Though not being paid in cash, Bronny has already been able to reap benefits from the partnership in the form of online clout. Known until now for his basketball pedigree and abilities, FaZe offers him the chance to expand his fan base into another area of the entertainment industry. Since the announcement, Bronny gained more than 77,000 followers on Instagram, according to Social Blade, taking him over 5.5 million followers total. His views on Twitch shot up 855 percent the day after the announcement, compared to the day before. The video announcement has been viewed over 1 million times on Twitter, where FaZe is displaying James and Ben Simmons, another new addition to the group, on the header.
The move does not figure to impact his college eligibility, as FaZe Clan’s head of communications said there is no financial relationship between the gaming organization and the top high school prospect.
“It’s important to point out Bronny isn’t ‘signed’ to FaZe Clan,” said Chelsey Northern, head of communications for FaZe Clan in an email to The Washington Post. “He does not have a contract with FaZe Clan. … It’s an organic relationship between the talent [within FaZe] and Bronny.” She further pointed out that there are no obligations on James from FaZe.
“He is an official member of FaZe, it’s just not a contractual or financial relationship,” she said, noting that Bronny connected with FaZe Clan talent while playing “Call of Duty,” “Fortnite” and “NBA2K.”
For Faze, the signing fits into a pattern of seeking out celebrities and using them to bolster their brand.
“It makes their brand cooler and it makes everyone inside of FaZe cooler because these famous athletes and musicians are part of it,” said a former FaZe employee who asked for anonymity to speak candidly about the organization’s practices. “It happens not at the business level but at the talent level. A FaZe player will [direct message] a famous person and ask them to stream.”
The org declined to make any executives available for an interview. A media representative for the James family did not respond The Post’s request for comment.
Though an avid gamer, Bronny James is much better known for his basketball talents. He is currently ranked as the 24th best prospect in ESPN’s 2023 recruiting rankings. However, should he up his gaming skill, he might be able to accept prize money from winning video game contests — and even money from other sources — while still remaining eligible to play college ball.
“Generally speaking, a prospect can accept prize money and other expenses above what is considered actual and necessary if they were selected for that opportunity based on their abilities in esports,” said an NCAA spokesperson who specified they were not commenting on a specific case. “Further, NCAA members are currently evaluating NCAA rules regarding the use of name, image and likeness, and we expect prospects and current college athletes to have additional opportunities and further flexibility in the coming months.”
A new California law called the Fair Pay To Play Act, signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom last September and set to go into effect in 2023, would allow college athletes to be compensated by sponsors and others seeking to use their name, image or likeness (such as video game makers) without risking a loss of their NCAA eligibility. James played ball last season for LA’s Sierra Canyon High School.
With a father who is known as one of the most adept business executives in the professional sports world, and even with the increased social media visibility, some might be surprised that James’s son took what amounts to an unpaid promo gig.
“It’s unpaid because those people want to be in it. They want to be a part of it, they feel proud to be wearing a FaZe clan hoodie,” the former FaZe employee said.
FaZe Clan employs and otherwise compensates dozens of individuals for their work as part of one of their esports teams in games such as “Call of Duty,” “Counter-Strike: Global Offensive,” “Fortnite” and “PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds.” They also work with creators who stream content, usually video games, but are not pro esports players.
FaZe has also developed a reputation for its puerile video content, fraternity-like atmosphere at its gaming house and controversial business tactics. The organization settled a lawsuit with leading Twitch streamer and former FaZe member Turner “Tfue” Tenney last week after a year-long legal battle. Terms were not disclosed.
The LA-based company announced a $40 million raise as part of its Series A round in April, led by Jimmy Iovine and live streaming video commerce platform NTWRK, in addition to an array of pro athletes and celebrity entertainers. The group is widely perceived as one of the top esports lifestyle brands with hundreds of millions of views per month for their content, as well as merchandise collaborations with traditional sports leagues, teams and streetwear labels.
Noah Smith is a regular contributor to The Washington Post and staff journalist for Direct Relief, a nonprofit. Follow his work on Twitter @Vildehaya.