The Philadelphia 76ers' ownership group has acquired controlling stakes in both Team Dignitas and Apex Gaming and plan to merge the two under the Dignitas name, according to a press release from the organization Monday. The move makes the Sixers the first professional North American sports team to own an esports organization.
Dignitas managing director Michael O'Dell will continue with the new, Sixers-owned Dignitas as the team's president, while former Apex co-owner Michael Slan will serve as vice-president and general manager. Gaming executive and investor Greg Richardson will act as chairman of the new Dignitas organization.
The release states that "the Sixers intend to manage the day-to-day operations of Team Dignitas," including marketing and sponsorship strategies but also allocating resources to player development and wellness.
The newly-merged Dignitas inherits the League of Legends NA LCS spot retained by Apex Gaming after placing 7th in the NA LCS 2016 Summer Split.
Dignitas' Heroes of the Storm team is currently the strongest in Europe and will represent the region at that game's Fall Global Championship, set to take place at BlizzCon in Anaheim, CA, from Nov. 4-5. They also have a rapidly-improving Danish Counter-Strike: Global Offensive team, an Overwatch squad and a SMITE roster.
Dignitas has had over a decade of experience in the esports space, but O'Dell said that the arrangement gives the team a leg up over the competition in more than a few areas.
"This is a landmark day in eSports history and for this franchise. Entering into a partnership with such a strong organization will give us an undeniable advantage in attracting the world’s best players and an opportunity to compete at the highest level," he wrote. "Our connection to the legendary Philadelphia 76ers brand and business organization will be a differentiating factor for Team Dignitas as we enter the next phase of our development."
The press release states that the relationship between the two esports organizations and the Sixers was "fostered by" talent agency William Morris Endeavor Entertainment, also known as WME/IMG.
Philadelphia 76ers CEO Scott O'Neil said in the release that the acquisition of both the organization and personnel should provide the newly-merged Dignitas with the tools it needs to succeed.
“The attractiveness of this deal is as much about the people as it is the opportunity," he wrote. "Bringing together gaming industry luminaries including Greg Richardson, Michael O’Dell and David and Michael Slan puts us on track to build the most respected and dominant franchise in the eSports space, spur fan engagement and reimagine corporate sponsorship to create a vibrant, global e-arena where the greatest players in the world aspire to compete.”'
While the Sixers are the first professional North American sports organization to own an esports team, the flirtation with esports is not new for sports investors. Several European football clubs including FC Schalke have purchased esports teams, and two part-owners of the Sacramento Kings, as well as Shaquille O'Neal and Alex Rodriguez, have invested in esports organization NRG eSports.
Correction: A previous version of this story stated that Apex retained their NA LCS spot through the 2016 summer promotion tournament. While they did play in that tournament, it was to obtain their summer spot after the 2016 spring split. In fact, since Apex placed 7th in the summer split, they remain in the LCS without playing any relegation matches. theScore esports regrets the error.
Josh "Gauntlet" Bury is a news editor for theScore esports. You can find him on Twitter.