NRG eSports is the latest company to enter the competitive gaming space, and it plans to combine a new sense of business acumen and experience from traditional sports to eSports. NRG, which announced its new League of Legends roster Monday, was co-founded by veteran tech executives/investors and part-owners of the Sacramento Kings Andy Miller and Mark Mastrov as well as Gerard Kelly, former owner of Team Imagine.
ThePostGame: Andy, having such an extensive background in sports and team management, how did you decide to get involved with League of Legends?
ANDY MILLER: I've been a sports guy all of my life and started to hear more and more about eSports so I started to investigate to see if there would be a good place for investment. I just knew the time was right and I wanted to get a team. I was fortunate enough to be introduced to Gerard and was really impressed with him. He built a Challenger team from scratch just out of passion, grit and bull-headedness. We were fortunate enough to go out and find a team that we thought we could make into a real championship team that had already qualified for the LCS. So we purchased Team Coast about a month ago.
TPG: Who else is involved in NRG eSports?
MILLER: The three co-founders of the team are me, Gerard and Mark. Mark is a co-owner with me on the Kings as well and is just an incredible self-made guy. He started 24 Hour Fitness, sold that for an incredible amount of money and has many other businesses. He is an amazing partner and mentor to me. We thought between the two of us we could bring a lot of real world traditional sports experience to this fast-growing eSports space.
TPG: Gerard, what is your background and how did you become involved in eSports?
GERARD KELLY: I come from an engineering background. I do automation and robotics engineering. I also own a handful of small businesses. I've always been involved in competitive gaming and eSports. About a year ago, after League started getting really big, I decided to take a shot at owning a Challenger Series team, which is equivalent to a minor league team. We did really well in our first stint comparatively. I was super fortunate to get introduced to (Andy and Mark). There were a lot of people looking into getting into this space and getting involved, but due to their professional sports experience, I thought it would be stupid to work with anybody else.
TPG:What do you do as the President and General Manager of Team NRG?
KELLY: I started to put together an infrastructure of coaches, analysts and League experts whose opinions I could trust. I then started recruiting a roster of players. We went after a couple that we thought were realistic to get. I couldn't have asked for a much better roster without spend like a billion dollars or something. I work with the coaching and analysts staff and am very close to all of the players. I personally went out and recruited all of them.
MILLER: We are building a team from the ground up. We bought a team called Team Coast, which had been a Challenger team and qualified for the LCS. We completely overhauled the roster and we think it is going to turn a lot of heads. We brought in free agents for Korea and Gerard went out and recruited a pretty strong coach. We have a gaming house now in LA, a house mom and we’re putting things together so these guys really start to feel comfortable together as a team.
TPG: What is a gaming house?
KELLY: We have an eight-bedroom house that houses all of the players, myself and most of the coaching staff minus some analysts. They work and play in the house. They wake up and work at their "day job" and then do whatever when they are done practicing. It keeps everyone close and keeps them in a good work environment. It’s become a standard for the more successful teams to have a gaming house. We have an in-house cook and maid so the players can focus on playing and behind competitive.
TPG: What separates NRG eSports from other teams involved in League of Legends?
KELLY: Because of the relegation system for underperforming teams, it is common for a team to be in the LCS and then split or don't exist anymore a season later because they weren't able to build a competitive roster or they didn't have an infrastructure that knew how to get sponsors or have a business mastermind like Mark or Andy behind them. We are set up for success from that perspective and I think that sets us apart from a lot of the other teams that are coming into the space.
MILLER: League has grown so quickly and so many people are watching this now, yet the teams only started being bought and sold in the last six months. Most of these teams were started by players and they’ve done an amazing job building great brands. Now we have the chance to add in some traditional sports experience.
KELLY: Because of all of our experience, we are going to be able to make really positive impact on the entire community. That includes super fair player contracts. We are able to set a better standard for how League is functioning in general.
TPG: Do you pay your players?
KELLY: Everybody gets a base salary with performance-based incentives. We have incredibly competitive salaries. We do take a small portion of the team's winnings, which is an industry standard. We take 20 percent of the team's winnings from any tournament they compete in and then the players split the rest of it. We also give them a split of any of the personal sponsorships that they are able to acquire.
TPG: What makes NRG eSports a profitable and desirable business for you to be a part of?
Miller: We envision this being similar to any professional sports team. We are getting in early. I kind of look at this like the early years of the ABA or NBA. The audience is just massive. The finals a few weeks ago were bigger than any final night for NHL, NBA or MLB pretty much combined. So the audience is there and the interest is there. Sponsors will pay the bills and the ultimate goal is that the enterprise value of the brand will be worth something. We are in it for the long run. We think we can build off of League of Legends with our first team. We intend to have multiple teams playing on multiple games and platforms around the world. We hope we can create an international brand.
TPG: What are your goals for this first team and where do you see NRG eSports going?
MILLER: Our ultimate goal for the team is to see them get to Worlds. No American team has ever won, so we would like to be the first there. The expansion goal is clearly to create a global brand. We are going to be naming some celebrity investors and partners with us. We are going to try to move outside of endemic sponsorships to different brands that are maybe more traditional sports sponsorships. We hope to be on multiple platforms and games that attract an international fanbase.