Already a legend on the basketball court, it seems like Kobe Bryant is aiming to be just as successful in the investing world. The hall of famer announced back in 2018 that his venture fund would invest $30 million in Epic Games, which is best known for developing the massively popular online battle royale game Fortnite. In an interview with CNBC’s Squawk On The Street, Bryant and his venture firm co-founder Jeff Stibel revealed that their investment wasn’t just motivated by Fortnite’s success. “Gaming is critically important to… the cultural ethos and for what we see, it’s not just about the games that we’re looking at investing in” explained Stibel, before clarifying “frankly, what we are actually trying to invest in are the platforms.” By platforms, he was actually referring to Fortnite’s engine which powers the game’s graphics and backend. “Fortnite is owned by Epic and their Epic engine is building hundreds of games for both themselves and for their businesses that are using it,” he continued.
That “Epic engine” is in fact the famous Unreal Engine, which is used throughout the industry to power all sorts of projects, from fighting games to RPGs. Indeed, Epic broke the mold when they announced in 2015 that the Unreal Engine 4 would be available for free, though the company would take 5% of revenue from products that make more than $3000 per business quarter. Obviously this ongoing revenue stream is very attractive, and was apparently what interested Bryant and Stibel.
Gaming-driven revenue streams seem to be a focus for the investing duo, as Stibel also brought up another investment that he and Bryant have pursued, that in mobile game developer Scopely. “You see their Star Trek game which has been a huge hit. But behind that is the revenue engine and they’ve done that for both other games that they own,” he explained, apparently referring to WWE Champions and The Walking Dead: Road to Survival. “That’s what we’re really looking for, the fundamentals behind what everyone is seeing on the consumer side.” Scopely recently raised another $200 million in funding, which values the company at $1.7 billion according to TechCrunch. The latest valuation means that Bryant and Stibel have no doubt already made money with their initial investment in the Los Angeles-based company.
Of course these two investments are simply the latest for the Black Mamba, who has long held that Esports would be a growth industry. Back in 2018 it was announced that his multisport Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, California would take the unexpected step of including an esports training ground in the larger 100,000 square foot sports facility. Even before that, the athlete told Sports Illustrated back in 2016 that he recognized even then that esports is “a form of entertainment. It’s looking at the sport being played through a different lens.”