Interview | NBA Legend Rick Fox Talks eSports and League of Legends
Image Credit: Charley Gallay / Getty Images
Basketball legend Rick Fox is best known for his work with the LA Lakers, where he became a three-time NBA champion and was a major part of his team’s incredible success. However, Fox is now helping lead the charge in a brand new era of professional competition, becoming an instrumental figure in the swelling interest surrounding eSports.
The world of eSports is steadily growing, and Rick Fox is proving to be a great mouthpiece for the industry, helping mediate between both the experienced and casual viewer by way of his celebrity status. This is a man who had a positive discussion about pro gaming on The View, so it’s no exaggeration to say that he’s making a big impact when it comes to legitimizing a profession that those unfamiliar with the gaming industry may have trouble understanding.
But Fox’s outspokenness regarding his appreciate of eSports isn’t merely a result of his personal admiration of pro gaming – he’s also financially invested in the industry, too. In December 2015, Fox purchased the professional League of Legends team Gravity Gaming, rebranding them as Echo Fox. The likes of Shaquille O’Neal, Alex “A-Rod” Rodriguez and Jimmy Rollins later followed suit, becoming co-owners of the eSports organization NRG eSports.
With so much buzz surrounding the world of eSports and the growing presence of established athletes in the profession, we took the opportunity to have a chat with Fox about his team, League of Legends and the future of the sport:
What first inspired you to form Echo Fox?
My experience at the North American LCS championship was the moment I went from being a fan to desiring to be an owner. All of my past experiences competing in MSG came to surface after seeing the crowd, being backstage and giving the pregame speech to the team that won as well as celebrating with them after.
You’ve been a key figure in explaining the value of eSports to a more casual audience. Do you think that eSports can ever really break down those barriers and see competitive gaming become viewed as a legitimate sport?
I think we are already past that point. If you look at ESPN and Yahoo Sports you will see eSports shown on the front page, listed before many traditional sports.
You’re perhaps the first major sports personality to openly advocate and invest in eSports. Do you think your involvement will inspire others in professional sports to look at eSports in a different way, and perhaps make similar investments? Have you had any feedback from your fellow sportsmen and women?
We are already seeing this take place with the entrance of Shaq and A-Rod. I’ve heard from many other athletes not only of their support but also their desire to one day become owners in eSports.
How do you feel eSports compares to sports such as basketball, football and baseball? Even though you run Echo Fox and are obviously invested in the industry, do you think it’s fair to categorize it alongside professional sports, or that it should exist within its own bubble?
I think eSports is already on the same level of as basketball, football and baseball. These athletes spend years perfecting their craft and are constantly training to make themselves better. eSports requires not only a high level of physical abilities but also mental capabilities.
You’ve previously expressed that investing in Echo Fox was both a “business and personal decision.” How did both contribute to you taking the plunge?
I think it’s important for every startup to have a high level of passion for the field they are entering. I have been passionate about video games my entire life.
As part of your push to take eSports mainstream, you’ve announced a partnership with (eSports and marketing agency) VFD eSports. How vital do you think this move will be in both increasing the growth of Echo Fox and eSports as a whole?
Since joining the eSports world, professionalism has been paramount to the organization we are building at Echo Fox. VFD eSports has been instrumental in bringing in sponsorship deals for our organization. More importantly, their activation with the sponsors and our brand in general, which includes creating content, has helped best position Echo Fox to grow rapidly. A partnership like this is an important step for growing our brand and I think you will start to see more top eSports teams do this as well.
Earlier this year Echo Fox ran into Visa issues, something which has become a hot topic in eSports and has plagued other professional eSports players, too. What do you think needs to change on a governmental level to prevent this from happening in the future?
I think the US government has been great to work with. Our issues stemmed from signing the players too close to the start of the season. The government granted the players P-1A Visas as they do for internationally recognized athletes.
With you now having a heavy involvement in the League of Legends community, how are your own LoL skills? Are there any other famous faces you know of who are surprisingly proficient at the game? Do you think there could be a chance we’d see a celebrity-only League of Legends match in the future?
Before Echo Fox, I was progressing nicely. However, the recent duties of running a startup have taken priority. There are a lot of celebrities out there who play LoL and I would love to see a celebrity match in the future.
What are your plans for Echo Fox from here on out?
We plan to continue laying the foundation to sustain the growth we are committed to delivering. We strive to be a leader in the space and provide an atmosphere where players want to play. I see Echo Fox continuing to be a leader in eSports and bringing eSports further into the mainstream.