NRG Esports has become a staple organization in North America. And NRG furthered its reach by entering a new scene on Sept. 13 when the organization purchased the Chicago franchise in the upcoming city-based Call of Duty League.
Just two days later, the organization brought in former OpTic Gaming CEO Hector “H3CZ” Rodriguez to spearhead the Chicago Call of Duty team. H3CZ will be a co-CEO of the organization alongside Andy Miller, the co-founder of the organization.
Miller talked with Dot Esports about his background and his start at Apple, how this affected his move into esports, and future plans for the Chicago Call of Duty franchise. The co-CEO even said that he’ll bring in “superstars” for Chicago’s Call of Duty team.
In your past, you reported directly to Steve Jobs?
Miller: Yes. So I started a company out of Boston that was one of the first mobile ad networks that became one of the biggest in the world. Apple bought it at the end of 2009. Steve sourced the deal and I became a vice president at Apple, reporting directly to Steve Jobs.
How did working at Apple impact your future ventures?
It was amazing and terrifying at the same time. It was very intense. I learned so much. To be an Apple executive is a big honor and there is a club of guys who have been there a long time who think the Apple way. I was a start-up outsider who did not, so it took them a while to break me down to think their way and to simplify all of my thoughts, my decisions, how I spoke, how I interacted with my team, and how we presented ourselves to the public and to customers. I just learned a ton about the 360 approach to business and to simplify everything.
During this time, did you learn any particular skills that would help you in your later esports career?
I asked Steve, I said “how do you do this? You seem to have your finger on everything and the company is getting so big.” And he was always concerned that they would lose their family, the world’s biggest startup feel, and culture. It was the way they simplify everything, so it gets broken down into really small pieces and it’s easier to make decisions that way and you look at things whether it’s good for the brand or it’s a brand withdrawal. In building a brand with esports, it was similar. “Can we break this thing down into its basic pieces and is this something that will be good for our brand? Will it be a hit?” It’s really complicated to try and put that together under one brand.
Across all of the brands you own, in particular, why did you decide to co-create NRG?
It was a hobby at first. So it was me and Mark Mastrov, one of the co-owners with the Sacramento Kings, and our kids just playing games together. Our kids could not be any more different. You’ve got a division one football player, a linebacker coming up, and mine’s just started college at film school. But you have the great equalizer of playing games. This was a while ago, like four years ago, and I saw what they were doing—not watching television, not watching sports, even though they’re related to the sports world. But they are watching Twitch, watching their favorite guys stream. I started watching Sodapoppin and seeing how he would have 25,000 to 30,000 concurrent viewers on the stream. But looking at the television numbers for NBA teams for their local affiliate matches, they weren’t too dissimilar. Now Soda’s a part of NRG, so it’s come full-circle. I really felt that there was a great opportunity to originally connect with my boys and then grow my business and brand, which is something I always wanted to do.
You’ve had some great success over the years, becoming one of the biggest brands in North America. But you’ve decided to join the Call of Duty League. What’s the reasoning behind joining?
There’s a lot of layers to that. When the opportunity first presented itself, we didn’t jump at it. We took a back seat and tried to see how it was going to play out. I felt that Call of Duty is a great game, very American, and it would be great for the brand. I think that with the new game coming out, it’s going to be pretty big. I know people who have had a chance to look at it, play it, and look at it over the last six months. It’s awesome. Of course, we were interested, but the franchises are expensive. I felt like to go in there with a new brand and try to win over the hearts and minds of the fans against the likes of FaZe or 100 Thieves, I thought would be a bad idea.
Then, as my relationship with Hector grew over many months and we decided to “duo up” as he says, it was a no brainer for us to jump into an awesome game. Activision has really good plans for it. Unlike Overwatch when we jumped into that, there wasn’t much history to look at from an operating standpoint, fan standpoint, and financial standpoint. So we felt pretty comfortable with it. Getting Hector and his massive fan base to hopefully become a part of NRG’s family, which has happened so fast, is a huge bonus for us.
How did the partnership between you and H3CZ begin?
Me persistently annoying him [laughs]. I’ve always been a fan and I saw his relationship with OpTic Gaming. First, I just wanted to meet him. We have nothing in common on some level, from how we grew up and who we are. On another level, once we spent a long barbecue together—we had food together at a gas station in Frisco, Texas—we realized that we were incredibly similar with our competitive nature and how we looked at this business going forward, how loyal we were to our family, friends, and employees, even to a fault, what we’ve done in business before and we just hit it off. So I knew he liked me and I really liked him. So I kept bugging him every week, checking in, sending him like “hey look at what NRG has done,” and I think I wore him down.
Now H3CZ has become the co-CEO. Could you explain his role within NRG and the Chicago Call of Duty team?
He is going to run all things Call of Duty. We are bringing in our infrastructure to help because it’s a lot of work. We have to pick up a squad. We have some great announcements that are coming out. Then we have to create a facility, negotiate our weekends for our matches, and create a show and you name it—everything from a name down. It’s a lot of work. That will take up a large chunk of his time. But as co-CEO, he’s going to get his hands in everything, especially our content because he’s a god at that, our merch, and a lot of the outwardly-facing things within NRG and the Shock.
Will there be a central headquarters for the Call of Duty team?
This came together very quickly, so we don’t have our plans all fleshed out to be perfectly honest. We will be very visible in the Chicago area. We have a pretty big market, it covers Illinois, Indiana, and Milwaukee. I think you’re the first person to hear that, so that’s exciting. We want to be a lot more than Chicago, but it’s great to finally have an esports organization representing the Midwest. These are rabid great fans out there. Hecz and his crew have a deep history living in Chicago with the OpTic house, so we thought Chicago was a great place to plant our flag.
In terms of Call of Duty, are you looking to build a roster that NRG and OpTic Gaming fans will love?
Yes. I think everyone who loves Call of Duty will love our roster. We are not done, at all. We are getting there, but it’s going to be really good, it’s going to be fun and exciting. It’s going to a roster with superstars on it but it’ll also be one like SF Shock where we build for the future. So we will have a team with guys who can really grow with us.