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E-Sports Athletes Command The Game Just As Much As NBA Stars

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Former Los Angeles Laker Rick Fox purchased a League of Legends team, which he named Echo Fox, last year. Fox says e-sports athletes have just as much ability as traditional pros, like NBA stars.
John Lamparski, Getty Images for Advertising Week New York
Former Los Angeles Laker Rick Fox purchased a League of Legends team, which he named Echo Fox, last year. Fox says e-sports athletes have just as much ability as traditional pros, like NBA stars.

Thousands will pack into the Staples Center in Los Angeles this weekend for a championship final event. It's not an uncommon scene for the center as it's home to the Los Angeles Lakers, but this weekend it's not the Lakers who are taking center court.

Crouched behind their computer screens the players will be competing in the 2016 League of Legends World Championship Finals. There's no action to watch on the court during these events, because all the action is shown on gigantic screens as the two teams go against one another.

Just like the Lakers, these teams of five players each are professional, and, as it turns out, some are owned by former pro athletes, including Rick Fox, Magic Johnson and Shaquille O'Neal. And the setup of their teams mirror the ones they used to play for.

"We hire coaches. We have GMs. We have social media people. We have marketers in our organization. We have players that make six figures and above," Fox says.

Fox is a former LA Laker and three-time NBA champion. He owns a League of Legends franchise called Echo Fox, that he paid about $1 million for nearly a year ago.

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Fox started out playing League of Legends with his son and then they went to the World Championship Semifinals in Madison Square Garden in New York — and that was it. He was hooked.

"Being in an arena like Madison Square Garden, where I played for so many years previously, really ignited my passion for — not only being a fan of e-sports and an avid player myself, but also now becoming a team owner," Fox says.

While his love for the game led him to be an owner, there's also good business in e-sports.

"On opening night of NFL Weekend the No. 1 searched ticket on StubHub was not an NFL game, but the World Championship of League of Legends this weekend at the Staples Center," Fox says. "Tickets sold out in 10 to 12 minutes."

League of Legends is the top grossing video game in the world. Last year it earned $1.6 billion. In the World Championship Finals athletes are competing for the top prize of $1 million.

Fox says that although these athletes compete using their computers, they are just as much athletes as he ever was and put in hard work.

"The reason they're professional and masters at what they do is they make it easy and you think that you, as an average person can do it, right?" Fox says. "When you actually step into their shoes, you realize oh no, this has taken five, six, seven years of their lives to master."

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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