Kroenke Sports & Entertainment expands esports front office

The Los Angeles Gladiators picked up a win in the Overwatch League. Robert Paul/Provided by Blizzard Entertainment

Kroenke Sports & Entertainment has tapped former YouTube and Riot Games staffer Alex Rubens and ESPN senior editor Ryan Garfat to help lead esports operations for the Los Angeles Gladiators of the Overwatch League and the Los Angeles Guerrillas of the upcoming Call of Duty League, the group told ESPN on Thursday.

Rubens and Garfat are the first hires in the new front office for the Kroenkes' esports ventures. Both were recruited by executives Josh Kroenke and Michael Neary. In addition to the teams, Rubens and Garfat will be involved operationally with a new 6,000-person venue adjacent to the Rams new home, SoFi Stadium, near Los Angeles International Airport in Inglewood.

"[Alex and Ryan] both have a wide variety of experience across the esports world. Not just the esports world, but the gaming community in general," Kroenke Sports & Entertainment vice chairman Josh Kroenke told ESPN. "They both bring different types of experience to the table both on the business side and team operation side just because of their exposure and their experiences."

The Gladiators were previously operated by esports team Sentinels before that team's CEO Rob Moore sued the Kroenke group for an alleged violation of a joint venture agreement surrounding the Kroenke's acquisition offer to Echo Fox in August. As a part of a settlement, Kroenke Sports & Entertainment and Sentinels parted ways following the conclusion of the Overwatch League season.

Rubens will work on team operations for the Gladiators and Guerrillas while continuing his work with the Kroenke-owned Rams as the Kroenke group begin to establish more concrete plans for esports. Prior to working for the Rams, Rubens held a number of jobs in esports, including working in partnerships for YouTube Gaming, communications at Riot Games and content at Red Bull Media House.

Garfat has overseen ESPN's digital esports editorial group since last December, and helped launch the group in late 2015. Garfat's experience extends across esports, action sports, basketball and local news, including stints at the Los Angeles Daily News and the Florida Times-Union.

Kroenke Sports & Entertainment bought into Activision Blizzard's Overwatch League for $20 million in August 2017, and a year later, spent $25 million to participate in Activision Blizzard's Call of Duty League. Both teams are set to play home games in Los Angeles in 2020.

"We're very ambitious now with the Hollywood Park project, to say the least," Kroenke told ESPN. "We took on a lot there and when we started to think through the performance venue, way back to our initial Gladiators investment, we thought it was a great way, an additional way to bring a completely different demographic than we would attract with the Rams. We're really excited to push the possibilities. Los Angeles is the hotbed of the gaming community and we're really excited."

Kroenke Sports & Entertainment also has holdings with Arsenal F.C., the Denver Nuggets, Colorado Avalanche, Colorado Rapids and the Pepsi Center in Denver. Because of NFL rules, Josh's father Stan Kroenke owns the Rams individually.