Retired Los Angeles Lakers, NBA Superstar Shaquille O’Neal is a co-owner of NRG eSports.

­­­Shaq Explains Why Professional Video Gaming Is A Real Sport

WORDS: JOHN GAUDIOSI
PHOTOGRAPHY: GARY DINEEN

With ESports now a $463 million global business, Shaquille O’Neal is a co-owner of NRG ESports.

Shaquille O’Neal has always been a gamer. The 7-foot-1 center won four NBA championships and one league MVP award, capping a career that landed him in the NBA record books as one of the all-time top 10 players in scoring. When he wasn’t shooting hoops, the 2016 NBA Hall of Famer was playing games like “Duck Hunter, Space Invaders, Asteroids and Super Mario Bros.” from when he was still little.

Now O’Neal, who’s an NBA analyst for TNT Sports, has watched the world come full circle. Today professional video gaming is a sport – called “eSports” – that research firm Newzoo forecasts will generate over $463 million this year alone (that’s up 43% over 2015). Over 292 million eSports fans watch pros play games like Overwatch, League of Legends, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) and Call of Duty for multi-million prize pools. And over 1 billion people are aware of eSports.

Mainstream professional sports stars like Rick Fox, Rodger Saffold, Shaq (and his fellow NRG ESports co-owners Alex Rodriguez and JimmyRollins) are adding validity to eSports by  buying up teams and laying the groundwork for an industry that is forecast to exceed $1 billion by 2020 according to Newzoo.

Shaq explains why pro gaming is not a fad, and in fact is like a real sport, in this exclusive interview. 

  • FAST FACTS:
  • Born: March 6, 1972
  • Height: 7’1”
  • Weight: 325 lbs.
  • Position: Center
  • Finals MVP Awards: 3
  • Number of rap albums: 4 

THE RED BULLETIN: Why did you decide to invest in NRG eSports?

SHAQUILLE O’NEAL: I have been in and around the gaming space for years now. I got to witness first-hand at CES this year how exciting the CS:GO world had become and how passionate the fans were and what type of dedicated athletes the players had become. I wanted in. I contacted Andy Miller who co-owns the Sacramento Kings with me and he asked me to become part of NRG eSports. I am totally digging how intense the CS:GO and League of Legends scene is and am excited for our plans to add many more teams and gaming personalities to the NRG mix.

When did you realize that eSports was a legitimate business opportunity?

The fans did it for me. The fan base is huge and so passionate about their favorite games, teams and players. We have seen this movie before with the NBA and other traditional sports leagues. Sponsors and distribution always follow.

What similarities do you see between traditional sports such as basketball and eSports games such as CS:GO?

Teamwork. Five guys working together, practicing together, trusting your brother. That’s what makes a winner. It’s a grind. It takes big time dedication to be the best and build a winner.

What are your thoughts on the NBA-style “bench” deal NRG signed with BioSteel and what does that open up for brands interested in reaching the eSports audience?

It’s huge! Really forward-thinking by BioSteel and really creative by NRG. Deals like this bring legitimacy to the esports space and make it easier for new advertisers to enter and understand how to be successful.

What would you tell to non-endemic mainstream brands who haven’t jumped into the eSports arena yet?

Let’s go. The millennial audience is here. The accessibility to the fan is unprecedented. Everybody games. It’s a natural.

Read more
08 2016 THE RED BULLETIN

Next story