Alex Rodriguez and Kings co-owner Andy Miller discuss their new Overwatch League franchise, the San Francisco Shock.
Some athletes lay low after retirement. Perhaps they're unsure about what to do with their new free time, or maybe they're still coming to grips with their previously all-consuming playing life coming to an end.
Alex Rodriguez is not one of these athletes.
The former baseball star's on-field accomplishments are well-known—696 home runs, 2086 RBIs, 14 All-Star games and three MVPs—but Rodriguez's insatiable for desire for success didn't expire with his playing career. A-Rod is as visible as ever as an analyst for Fox Sports and a part-time "shark" on ABC's Shark Tank investment show.
He has also invested in NRG eSports, an esports organization that fields teams across multiple games, including CounterStrike, Rocket League and Overwatch. A-Rod is now a board member for NRG, which was founded late in 2015 by Gerard Kelly and Kings co-owners Mark Mastrov and Andy Miller, but he's not the only celebrity invested with NRG esports: Shaquille O'Neal, Jennifer Lopez, Marshawn Lynch, Michael Strahan and Jimmy Rollins are also significant investors.
The organization owns San Francisco's team for the much-anticipated Overwatch League, the brainchild of Activision Blizzard, which is set to begin in January with 12 teams representing nine American cities as well as London, Shanghai and Seoul.
What distinguishes Overwatch League from other esports competitions is, in a word, stability. Previously, esports teams and franchises have had ever-changing rosters and were not attached to a specific city, while Overwatch League franchises each represent one city, and players are signed to one-year contracts with a team. All games during Overwatch League's inaugural season will take place in Los Angeles, but the goal is for each franchise to have an esports-specific arena in their home city, creating the home-field advantage dynamic that is typical of traditional sports.
San Francisco's roster was released last week, while the team name and logo were were released on Monday. SI.com caught up with Rodriguez and Miller to discuss the San Francisco Shock.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.
Daniel Rapaport: I must say, I quite like the logo and color scheme.
Andy Miller: We were up all night choosing different colors for our uniform. We went through the entire organization, and it was split 50/50 down the middle. We made a final decision, and I hope it's the right one. And the seismograph is a representation of the Bay Bridge.
DR: Will you be selling jerseys and t-shirts, like more traditional sports franchises?
AM: Absolutely. From a merchandising perspective, this is set up exactly like the NBA. [Activision] Blizzard is going to oversee the development of all the merch, and then we'll sell it in our market and they'll sell it internationally.
DR: Alex, how did you get involved with NRG?
Alex Rodriguez: First of all, Marc Mastrov and I have been partners for over 10 years. He was telling me about this for a while and how excited he was about the opportunity, the space, the growth. The numbers are incredible, so I just started reading about it, and it was pretty incredible and hard to believe. So I kept reading other articles and king of educating myself in the space. Then I saw NRG's management team and their track record so that's kind of how I got started. I've been in it for several years, I've become more involved, more comfortable with Andy and Marc and our executive team and the space.
I just really think this is the future. If you think about the investment of having an NFL or MLB team back in the 70's or 80's. Now, having any NFL or MLB property is an enormous deal. I think this has that type of potential if you fast forward five or 10 years.
AM: Our players were absolutely thrilled when Alex came on board, and they were even more thrilled when Marshawn and Jennifer Lopez came on board. Because these are folks outside of sports and more into pop culture, and their presence gives us exposure and credibility.
DR: What can you take from your experience in baseball and bring to the Shock?
AR: One of the things I'm excited about is mentorship. These kids are highly competitive, they're working long hours—I grew up in a clubhouse for the last 23 years. Winning players want to be around other winning players in the locker room, but also at the executive level. When the players look at our team, from the management team to our board to our brands to Michael Strahan, Jennifer Lopez, Andy, Mark and myself, we've had significant success in so many different ventures. I know that one of the biggest thrills that I ever had was playing for George Steinbrenner and then Hal Steinbrenner. Both of those guys are winners, and that's something that you take to heart when you're on the field.
And then physically and mentally, these guys are going to go through ups and downs. It'll be helpful to have us on board.
DR: Unlike other esports franchises, Overwatch League teams are attached to a city. How important is that in terms of building esports' influence and fostering loyal fans?
AM: It's really important, and it's one of the things that got us excited enough as a board to make the $20 million investment to buy the team.
Beforehand in esports, there really was no home team. Players would move around a lot, teams would come and go. But we're gonna be here now for a long time, so I think fans and sponsors alike, the whole ecosystem can finally say "Okay, we finally have something real and stable, and we can invest our time and money and emotions into this.
One other point on this. In that past, if you wanted to go watch an esports match, you'd have to go to a tournament far way, like in L.A. or New York or Berlin or Seoul or Krakow. These are really hard tickets to get. Now, you can grow up rooting for the San Francisco Shock and going to games with your friends and family.
DR: You had an incredible career and you made a great deal of money playing baseball. How much of your post-baseball activity is fueled by an undying competitiveness? Obviously it's different than going out and playing baseball, but in the investing world, you're still working with a team to produce results.
AR: For me, playing baseball for 23 years at the major league level, I had to be ultra focused and myopic in my thinking. I've always had a lot of passions and things that I wanted to follow, but I had to put them on hold because I was playing. I'm now involved in things that really interest me and have interested me for a really long time. Now, I'm fortunate enough to have the opportunity to get involved in these things that I've wanted to for decades. It's also important whom you get into business with—everything partnership I've built after baseball is something that I'm proud of, and NRG is at the top of that list.
DR: Of the American sports leagues, the NBA has been by-far the biggest investor in esports. Multiple teams own their own esports franchises, and league is launching a 2K League early next year. Why has the NBA been so much faster to embrace esports than, say, the NFL or MLB?
AM: Both the [NBA] owners and Adam [Silver, the league's commissioner] have been incredibly forward thinking. There's a lot of overlap between the gamer and the NBA fan and the product that the NBA puts out there. Plus there are a lot of NBA players who are gamers now. De'Aaron Fox, one of our first-round picks this year, is sponsored by HyperX Gaming, which NRG is also sponsored by. We're just seeing more and more overlap.
Another reason is that the NFL and MLB are played outside. NBA games are in an arena. As an arena owner, when you see these giant crowd that are going to esports matches and tournaments, you're seeing an opportunity to host events and sell seats. And we've seen that not just with the Sixers, but we've also seen Madison Square Garden bought Counter Logic Gaming because MSG hosted the League Of Legends finals, and they saw the crowds and the excitement and the energy around it, so they wanted to get closer to it.
Last week, [Silver] said he would like to see the NBA and NBA broadcasts be a little more like Twitch in terms of having a lot of screens for you to track stats and message other fans. It's more interactive, more customizable. You can create a personalized experience of how you want to watch. I think we're gonna see a lot of that fast-paced, multiplatform, multitasking approach to NBA coverage to keep the younger generation interested.
DR: Last question—Alex, I can't let you go without asking for a Yankees prediction.
AR: I'm an independent journalist now! I have to do my best to remove rooting interest.
DR: I can give you lessons, if you'd like.
AR: I'd like that.