Rise Nation, the esports team co-founded by Tennessee Titans lineman Rodger Saffold, rebranded and will host a $50,000 charity Call of Duty: Warzone event on Friday with proceeds going to the Equal Justice Initiative, the organization announced.
Participants in the Rise Together charity event include Saffold, Miami Heat forward Meyers Leonard, Dallas Mavericks forward Justin Jackson, rapper Tee Grizzley, retired Call of Duty pros Tyler "TeePee" Polchow and Damon "Karma" Barlow, influencers Lucas "Blaze" Mosing and Aydan "Aydan" Conrad and others. The event will see players compete in a quads tournament produced by esports and gaming platform eFuse and will air partially on the ESPN Esports Twitch channel at 4:30 p.m. ET for a preshow, with the event starting at 5:10 p.m. ET.
With the rebranding, Saffold and business partner Kahreem Horsley hope to be able to take Rise to the next level, with aspirations toward potential participation in the Call of Duty League.
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"We do want to move on Call of Duty, as far as the CDL goes," Horsley said. "We've had talks with them, dating back to last year and as recently as a few months. We're just getting our marbles all in the right basket so we can take aim at securing a spot for that league specifically. We're not going to restrict ourselves to that, but that's our first target."
When they first started the organization in 2014, they signed a Call of Duty lineup and eventually -- prior to that game franchising -- found success in the game. In 2018, Rise took first in three open events in the Call of Duty World League circuit in Atlanta, Seattle and Anaheim, California, as well as first in the Stage 1 of the Pro League. But with significant investment needed to enter the Call of Duty League -- with spots selling for a reported $25 million -- the team left Call of Duty in 2018 and did not apply for the CDL in 2019.
"It was tough at the very beginning because Call of Duty is what we focused on for a very long time and it just wasn't the right time to get into franchising," Saffold told ESPN. "We feel like we have a plan and a structure to get back into that scene ... We're still available, I would say. We just want to take it to that next level."
The team will dawn a new logo and brand identity, a first since the organization launched in 2014. Saffold and Horsley said it was incredibly important to launch a new brand with a Call of Duty event, given the roots in that game.
"It took a lot of time," Saffold said. "We've really been talking about how we could get back, use an event to be able to get back, get a bunch of new eyes on the brand and get people really interested in what we had to bring for the future."
"We thought no better way than what birthed us as an org," Horsley said. "To get back into it with Call of Duty. It's a rebirth of what we once were but it's a new us."
Saffold was among the first athletes to invest in esports. Drafted by the St. Louis Rams in 2010, Saffold went on to play with the Rams as they moved to Los Angeles through their Super Bowl-qualifying season in 2017-18, when they lost to the New England Patriots. He then signed a four-year, $44 million deal with the Titans that offseason.
Here is the current talent and teams involved.
Casters: Anthony "Nameless" Wheeler and Jordan "LEGIQN" Payton
Team K-BRAD: Max Holloway with Tyler "TeePee" Polchow, Doug "DougisRaw" Wolf and Kenneth "K-Brad" Bradley
Team VYOLENT: Christian Kirk with Adam "General Smitty" Smith, Muj "Fricke" Fricke, and Brian "Vyolent" Matos
Team FRANCHIS: Marques Valdes-Scantling with Liam "Jukeyz", ClutchBelk and FranChis
Team MIDNIGHT: Kyle Van Noy with David "StoneMountain" Steinberg, Ian "Enable" Wyatt and Midnight
Team RAW: Rodger Saffold III with Jonna "MissesMae" Mae, Damon "Karma" Barlow and RAW
Team ACEDOLO: Kurt Benkert with Aydan "Aydan" Conrad, Charlie "MuTeX" Saouma and AceDolo
Team SMUG: Tee Grizzley with Lucas "Blaze" Mosing, James "TGLTN" Giezen, and Bryant "Smug" Huggins
Team DOMEZ: Meyers Leonard with Luke "Metaphor" Canning, Garrett "Bloo" Underhill, and Christopher "DomeZ" Guzman
Team KEEM: Eric Paschall with Jordan "JKap" Kaplan, Galvanize and Keem
Team DRIX: Justin Jackson with Bryan "Apathy" Zhelyazkov, Josiah "Slacked" Berry, and Drix
Team AVEXYS: Josh Hart with Vikram "Vik" Singh Barn, Warz and Jvonn "Avexys" Williams
Team JKW: Chase Edmonds with Rhys "Rated" Price, Thomas "Tommey" Trewren and JKW
Team HORSLEY: JR Smith with Loony, JeremyStuD and Kahreem Horsley
Team JAMAL: JD Martinez with Yungstaz, Gangstaz and Jamal