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L.A. Rams owner is latest billionaire to buy an eSports team

NEW YORK—Activision Blizzard Inc. announced two new franchises for its Overwatch eSports league, including one that sets up a cross-town rivalry in the second-largest U.S. city.

Billionaire Stanley Kroenke and his son Josh, who own the National Football League’s Los Angeles Rams, among other teams, will control the Overwatch League’s second team in Los Angeles, Activision said Thursday in a statement. Jack Etienne, chief executive officer of Cloud9 eSports, bought the London franchise.

The new teams join a roster that includes owners announced last month for cities including Seoul, Shanghai and New York. The Immortals, a group backed by Anschutz Entertainment Group, Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. and former financier Mike Milken, owns the other Los Angeles team.

“This is the first truly global league in all sports, not just eSports,” said Pete Vlastelica, CEO of Activision’s Major League Gaming unit.

In eSports, professional video-game players compete against each other in front of audiences, both online and in arenas. Activision’s league is built around Overwatch, a cartoonish version of a shooter game that it released last year and now has more than 30 million players worldwide. The league is being built to resemble traditional sports associations with city-specific franchises, league-wide sponsorship deals and health insurance for players.

“We’re impressed by the vision and strategy for the League, and we’re going to build a great team for Los Angeles that inspires fans near and far,” Josh Kroenke said in a statement.

The Kroenkes, who are worth more than $ 7.4 billion (U.S.), according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, join a list of owners that includes New England Patriots’ Bob Kraft and Jeff Wilpon, whose family owns the New York Mets. Team owners agreed to pay $ 20 million over time for the franchise rights, people familiar with the terms told Bloomberg last month.

Competition is expected to start later this year, with the initial season played in Los Angeles. Nine teams have been announced by Activision so far.

Team EnVyUs, a Charlotte-based eSports team, is moving to Dallas to assume the Austin-Dallas Overwatch League spot, ESPN reported this week. Hersh Family Investments and its interactive group, headed by Texas-based oil and natural gas executive Kenneth Hersh, invested $ 35 million in the team, according to ESPN. Vlastelica declined to comment on the report.