Five Players/Owners in the AFC East Who Are Involved With New Sports

Rob Gronkowski – TE New England Patriots

Tom Brady’s favorite target plays Call of Duty the same way he plays on the football field: Aggressively.

“I like to run right up on you when I play,” Gronk told Jon Robinson at ESPN, “I’m the type of gamer who wants to grab the shotgun and go looking for you. It’s just not me, it’s not my personality, to sit back somewhere and wait for the action to happen. I’m out there making things happen.”

He did that interview back in 2012 during the Modern Warfare 3 era of COD. Back then he called the graphics amazing, saying “it feels like you’re out there in real life.”

Since Modern Warfare 3 there have been six COD titles with the next – Black Ops 4 – set to release in October. If Gronk thought the graphics were good back then, COD WWII probably blew his mind as it is by far the most realistic title to date.

Robert Kraft – Owner New England Patriots

Kraft is one of the most recognizable owners in the league and is also one of the few who have bought into esports in a big way. When Blizzard created the Overwatch League and opened spots for regional franchises, they put a $20 million price tag on each spot in the league.

In doing so, they priced out all but the largest of the endemic esports organizations and it’s clear Blizzard was focused on getting traditional sports owners to buy into esports.

It worked. The OWL attracted ownership groups led by Andy Miller and Mark Mastrov from the Sacramento Kings, Jeff Wilpon from the New York Mets, and Ed Snider from the Philadelphia Flyers. It also included NFL owners Stan Kroenke and Kraft whose Kraft Group bought into the league and named the team the Boston Uprising.

The Uprising was a middle of the pack team most of the year but went on a tear in Stage 3 when they went undefeated through ten games. On the back of that performance they made the first Overwatch League playoffs and will face off against Snider and the Philadelphia Fusion in the first round beginning on July 11th.

Kiko Alonso – LB Miami Dolphins

The former Duck star – as an Oregon graduate I am obligated to mention the university when I can, it’s in the student handbook – Alonso has made a name for himself as one of the best linebackers in the NFL, despite battling injuries and trades throughout his five years in the league.

He has been on three different teams going from the Bills to the Eagles in exchange for LeSean McCoy (more on him later) and then to the Dolphins for a first round pick. When moving around so much, it can be hard to bond with teammates but when arriving in Miami, Alonso used Call of Duty to mesh with fellow linebacker Jelani Jenkins.

“We’ve been playing some ‘Call of Duty,’ Jenkins told ESPN’s James Walker. “We’ve actually gone out to eat a little bit. He lives right near me. He lives by the beach. We just hang out. We have a lot of time off with this phase, so we get a chance to just kick it.”

It’s a team-building exercise that is popular around the league with players on every team playing Call of Duty and most playing with their teammates.

Teddy Bridgewater – QB New York Jets

When he joined the Minnesota Vikings, Bridgewater began studying the playbook immediately. He did so by playing Madden with the Vikings playbook which he imported into the game. It was a strategy he also employed while at Louisville, and it seemed to work out well for him there.

“I try to take as many reps as I can, whether it’s on a video game, playing Madden or in the playbook, just drawing it or just visualizing it in my head,” Bridgewater said to ESPN’s Ben Goessling in 2014. “I try to just maximize every rep I can get and every opportunity that I can take.”

As he was recovering from his nasty injury in 2016, the closest Bridgewater could get to actual reps was through Madden. At the very least it allowed him to keep testing routes and make sure his field vision was still on-point.

Considering it’s a strategy he employed through his last two stops, he has likely already imported the Jets playbook into his game and is working through the new offense. He showed flashes of brilliance through his first two seasons in the NFL but now will join a crowded QB competition with Josh McCown and top pick Sam Darnold for the starting position in New York.

LeSean McCoy – RB Buffalo Bills

Even though Shady called out Kiko Alonso on Instagram after the two were swapped in a trade, they do share a commonality in bonding with their teammates over Call of Duty.

“[When I was the Eagles] we will all just link up, we call things out in game and that’s your teammate so you kinda bond with them while you play the game,” McCoy told The Post Game in this video.

McCoy was facing off against Bengals WR AJ Green in a Call of Duty: Ghosts grudge match during that video. They also faced off in Madden, which Shady won.

“I’ve been a fan [of COD] for so long. I’m not a big game guy but I get up for Call of Duty. Wherever I go I gotta have Call of Duty tucked away,” McCoy said in the video. “Madden update I beat [Green] so now I gotta figure I’ll beat him in COD.”

McCoy won the grudge match with a score of 4-1 but Green wasn’t taking the L sitting down.

“You cheating mayne, you been watching my screen,” Green said to McCoy, jokingly.

Anybody who has played video games against their friends knows the arguments screen-peeking can cause, and it’s true for these guys as well, they just happen to also have 13 combined pro bowls.

This is the sixth article in a series looking at the overlap of the NFL and esports. All the NFC divisions and the AFC West can be found here.

Mitch Reames – The intersection of the NFL and esports

After graduating from the University of Oregon’s Journalism program, Mitch began writing about esports for SportTechie.

He identified the potential for content serving fans of both sports and esports, and will be focusing on that fan sector in his writing for NFP.

When he’s not playing Fortnite, Rocket League or Hearthstone, Mitch is rooting on the LA Rams, Oregon Ducks and his fantasy team.

Follow him on Twitter @Mitch_Reames