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NFL’s Brandon Parker: Why e-sport franchising is an investment win

NFL’s Brandon Parker: Why e-sport franchising is an investment win

The US athlete has invested in e-sport franchise Valhallan which is currently recruiting franchisees across the UK

I’m a big gamer. When the opportunity to take my first love and monetise it as a franchise owner presented itself, I just had to take it,” says NFL star, Brandon Parker.

Usually, he’d be wearing a Las Vegas Raiders jersey, having just got back on the field after recovering from an injury.

However, today’s his day off and he’s opted for a Valhallan branded t-shirt – merchandise from the e-sports franchise in which he’s invested.

Valhallan trains children in competitive gaming, hoping to help them climb onto the million-dollar career ladder, or at the very least gain some useful skills such as teamwork and hand-eye co-ordination.

Each location has a gaming arena (rows of desks and monitors) which are accompanied by experienced coaches ready to help players navigate their way through the various gaming leagues.

The arena is reminiscent of Brandon’s own childhood and its nostalgia is what clinched the deal for the NFL player in 2023, after he travelled to Valhallan’s initial locations to see the franchise in action.

“The kids gaming looked exactly how I used to look when gaming with my friends,” says Brandon. “I knew right then, I wanted to be a part of it.”

Since then, Brandon has invested in 16 Valhallan locations across the US, as part of investment group ESA Holdings.

“Gaming is a $2.7 billion global business, and it’s going to continue to grow,” he says.

The industry’s anticipated longevity is a contrast to that of most NFL careers, which tend to have a harsh expiry date.

“The NFL stands for Not For Long,” Brandon laughs. “I’ve been really blessed to have played for six years now. So, once I have to close this chapter in my life, I’m hoping to pick up gaming more.”

It means that once Brandon retires from American football he’ll be able to increase the amount of time he’s investing in building Valhallan.

But for now, it’s a balancing act whereby time on the franchise is flexed around the NFL season and the Raider’s training schedule.

“I’ve got to give a lot of credit to my team,” he says. “Building a healthy, supportive team helps you more than you could ever imagine.”

‘The team’ includes CEO Morris Jackson, and COO Ben Arave, as well as Dominique Parker, who’s not only the CMO but is married to Brandon and has continued to be a source of motivation on account of her business tenacity.

“She’s the one that’s going into different cities, looking at different locations, and trying to really help advance things,” he says. “In the meantime, it’s allowed me to focus on football.”

Husband and wife duos aren’t uncommon in the franchising space, however they can bring a unique dynamic to business ownership which requires different considerations.

“Don’t let your work life creep into your personal life,” Brandon advises. He says acknowledging one another’s stress and tiredness is important, particularly after a rough day.

However, working together has been a major benefit as Brandon and Dominique have a much more honest view of each other’s stress levels and can look after one another accordingly.

Raider mentality in business

Brandon’s other team is, of course, the Las Vegas Raiders. While their main focus is American football, the squad has been known to talk business, with many fellow players also investing in brands that will secure their futures beyond NFL.

It’s a wise move, but not one Brandon had initially considered while reading engineering at North Carolina A&T State University.

“I’ve never really had an entrepreneur business mindset,” he says.

However, he’s found that on the NFL field and in the changing room he’s picked up valuable skills and curated a mindset that’s enabled him to succeed in the franchising space, while also understanding the value of gaming.

“I’m on the grid every day, going up against the man in front of me. I’m trying to sharpen my axe to get ready for game day and put out a beautiful product in the same way these gamers are online,” he explains. “It’s all competitive, just because it’s not physically competitive doesn’t mean it’s not intense.”

It’s this pressure to dominate and compete that Brandon has wielded to define his own business approach within Valhallan.

“There’s always sharks trying to eat the bigger fish and if you’re not willing to be aggressive and stand out in your business, you’ll be put down,” he says.

Much of Brandon’s approach has derived from the ambition to win in NFL. Yet the offensive linesman has been injured twice in short succession, which has provided unexpected training in dealing with business failure.

“I’m definitely no stranger to adversity. What I like to adopt is the next play mentality,” he says. “You might have a bad play but you always have to be looking for the next play until that final whistle blows. You always have to be looking for the next point.”

This next play mentality was particularly useful in the early stages of setting up new Valhallan locations – one of the biggest learning periods for any new business owner.

“It’s never going to be as good as you think it is and it’s never going to be as bad as you think,” says Brandon.

In the beginning there were things that didn’t go 100% right but these moments have been some of the most important in Brandon’s franchising career.

“It’s helped us so much,” he says. “Now when we start making future locations, we know exactly what to do, what not to do, how to do it, when to do it, where and why.”

One of the key learnings Brandon has taken away from franchising so far is the importance of having access to industry experts – something that’s commonly afforded to new business owners under a franchise model.

