Four years after launching an e-sports company in partnership with serial entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk, the Wilf family is shutting down the competitive video gaming organization's operations. However, the Minnesota Vikings owners aren't quitting the e-sports industry.
The Version1 ownership group announced Tuesday they've acquired shares of Berlin-based G2 Esports, which will receive operating rights to the Wilfs' biggest e-sports team, Minnesota Røkkr. The team, which will retain its name, plays in the Microsoft-run Call of Duty League. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.
The Version1 brand has no further plans to field competitive teams or create content, and will vacate its 11,000 square-foot training facility, studio and headquarters on the Viking Lakes campus in Eagan, said Brett Diamond, chief operating officer of Version1.
Other e-sports teams operated by Version1 — a team playing Rocket League, which is more family-friendly, and a team playing in the Valorant Champions Tour — are also being discontinued, Diamond said.
The space inside the Viking Lakes Innovation Center, which Version1 has occupied since January 2020, will not be used for e-sports or gaming going forward, he said.
Viking Lakes, a 200-acre live-work-play development surrounding the Vikings' Eagan facility, opened in 2018 and is managed by MV Ventures, a Wilf family-owned company. The Innovation Center opened in 2019.
MV Ventures has actively marketed Version1's suite for lease and has identified potential users to "backfill that space" in 2024, said David Stofer, director of real estate development for MV Ventures.
Version1's facility was previously open to fans attending Vikings training camp at the TCO Performance Center, where they could use some of the company's gaming systems.
In April, Version1's ownership announced it was exploring a merger with gaming or e-sports organizations and other strategic alternatives.
"I am excited about the next chapter for the Version1 story," said Jonathan Wilf, president and ownership partner of Version1. "We continue to believe in the future of e-sports and know partnering with a top-tier organization such as G2 will best position our group for future success."
Over the years, Version1 built several sponsorship deals with companies looking to tap into the industry's young audience. Version1's biggest deal, a multiyear agreement with USAA, a provider of insurance, banking, investment and retirement services to members of the U.S. military, will continue with Røkkr. Other deals were not renewed, Diamond said.
The e-sports industry's ability to grow an audience hasn't fully translated to an equal boon in monetization, according to a 2022 report by Milwaukee firm Foley & Lardner and the Sports Business Journal. That's because media rights deals haven't grown and revenue from fans — expected to reach only $2.47 per fan in 2023 — hasn't improved.
G2 Esports, which has raised nearly $30 million in venture capital since 2015, however, has a significant following in Europe. The partnership with the Wilfs allows the company to expand into North America via the Call of Duty League.
"We have been impressed with what G2 has built," said Konrad von Moltke, principal at Wise Ventures, the investment arm of the Wilf family that funded Version1. "In what has been a challenging e-sports market environment, G2's focus on sustainable growth has been remarkable."