Apparently unwilling to let Rick Fox have League of Legends all to himself, Shaquille O'Neal and the Yankees' A-Rod just announced that they are getting into the esports business by investing in the squarely middle-of-the-road LoL and Counter-Strike organisation NRG. In a statement to The Daily Dot, NRG chairman Andy Miller said that Shaq "has been circling the space, and during CES he kind of fell in love with it, and he said 'I'm all in, let's do it.'"
— SHAQ (@SHAQ) March 17, 2016
(No, I'm not entirely convinced Shaq knows what he's talking about, either.)
NRG already had ties to pro sports via owners Miller and Mark Mastrov, members of the consortium that acquired the Sacremento Kings basketball team three years ago. Shaq is another part-owner of the Kings franchise, and is now following his fellow owners into their new esports venture.
NRG are not an elite esports organisation, but both their League of Legends and Counter-Strike teams are decent. Their LoL team is currently at 8-8 in the autumn standings, and the only teams placed more highly are the 15-1 Immortals and traditional juggernauts like TSM, Cloud9 and CLG. Within the slightly less well-regarded North American Counter-Strike landscape, NRG are just a couple rungs down the ladder from the top teams (though that puts them pretty low in the global pecking order). According to their remarks to The Daily Dot, the team is looking to expand into other games as well.
Given that this appears to be a joint investment from Shaq, A-Rod and the White Sox's Jimmy Rollins, and given that NRG have made no reference to new ownership, it doesn't seem like the sports stars have gone "all-in" on esports the way Rick Fox has. Rick Fox spends time on his team and even seems to watch their games. He owns his team outright. The trio of new investors to NRG sounds like they may be testing the waters rather than diving right in. A-Rod doesn't seem to have publicly acknowledged the move yet; Miller, meanwhile, stressed the similarities in the career arcs of the LoL players and their new backers, implying a mentoring relationship for them.
We've reached out to NRG for comment as to the nature of the team's relationship with its new investors and whether they will play a role beyond providing financial backing for the team.
Top photo: NRG after a match in NA LCS, by Riot Games. Source