He took a deep interest in esports
Kobe Bryant will always be remembered as a legend on the basketball court, as well as a loving father. But following the tragic death of him and his daughter Gianna on January 26th, he’ll also be remembered for his contributions to the gaming world. As one of the most prominent ex-pro athletes on the planet, he took a deep interest in esports, and decided to make them a centerpiece of his post-NBA working life.
Perhaps his biggest action he took that legitimized esports around the world was to include them in the list of sports his Mamba Sports Academy would serve. Back in 2018 it was announced that his multisport 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. It would also include housing for competitive gamers. This inclusion was a huge win for the world of esports, as gaming athletes would be training alongside more than 50,000 other young athletes vying for success in the NBA, NFL and MLB, among other leagues. When the facility was announced, Bryant said in a press release that “Mamba Sports Academy is a natural expansion of my commitment to educating and empowering the next generation of kids through sports. At Mamba Sports Academy, we will focus on offering a premium experience on proper training for young athletes, and infuse a little ‘Mamba Mentality’ into their programs.”
Kobe always had his eye on growing the esports industry. In 2016, the athlete told Sports Illustrated that he recognized even then that esports is “a form of entertainment. It’s looking at the sport being played through a different lens.” When it was time to set up an investment company, Kobe partnered with venture expert Jeff Stibel, and they both aggressively pursued opportunities in the gaming world.
This culminated with the hall-of-famer announcing 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 co-founder Stibel revealed that their investment wasn’t just motivated by Fortnite’s success. “Gaming is critically important to… the cultural ethos” explained Stibel.
Bryant’s legacy didn’t go unnoticed by gamers either. Perhaps most memorably, one of League of Legends most prominent early talents was Sam Hartman-Kenzler, who nicknamed himself Kobe and played under the name Kobe24. He would go on to play professionally for team Counter Logic Gaming before retiring and being hired as a shoutcaster by Riot Games to cover the North American LCS. When news of Bryant’s crash finally reached him, he was in fact commentating on a League of Legends match. His tweet from that day read: “This is incredibly shocking and tragic news to get while on the desk. RIP Mamba. Respect to a legend.”