Two of the biggest names in American sports over the past decade have invested into a rapidly expanding esports organization.
Professional sports players are entering esports at a rapid pace, with NRG Esports announcing three big-name investors today.
Retired NBA player and Inside the NBA analyst Shaquille O’Neal and New York Yankees player Alex Rodriguez, are investing in NRG eSports, which owns teams in League of Legends and Counter-Strike. Chicago White Sox shortstop Jimmy Rollins also contributed to the organization’s latest round of investment.
“We think they will help legitimize the space,” NRG’s chairman, Andy Miller, tells the Daily Dot. “They all come from the traditional sports world. They were all unbelievably young when they became professionals, like our guys.”
Miller says that Shaq, Rodriguez, and Rollins approached NRG directly. Rollins is actually a League of Legends player, while O’Neal has been in the gaming and esports space for a while through Turner Sports, most notably when he announced Turner Sports’ new ELEAGUE competition last year. He also co-owns the Sacramento Kings basketball team with Miller.
“[Shaql] has been circling the space, and during CES he kind of fell in love with it, and he said “I’m all in, let’s do it,’” says Miller. “He’s the world’s biggest kid and he’ll bring an epic amount of fun and energy—no pun intended—to our teams, and to the space in general.”
The NRG Esports management team told the players about the new round of investors last night.
“They were like, ‘They’re interested in us?!’” Miller says. He had to explain to their Korean League players Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong and Lee “GBM” Chang-seok exactly who Rodriguez and Rollins were, but says they got it and were like, “‘Wow!’ So they all want to meet them and they love the idea of just messing around with Shaq.”
NRG Esports is a relatively new organization in the esports space. It currently has teams in the two biggest esports in the world: a League of Legends side that plays at the highest professional level in North America, as well as a Counter-Strike: Global Offensive team. It’s hoping to expand into new games within the next year.
The three athletes make for ideal partnerships because they understand the pressures that face young athletes, Miller says.
“Alex was one of the youngest pros ever, he’s got a really good perspective. He’s great because he did it at the same age that [League player Galen “Moon” Holgate] is doing it now, and probably went through the same things.”
Follow NRG Esports on Twitter.