Australian basketball player Ben Simmons is no stranger to gaming, having grown up playing Call of Duty and watching montages of his favourite players pull off trick shots with sniper rifles in that very franchise.
As he explained to Esports Insider, many of his most-watched players all belonged to one team in particular: FaZe Clan. The now-multi-million dollar esports organisation and media company was in a much more rudimentary state back in 2011 – taking to Activision’s flagship series with the notion of executing never-before-seen kills instead of delivering an impressive kill-to-death ratio or game-saving clutch.
Before it entered the scene of competitive video gaming, FaZe Clan built up its impressive, diehard fan base, which it’s now notorious for, through YouTube content – the kind that appealed to Simmons.
When the opportunity came from Simmons to get involved with the now-titanic FaZe Clan we all know today, he jumped at the prospect. It wasn’t enough to just play with the organisation’s creators – many of whom can rightly be described as internet celebrities in their own right – he wanted to really buy into the vision.
“It’s a whole other level now,” Simmons told Esports Insider. “It’s more than just gaming, it’s a culture. It’s the perfect time to get involved with everything going on. I’ve always been very interested in the gaming world and I think this is the perfect opportunity. It goes deeper than just an investment for me, I have genuine friends in FaZe Clan.
“It’s more of like a family. I feel like [FaZe Clan] is a home away from home and I’m very trusting in what the organisation is doing. I never invest unless I’m very sure about it; I felt like a part of FaZe Clan already but it’s official now.”
Celebrities – whether they’re athletes, actors, or musicians – investing in esports is nothing new at this point. From Drake’s involvement in 100 Thieves to Shaquille O’Neal’s stake in NRG Esports, it’s becoming commonplace to see globally-known figures getting involved with many of the top organisations in the industry.
What’s missing in a lot of those cases, in the eyes of some at least, is the involvement of said celebrities once the investment has been made and hype has died down. There’s an opportunity to promote esports organisations to their own significant audience, potentially increasing the organisation’s fan base in the process and, theoretically, creating a better chance of a strong return on investment.
Simmons isn’t looking to be part of that crowd, however. He wants to remain active in his involvement in FaZe Clan beyond owning a stake in the company, appearing in content and truly being a brand ambassador. Another contributing factor to his investment is his faith in esports, he relates all too well to the competitive aspect of video games – which is understandable when you remind yourself of his profession.
“I’m a competitive person and that’s not only the court,” Simmons told ESI. “I play [Call of Duty] Warzone pretty much every day, for as long as I can. That’s part of my life. The esports side of gaming is a whole other world, it’s competition at its finest and I’ve always been passionate about that.”
The natural progression for some celebrity investors, especially athletes in games such as football, is to invest in the virtual version of their chosen sport. Gareth Bale and Christian Fuchs are two solid examples of such a thing. With that line of thinking you’d perhaps expect Simmons to also invest in the NBA 2K League, though nothing he said during our discussion suggested that was in the pipeline.
That’s because FaZe Clan occupies a space, and an opportunity in Simmons’ eyes, that’s larger than esports. It unveiled a collaborative apparel collection with Manchester City in September last year, launched its own studio with Sugar23 in April, and invested in meal supplement brand CTRL in June. It’s clear that its eyes are set on the larger world of entertainment and online culture, though esports is firmly part of that vision.
“FaZe Clan is just next level and it’s going to continue to grow,” Simmons said. “People aren’t going to stop playing games, it’s a lifestyle and a big family so FaZe is just going to get better and better.”
What’s also worth noting is that this signals a regional expansion for FaZe Clan. With Simmons being Australian, quite a rarity in the NBA, he’s expected to deliver a ton of new eyes from his fans back home – a prospect that aligns perfectly with the organisation’s plans to expand on a global basis.