Double fantasy as DraftKings takes on videogames

Draven from League of Legends

As if playing videogames wasn’t fantasy enough, Boston-based DraftKings Inc. is about to launch an “e-sports” service where players can win money by assembling teams of world-class videogame players.

It’s the latest aggressive move by DraftKings, which is aiming to dominate the market in fantasy sports. In July, the company raised $300 million from investors that included Fox Sports and the Kraft Group, owners of the New England Patriots. And DraftKings has contracted to spend $250 million over the next three years advertising its fantasy games on various Fox media properties.

But until now, DraftKings has focused on the usual familiar sports — football, baseball, NASCAR, hockey and the like. In fantasy sports, contestants build an ideal team made up of their favorite players in various real-world sports. For instance, a fantasy football player might pick the New England Patriots’ Rob Gronkowski as his tight end, but choose the New York Giants’ Odell Beckham Jr. as a wide receiver. After the following week’s NFL games, players chart the statistics showing how their players performed in real life, and the fantasy teams with the best overall performance are the winners.

Starting next month, DraftKings will apply the same technique to the surging market for e-sports, or competitive video games. Its new fantasy game will be built around the world championship matches for League of Legends (LoL), an immensely popular Internet-based fighting game created by Los Angeles-based Riot Games. In LoL, two five-person teams battle to dominate a digital map. Each team must defend its own fortress and conquer that of the other team.

This relatively simple videogame has become one of the world’s most popular e-sports games, with about 67 million players per month. And the L0L world championships, held in Seoul, South Korea, last October, paid $1 million to the winning team and attracted 27 million viewers worldwide on TV networks and the Internet.

DraftKings wants a piece of that action. So starting Oct. 1, people will be able to create LoL fantasy teams based on the real-life teams vying for this year’s championship. DraftKings has partnered with several of the top LoL teams, including compLexity Gaming, Team SoloMid and SK Gaming. Most people have never heard of these teams or their members, but to millions of LoL fans, they’re legends. So a fantasy player might start building his team with Lucas “Santorin” Larsen from Team SoloMid, but then choose Simon ‘fredy122’ Payne from SK Gaming.

Fans will be able to play at DraftKings for free, but there will also be games where players put up cash in hopes of winning big prizes. For instance, for $3 a player will be able to compete for a share of $25,000 in prizes.

DraftKings isn’t the first to offer fantasy e-sports competitions. San Francisco-based Vulcun has already paid out $7 million in winnings this year. But Ed Chang, Vulcun’s vice president of business development, said he welcomes DraftKings to the fray. “If DraftKings can bring in a large influx of former NFL fantasy players or NBA fantasy players. it’s a good thing for the ecosystem,” Chang said, “and these players will also play on Vulcun.”

Hiawatha Bray is a technology reporter for the Boston Globe. E-mail him at h_bray@globe.com.
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