The hands of an esport gamer clutching the controler at Encore Esports Gaming Lounge in New Rochelle on Thursday, December 20, 2018. 

E Sports

Ravens unveil esports league

The Baltimore Ravens are making an ambitious push into the world of esports.

The NFL team announced Monday the creation of the Ravens Gaming League, featuring public tournaments and activities, as well as a multi-year affiliation with Esports Entertainment Group (EEG).

The Ravens Gaming League will start with a Fortnite event set to run June 25-27. A Madden NFL 22 event will follow later in the summer, with the dates yet to be revealed.

Ravens senior vice president of marketing Brad Downs said in a statement, “We are excited to launch this new initiative and explore the benefits for our fans. The gaming and esports industry offer unique opportunities to engage with our fan base, in addition to Ravens players who have shown interest in gaming and esports.”

The Ravens Gaming League will use EEG’s Esports Gaming League (EGL) platform.

EGL chief executive officer Grant Johnson added in a statement, “Our esports tournament platform continues to gain strong traction among top-tier professional sports franchises. We are delighted to add the Ravens as our first NFL partner to go live on our platform.”

Ravens fullback/defensive lineman Patrick Ricard said in a video posted on the team’s Twitter feed, “You’ll have the chance to win cash prizes, autographed merch and the opportunity to test your skills against me.”

Registration is open for the Fortnite competition, for which the champion will receive $500 plus a Ravens “VIP home game experience” featuring a hotel stay, transportation to the game, team merchandise and the chance to compete against a Ravens player.

Details can be found at BaltimoreRavens.com/gaming.

–Field Level Media

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.

5 NFC East Players/Owners Involved with Esports

Odell Beckham Jr. – WR New York Giants
The star wide out made a sizable investment in Vision Esports back in February. Kevin Durant and the St. Louis Cardinals joined him in a $38 million cap raise for the ownership group that is behind esports organization Echo Fox, (owned and operated by former NBA player Rick Fox) video game record keeper Twin Galaxies and media company Vision Entertainment.
It isn’t clear what games ODB plays himself, but if he’s invested in esports, he’s likely a gamer as well. He could, however just be a shrewd businessman who knows opportunity when he sees it.
If he is a gamer, it’s likely that he is playing Fortnite – along with the rest of the world. One of the purchasable in-game skins called “Brite Gunner” bears a striking resemblance to the star receiver. As such, he’s become the subject of a lot of clickbait videos that claim to be playing with the receiver, when in actuality, they are just playing with the skin. (See screenshot below.)

 
Jerry Jones – Owner Dallas Cowboys
He’s not a player, but as owners go, Jones is one of the most recognizable in the league. In 2017 he bought – along with real estate mogul John Goff – one of the longest running esports organizations, CompLexity Gaming.
He moved the organization to Texas where he also had a hand in developing the largest esports arena in North America. Technically in Arlington, the stadium is 100,000 square feet and is only about a mile from AT&T Stadium, home of the Cowboys.
Founded in 2003, CompLexity is ancient in the esports world. It fields teams in CS:GO, Call of Duty, Rocket League and Fortnite, to name a few.
However, it is not present in the two largest franchise-based esports leagues in North America. Riot’s North America League Championship Series (NALCS) and Blizzard’s Overwatch League (OWL.) The buy-ins for those leagues are $10 million and $20 million respectively. The majority of teams in both the NALCS and the OWL are backed either fully or in-part by traditional sports owners. Those include NFL owners Stan Kroenke (Los Angeles Rams) and Robert Kraft (New England Patriots)  as well as NBA owners Andy Miller (Sacramento Kings)  and Wesley Edens (Milwaukee Bucks).
Derrius Guice – RB Washington Redskins
The rookie running back is projected to be the starter for Washington this season. He was drafted in the second round, 59th overall, but many thought the LSU star would go in the first round.
So why’d he slide?
There were rumors about his professionalism and maturity, but they didn’t come from LSU, which assured he would pass every test of character. The other, more inexplicable reason is that he is “addicted to video games.”


“I never saw a concern with that until I started seeing reports that said I probably game too much,” Guice told Fox Sports reporter Garland Gillen before the draft. “I was still getting my workouts in, I was still ready for pro day, I don’t see what the problem is. A lot of people in pro sports play video games, so I don’t see why you would be worried to draft someone who does.”
Honestly, if I was a coach, I would much rather my players be dropping into Fortnite games than dropping Jägerbombs. You can’t workout 24/7, and if the rest of the time is spent being competitive online, seems good to me. That sentiment was echoed by fellow gamer and teammate in the backfield Chris Thompson.
For a player who outrushed Jacksonville Jaguars’ star back Leonard Fournette in 2016 at LSU, Washington may have come out like bandits with the seventh back taken in the NFL Draft.
Oh, and for fantasy players, he’s projected as a 4th/5th rounder. Like former teammate Fournette, he could be a steal as an RB2.
Dez Bryant – WR Free Agent
While not technically in the division anymore, the former Cowboys star is a huge Madden fan. In 2017, he played against Dave Grunfeld from NFL.com. It was a close game with Grunfeld taking an early lead but eventually losing to Bryant.
“It’s the best simulation of the game out there,” Bryant said when asked about how it compares to an actual game.
In the third quarter, in true Dez fashion he looked past the wide-open check down and threw a corner route to his virtual persona in triple coverage. And, in true Dez fashion, he caught it.


As he waits to find his next team destination, he probably is playing a lot of Xbox. A huge fan of DragonBall Z, it’s likely Dez has checked out the new fighting game Dragon Ball FighterZ, which recently announced the formation of an official tournament circuit after becoming a favorite title in the fighting game community.
Zach Ertz – TE Philadelphia Eagles
Before the Eagles took down the Pats in the Super Bowl, Ertz and some of his teammates took on a different challenge —  playing troops stationed overseas in a variety of esports.
It came from the non-profit Joint Forces Initiative, which helps connect athletes and celebrities with military members all over the world.
“It builds up the morale,” said airman Jonathan Cunningham to FOX29 photojournalist Bill Rohrer. “If you’re able to be happy when you’re out there. I’ve been there. Little things like this just bring up the morale and perform better for the Air Force, the Army, what have you.”
Receiver Mark Hollins played Overwatch and defensive end Steve Means played Madden. Means ended up throwing a touchdown to the virtual Ertz, while the real one stood over his shoulder, watching the action.
Joint Forces founder Greg Zinone told Rohrer how gaming can help bring people together.
“What that controller does in their hand, with just playing a video game for that long. It breaks down barriers and it is like you are almost playing your best friend in the basement,” Zinone said.
This is the part three of our division by division look at esports in the NFL. For future reading here’s Clay Matthews, Kyle Long and the NFC North. And here’s Richard Sherman, Todd Gurley and the NFC West. 

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.”
https://twitter.com/Ky1eLong/status/801089430584819713?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.dexerto.com%2Fnews%2Fnfl-player-tweets-teammates-wanting-know-esports%2F23534
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.