Four-time NBA champion Tony Parker has taken on a big role in esports: Rainbow Six Siege World Cup ambassador.
As game developer Ubisoft prepares for the international, country-based tournament next summer, the company felt the former San Antonio Spur — and French national team player — would be a great fit to help spread the word.
It helps that Parker was already a bullish investor in esports, including a focus on esports at his basketball youth academy in France. Parker is currently the president and majority owner of the French professional basketball team ASVEL Basket.
Parker said he also started to invest in esports entities six or seven years ago.
“It’s something I’ve always been interested in and curious about,” Parker said. “I started playing video games when I was young and I’ve decided to keep it a big part of my life.”
Earlier this month, representatives from 45 nations started selecting national committees in preparation for the event. Qualifiers will begin this winter between 31 teams from Europe, Latin America, Asia Pacific, Middle East and North Africa. Those teams that qualify will then reach the World Cup, which includes 14 other invited teams, including the U.S., Canada and Brazil.
As teams compete, Parker said he’ll be intimately involved, specifically in mentoring players about global competition. Parker played more than 180 games for France at an international level, including a EuroBasket title.
He said just like traditional sports competition, there’s a natural path forward for more World Cup-style esports competitions. Parker won’t be surprised if esports is part of the Olympics sometime in the next decade.
But he’s not leaving stick and ball sports behind. His academy is basketball-first. Parker also sees a lot of synergies between esports and the traditional sports.
Even as live sports have returned to action, the boost has allowed esports teams to aggressively grow their audiences across social media.
“They can grow together, but esports is its own world and can fill up stadiums just like basketball,” he said. “There’s a lot of strategy that goes into it, coaches and trainers just like a basketball team.”
“If people don’t know, they have a hard time imagining it. But these are athletes that practice eight hours a day and are very committed to their sport,” he said. COVID-19 has helped show the world that esports provides a way to ensure competition can continue even in the midst of a global pandemic, Parker added.
The pandemic has sent video game usage and sales spiking, with companies like Nintendo reporting a 428% quarterly growth in revenue this summer, while Nielsen Video Game Tracking reported the number of people playing more video games was up 46% specifically because of the pandemic. The stay-at-home orders experienced across the globe have also helped streaming platform Twitch set viewership records for multiple months this year.
Parker’s role as an ambassador for the World Cup will be as much of a mentor position for the younger athletes as it is to help spread the word of the event.
“Many of these athletes are very young, so a lot of the role I play for the players and coaches is just an open discussion and sharing my experiences of being a professional athlete for 20 years,” he said. “Team competition is very different when you’re playing a World Cup. It’s a very different atmosphere and pressure when you’re putting the pride of your country on your back.”