Charlotte Hornets guard Lamelo Ball has become the latest NBA athlete to venture into the esports market. The 2021 NBA Rookie of the Year has teamed up with tech company One Up to launch his own brand called MB1 Gaming. Ball is kicking off his inaugural NBA 2K Invitational presented by PUMA today, which is free to enter. The tournament begins Saturday, February 5, and the top four competitors will then face each other during this year’s NBA All-Star Weekend in Cleveland.
“When I am not playing and focusing on basketball, I’m gaming. This was a way to extend my brand to new fans and empower a next generation of esports athletes to compete and monetize their skills,” Ball said in a statement. “MB1 will be the destination for the gamer who wants to compete and be a part of my gaming community.”
Fans can also play against each other for a $25K prize pool, and the first place winner gets $20K. All tournament finalists will also receive airfare and hotel accommodations for their time in The Forest City, courtesy of One Up, as well as a pair of pair of Ball’s PUMA MB.01 signature sneakers.
One Up was founded in 2018 by Cleveland native Brandon Pitts, 33, a college point guard whose passion for gaming tournaments took over after a pair of ACL injuries ended his hoop dreams for good. Pitts launched his app one year later and was able to generate $6 million thanks to its popularity.
Pitt’s success and his proprietary 1/0S software caught the attention of venture capital firm Three Curve Capital. In 2020, $3.1M was raised in a seed funding round; athletes Victor Oladipo and Denzel Ward also became investors in the startup, which raised its total amount of funds to $4M. With the recent addition of LaMelo Ball to its roster of collaborators, One Up’s profile is poised for a big takeoff in the world of esports.
“We are excited to partner with stars like LaMelo in the creation of their own esports brands and communities through One Up’s turn-key technology platform,” Pitts said about the upcoming opportunity. Many professional athletes are big gamers and are looking for unique ways to use their own gaming fandom to ignite and expand their fanbase. We are completely democratizing competitive esports, and providing gamers with the infrastructure to either compete and monetize their skills or launch their own esports business.”