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.

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