The Intersection of the NFL and Esports: AFC West

The overlap between the NFL and video games is massive. The players are actively gaming in their free time and many of the owners are directly or indirectly invested in the industry. I am going division by division highlighting star players on the field who also have a love for video games/esports.
Marshawn Lynch – RB Oakland Raiders
BeastMode is an investor in NRG Esports, an avid Call of Duty and Fortnite player and was even a character in a scene in Call of Duty Black Ops III campaign.
At NRG Esports, Lynch joined a star-studded investor group that contains Alex Rodriguez, Shaquille O’Neal, Ryan Howard and Jennifer Lopez, among other athletes and celebrities. The organization was started by Sacramento Kings co-owners Andy Miller and Mark Mastrov and has top-level talent in a variety of games including Overwatch, Rocket League and Fortnite.
He has been an outspoken advocate for Call of Duty for years and Treyarch – the developer of Black Ops 3 – rewarded him by putting him in the background of a scene in the campaign. Lynch called it “one of the highlights of my career.”

(He’s at the back table, sitting on the left, drinking aggressively)
He can also be found playing Fortnite and crashing Conan’s Clueless Gamer set to rip the heads off some fools in Doom.
Von Miller – LB Denver Broncos
The Clueless Gamer video that Lynch crashed was supposed to be between Josh Norman and Miller but if BeastMode wants in, he gets in.

Miller is also a huge gamer himself and thinks that gaming is a natural extension of NFL players competitive instinct.
“As athletes, we compete over everything, and a game like ‘Call of Duty’ is about as competitive as it gets,” Miller told ESPN’s Jon Robinson in 2012. “With the competitive aspect of the game, you can be down a couple of kills and you just want to come back. That’s what draws all athletes to ‘Call of Duty.’ There is just so much competitive spirit involved.”
He has been a gamer his whole life growing up on Tecmo Bowl and Contra as a kid. In addition to shooter games he also plays a lot of sports games but – at least at the time of that ESPN interview – said FIFA and NBA 2K were bigger communities than Madden.
“Everybody plays “FIFA.” Sure, there are guys on the team that love “Madden,” but what people might not realize is “FIFA” has the biggest online community out there, and “2K13” might be second.”
FIFA’s success as an esport has a lot to do with pure fluidity, it’s likely the best sports simulation gaming experience on the market.
Eric Berry – S Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs safety has battled more off-the-field adversity than just about anyone in the NFL. Most football fans will remember his fight with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma that forced him to miss multiple years; but what they might not know is the role that video games helped play in his recovery.
“The thing that kept me mentally sharp was playing video games. That’s the way I was getting reps,” Berry told SportTechie’s Mark J. Burns. “A lot of people don’t understand that visualization is one of the most powerful things you can do. Doing that through a video game where you put yourself through a situation in a first person point of view and you see it from a big picture point of view from how things work together, it can work wonders.”
Especially for someone missing the football field, Madden is the closest thing he could get for a while. In addition to Madden he also plays Call of Duty and told Burns that game can help with decision-making and critical thinking.
“The cerebral part of gaming, some people don’t look at it as a skill, that’s definitely a skill — to be able to think, react and maneuver so quickly,” Berry told Burns.
Tyreek Hill – WR Kansas City Chiefs
Hill is one of the most explosive players in the game today but when he’s not at practice or studying the playbook, he’s dropping into Fortnite games. According to comments on his Twitch stream on Reddit, he’s actually pretty good.
I play like three hours (at a time),” Hill told Deaundra Allen at the Kansas City Star. “I’m getting ready to set up my camera tonight so I can Twitch and people can see me play the game.”
His stream name is “imfasterthanya” but only has 2,100 total views as a channel. Especially during the offseason players need a way to fill time. Many find it through video games and studying the playbook, and for Hill it’s in that order.
“After I get done playing Fortnite, I try to schedule in some downtime for my playbook, watching film and watching other receivers,” he told the KC Star.
He plays with guys on the team like new quarterback Pat Mahomes and also talks trash to other AFC playoff rivals like Le’Veon Bell.

Joey Bosa – DE Los Angeles Chargers
Bosa has already made a name for himself as one of the standout young defensive stars in the league after the Chargers took him third in the 2016 NFL Draft. Coming from a national championship at Ohio State, Bosa was the man around Columbus. But following a violation of the school’s athletic policy, Bosa opted to shy away from the limelight and get a one-bedroom place off campus that had “little more than an Xbox, DVDs, and football gear,” wrote Sports Illustrated.
It was a place free from distractions, and for Bosa, a lifelong gamer, it was exactly what he needed. He finished the season as a first-team All-American and the Buckeyes went 12-1. The SI article doesn’t say what he was playing during that time, but according to an interview he did with Inverse, he has been a Call of Duty fan since he was young.
“I’ve been playing video games my entire life, ever since I had the Nintendo 64 that my grandma got me,” Bosa told Inverse. “Then I got my PS2 and have just been moving onto playing Call of Duty, and I’ve been a big gamer all of my life, me and my friends. It’s been a big part of our after-school time hanging out. It’s kept us off the streets and out of trouble.”
He found a reprieve from distractions through video games while growing up and while at Ohio State. Now he still plays with his friends back home, mostly Call of Duty, Rocket League and FIFA. I’ll bet head coach Anthony Lynn prefers him doing that than getting into the many distractions in Los Angeles.
This is part five of our division-by-division look at the overlap of the NFL and esports/gaming. The articles come out bi-weekly and the NFC can be found here with the West, North, East and South.

