OverDog pits athletes against gamers online

Former NFL player Hunter Hillenmeyer's company aims to allow fans to battle their favorite athletes in video games. AP Photo/M. Spencer Green

Face it, die-hard gamers: There’s no way you can run a fastball by your favorite first baseman on the diamond or get past a linebacker on the real-life gridiron.

But Hunter Hillenmeyer wants to give you the opportunity to beat the real pros on the virtual field with his new company, OverDog.

The ex-Chicago Bears middle linebacker co-founded a company that he hopes will use social networking to connect athletes and their fans through the video games they both love.

“Part of the allure of Twitter for athletes is that they’re able to connect in their fans in a pretty safe, private way where they can put out and receive whatever commentary or interaction they want,” said Hillenmeyer, who graduated in 2010 from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management with an MBA.

“But they’re at arm’s length. They’re not being harassed for an autograph. And that’s sort of the same experience OverDog is building upon.”

Fans would begin by inputting their athletic allegiances -- Hillenmeyer used the example of someone rooting for the Chicago Bears, Miami Heat and University of Alabama.

If, say, Devin Hester signs on through OverDog and requests to play Madden, that Bears fan –- and others -- would be notified and could win the right to play him.

There’s also the possibility of being able to watch the pro play from the virtual sidelines as well.

“You could ask questions and be in the meta-game or the same ecosystem or arena even if you’re not the one sitting on the other side playing him,” Hillenmeyer says.

OverDog is still in development, he says, with a launch targeted for the first quarter of next year. Hillenmeyer also mentioned the company is working with the players’ unions in the major sports leagues.

“The take from all of the unions has been: Anything we can do to put our athletes in contact with fans with an experience that both sides are already active in, it’s a good thing for the players, good thing for the fans, good thing for that team and a good thing for that league’s brand as a whole,” he says.

Hillenmeyer even has a jock-filled lineup on the advisory board: ex-wideout and reality TV star Hank Baskett, Vancouver Whitecaps FC midfielder John Thorrington, Cy Young-winning hurler David Price and Minnesota Vikings punter/gamer/pundit Chris Kluwe.

“I think it can fill a niche that people would really enjoy,” Kluwe says via email. “I know I personally get requests to play games from fans all the time and I imagine it's the same for many other athletes. All of the guys I've talked to think it's a great idea, and those that game are excited to be a part of it.”

As for the company’s moniker? It’s simple: Amateur gamers level the playing field when challenging an athlete in cyberspace -– they’re no longer the underdog.

“Even if you’re a teenage kid and you’re playing against Devin Hester in Madden, you never could compete with him on the football field itself,” Hillenmeyer says. “Everybody’s equal with a controller in their hands.”