The game never ends for Patriots outside linebacker Kyle Van Noy.
When the eight-year NFL veteran isn’t focused on his day job — or chasing his toddler around the house — you might find him on Twitch streaming his latest run on Call of Duty: Warzone.
Van Noy isn’t just one of the best athletes at his position in one of the most grueling contact sports in the world. He’s also a competitive gamer.
Van Noy has been into video games since the days of Sega Genesis and PC consoles, with his all-time favorites including Nintendo’s Super Smash Bros and Xbox franchises like Call of Duty and Halo.
But make no mistake about it: this isn’t just fun and games for Van Noy. He’s using his passion for games to build something even bigger.
And he’s teaming up with the high-powered Boston-based gaming club XSET to change the way you think about gaming.
Building an esports ‘powerhouse’
Around the time Van Noy was contemplating his future as a free agent after the 2019 season, entrepreneurs Marco Mereu and Greg Selkoe were in Los Angeles talking shop.
Mereu wanted to found an esports company, while Selkoe, along with companions Clinton Sparks and Wil Eddins, had just left the gaming organization FaZe Clan in search of a new venture.
They’re all from Boston, and they knew they wanted their newest enterprise to be tied to the city.
“With both of us being East Coast guys, we thought we could tap into more of the urban cultures of Boston, New York,” Mereu said. “The kids who play games these days are a much more diverse and inclusive audience, and just really reflect what we felt a lot of gamers want to see in an organization.”
Those early conversations gave birth to gaming club XSET, where co-founders Selkoe and Mereu serve as CEO and COO, respectively. The club has about 50 competitive gamers across 10 different games, including VALORANT, Fortnite, Apex Legends, and Call of Duty: Warzone, and a team of nine content creators.
XSET prides itself on its diversity and inclusion from top to bottom. Three of its six co-owners are Black, and more than half of its membership identifies as women or non-white.
Its commitment to those goals proved instrumental in getting Van Noy on board as an initial investor and adviser.
Van Noy in turn brought Patriots safety Adrian Colbert into the fold while the two were playing together in Miami last season, joining XSET’s aptly named “Special Teams” unit. The Patriots linebacker revealed recently that NFL players like Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott and Buccaneers defensive end Ndamukong Suh will soon be part of the team as well.
Mereu calls Van Noy and his peers “modern” two-way athletes — think Michael Jordan, Bo Jackson, and Deion Sanders, except with competitive gaming as their second pursuit.
Van Noy sees himself the same way.
“We have a unique situation where we can be two-sport athletes and be part of something so special,” he said. “I think guys are really seeing the future of esports as a whole, but also what we bring to the table. And they see us being a powerhouse.”
XSET also boasts contributions from well-known music artists and producers like Swae Lee, Ozuna, and the aforementioned Clinton Sparks to pro skateboarder Minna Stess and pro BMX rider Nigel Sylvester.
The club, Mereu says, is “more of a culture” than simply a gaming team.
“Gaming is really the fabric that reaches across every different culture: sports, music, entertainment, fashion,” he said. “Everybody plays games these days. Everybody’s a gamer.”
That vision is a big part of what makes XSET special, explains Van Noy.
“We’re trying to bring a little bit of flash, a little bit of elegance, a little bit of grace,” the Patriots linebacker said. “We’re young, we’re talented, we’re hungry, and we want to be the best organization. But we also want to be very well-respected. We want to do things the right way. We’re very inclusive, and we’re trying to create a family-based organization.”
That inclusion goes beyond how the team recruits it gamers. It can also be found in how its gamers act.
Providence native and XSET gamer Jason Galluccio — known as “Loochy” — has seen and heard a lot during his time in gaming chat rooms, and he knows firsthand how unfriendly those places can be.
“Now, in 2021, it’s starting to push away from that. I think we’ve all seen what gaming toxicity can be and the negative effects it can have on peoples’ mental states,” he explained. “And I feel like in general the trend is pushing more positive.”
Part of XSET’s mission to foster an atmosphere is aimed at keeping that trend moving in the right direction.
“We want to eliminate some of the toxicity in gaming,” Van Noy said.
Of course, not everyone’s gotten the memo on that.
In March, former Miami Heat center Meyers Leonard — who invests in FaZe Clan — made headlines for using an anti-Semitic slur on a Twitch stream while playing Call of Duty.
The epithet sparked outrage both in the athletic and gaming communities and prompted the Heat and FaZe Clan to suspend Leonard. He’s currently out of the league after being traded by the Heat to the Oklahoma City Thunder, who subsequently released him.
The incident also served as a reminder of how much goes on under the radar in the gaming community, where “Loochy” says he still encounters things on his streaming feeds that go too far.
“We all trash talk,” he said. “But there’s a fine line between banter and friendly competitive-natured trash talk and straight-up being disrespectful to people, and that’s the one that has to be drawn.”
XSET, he adds, has already drawn that line in the sand simply by bringing in people who make its vision a reality.
“I feel like what XSET has been doing and what they need to continue doing to push that narrative forward of positivity in the gaming scene is just continue the path we’re already going down: continuing to bring on creators and faces that have that level of respect for everyone around them.”