Five Players in the NFC West Who Play Esports

Richard Sherman – CB San Francisco 49ers
An avid Call of Duty player, Sherman attended the Call of Duty World Championships in 2016. He had plans to attend the DOTA 2 International – boasting the highest prize pool in esports at over 24 million in 2018 – and teased the possibility of investing in esports in the future.
In an interview with ESPN’s Jacob Wolf, Sherman said “We’re competitors in every aspect of our lives and we’re always looking for another opportunity to compete, I think [Call of Duty] gives everybody a chance to be good at it.”
It’s that competitive nature that makes so many football players’ gamers and vice-versa, so many gamers football fans.
With Sherman’s move from Seattle to San Francisco, the key piece of the Legion of Boom will be in Silicon Valley – one of North America’s esports hubs.
In that same interview, Sherman said he might be interested in investing in esports one day.
“[Esports] has grown so rapidly over the last couple years, I think everyone is starting to [take] notice and pay attention,” he says. “These guys are out here competing for $2 million [at the Call of Duty World Championships]. That’s real money. That’s as real as it gets. I’m looking forward to seeing how that industry grows and maybe, maybe getting more involved.”
One organization he could consider investing in is NRG Esports. Sacramento Kings co-owners Andy Miller and Mark Mastrov founded the team based out of San Francisco in December of 2015. They have a slew of name-brand athlete investors already. Shaq, Alex Rodriquez, Jennifer Lopez, Ryan Howard, and Marshawn Lynch – just to name a few.
Sherman is fully focused on recovering from his Achilles tear and transitioning to a new team. As his recovery progresses and he becomes settled in the bay, look for him to make more appearances in the esports world.
Todd Gurley – RB Los Angeles Rams
Gurley runs through opposing defenses like a freight train and plays Call of Duty the same way.
“I’m aggressive, I don’t really care if I get killed… If I get killed 50 times so be it as long as I get to kill as many people as I can,” Gurley told GamerHub TV at the release party for Black Ops 4 the latest iteration of one of the longest running game series ever.
On professional gamers: “Those guys are beasts out there, I did a thing with Matt Forte and we had like two or three kills and those guys had 15, 20, 30 kills. Those guys are beasts, I totally respect what they do.”

“We had a Rams Call of Duty group chat my rookie year, it’s crazy popular in the league. It’s a game that’s been around for so long that we were all playing that in college and in high school,” Gurley said in the video.
While Gurley is an avid COD player, one of his primary blockers has taken a love for the game to a whole new level.
Rodger Saffold – G Los Angeles Rams
Saffold was one of the first NFL players to make a big push into the esports industry. In fact, he was one of the first traditional sports athletes across all sports to get in. In 2014 he helped to found Rise Nation, an esports organization competing in Call of Duty. Now he serves as CEO and under him, Rise has become one of the dominant teams in COD.
2018 has been good to Rise as the team went 13-1 in the first stage of the CWL Pro League before going undefeated in CWL Atlanta Open to establish themselves as one of the top teams in North America this season.
“When I started figuring out that esports was growing, and I saw they were all over the internet on Twitch — when I saw that there were these huge events — I was like, ‘OK, I need to get into this,” Saffold told ESPN’s Imad Khan in 2016.
In the locker room, his teammates are curious and Saffold does what he can to introduce them to esports.
“I always get questions like ‘Hey, how is our team doing?’ [and] like ‘Hey, what’s going on, what’s going down this weekend?'” he said in the ESPN interview.
Saffold started Rise Nation when the team was still in St. Louis. The move to Los Angeles was positive for his – and Stan Kroenke’s – esports business. LA is the home of major game developers Riot and Blizzard and the site of tournaments year round. His fellow Ram teammates – and now the Chargers as well – have all the opportunity in the world to be involved in esports, with Saffold as a model, that floodgate could open soon.
David Johnson – RB Arizona Cardinals
In addition to being a star running back and top fantasy pick, Johnson is also a huge fan of Call of Duty.
(I promise there are more esports than just COD, it just happens to be the favorite of many NFL players, along with Fortnite.)
There is no doubt that the man was gaming while he recovered from his injury last year. Especially now that he received a custom, portable Xbox system from fellow gamer and ex-NFL player Hank Baskett.
Baskett was at one point named a co-owner of Denial Esports but that company folded because of a history of not paying it’s employees. That’s all happened prior to Baskett’s involvement, he was just caught up in the cross-fire.

