Green Bay Packers wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling is teaming with Subnation to catch the esports trend now popular even among traditional sports stars and leagues.
Together, the NFL star and the gaming lifestyle company are launching Trench Made Gaming, a franchise for esports teams across multiple game titles that connects brands to players and fans with apparel, original content and other initiatives.
Valdes-Scantling said the Trench Made name comes from his own struggles to overcome challenges in sports, from not making his Florida high school team his first year, to changing colleges halfway through, to being drafted in the fifth round and making his way up to a starting role.
“People doubted me at every school I went to,” Valdes-Scantling said. “I battled through so many adverse situations. That’s who I am and who I stand for: fighting in the trenches. Life is just like that.”
Trench Made will hold its version of the NFL Combine to recruit and evaluate potential team members, though no schedule has been set for the tryouts. Initial plans are to focus on recruiting players in Call of Duty and Fortnite, two of perhaps the three biggest esports brands out there with League of Legends, Valdes-Scantling said.
His own game of choice are the Warzone battle royale variant of Call of Duty. Among sports games, he’d rather not play the NFL game of choice, EA’s Madden franchise, because, well, that’s his day job. But Valdes-Scantling said he’d love to find a way to partner in video gaming with his employer.
“We’re not just athletes, we’re business people as well,” Valdes-Scantling said. “They know what it could bring for them, to keep fans involved year-round.”
Valdes-Scantling does his own part to stay engaged with the league’s fans and gamers by running his own stream on Twitch (@MVS_11), though during the season, he said he typically trims back his streaming schedule to Monday and Tuesday, normally the least intense days of the in-season work week. He also has a significant social-media presence across most of the major platforms.
In partnering with Subnation, the El Segundo, Calif.-based company “will spearhead strategy, brand partnerships, merchandising, content programming and experiences” for Trench Made, according to a release.
“Throughout his NFL career, MVS has shown his passion and commitment to excellence on and off the field, and we are excited to help extend his talent into the world of esports,” said Subnation Media co-founder and Chief Managing Director Doug Scott. “Together, we are going to build a premium lifestyle brand for the gaming community that provides both digital and physical entertainment experiences.”
As with other esports teams, part of the plan for success is recruiting online creators with an online presence, creating distinctive apparel and other merchandise, and connecting it all to brands looking to connect with the large, young audiences that have flocked to gaming and esports especially during the pandemic.
Earlier this year, Subnation bought half of Fortnite pro team XTRA Gaming, and installed XTRA’s founder, 26-year-old Manny Vieites, as its director of esports and competitive player integrations.
Valdes-Scantling, 26, played college ball at North Carolina State and South Florida before the Packers drafted him in the fifth round in 2018. He had his best NFL season in 2020, scoring six touchdowns on 33 catches for 890 yards, for a stellar per-catch average of 20.2 yards. In the Packers’ NFC Championship Game loss against eventual Super Bowl champ Tampa Bay, Valdes-Scantling had another 4 catches for 115 yards and a touchdown.
Pro athletes, particularly from the NBA, have been investing in esports teams over the past three or so years, and now are buying teams outright. Two-time NBA MVP Stephen Curry, for instance, bought in TSM, while former NFL running back Marshawn Lynch was among those buying NRG Esports.
Even the leagues are buying into esports in various ways. Early in the pandemic lockdown last year, the NBA took part in NBA 2K tournaments featuring its players.
The NFL recently announced a deal with Skillz, the newly public company focused on mobile multiplayer tournaments, to run a contest for game designers to come up with new mobile titles tied to the league. League executives said the Skillz partnership connects the NFL to a younger audience of fans and potential fans in a compelling new year-round opportunity for engagement.
Beyond the XTRA deal, Subnation has been involved in a diverse set of gaming-related initiatives since its founding. Most recently, it helped create the Subnation Oasis, a series of events on the rooftop of the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif., beginning with a New Year’s Eve concert by Justin Bieber.
Subnation also is advising the 2022 launch of the gamer-focused Atari Hotel project in Las Vegas, and advised the city of Raleigh, N.C., on developing a major esports tournament and facilities as a way to drive tourism.