MANY say that esports isn’t a ‘real sport’. But don’t tell that to this NBA player.
For most of the year, Jonas Jerebko is a member of the Boston Celtics. The 30-year-old forward has featured in the Celtics’ rotation this season as they earned the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
But Jerebko has another fulltime job; he’s the owner of his own successful team. And he wants Renegades — which grew out of a group of Australian gamers — to become an internationally-known esports powerhouse.
The Swede bought into esports last September, just before the beginning of the current NBA season, and is trying to bring further legitimacy to the industry.
It all started at an early age for Jerebko who grew up playing Counter-Strike (CS) — the first of a series of first-person shooter games — which his Renegades are in action playing at IEM Sydney, the biggest esports event in Australian history, this weekend.
“I started playing CS really early. I was doing all kinds of sports, (but) I just got hooked on CS. It had to be around sixth grade,” he told foxsports.com.au.
“I started playing, a lot of my friends were playing and we were doing LANs (’local area network’ events where people play against each other on their own computers but in the same place) together. Obviously playing basketball, I have a lot of free time on my hands, so I stopped playing CS when I was 18 but started playing a bunch of different games like Call of Duty and Halo with my teammates all over.
“I played in Italy for a while, I played with Detroit. I just kept playing games with them and I think it was about four years ago I noticed how big CS: Global Offensive was getting so I just thought, “well I’ve got to get myself a computer and start gaming again.”
“So I started playing a bit and noticed how many people were watching and how competitive the scene was. I got really interested and started doing a lot of research … and I noticed how sports-related it was getting.”
If anyone would know if esports are becoming legitimate, it’s someone like Jerebko, who has reached the elite level in basketball. And he believes in the growing field.
“I grew up with esports. I think esports kept me from going out and in the gym — in a Friday night in high school, I would rather play some games at home and get ready for basketball in the morning instead of going out and partying with my friends. I’d rather do a LAN,” he said.
“I’ve always been really competitive and obviously esports is very competitive, and I see it as a real sport.
“It’s the amount of time and practice that these guys put in. To get to the highest level — you’ve got a lot players out there playing the game but only a few selected can really make it to the top.
“So to make it to the top takes a lot of work and in a game like CS, you’ve got five players and a coach. You’ve got to click together as teammates which I obviously know from my basketball background.
“You can put the five most talented players out there and it might not click because personalities are such a big part of a team. I see a lot of similarities in regular, traditional sports as compared to esports.”
Jerebko won’t be in attendance at IEM Sydney this weekend — but he’s got a pretty good reason for missing his team’s first tournament with their revamped roster.
“I wish I could be there, but at the same time, I’m glad I can’t be because I want to go far in the playoffs,” he joked.
Jerebko’s career gives him a unique position when it comes to esports. For something that grew out of video game arcades and online forums, it now has an enormous amount of money behind it — but that just means that sometimes, players can be taken advantage of.
Thankfully for Renegades, Jerebko knows what an elite team needs to do. He moved the team from Las Vegas to Michigan, putting them up in a house just five or ten minutes from his place, and is in contact with the players often.
“They didn’t really have a structure (when he took over) — they didn’t have a coach, a place to stay, a place to practice. They didn’t really have a strict practice schedule,” he told foxsports.com.au.
“We didn’t want to change it all at once … but we just wanted to give them a chance to be professionals and have a good coach in place with a schedule. We really believe in these guys, we think they can be one of the best teams in the world and we’re trying to give them the best way possible to get to that goal.”
It’s that belief in his team, combined with the knowledge he can bring from outside of esports, that has Jerebko aiming high.
“Esports is really global. We want to be up there with the biggest esports brands out there — to be a Cloud9, a Fnatic, a VP (Virtus Pro),” he said, referring to three major teams.
“We want to be one of the biggest and most respected teams in the world. We’re building it organically, we’re not signing them just to sign them but we really want to have world-class teams.”
IEM Sydney takes place at Qudos Bank Arena in Sydney on May 6 and 7. For those unable to attend, the event will be streamed online for free.
Written By: Max Laughton, Source: FOX SPORTS