When the Sacramento Kings' Golden 1 Center opens in October for the tipoff of the 2016-2017 NBA Season, the $507 million arena will have 1,000 Wi-Fi access points from Ruckus for 17,500 seats and an 84-foot-long 4K video board. While these features are great for NBA fans, Kings co-owner Andy Miller believes this new venue will be perfect for eSports.
“It’s the most technologically advanced arena in the world, so it’s perfect for eSports,” Miller says. “We have Wi-Fi technology from Qualcomm (thanks to Kings co-owners Paul and Irwin Jacobs) that’s not even out there yet. This arena is going to be maxed out. We should be playing eSports tournaments there.”
Miller got into the eSports last year, founding NRG eSports with Kings co-owner Mark Mastrov. The company now includes a League of Legends team and a Counter-Strike: Global Offensive team, with plans to further expand into competitive gaming, including mobile games.
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“We’d like to get into mobile because that’s my background," says Miller. "Mobile has a really big future for eSports,” he adds.
Blizzard Entertainment's Hearthstone, the top mobile eSports game, has had early success in mobile eSports, and the second most popular title, Super Evil Megacorps’ Vainglory, continues to grow its audience.
NRG eSports has additional funding for expansion thanks to the addition of its latest co-owners: NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal and MLB sluggers Alex Rodriguez (of the New York Yankees) and Jimmy Rollins (of the Chicago White Sox).
Miller says Rollins, who’s a big gamer, sought him out and pitched him and Mastrov on why he should be part of the investment group. Rollins had done his homework on eSports and knew all of the games.
Mastrov had a relationship with Rodriguez and he and Miller sought out the Yankee because they saw how he could help professional gamers compete on the global stage.
“Alex is a perfect example of someone who was under the spotlight at such a young age and had such pressure on him, and that’s probably the biggest issue with our (eSports) guys,” says Miller. “We forget that they’re teenagers and they’re up on this stage in front of millions of people and everyone’s on social media telling them what to do and what they’re doing wrong, and they live in a house with teammates with cameras on. They’re in this fish bowl. Alex can offer advice on how to handle that, as he’s had his own ups and downs.”
O’Neal, who is already a co-owner of the Kings, was a “no-brainer” for NRG eSports, according to Miller.
“Who wouldn’t want Shaq to be involved with their team,” Miller says. “He’s a media machine. He will bring us attention."
Miller has been ahead of the curve in the technology space for years. He co-founded and ran Quattro Wireless for three years before selling the company to Apple for $275 million in 2009. He spent two years at Apple as vice president of mobile advertising, reporting directly to Steve Jobs. He left Apple to become a partner at Highland, and later ran Highland-invested company Leap Motion, which was at the forefront of gesture controls for PCs and other devices, including virtual reality. Now he hopes to grow NRG eSports, and the pro gaming industry as a whole.
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“The early days of eSports looked a lot like the early days of the ABA and the NBA, where you originally had the owners of these teams as players who developed and brought the sport along,” Miller says. “And now you’re seeing folks with more of a business background or traditional sports background or marketing background, trying to eSports to the next level by raising money, getting investors, and being able to professionalize the organizations."
Miller says eSports still needs to have traditional sports companies such as Under Armour, Adidas, and Nike come in and design cool jerseys and clothing. “Right now what the players wear is a cross between cycling and NASCAR,” Miller says. “But we sell a lot of t-shirts and hats."
In fact, NRG eSports sells as much as it can, as it's no small undertaking. "We do everything the Kings do except sell tickets and food," says Miller. That means the team has a merchandising store, is all over social media, they have a gaming house, a roster of players, coaches, chefs, a website, and they even sell sponsorships. "There’s a lot to do for a business that is a little ahead of itself, as far as the dollars are concerned," says Miller. "But not as far as the viewership and the attention.”