“It’s definitely helped to have somebody on the team who’s the ‘grey hair’ if you will: somebody who has taken those lumps and bruises and can guide you,” he says.

The NFL player predicts that he may one day become the grey hair of the team, with ambitions to expand his franchising portfolio further. This will likely include a
coffee shop or wine bar, as wife Dominique has ambitions in the food and beverage space.

Selling the dream of pro-gaming

Professional gaming has grown astronomically over the past decade. Video games have become a career for the small top percentage of players who are able to win tournaments (which come with big cash prizes) as well as reap the financial benefits of sponsorship.

Some countries have even curated their own e-sports teams, with select players such as South Korea’s Faker (Lee Sang-hyeok) gaining a dedicated fan following.

“They have to put in the work like a regular job, but some of these people are clearing six, sometimes seven figures just playing the game they love and being elite at it,” says Brandon. “I just want people to think, why can’t that be me?”

This year, famous pro-gamers are believed to have earned millions, according to Statistica. N0tail (Johan Sundstein) has racked up $7.18 million, JerAx (Jesse Vainikka) has earned $6.48 million, and ana (Anathan Pham) has gained $6.02 million.

It’s the salaries of these pro-gamers that’s finally shifting parent’s perception of video games away from the idea that children are festering behind screens in their rooms – a viewpoint that Brandon admits his own parents had.

“My parents would say I spend so much time gaming, it’s only right that I take it and apply it to business,” he says.

Brandon’s main role now within Valhallan is chief gaming officer – a title many young gamers surely aspire to. Essentially, it means ensuring the brand
develops alongside the fast-changing trends of the gaming industry.

“You can have the games that you offer at the start, but four or five years down the road, there might be a new kid on the block that we need to offer. We need to keep moving with everybody else,” he explains.

For Brandon, staying on top of gaming trends involves watching big tournaments such as Mortal Combat and Rainbow Six, as well as checking in on what people are streaming on Facebook and Twitch.

The NFL player also points to X, formerly known as Twitter, as evidence of the dedicated cult following games such as Call of Duty (Brandon’s favourite), Fortnight, Overwatch, Ultimate, League of Legends, and VALORANT rack up.

The platform hosts communities of fans exchanging strategies and news of updates online. Valhallan is tapping into this dedication as much as possible.

However, the professional gaming space is a competitive one – not everyone will make it, nor does everyone want to play in such a capacity, which Valhallan has accommodated by providing a focus on fun and education alongside career ambitions.

“You’re teaching problem solving skills and anger management because sometimes it does get a little bit frustrating,” says Brandon. “Sometimes you’re teaching team building skills, problem solving, hand-eye co-ordination, and fast decision making.”

However, regardless of the educational and career benefits, Brandon believes that happiness is always at the centre of the franchise, which is important.

“It’s the kids that make it exciting,” he says. “Seeing the joy they have on their face is what I had my whole childhood.”


Image: Dr. Amit Sra and Vivek Behl, master franchisors of Valhallan in the UK

Reversing the UK pro-gaming deficit

Pro-gaming is popular in the UK, with London hosting tournaments that draw in big crowds.

However, earlier this year the country’s only dedicated Call of Duty league team moved its base to the US – the current hub of pro-gaming – leaving the UK in a pro-gaming deficit.

Valhallan is moving into this gap, having just signed a master franchise agreement with Dr. Amit Sra and Vivek Behl who have just launched the country’s first gaming arena in Ealing, London.

The pair now plan to roll out the brand to other locations across the UK, harnessing the popularity of video games, the increasing aspiration to become a pro-gamer, and demand for dedicated youth e-sport education programmes.

Nine-out-of-10 children in the UK currently play video games, according to Ofcom. Amit and Vivek plan to capture the attention of this population.

“In the UK, where a significant number of young people are actively engaged in video games, there’s a prime opportunity for entrepreneurs who share our vision to tap into this demand,” says Amit.

National contributions to the pro-gaming industry are noted by those who follow e-sport. Currently, the US (3,731) has the most competitive players worldwide. China (1,710), Brazil (1,380), South Korea (1,041), and France (1,020) also have significant pro-gaming populations.

If Amit and Vivek can cultivate the next generation of pro-gamers under the Valhallan brand, the UK could find itself among the top five countries to contribute competitive players.

However, for the meantime the duo is investing time in building locations in areas such as Manchester, Essex, and West London as well as recruiting franchisees who can help them expand.

“This is a pivotal and exciting time for us,” says Vivek. “Along with the experts we’ve forged collaborations with, our collective knowledge and shared passion for youth e-sports is crucial for driving the need for dedicated arenas across the country. We’re well positioned to bring Valhallan to new communities in the UK.”

Valhallan’s game collection

  • Fortnight
  • Ultimate
  • Overwatch 2
  • VALORANT
  • League of Legends
  • Apex Legends
  • Rocket League
  • Super Smash

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