports team, Fusion, playing the Overwatch game.
Led by Tucker Roberts, son of Comcast CEO Brian Roberts, Philadelphia’s Fusion surprised esports fans around the country last year when it advanced to the first championship series in the Overwatch League, a group of city esports teams that play video games before a live crowd and hundreds of thousands of viewers globally online.
“This joint venture marks a significant step for Comcast Spectacor’s esports business as we expand globally and join forces with the most successful League of Legends team in history,” said Tucker Roberts, president of Comcast Spectacor’s gaming division, speaking from this year’s Mobile World Congress, the world’s largest mobile phone exhibition, in Barcelona.
The announcement signifies Comcast Spectacor’s increasing ambition in developing the esports ecosystem as it looks to expand the business beyond the United States and into South Korea, a mecca of esports talent. Asia contributed close to half of global esports market revenue, generating $406 million in 2017, according to Statista, an online research portal.
The partnership also came as the Comcast division looks to expand its esport business beyond the Overwatch League and into other games, including the League of Legends, the most popular esport in the world. The game’s 2018 grand finals attracted more than 200 million viewers.
SK Telecom is the largest mobile operator in Korea, with nearly 50 percent of the market. And the company’s SK Telecom T1, a professional Korean League of Legends (LoL) team, has won the world championship three times while attracting a loyal global fan base. Its star player, Lee Sang-hyeok, known by his in-game name “Faker,” is widely considered the best gamer of all time, the Michael Jordan of esports.
The two corporate giants started discussing the partnership in October 2018 when representatives from Comcast Spectacor met with their counterparts from SK Telecom in Busan, South Korea, for the League of Legends world championship.
“League of Legends is a top priority for us. We want to have the best team and we thought we should be going where the best players are. People, myself included, stay up until 3 am to watch superior teams [in South Korea] play,” said Tucker Roberts.
“SK Telecom T1 is the most successful team of all times in league of legends. It is a bit like New England Patriots in that respect,” said Roberts. “SK telecom is the industry leader in sports in Asia. They bring us a lot of distribution and connections over there, and we have great distribution and connection in Europe” and the U.S.
Park Jung-Ho, president and CEO of SK Telecom, said: “We at SK Telecom feel that esports is becoming increasingly more popular, especially among the young generation. We have thus founded T1 in 2004 and made [it] the number-one team in Korea. Together with Comcast Spectacor, we hope to become the global number-one team.”
The United States and South Korea rank as the largest and third largest global esports markets, Comcast said. Esports, a common term for online video games, are particularly popular among millennials. Game developers say there are now more than 40 million Overwatch gamers worldwide, and Fusion chief financial officer Joe Marsh has said more than 300,000 of those gamers live in the Philadelphia region.
The newly created entity, to be named T1 Entertainment & Sports, will feature operations in Seoul, Philadelphia and Los Angeles. It will include the SK Telecom T1 League of Legends Champions Korea team, as well as teams in competitive gaming segments that include Fortnite, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, Super Smash Brothers, Hearthstone, and Apex Legends.
The Philadelphia Fusion and Fusion University Overwatch Contenders franchises will not be part of the T1 joint venture and will remain fully owned and operated by Comcast Spectacor.
The company said it hopes to get the transaction approved next month.