Storyline: eSports

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Echo Fox players in a younger generation might not remember much about Fox, who at age 47 has said of being 6-foot-7, “It’s more than just height.” Fox can still play basketball, and he told WWG last month that nevertheless his esports players have challenged him to one-on-one in basketball. “Yeah a lot of my players do,” Fox said. “A lot of them are too young actually, so they don’t really know Rick Fox the basketball player. They respect the Lakers. They respect the championships. But they for some reason — maybe it’s the gray hair — they think they can just take me. I don’t know what it is. It’s like riding a bike. Put a basketball in my hands, and it’s going to be second nature.”
6 months ago via ESPN

The NBA and Take-Two Interactive Software will name Brendan Donohue as managing director of the new NBA 2K esports league on Tuesday. Donohue will oversee the league, which was formed between the NBA and Take-Two and is set to launch with its inaugural season in 2018. “[I’m] just taking what 2K has already built up in terms of popularity around the game and really building an audience around this,” Donohue told ESPN. “It is the most popular sports title in North America and, most importantly, the most highly regarded in terms of the actual game.”

During the tour, Fox chatted with Henrik Hansen, a 23-year-old from Denmark who serves as the team’s captain. Hansen competes under the nom de guerre Froggen, a name he says he picked randomly as a 16-year old. Fox has likened Froggen’s leadership style to NBA legends Kobe Bryant and Larry Bird. The two have an easy rapport based on Hansen needling Fox constantly and Fox indulging him. As they checked out the lap pool, Fox gingerly launched into one of the finer points of self-care. “We still haven’t convinced you to eat vegetables,” he says in a mock-scold. “I eat them sometimes, but I don’t see the point,” says Hansen. “I get my multivitamins.” Fox turned to one of the trainers. “Your whole success will be predicated on whether you can get Froggen to eat vegetables.”

Peskin says that though Echo Fox has a lot of money, that may not matter if Riot decides it would prefer to work with the professional sports industry. “Echo Fox doesn’t own an arena. Echo Fox doesn’t have a sports franchise which already has corporate sponsorships,” says Peskin. Fox thinks the other owners should be patient with Riot. At the same time, he had to fix his LCS team itself. Immediately following the summer season, Echo Fox replaced the coach and brought in three new free agents. The newly-constituted team headed for an offseason training and bonding trip to South Korea, where the level of competition is higher and the speedy internet means less latency—the time it takes for each keystroke to impact the actual game. The new formula has had mixed success: The team is 5-7, putting them in the middle of the pack.

Team Misfits, the esports partner organization of the Miami Heat basketball team, has acquired Vainglory pro squad Fates Zero. This will give Misfits and the Heat instant access to one of mobile gaming’s biggest competitive scenes, as Fates Zero has a reserved spot in developer Super Evil Megacorp’s Vainglory league. This new Misfits team will compete for the first time under its new ownership at the Vainglory Preseason Invitational tournament in San Mateo on February 26.

Rick Fox: I think back to the first time I met “Froggen,” a Danish League of Legends player. What struck me were all the similarities he shared with the great players I had come across during my NBA career. This was someone who focused intensely on one thing for 16 hours a day because he was driven to be the best at it. The only difference between him and guys like Kobe Bryant and Larry Bird was name recognition. As competitors — and I’ve been around some remarkable ones — it was obvious to me how many traits they shared. While there are still many outdated stigmas associated with e-sports by people who have never taken the time to try to appreciate them, I’ve always known that just because an older generation couldn’t fully understand what someone like Froggen was pursuing didn’t make it any less meaningful.
8 months ago via ESPN

Counter-Strike, if you don’t already know, is a first-person shooter that pits terrorists against counterterrorists in a quest to destroy or save the planet. It’s been one of the most popular video games in the world since its 1999 release, and since 2013, CS:GO has drawn millions of viewers as an esport, with its rapid-fire, five-on-five format. It’s also Jerebko’s favorite pastime, so much so that he bought the Renegades, a team of pro gamers, in July. That puts the 29-year-old Swede in exclusive company, as the only active NBA player to own an esports franchise.
8 months ago via ESPN

Despite the grueling NBA schedule, he is determined to be as involved as possible. That means a daily Renegades call, usually on the drive to Celtics practice, as well as talks with potential sponsors and contract negotiations with new players. While we ate at a Boston taqueria one afternoon, he sent a masseuse to the CS:GO team to help the guys relax after a trip back from a tournament in Malaysia. He tells the players and coaches to text or call him anytime. “Before, all I did was basketball, and I thought about basketball all the time,” he says. “It was too much. Now it’s nice to take my mind off of it. It helps my game.”
8 months ago via ESPN

The NBA and Take-Two Interactive Software, makers of the mega-popular NBA 2K video game, are partnering to form a first-of-its-kind esports league centered around the NBA 2K series, officials from both companies told ESPN.com on Wednesday. The NBA 2K eLeague, tentatively set to begin play in 2018, eventually will feature 30 NBA 2K teams, each owned by one of the real-life NBA franchises, according to NBA commissioner Adam Silver and Strauss Zelnick, the CEO of Take-Two. The teams, comprised of five human players, will play out a five-month season that mirrors the real NBA season. It will proceed through a regular season of head-to-head games and then to playoffs and a championship matchup.

