Anyone looking to understand the recent boom in traditional sports leagues and in athletes looking to back esports teams need look no further than the Sacramento Kings. The NBA franchise doesn’t have a winning record, but co-owners Mark Mastrov and Andy Miller may not be worried about that.
Both businessmen have a strong understanding of sports and business, as well as a solid grasp on where the world of sports is heading. With Statista predicting the global esports industry to be worth $1.6 billion by 2023, Mastrov and Miller did what any savvy businessmen would do in 2015.: They created a competitive esports team, NRG Esports.
In recent years, the team has become more popular not just for its title-winning rosters that compete across a wide range of competitions, but also for its big-name investor: Shaquille O’Neal. However, just because Shaq has four NBA championship titles and three NBA Finals MVP awards doesn’t necessarily mean he knows what goes into creating a killer esports squad.
When it’s time for fans to wager on NBA betting odds from experts, they look at big-name athletes and coaches with winning records. But in the world of esports, what matters most are skills like spatial awareness within the game and the ability to multitask. The only concrete overlaps are communication and teamwork, though even that depends on the esports being played.
In the end, Shaq and other big-name backers are just figureheads to help garner more attention and investment for NRG. As esports gains more traction as the future of virtual sports entertainment, more teams will look to mirror NRG’s success.
Big names back the team
In 2015, Sacramento Kings co-owners Mastrov and Miller were getting ahead of the game by equipping their stadium to handle cashless Bitcoin exchanges. At the same time, they were looking to onboard investors for their NRG esports organization.
Only one year later, the pair found success when Shaq signed on and, shortly after, Alex Rodriguez and Jimmy Rollins of MLB fame also joined the investment squad. The trend didn’t stop there, with other major names ranging from Jennifer Lopez to Marshawn Lynch to DJ Tiësto signing on.
The most successful esports squads benefit from the multi-million dollar investments that come from big names in traditional sports and beyond. However, the ultimate success of an esports team stems not from the basketball and baseball stars supporting it, but from the gamers competing.
In 2019, NRG made a huge leap by contracting its first Apex Legends pro gamer to round out its roster. NRG has also competed in CSGO, Smite, Super Smash Bros., and Dragon Ball FighterZ, though these teams have since sold these rosters to other teams or have released key players.
NRG currently competes in Apex Legends, Rocket League, and Overwatch. Since its founding in 2015, NRG Esports has taken home 16 championship titles. Eight titles come from their Rocket League team, which took home their first championship in 2016 at the RLCS Season 2 NA Regionals and most recently at the RLCSX NA Winter Major in February 2021.
Comparing teams backed by celebrities
With big money behind esports as a whole, it’s likely that successful athletes will continue to pivot to the world of virtual sports competitions. Not only are they familiar with organizing teams, finding quality leadership, and producing competitions that translate well for broadcasting, but they also have a competitive spirit.
Most recently, Michael Jordan made headlines for backing aXiomatic Gaming. As the parent company of the successful Team Liquid, Jordan’s multi-million dollar investment is likely to provide a strong ROI in the coming years. Former sports stars like Jordan are helping to legitimize esports not only from an investment standpoint but also a player’s standpoint.
Jordan has ample experience defending his own rights as a leading player. In this way, Jordan can help offer key advice on how to best support, nurture, and protect the rights of top esports athletes.