Oakland-based esports media company Ultimate Gaming League and Ontario-based new media and entertainment startup Antares Gaming announced Tuesday the launch of four competitive gaming teams (“franchises”) led by current and former NFL players. The teams, which are being supported and managed using technology from Antares Gaming under the UGL banner, are Da Fam Gaming, Ochocinco Gaming, 4 Brothers Gaming, and Glitxh Gaming.
Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Da Fam Gaming is being led by captain and San Francisco 49ers quarterback Josh Johnson, who is also the co-founder and chief athlete officer of the UGL. He is joined by legendary running back Marshawn Lynch, Baltimore Ravens cornerback Marcus Peters, and Pro Madden NFL player Mark “BAM” Samuels, Jr.
Ochocinco Gaming is named after former wide receiver Chad “Ochocinco” Johnson, who serves as the team’s captain. His team also features cornerbacks Darius Slay from the Philadelphia Eagles and Desmond King from the Tennessee Titans.
Glitxh Gaming is led by Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Sidney Jones IV, who is joined by wide receivers Preston Williams from Miami Dolphins and Rashard Higgins from the Cleveland Browns, and Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Avonte Maddox.
Finally, 4 Brothers Gaming is captained by Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Maxx Crosby and is joined by Raiders running back Josh Jacobs and quarterback and gaming manager Brogan Roback.
Each team has pledged to give 10% of revenue to a charity of their choice.
In addition to Antares Gaming and the UGL, these teams are also being supported by Oakland-based influencer software services company Opera Event and Newport Beach, California-based gaming talent management company Stargaze Gaming.
The four UGL teams will compete in ongoing seasons of Call of Duty, NBA 2K21, Madden NFL 21, and FIFA 21, according to the announcement, with a special draft planned for Dec. 21 that will help to build out their semi-pro teams from within their own communities. Beyond the draft, the teams will host a series of events and competitions during the month of December to celebrate, including the UGL’s Pros vs. Joes Call of Duty Deathmatch presented by sponsor HyperX on Dec. 15, featuring 16 NFL athletes and members of the UGL gaming community.
UGL Co-Founder Josh Johnson told The Esports Observer in an interview on Sunday that the concept of these teams was just a natural evolution of the Pros vs. Joes gaming competitions that he and his friends had been participating in with the UGL community since its launch.
The idea was made flesh through the technology created by Antares Gaming (and supported by other stakeholders), which aims to provide the tools to bring celebrities and their fans together through play. Antares Gaming CEO Dushan Batrovic told TEO in an interview on Monday that fans don’t just want to watch their favorite athletes or celebrities play games, they want to join them in Madden NFL, Call of Duty, or whatever they are playing. Antares provides a platform for this, along with a component that rewards the community for interacting with the teams they follow and for creating their own content, among other activities.
Johnson said that initial talks with Antares came about through mutual acquaintances who were in the same circles as UGL and knew Batrovic. At the time, UGL was kicking around the concept of creating multiple all-star teams featuring NFL athletes under the league banner.
“The partnership came about through our agency, Rumble Gaming, which represents UGL,” Johnson said. “With UGL, we were doing gaming leagues, a Pros vs Joes concept. And that’s how we started working with other athletes, just as a way to engage with the gaming community. And from those Pros vs Joes tournaments, the idea of doing teams came about, and that’s when Antares came in with the tech. Once we mapped out everything, everybody loved the idea and just wanted the opportunity to pursue it. And now we’re at the point of being ready to launch it.”
“I guess through mutual connections,” Batrovic said. “One of my friends introduced us to some of the guys at UGL, Stargaze, and Josh, and we started talking.”
Batrovic said that in addition to these teams, they started talking about the concept of empowering communities through amplification of their contributions using the Antares Gaming technology, the crux of which is “now you’re the celebrity.”
“You have millions of fans out there, you have an opportunity to invite two, three, 5,000 of them to come along and join,” Batrovic said. “And now the 10 hours of streaming that you’re putting out because of this team around you that’s already generating content, that’s driving engagement, and now they’re doing it on behalf of the brand. It creates a bigger stage for that smaller group, those micro-influencers, or smaller streamers. It also gives the celebrities, the athletes an amplification of what they’re doing. So in my mind, that worked really well together.”
Initially, the UGL was not solely online-focused, but was also tied to physical in-person events. The COVID-19 pandemic shifted the concept of UGL for Johnson in 2020, but it was also the impetus for the idea of building something bigger.
“We had a small presence online, but that wasn’t the focus before COVID-19. We would have Pros vs Joes matches online – I would do one with fans, offer monthly challenges, and then we’d give out prizes for that. But that wasn’t really what we were focused on. We were more focused on doing this in-person and we had different lounges [in Oakland], one for the adults, and one for the kids. And that was kind of our initial approach that we wanted to take with other athletes… but COVID changed everything. It made everything go online and it’s how we got to this concept of doing franchises with athletes… but with the whole pandemic, it really just allowed us to grow as a team, learn how to use remote capabilities to benefit what we were already doing. And it’s been a positive more than a negative, from that standpoint.”
If all goes as planned, UGL and these new teams will generate revenue through partnerships and advertising using the Antares platform, according to Batrovic.
“It’s an ad-based model, so this particular market is a really attractive one,” he said. “There are a lot of advertisers that are looking to deploy capital into the gaming world. It’s a young audience, it’s economically affluent. They don’t watch a lot of linear TV, they don’t read magazines. So it’s a coveted group that advertisers are looking to put money into in the right ways. And so there are a bunch of brands that are already coming online and a bunch more will be doing the same.”
As of this writing, those brand partners include endemic gaming peripherals brand HyperX and non-endemic apparel company Roots.
For Johnson, his work with the UGL and these new teams are about his love of gaming and supporting his community as much as it is about making money. He pointed out that he has been gaming for probably as long as he has been playing football, starting in the Atari home console age all the way into the current generation of video game consoles. His efforts are also about giving back to the community and helping young people through the foundation he co-founded with his cousin Marshawn Lynch, the Fam1st Family Foundation.
“I play games as a hobby for fun because this is something that I’ve been doing my whole life,” Johnson said, I’ve been playing since the Atari days, then on to Nintendo, Super Nintendo, N64, DreamCast, PlayStation, PSOne, PS2, PS3, PlayStation 4. I look at gaming the same way as I do football. If you have the chance to create economic opportunity off of it, I think anyone should do that around anything that they have a passion for, but to be able to share that with a community and also be able to empower others, by also creating a platform that you can share — I think that gives it way more value to me because that aligns with who I am as a person.
“I have a foundation and I know a lot of kids game, so we can easily incorporate the youth in this. We already do that with UGL: I have high school leagues and other things of that nature. So, this shows who I am as a person, what my passions are, and the things I have been doing my whole life.”
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