Today, the Miami HEAT announced a strategic partnership with the esports franchise, Misfits, a premium organization with professional teams competing in the genre’s premier games. The partnership, with the HEAT acquiring a stake in Misfits, is unique as it calls for the HEAT to assist in all duties including marketing, branding, promotion, retail, digital and sponsorship activation on behalf of the franchise, and to cross-promote the HEAT and Misfits. “The Miami HEAT pride ourselves on being innovative in all aspects of sports and business,” said HEAT Chief Executive Officer Nick Arison. “For us, it made perfect sense to partner with Misfits, a young and ambitious franchise in a sport that is blazing a trail in terms of 21st century recreational competition amongst Millennials.”

More NBA celebrities are taking an active interest in esports, with the latest being former Knicks point guard Stephon Marbuy. He shared a video via his personal Weibo account announcing that he has “exciting news” coming soon. “I decided to march [into the] esports industry to build my own team and recruit players, from my fans, in no time,” Marbury stated in the video. No additional information was revealed so this is essentially a primer hinting that a more formal announcement is on the way.

On Saturday, Sony Entertainment’s Vice President of Brand Marketing John Koller announced a new partnership with the Electronic Sports League (ESL) to deliver a new eSports tournament feature for the PlayStation 4. The first event will be an NBA 2K17 tournament that runs from October 27 thru November 26. This event is open to anyone with a PS4, a copy of NBA 2K17 and an ESL account. Major cup rounds will take place every Saturday. The Top 3 winners will receive a Sony branded prize pack, such as a DualShock 4 and other PlayStation gear.

GamesBeat: What do you think became the point at which the likes of the 76ers and major sports owners started to get involved? Richardson: At a high level, I think the number of people spectating—when you have the League of Legends world finals drawing a larger audience than the NBA finals and the BCS championships, that’s an inflection point. The specific thing is, at the NBA owners’ meeting maybe 12-14 months ago, the NBA actually presented to all the owners. “Hey, there’s this thing out there called esports. We want to walk you through it.” Josh Harris and David Blitzer, the two managing owners of the Sixers – they also own the New Jersey Devils of the NHL, and they just purchased Crystal Palace, the English football club – those guys turned to Scott O’Neil, CEO of the Sixers, and said, “What do you think? This seems like an opportunity we need to get involved in.”
1 year ago via SLAM

SLAM: Jordan Clarkson recently said that aside from himself, you, Larry Nance Jr, Roy Hibbert and Anthony Brown were the top Call of Duty players on the team last year. Is anyone else nice at COD? D’Angelo Russell: I honestly don’t know. We got a lot of vets on our team so I’m not sure if they even know what Call of Duty is, but I would say that’s about it. Maybe Julius [Randle]. He’s a fan and is good at it. SLAM: If you could pick one or two other players and form a squad, would you guys come out with the W against one of these top teams participating in the Call of Duty Championships? D’Angelo Russell: Oh yeah, I’d get my boy Devin Booker and Karl-Anthony Towns and we’d be successful.

Jerebko brought the five-man team over from Australia to suburban Detroit to train and prepare for its next event. Jerebko, 29, was an avid video game player in his youth and seized the opportunity for team ownership. “Sports and computer games were my childhood growing up,” Jerebko said. “Basically, I started off playing all types of games. I started playing CS:GO in sixth grade and it kind of kept me away from partying and going out and doing stupid stuff. It was video games and sports. It helped me stay focused. Playing in the NBA, you are always gaming and you get your work done and you’ve got a lot of hours to kill, so video games come natural for a lot of NBA athletes.”

