As a three – time NBA champion with the Los Angeles Lakers, Rick Fox is no stranger to facing new challenges in the sports world. His foray into esports, however, has thrown the former first-round pick into a fast-paced world that he is still learning about each day. The owner of the newly created Echo Fox of the League of Legends Championship Series (LCS), Fox’s organization has already experienced many firsts — from the franchise’s inaugural victory on the opening day of the season, to its first setback when the team was forced to forfeit a game this past Saturday when it didn’t have enough eligible players available.
“The growth [in esports] is incredible to see,” Fox told ESPN following his squad’s match against Team Liquid on Sunday. “It’s a $750 million business, and in a couple of years it’s going to be a $2 billion industry. It mirrors everything I’ve experienced in my own professional sport environment, and so after doing enough research and doing my due diligence, I put together a team that’s obviously bigger than just myself.”
Video games are nothing new to Fox, an avid gamer since he was 12 years old. Fox had followed the esports scene for the past four years, watching as its popularity and acceptance in the mainstream media grew. With the help of his son Kyle — a fan of one of his father’s new league rivals, Counter Logic Gaming — Fox learned about the ins and outs of League of Legends before ultimately pulling the trigger on buying a spot in the LCS for the 2016 spring season.
“Out of all former NBA players, I’m the best Ms. Pacman player,” Fox said. “It was Galaga, a lot of Midway games, Centipede — all of the games that my dad would drop me off at the bowling alley and give me $20 as a kid. That was his way of spending time with me.”
Fox’s passion for gaming grew as he got an Atari during his informative years. When he left to attend the University of North Carolina to play for the Tar Heels, his interest in video games came along with him. Fox went from Centipede to playing the more modern traditional sports titles like Madden.
But what might have impacted his love for video games the most wasn’t a football or even a basketball game — it was playing World of Warcraft with his son.
“When [my son] was 10 years old, it was the first time I started to build a character in a world and teach [him] about life skills through that character,” Fox said. “And quite frankly, over the course of those four years, that was our character together.”
Enjoying traditional sports as a family is common across the globe, with adults passing down their fandom for a certain team or sport to their children. Dads bring their sons to a baseball game for the first time, hoping that an errant foul ball might fall into one of their mitts and create a memory that will last a lifetime. Fox and his son bonded through a shared love of playing and watching games together.
With the embrace of esports among today’s teenagers, could we see a future where it becomes commonplace for a parent to take a child to a competitive video gaming event?
“Yes, because there is a generation that’s grown up celebrating and enjoying competitive gaming,” Fox said. “For me, if I’m looking at myself and my relationship with my son through gaming, then I’m sure he and his son or daughter will share that love and passion, [as well]. That’s why I think you see esports taking off.”
Fox made the move to create Echo Fox and buy Gravity Gaming’s spot in the NA LCS in December.
“It was either pull the trigger and go or maybe miss the boat,” he said.
Echo Fox was one of the final teams to have its roster finalized, announcing an official starting five only a few days from the beginning of the season. The team’s biggest signing came in the form of one of Europe’s greatest mid laners, Henrik “Froggen” Hansen, who was voted in as his region’s representative at his position during the most recent all-stars event at the end of 2015.
“Even with the [short amount of time], it was worth going in,” Fox said. “It has been quick. We’ve owned the team now for about a month, and as you know, these are major organizations [we’re competing against]. Some of the infrastructures for these teams have 100-plus employees. They’ve grown over the years to mirror [traditional sport] franchises.”
The past month has been a whirlwind for the NBA TV analyst — from having to find a coach, staff and a general manager to simply getting to know the young men that are the first players in Echo Fox’s history. After agreeing to buy the team from Gravity Gaming, they were only left with a week and a half to put together a team that could compete with owners that have been living the esports life for half a decade now.
“We’re rookies at it — I’m a rookie at it,” Fox said. “There are going to be mistakes, which, quite frankly, we don’t shy away from. We immediately try to rectify [our mistakes], which we’ve done. We’re slowly moving forward to be the best organization we can.”
Although an entirely different court than he’s used to, Fox can see similarities between his old profession of basketball and his new job of owning a League of Legends team.
“I love the five-on-five aspect,” he said. “I love that it’s group dynamics, and that players have their own positions. I also like how those positions are stronger when the [entire team] works together.”
Looking into the near feature, Fox isn’t satisfied with only having one team in the esports space. He and the rest of the Echo Fox management are exploring different options in a number of various games, with a possible announcement coming in the next week.
A little more than a month ago, Echo Fox was nothing more than a fledgling organization getting together its branding, team name and upper management. Now, the team is in the premier League competition in North America, has signed one of Europe’s finest players in the region’s history, and is already working on other video game titles to explore.
The world of esports moves faster than the blink of an eye — and Fox is ready to not let another second pass him by.