Shaq Talks Investment Strategy, New Esports Venture

    • O'Neal first invested in esports in 2016, a few years after he saw his kids playing "League of Legends."
    • He leveraged his relationship with The General insurance for naming rights deal with NRG Esports.

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Shaquille O’Neal is excited for the future of esports and skeptical of cryptocurrency. 

“I make investments, not for the monetary reasons, but … if it’s going to change people’s lives — and if I see people enjoy doing it,” he told Front Office Sports.

With this philosophy, O’Neal has built an investment portfolio that puts estimates for his net worth at around $400 million. O’Neal’s résumé boasts an extensive list of investments and partnerships, including subscription-based fitness platform Beachbody, which went public last week in a $2.9 billion deal

The basketball star-turned-businessman intends to keep his total earnings private. “My mom really doesn’t like articles like that,” he said. “It feels like bragging.”

There is, however, one venture that O’Neal can’t help but talk about: esports. 

O’Neal walked his children into the League of Legends Season 3 World Championship back in 2013 and left with a piqued curiosity.

“One day I had the children and my boys said, ‘Dad, take us to the Staples Center!’” O’Neal recalled. “As soon as I turn the corner, it’s screaming kids, watching some other kids play video games.”  

“I never even heard of esports. But 60,000 kids jumping up and down, louder than a basketball game, I knew that this right here, it was going to be the future.” 

That experience prompted him to do some research. O’Neal, a minority owner of the Sacramento Kings, tapped Kings owner Vivek Ranadivé to introduce him to NRG Esports, an organization co-founded by another Kings co-owner, Andy Miller.

NRG funds teams that compete in a variety of video game leagues, including “Overwatch,” “Call of Duty,” and “Rocket League.” The group also boasts the most-viewed “Fortnite” roster, and an “Apex Legends” crew with multiple national and international titles under its belt.

O’Neal became an early investor in 2016, along with former baseball star Alex Rodriguez.

O’Neal is part of a star-studded investment group at NRG, and his business partners illustrate a larger demographic of esports backers: traditional sports venture capitalists and athletes. But O’Neal says that he manages his investment hands-on; he helps recruit players, assists with social media, and works with sponsors.  

His inclination to evaluate companies to their core allowed him to broker an innovative partnership between The General insurance and NRG’s Rocket League team.

“I’m not an expert on this type of investment,” O’Neal admits. 

Still, he’s an expert at his own strategy. Always looking for an authentic connection between brands, O’Neal partnered one of his longest-standing endorsements with NRG’s “Rocket League” team. 

In the partnership, NRG’s team has been renamed “The General NRG” for all future competitive and non-competitive events.

“Rocket League” World Champions NRG livestream their gameplay during the game’s Championship Series weekly tournament circuit on “The Grid” broadcast, which will now be presented by The General, allowing the team to elevate their Twitch streams and other productions. 

O’Neal is confident that esports will continue to grow. 

“I knew it then, I know it now: esports is still one of the fastest-growing industries and it just appeals to so many people,” O’Neal said.

The practically pandemic-proof model of esports — along with its growing proximity to traditional sports — is a  promising indicator of future success. Business Insider estimates total esports viewership will nearly double from its 335 million viewers in 2017 and reach 646 million by 2023. 

“[With traditional sports] it’s all about engagement,” O’Neal said. “It’s all about [the] audience. It’s all about fun. It’s all about excitement. It’s the same thing. So now there’s room for all the sports to be out at the same time. But esports, the kids are already doing this anyway.”

Because of his straightforward investment strategy, O’Neal is wary of investments that can’t be easily explained, like cryptocurrency. 

“I always get these companies that say, ‘Hey, we’ll give you $900,000 in crypto to send out a tweet.’ So I have to say, ‘OK, if you’re going to give me a million dollars worth of crypto, then why do you need me?’” O’Neal said. 

“You need me ‘cause once I put the tweet out and then people go to your site, that’s going to bring you $5, 6-7 billion. But how do I know you’re legit? A couple of my friends got caught up in a little scam like that one time.” 

The “NBA on TNT” personality has reached a level of success where many might start to become complacent, but O’Neal has a larger goal in mind.  

“Seventy-two percent of all professional athletes, when they’re done playing, have nothing,” O’Neal said. “I don’t want to be part of that stat. So now that I have this, I must cherish it because I want to start the creation of generational wealth for my family.”