Boston Celtics forward Jonas Jerebko has bought the rights to the Renegades franchise from Christopher “MonteCristo” Mykles. “The opportunity to own Renegades and bring some of my knowledge from professional basketball to eSports is incredible,” said Jerebko in a press release. “I grew up in the video game era, and I was exposed to Counter-Strike at a young age. I have watched the eSports world explode and, for me, it’s really exciting to be a team owner and help push the industry forward.”
1 year ago via ESPN

Although Jerebko said he’s aware that esports has very much turned into the wild, wild west, he hopes he can lend credibility to the sport. That means that Jerebko, who has served as team player representative for the National Basketball Players Association, doesn’t have a problem with pro gamers having rights. “The Call of Duty players we were negotiating with were under contract last year and weren’t getting paid for three to five months,” Jerebko said. “That’s not going to happen with me. You get a paycheck on time.”
1 year ago via ESPN

Lin was one of the thousands of fans who packed the KeyArena for five days leading into Sunday’s final. He has been playing Dota since he was 16 years old with his brothers Josh and Joseph. He says he still plays three to four times a week, even during the NBA season, especially on the road, when he’s in his hotel room. “They were playing and I started playing just because I wanted to hang out with them,” Lin said of his brothers. “At first it was an awful game, because I was going 0 for 10 every single game with Bounty Hunter. How do you go 0 for 10 with Bounty Hunter? But eventually when I started to learn the game and get better, I started realizing this is like basketball. It’s about having each other’s back, being loyal, being at that right place at the right time, outsmarting the other team. And there’s this huge mental component in this competition that I’ve always thrived off of. That’s why I love playing it.”
1 year ago via ESPN

“They’re doing something that everyone loves doing, but they just do it at another level and they’re extremely talented. That’s why you have this fanaticism, and that’s why you have people lined up at midnight asking for autographs.” “It’s really not any different than sports,” Lin continued, “except with sports there’s more of a physical component of you doing it yourself, whereas in video games you’re just controlling a hero that does the same thing. It’s the unique talent of the players that is the draw.”

For The Win: What has it been like learning more about this different sort of (eSports) world? Rick Fox: That we’re not so different. Just mastering excellence is I think what defines you as a pro. Playing and competing and winning under pressure, having a career where you’re idolized by young men and women who want to do exactly what you’re doing, jumping out of bed and being passionate about your career, I like at all those things and I look at the people that surround the players that are on Echo Fox. I see their dedication, their focus, their work ethic, how much time they put in, and it mirrors a lot of what it took for me to get as good as I got. And then I interacted with them just as I interacted with many of my former teammates. There’s so many different forms and expressions when it comes to professional sports and what makes it a professional athletes. I know eSports in general is grabbing more respect and inclusion is something that I subscribe to in general, so having them join the fraternity of professional athletes actually is no longer a debate. It must happen.

FTW: What’s your stance on eSports and has that changed? Recently, ESPN has been getting into it, it’s now seen more of as a legitimate sport whereas before it was viewed as just video games and not a real sport. KB: I think people are really interested in watching people problem solve. It doesn’t matter what industry. People are very fascinated by that — seeing the struggles people go through and how they overcome it. I think this was just a matter of time before it caught fire. To be able to sit and watch a performance on TV and watch how the gamers are figuring out those challenges amongst themselves, you can’t help but be interested.

NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal became one of the latest sports stars to jump into eSports when he became part owner of NRG earlier this year along with Alex Rodriguez. NRG fields a pro League of Legends and Counter-Strike team, and beginning May 24th NRG will compete in the new Counter-Strike: Global Offensive ELEAGUE, which will be televised on TBS. Shaq says he now has a Ph.D. in CS:GO, and in this hilarious video became part of the scenery on a few different maps.

The Nets parent company, Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment announced Wednesday that ESL, the world’s largest esports company, will bring the East Coast’s largest esports tournament to Barclays Center in October. ESports are online video game competitions. Now, as esports grows, big tournaments will be conducted live in large venues like Barclays. Barclays Center will play host to a US$250,000 Counter-Strike: Global Offensive competition, with more games joining the tournament’s lineup to be announced in the coming weeks. Esports has become a top priority for BS&E, Mikhail Prokhorov’s “mother ship” for sports and entertainment, particularly CEO Brett Yormark.
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October 19, 2017 | 9:32 pm EDT Update
Carmelo Anthony tried grooming Kristaps Porzingis the past two years, knowing that he someday would replace him as the Knicks’ franchise player. Now that he has, Anthony called it “a big, big year” for Porzingis and had some advice. “You’re there. You’re the unicorn. You’ve got to embrace it,” said Anthony, now a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder. “You’ve got to understand what it’s about, what’s going to happen, whether good or bad, and be ready for it.”
Filling Anthony’s shoes is a tough task, but he believes he’s ready. “I never doubt myself,” he said. “I never feel like I’m not ready for something, even if it’s the most difficult challenge in my life . . . I’m never too afraid of a situation. I’m here now. I had a great experience watching Melo, how he does stuff on and off the court. I think that’s what I’m going to use to go forward.”
October 19, 2017 | 8:00 pm EDT Update