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NRG enters the NA LCS: an interview with co-owner Gerard Kelly

by theScore Staff Nov 16 2015
Thumbnail image courtesy of NRG

NRG, the newest NA LCS organization, will be taking over the spot that Team Coast qualified for a few months back when they swept Enemy eSports in the Promotional Tournament. In the upcoming spring season that will see an entirely new North American LCS, NRG are a true hybrid team that mixes styles and ideologies across their organization. Their starting roster is a fusion of veterans and highly touted rookies, and they also mix two Korean speakers, Impact and GBM, with an English player in Moon and KonKwon as a bilingual linchpin at the support role.

In addition to NRG's diverse roster, they're also a diverse combination of owners as Gerard Kelly, formerly of Team Imagine, has a background in eSports while his other two co-owners, Andy Miller and Mark Mastrov, bring expertise from the traditional sports realm as the duo are co-owners of the NBA's Sacramento Kings franchise.

"Andy [Miller] was watching games and interviews and saw how insane League fans get about this game," Kelly told theScore eSports. "He saw how the hype was infectious and how the collective energy between fans, players and everyone was exponential. So we want to embody that. We want to be exciting and energetic, and we want fans and everyone else to join us and share in that energy and excitement."

To get more insight on North America's new title challenger, we spoke to Kelly about why NRG went with the players they picked, what they expect in 2016, and why their hybrid roster can succeed where others failed last year.

Q: Can you introduce yourself and explain how you came to be one of NRG's owners?

Gerard: My name is Gerard “Atlas” Kelly. A little under a year ago a friend of mine and I, after realizing we were way too old to try to be pro-gamers, decided to wet our feet with team ownership and were met with some success.

I met with several members of the Sacramento Kings ownership group and eventually partnered with Mark and Andy and came up with the concept behind NRG.

Q: How did you get involved with the Sacramento Kings? Why were they so interested in getting into eSports?

Gerard: Mark, Andy, and other members of the Kings ownership organization were seeking out people in the scene and had met with a couple of people. They really feel this is a growing field and think they have a lot to offer. After a couple of meetings, Mark, Andy and I decided we were a good fit and we decided to quickly push forward.

Q: How did you go about building your roster?

Gerard: I had met Impact a while ago and really liked him. He had a really good attitude, has accomplished a lot and still has a drive to win and share his experience with a team.

Q: What were some specific characteristics you looked for in building your team?

Gerard: The only definable thing I could list is a drive to compete in a team environment. If you met any of my players you would see how unique they are: Impact is this Titan who really wants to use his experience and lead a team to success, GBM has this incredible personalty that I just haven’t seen in pro-gamers outside of maybe Hai, and Moon is so young but has a better work ethic and drive to improve than most adults I know.

Q: What are your thoughts on the changing landscape of the LCS?

Gerard: We think we have a lot to offer with the varied knowledge that we bring to the table.

I am very concerned with how players are treated and compensated in the space. I've hit some very hard walls with some players, but I think we can bring some positive things to the environment.

Q: Is it a bit intimidating to go up against some of NA's more established, older teams as the new kids on the block?

Gerard: No, I think its super exciting. Most of the other team owners have been great. Ive spent a lot of time with Andy "Reginald" Dinh and I was very pleasantly surprised with how intelligent and earnest he is, and Jack [Etienne of Cloud9] has been super helpful every time I've dealt with him.

Q: What is your take on the fluctuating ownership in LCS—that is, why do you think so many teams are selling, and does that affect the confidence you have in your acquisition?

Gerard: I think the environment is changing and it takes a lot to successfully run an eSports business. It seems like it's very hard for younger teams to stay above water and compete against the older teams. We put a lot of thought into building an infrastructure that would facilitate success, so I feel pretty confident.

Q: Why did you decide to buy an LCS spot instead of moving up through the challenger scene? Do you think there are any advantages/disadvantages to that?

Gerard: I had some experience in the Challenger Series before this, but for the scope of the NRG vision the LCS is really the only option for what we are trying to accomplish.

Q: Take us through each of the players on your team and tell us why they were a perfect fit for your organization.

Gerard: I really liked [Impact] when I first met him. He has accomplished so much and still remains very grounded. He was the person I wanted to build my roster around.

[Moon] is super young. I think in time he will turn out to be a great player, and I wanted to put him around veteran players that can help him grow, learn and be mentored.

I watched a lot of [GBM's] game footage, and I was impressed but it wasn’t until we started talking on Kakao[Talk] that I was really sold on bringing him onto NRG. He has a very keen mind for the game and a great work ethic to match it. Beyond that, it's really just his character. When we were looking at houses to put everyone in in Korea, I had found a couple and showed them to everyone. He found me some much more expensive and spacious ones, and when I told him they were out of budget, he replied, “It's okay, I will help pay for them. I want our team to be comfortable and happy." It's that kind of attitude that really sold me.

I got to spend a lot of time with [KonKwon] early on. I think he is a really underrated player and is very much on the way up. He is super level headed and will provide a lot of grounded insight that the team will need.

Q: We've seen hybrid Korean teams become a theme last year, and a lot of them failed. Why will NRG's mixture of Koreans and western players be different by the end of 2016?

Gerard: I don’t think its about Koreans or Americans. We wanted specific qualities in players. There might be a communication gap, but I don’t think its going to be a hurdle that we won't be able to run over.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Tyler "Fionn" Erzberger is a staff writer for theScore eSports who covers the North American LCS and Korea's Champions. You can follow him on Twitter.