London (CNN)Rodger Saffold is a starting offensive lineman for the Los Angeles Rams. Now in his seventh NFL season out of Indiana University, Saffold has expanded his competitive interests into becoming a part-owner of professional eSports team Rise Nation.
The 6-foot 5-inch Ohio native caught up with CNN during the week of the Rams visit to London to play the New York Giants as part of the NFL’s International Series (the Giants won 17-10).
How did you come across Rise Nation?
I actually created Rise Nation.
Myself and my co-owner, Kahreem Horsley, we built Rise Nation up from the ground, and when the whole trend started to take off, we were right where we needed to be.
We ended up having a couple of teams go to world championships, place very high, win a couple of tournaments, and now we have a few different teams (playing) Overwatch, Madden (NFL), and Call of Duty.
As an eSports owner, do you relate to the owners of the NFL a little bit more?
I would say yes and no, just because I feel like my relationship with my players is a lot more personal than it is in the NFL. They play great for me because we have a great relationship.
As for the owners in the NFL, sometimes they don’t know every player on a personal level, so it’s hard to get that (closeness) through the rest of your team.
And which is your preferred game to play?
Call of Duty hands down is my favorite.
Can you see yourself becoming a professional eGames player after your NFL career?
I just don’t think that I have the time; I’m already 28, so I’m probably going to be (a little old for the Call of Duty World League) when I’m done playing.
What are the similarities between NFL and professional eSports?
It’s mostly just the intangibles: Hard word, focus. Of course there is the physical aspect of it, of just the stress, but other than that, the only things that you’re working out are your thumbs.
What’s worse, a repetitive strain injury or a concussion?
Oh concussion, hands down. Concussion is a lot worse.
There are some other surprising similarities, like eSports drug testing. Did that surprise you?
Yes, because I didn’t really know how you could get a competitive advantage to playing (a video) game vs. being in a sport. And the truth that came out is that when guys take anything that can help with their focus, it is a slight advantage. So you have to make sure that you make it an even playing field for everybody.
Do you play Madden NFL too?
I don’t play too much, just because I’m living Madden every single day.
You know these guys are able to go through a whole season within a few hours — and it takes me six months — so of course the last thing I want to do after 13 hours of football is to play more football.
When you do play, which team do you pick?
Oh I always pick the hometown. I always pick the Rams.
And any favorite players you’ve got on Madden?
(Laughs) Not really.
Odell Beckham Jr.? Adrian Peterson?
(Laughs) No, no. You know, these are the guys I’m usually playing against, so I don’t want to root for them.
Can you envision an eSports championship reaching Super Bowl popularity?
It could. I know its further down the road, but just from talking to you and having all these eSports functions on ESPN, this is going to continue to spread our reach and expand the brand of eSports.
You look at all the kids that are on their phones, and playing games at home, it’s a lot of people; so eventually it could be astounding numbers.
What’s the biggest challenge to take eSports to the next level?
It’s going to take a lot more money. It’s going to take TV programs (dedicated to) eSports.
Because if you’re talking about the difference between a few hundred thousand to millions of viewers — and that is what you’re going to need — then eSports needs to be in every household in America, and around the world.
And if you could choose to win an eSports championship or a Super Bowl, which one are you going for?
Super Bowl for sure. I always wanted to win a Super Bowl more than eSports. I truly love it, I’m passionate about it, but the Super Bowl is everything that I’ve dreamed about since I was a little kid.
Well, you could potentially get both…
Oh my goodness, if I was able to get both that would change my life.
Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2016/10/28/sport/nfl-london-games-rodger-saffold-la-rams-egames-rise-nation/index.html