By Philip O'Connor
STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - NBA player Jonas Jerebko's investment in eSports team Renegades last year was a way to follow his passion for gaming but the possibility that eSports might be included in the Olympics means it also made sound business sense.
Along with the likes of former NBA players Shaquille O'Neal and Magic Johnson, Jerebko is one of many athletes from more traditional sports who are investing in the fast-growing world of eSports, the competitive side of electronic gaming.
Thanks to its appeal to a young demographic, it is now attracting the interest of the Olympic movement, which will increase awareness even further.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) last month recognised eSports as a sport.
"They're talking about including it for the Olympics in Paris (2024), I've heard rumours about that. It would be fantastic for eSport," the Utah Jazz power forward told Reuters in a telephone interview.
"Obviously, there's a lot of people who watch it and the interest would be big. Is it a sport for the Olympics? I don't know, it's a bigger decision than I can take, but it's very interesting."
In general, eSports competitions are contested by teams of players playing popular video games such as Call of Duty, Halo and Overwatch, with eye-watering sums of prize money on offer in professional tournaments watched by millions around the globe.
Jerebko said his own interest in eSports stems from playing NBA console games as a teenager in Sweden, and it has grown ever since.
"The Xbox and the Playstation came out when I was at that age that I wanted to play. I've always had games as a hobby," he said.
"Even in the NBA, I've played games with team mates and after training, the interest has always existed."
When Jerebko discovered the pace of growth in eSports and the potential it had as an investment, he started to look more closely at it.
"I researched it for six to eight months and decided that it might be something for the future," said the 30-year-old, who spent six seasons at the Detroit Pistons, joining the Boston Celtics in 2015 before hooking up with the Jazz this year.
"I was in the right place at the right time. I met a person who works for me now that had a contact, Renegades had to sell at exactly the time that I was really interested. I had seen the team play, so we went ahead and bought the team."
Jerebko brought the team to Michigan and employed a coach and a manager, adding a touch of the professionalism he has learned during his NBA career to the world of eSports, and he expects to be involved for the foreseeable future.
"It's a long-term thing. I see an organised, established thing that maybe can't be compared to an NBA team, but I expect that in 10-15 years that eSports teams will be quite valuable," he said.
"It's going to continue to grow and it's an investment for the future. I could have sold it already and maybe made a little money, but it's something for the future."
(Reporting by Philip O'Connor; Editing by Christian Radnedge)