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GAMING & ESPORTS

Austin Ekeler’s Gridiron Gaming Group is Leveling Up

The veteran RB’s gaming collective announced a new partnership with Rival to build a bigger, better platform.

When he’s not pounding the ball between the tackles or catching it out of the backfield for the Los Angeles Chargers, running back Austin Ekeler is a serious gamer.

In fact, he’s one of the faces of Gridiron Gaming Group, a collective of 13 professional athletes (and counting) that helps players develop new revenue streams and build out their own gaming and streaming platforms. The GGG crew includes two of his Chargers teammates, Mike Williams and Justin Jones, Philadelphia Eagles Boston Scott and Avonte Maddox, and MLB reliever Tommy Kahnle.

And through a new partnership with Rival, which empowers gaming communities within sports organizations like the Seattle Seahawks, Monumental Sports and Entertainment, Premier League club Aston Villa, and the AAU, Ekeler’s team will have access to proprietary technology that connects them to a global network of gamers, leagues, and tournaments. Rival’s customizable platform helps groups like GGG acquire new customers, drive engagement, and monetize more efficiently.

“It really brings a new aspect to Gridiron Gaming Group that we didn’t have before,” Ekeler told Boardroom. “It’s just another way for our community to get involved in something that you’re putting on and that you’re involved in. It’s building off the backbone of what we’re trying to offer people. So this is perfect, especially in the gaming world.”

Photo by Ben Ashbrook

Ekeler called Gridiron Gaming Group’s Rival pact the first agreement the latter has made with a smaller sports organization. He’s excited to use Rival as a hub for tournaments so fellow pro athletes can get a helping hand regarding regarding engagement, content distribution, and analytics as they organize their followers and make inroads within the gaming community.

“We’re doing things professionally that take up a lot of our time. So we don’t have the most time to do as much as we’d like to for our community,” the 26-year-old said. “So that’s where GGG steps in and tries to bridge the gap and take on the workload as far as doing the events for you, and all you have to do is basically show up.”

“What Austin and Gridiron have been able to do in a short period of time is a testament to the company’s think-different approach and the influence of gaming on today’s culture,” said Rival CEO Matt Virtue. “Our partnership expands on what we’ve done with sports leagues, teams, and organizations, and our work with GGG will be a first for the Rival platform in which we’ll be helping public figures build their personal brands.”

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A rising fifth-year back from Western Colorado, the 5-foot-8 Ekeler had a breakout year in 2019, rushing for 557 yards, catching 92 passes for 993 yards, and scoring 11 total touchdowns. He was rewarded with a four-year, $24.5 million contract extension with the Chargers on March 16 of last year as the coronavirus pandemic was beginning to take hold.

At first, Ekeler was excited to play video games during quarantine, but quickly felt like he was losing his mind because he couldn’t do much else. Fortunately, the Lincoln, Nebraska native soon began streaming on Twitch. He started conducting what he called press conference-style streams, inviting fans to hang out and ask him questions. When there was a massive run on toilet paper during the beginning of the pandemic, his first giveaway was a signed TP roll.

“The community just loved the stuff that I was doing, just hanging out, chatting,” Ekeler said. ” And then we played some Call of Duty.

Ekeler started gaming when he was a freshman in high school, repping the St. Louis Rams in NFL Blitz, playing Zelda, CoD and NBA Live 2003 on GameCube. As an NFL player, he doesn’t game as much as he once did, but had a strong desire to connect with his growing online community.

While streaming during quarantine, he felt the value in putting himself in front of his followers without any middlemen and saw the potential monetary value in it.

“People were like ‘oh you’re on Twitch? We’re trying to get into this space,’” Ekeler said. “I was like, let me try to help other people do this.”

Photo by Ben Ashbrook

Ekeler described Gridiron Gaming Group as a “strength in numbers” model, enabling its 13 current members to connect more effectively with their audiences and collaborate together as a group on content creation. As things continue to open up here in 2021, Ekeler said he and his fellow members will find new and unique ways to offer experiences to their respective followings, like a beach day in LA with Ekeler and Mike Williams or flights, hotels, and tickets to watch Boston Scott and Avonte Maddox in an upcoming Eagles game.

These activations will only deepen GGG’s relationship with its community. And with Rival, the collective has a new set of tools to help other gaming organizations do the same.

“If I’m part of this Gridiron Gaming Group, there’s more opportunity for me to actually get involved in what these people are doing,” Ekeler said. “So we’re trying to help bridge the gap, and basically have everyone have a good time. And if my members are having a good time and their community is having a good time, then it’s a win-win for both of us. It keeps people coming back.”

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