Bobby Wagner and Earl Thomas – LB/S Seattle Seahawks
Wagner and Thomas both attended PAX in 2015, one of the largest gaming conventions in the world. While there they played a couple of games of Madden (Thomas won both by a small margin, 10-7, 7-0) and talked Destiny and Madden ratings with GeekWire reporter Taylor Soper.
“I think I’m a 99,” said Thomas who was rated 95 in that year’s game.
He also wanted to be clear on his geekiness, “I don’t think I’m a geek, I think I’m Earl Thomas.”
Wagner said he had a unique motivation – staying on top of the familial food chain. “I like to play with my nephews a bunch and I need to make sure I stay up with these games so they never beat me,” he told Soper.
Between Wagner, Sherman and Thomas, there were definitely some heated games of Madden in the Seahawks locker room. With 14 Pro Bowl appearances between the three defensive stars, I imagine the games were pretty low scoring.

Five Players in the NFC North Who Play Esports

Clay Matthews – LB Green Bay Packers
The former USC star interned for a day at Sledgehammer Games, one of the rotating developers of Call of Duty. While there, he donned the exoskeleton from Advanced Warfare a COD game from 2014.
Like any intern, he had to take his licks. The exoskeleton helps power him to do everything from package deliveries to coffee runs. He did caution the group before the job began.
“I want you all to treat me like any other intern, but, once these four hours are up, I’ll return to being Clay, and I’ll remember everybody’s faces so…”

If I was a developer at Sledgehammer, I wouldn’t be messing with the six-time pro bowl LB wearing an exoskeleton, but that’s just me.
Blake Martinez – LB Green Bay Packers
Martinez hasn’t been around to accumulate as many pro bowls as counterpart Matthews but in 2017 he finished tied for third in the NFL in solo tackles. That ferocity extends to the virtual arena where Martinez is a successful DOTA 2 player.
Typically NFL players prefer shooters like Call of Duty and Fortnite, or sports simulation games like Madden, NBA 2K and FIFA. Martinez opted for a different genre, one that makes up some of the most popular esports worldwide: MOBAs.
Multi-player Online Battle Arenas are generally PC-exclusive and the two most popular examples are League of Legends and DOTA 2. He’s no slouch, boasting a rating that puts him in the top 30% of players worldwide.
Martinez has become an outspoken proponent of esports in the Packers locker room; he has even stated his desire to get the Packers ownership group invested in an esports franchise. It’s a move that has been made by multiple NBA teams but no NFL team has put its weight behind an esports franchise – yet.
In an interview with Moonduck Studio’s Elimination Mode III (EM3), Martinez likens DOTA support players to NFL captains, talks about succeeding through teamwork and even – after a bit of deliberation – puts out his old, slightly inappropriate username. I’m not going to write it, but trust me; it’s worth the watch. (Username at 20 min)

Kyle Long – G Chicago Bears
The three-time pro bowl lineman and ex-Oregon star (Sco Ducks) is, like Martinez, an ambassador for esports in his locker room. He once jokingly said that a PED test was unnecessary because he got his arm muscles from “years of holding an Xbox controller.”
Long has been a gamer for years and has attended many esports events, he was a featured guest at MLG’s Columbus Counter Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) Major in 2016.
He’s a bit of a jack-of-all-trades when it comes to games; there are people who have played with him in every game from Call of Duty to Rocket League.
As far as football families go, the Longs are royalty. Brother Chris is a star Defensive End for the defending Super Bowl champion Eagles. With their competitive nature there were probably some heated video game moments growing up, the only question is if HOF father Howie joined in.
Tarik Cohen – RB Chicago Bears
The Bears elusive back streams games on Twitch under the username “Tarikcohen” and seems to prefer shooting games like Call of Duty and Fortnite. He doesn’t take any crap from Twitch comments either.
“[A Twitch comment] said ‘this the only place where Tarik can get some dubs.’ Boy you stupid, we beat the Steelers, we beat the Ravens, both of them playoff teams. Now what you want to talk about??”
Besides Twitch, where else can a fan talk directly to an NFL player? And get called stupid in return?
Golden Tate / Ameer Abdullah – WR / RB Detroit Lions
Tate and Abdullah are two key pieces on the Lions offense. Fans of video games may remember when the two broke out a gaming celebration after scoring a touchdown against the Packers on Monday Night Football.
The two were pretending to control two teammates who were boxing when Abdullah tried to push Tate while playing. It’s happened to anybody who has played a lot of games with friends, sometimes the competition is so intense, you gotta take drastic measures to get the win.

There is no indication who’s idea the celebration was, but Tate is a known esports aficionado, in college he used his Pell Grant check on Call of Duty.
He says COD is how he stays connected with former teammates like Richard Sherman and Marshawn Lynch. He’s even considering in investing in a franchise and said when Reggie Bush was in Detroit, it was something they had talked about.
Personally, I dream of the day NFL players run the majority of the Call of Duty Pro League. With LA Rams Guard Rodger Saffold’s Rise Nation being one of the top teams in 2018, it might be more realistic than it seems.