In the world of esports the NRG organization is fairly new, but already it is proving to be a formidable force in the scene—with big investors, a unique ethic, and a name inspired by one of League of Legend’s best players.
NRG eSports was founded after the Sacramento Kings NBA team co-owners Andy Miller and Mark Mastrov bought out Team Coast’s League Championship Series spot in the 2015 offseason. Since then they have branched out of League by also picking up a Counter-Strike: Global Offensive team in January.
Just days ago NRG announced three new investors. Former NBA player Shaquille O’Neal, and MLB players Alex Rodriguez and Jimmy Rollins, are claiming their stake in the organization—and esports.
The Daily Dot sat down with NRG Chairman Andy Miller at the South By Southwest Gaming festival in Austin, Texas, to talk about the organization, the new investors, the teams, and where the name NRG came from.
You have three new investors, does that mean new teams for NRG?
Andy Miller: We have our CS:GO team, they’re doing really well, and they’re a great group of guys. We have two other teams that we’re looking at. Bringing in new money, and guys like Shaquille and others, it raises the profile and makes it a little bit easier for folks who want to attach their brand to us. Our goal is definitely to extend and follow in the footsteps of the Cloud9’s and the Fnatic’s and all these guys that have done such a great job.
NRG has a fairly unique perspective and approach to esports, tell us about that.
We’re trying to build an organization that brings the traditional sports approach to creating culture, and training, and health, and everything into esports and have these guys seen as the athletes that they are.
Their training schedule is incredible, the amount of time they put in, the pressure they’re in, being away from home. The fact that most of them hadn’t played on a team before, or at least a team where they’re all physically living together.
Our guys are in the house, they have no free time really to be individuals. And it’s a brand new experience for them, so we’re hoping guys like Alex and Jimmy—who is considered one of the best teammates ever—can teach these guys that it’s about loving each other, trusting each other, working together.
How hands on are the new investors going to be with the teams?
Jimmy and Alex are playing right now, so when they come to L.A. I’m sure we’ll get all the guys together and they’d love to talk to them.
Jimmy is extremely interested in this as his career winds down, to have a next chapter in what he’s doing, and he sees this as a giant team sport, which I love. He sought us out and he was like “This is like the early days of the NBA. This is crazy, the amount of people that are watching, the fact that these guys are really athletes, the fact that they all have a role, that they have to play together,” so he’s super into it.
Shaquille is going to be our social media god and partner here, and help us build the NRG brand.
The League team went through a rough patch during the spring split, what happened?
We started off great, we definitely hit the skids a bit in the middle, and I think now we’re coming out of it and I think we’re going to do great over the next month or so. But if I look back at all the rookie mistakes we made as a new organization, most of them are probably in the culture, the training, the interaction, the team building, which is where they got frustrated and tired in the middle.
Having a culture where people aren’t enjoying themselves has a massive effect, it’s over. If you have a baseball game and one guy is kind of out of it you still might have a chance to win. If one guy is out of it on our team we’re not going to win.
We’ve worked really hard over the last six weeks or so to create a much more positive environment in the house and with each other. We’re moving our house, we brought in some sports psychiatrists, psychologists, the guys work out now consistently. They’re having much more fun and it’s showed. We had a really good weekend last weekend, and I wouldn’t sleep on us this weekend, we’re pretty optimistic we’re going to take two [games], but you never know. And then we’ll be in the playoffs.
How is the NRG organization and the League team feeling about the playoffs?
We really want to be there. The guys are all stressing about it, and we all met a couple of weeks ago and said, “Hey, you know what, if we don’t make it we’re all going to play again another day. It’s ok, but have fun. Enjoy yourselves. Don’t be afraid to fail. Come up with a great strategy, go for it, do your thing. You guys are awesome. Let your freak flag shine.” And that’s what they did last weekend, in the second game they were unbelievably put together, and we’ve had great scrims.
Where do you see the NRG organization at the end of the year?
We hope by the end of the year that we’ve created a brand that means something to somebody. If you live in Sacramento you’re probably going to go buy a Kings shirt, because we’re the only game in town that everybody loves and you’re from there. But there’s no geographical borders to determine that you’re a fan of NRG, so we’ve got a lot of work to do. I’d love to be able to walk around L.A. and see a kid in an NRG hat, and walk around New York and see a guy or girl in an NRG jacket or something. That would be success for me. It means we’ve reached people and they like the message. We had a lot of fun, we’ve had success, we’ve created a culture that someone could identify with and wanted to be a part of.
What is the NRG culture, and where did the name come from?
The space has some knock on it for not being very positive. We wanted to create a culture of positive energy.
The name came from listening to League player Marcus “Dyrus” Hill at the end of last season, when he was retiring and they asked him what he would miss the most. He’s in tears and he’s like, “This is over. Not that my playing days are over, but that I can feel the energy of everybody in this room, rooting for me or against me, and that’s never going to happen any other time in my life. Most times in life people root against you, they want the job instead of you, they want the girl, whatever. But up here you’re on the stage and you feel the positive energy of a whole group of people coming together for one purpose.” And I loved it, I thought that was really inspiring, so that’s how we got our name, and that’s what we’re about.