Southern California

Rams' Rodger Saffold: NFL Player, eSports Owner

Rodger Saffold of the LA Rams is making the most of his move to Los Angeles on and off the football field

Los Angeles Rams guard Rodger Saffold is excited to get to training camp and back on the field for the start of the 2016 season.

"It's going really well," said Saffold, who went under the knife in October after starting the first five games of the season.

Saffold tells that he's ready to return after sitting out the final 11 games of the 2015 season.

"I'm just ready to get right for the season because we got camp soon, so I've got to be ready. Right now, I'm 100 percent cleared."

"It was rough," the 33rd overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft reflects on his time out of action. "It was definitely rough sitting out. You have to watch your boys play and you want to fight and win with them. Even when they lose, you feel like you could have done something."

Saffold added, "The biggest thing I can do now is be smarter about everything—be more technical."

The 28-year-old is far more than simply a football player. Even before moving out to Los Angeles and experiencing all of the business opportunities the city has to offer, the former Indiana Hoosier displayed incredible foresight and invested in an emerging industry that has grown exponentially since he staked his initial claim.

"I started playing Call of Duty when I was in college," Saffold says with a smile, referencing the game his Rise Nation team plays. "I played a bunch. I played way more than anybody should. I was playing football. I knew that people could go pro in playing Call of Duty, but (the industry) was still in the development phase."

Since its 2003 launch, the Call of Duty franchise has topped $15 billion in sales. Call of Duty: Black Ops 3, which was the latest installment of the series, generated $550 million within 72 hours of launching in late 2015.

After being drafted, Saffold kept an eye on the emerging eSports industry, which acts as a blanket for competitive gaming, from afar and began streaming and watching online gaming competitions. Soon after, he even began uploading his own game play, alongside friend Kareem Horsley. As he tells it, fans planted the idea of possibly having an NFL player as an owner of an eSports team. Saffold entertained the thought long enough to join up with Horsley as co-owners of a team in 2014. Horsley, who was a former pro, took on the role of manager of the team.

The duo took their team to the Call of Duty Championship 2014 and finished 7th to take home a $35,000 pay day. The winner of the Call of Duty championship earns $400,000, as the top eight teams split the $1 million purse.

On Friday, Saffold's team will compete in the Stage 2 Playoffs in Burbank, Ca. If the team advances, Sunday's semifinal and final provide the opportunity to achieve the larger goal of returning to the Call of Duty Championships, after the Rise Nation team missed out on the main event in 2015.

With a taste of the prize money in 2014, though, Saffold invested in building a brand behind his team, and Rise Nation was born. With the growth of eSports and the introduction of greater corporate sponsorships, possessing an established, recognizable brand is a tangible, valuable asset.

"It's is absolutely growing rapidly, and this is something I can hold onto for a long time. It's a hell of an opportunity," Saffold also mentions "profit" because he is financially invested in the project, and he sees the long-term potential. "It's been absolutely ridiculous seeing all the other guys getting involved and investing in all these things now."

Other athletes like former LA Lakers champions Rick Fox and Shaquille O'Neal have also entered the owners' arena with different eSports teams within the past year, as eSports continue to flirt with the mainstream.

With a sense of pride, Saffold says, "I'm happy to say that I feel like I'm an innovator."

Two years after Saffold jumped into eSports head first, both and Yahoo! Sports list eSports in similar spots as tennis, MMA or NHL. Turner Sports has invested in showing an eSports league on TNT, while ESPN2 periodically shows eSports tournaments.

"A lot of the guys like to play, and they play together," Saffold shifts back to talking about his Rams' teammates, before going into gamer talk about how he plays on PS4, which is what his pro team uses, and his Rams' teammates continue to only play on X-Box. "I have to play on the PS4. I tell them all the time that I would destroy them and they're no match, but they won't believe me until I get on the X-Box."

Being a competitive athlete, not surprisingly, often extends beyond helmets, whistles and shoulder pads. The Bedford, Ohio native explains that he picks up the joysticks for Rise Nation during the offseason by meeting with investors, working on branding, tracking down sponsors for accessories and a litany of other responsibilities that come with being an owner.

"But during the season, it's totally different," Saffold says. "I'm on a time crunch already just dealing with the football team, so I let Kareem, my co-owner, handle a lot of the day-to-day operations. He plays two roles. He's a co-owner, so he's able to make decisions, but also, he's a manager, so I let him manage the team because he used to be a professional Call of Duty player."

The move to LA, though, has not only filled up Saffold's life with eSports opportunities, though Saffold points out that competitions are held all over Southern California. Along with his wife, Saffold is also taking part in a reality television show on E! titled "Hollywood & Football", which features Saffold and some of his Rams' teammates adjusting to playing NFL football in LA. Being on television and being a professional athlete would get most people noticed in LA, but add that Saffold is 6-foot 5-inches tall and weighs in the neighborhood of 325 pounds, and this offensive lineman doesn't exactly fly under the radar.

"I mean it's tough," Saffold admits being an athlete in LA is not the same as being an athlete in St. Louis. "With TMZ being around and everything going on, you got paparazzi and cameras flashing, it's pretty surreal, but I've been doing this for a long time, so I feel like I can handle it."

Saffold understands that the extra attention that comes with moving to Los Angeles adds the butter on top of his bread, and his peripheral business endeavors have seemingly all taken sharp upticks since his move to LA.

"When you get out to LA, there're a lot more opportunities to do things off the field that I couldn't do in St. Louis as much," he explains. "It's an opportunity because it comes with money, sometimes it comes with great relationships, and those things are always good."

Saffold concludes with a serious tone, "But I always make sure that I keep my [football] job no. 1 when it comes to these things. That's the thing that's keeping it going and taking care of my family."

Saffold and the Rams begin training camp in Irvine on July 30.

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