The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted almost every aspect of our lives, including sports. Games were canceled and sports fanatics were left watching reruns of their favorite athletics memories from home instead of from the stands.
However, one Cardinal basketball alum and one former basketball manager teamed up off the court to find a creative way to bring sports fans together and give back during the pandemic.
Akoy Agau (’19) and his friend and former UofL men’s basketball manager, Matthew Melander (’18), turned their friendship into a partnership with the creation of Primetime Sports. Their efforts have been featured on ESPN and WHAS 11.
Primetime Sports uses live-streaming service Twitch to stream athletes and celebrities playing video games while allowing fans to pay to interact with them. The company and players split that money, with some of Primetime’s share being donated to charity.
“We always wanted to do something with athletes, connect athletes with fans in a unique way,” Melander told ESPN. “We were trying to think of a new way for fans to interact with their favorite athletes. And video games, the platform is becoming more and more popular. A lot of guys that played video games in college, they continue to play that during their professional careers. The live aspect, as opposed to a recorded podcast, is a fun way to interact with their favorite athletes.”
With the pandemic limiting in-person sports activities, Agau and Melander saw an opportunity to also make a difference for fans of the NCAA Tournament.
“We thought this would be the perfect time to capitalize on and kind of start networking on that,” Agau told WHAS 11.
So, they held a virtual NCAA Tournament. But unlike other virtual tournaments that used computer projections and algorithms to pick a winner, this tournament actually let the players play. Forty of 68 teams who were projected to play in the real NCAA Tournament participated, with NBA-bound stars or departing seniors leading their squads from their video game controllers. Agau and Melander tailored the rosters to reflect reality, including player ratings, a tournament court and even school logos and uniforms. The bracket was divided by users playing on PlayStation and Xbox, and the competition began on July 15. Now in the Final Four, Kentucky, Rutgers, Illinois and Michigan State will compete for the (virtual) winning title this weekend.
The former Cardinals saw the virtual tournament as a way to try to make up for the sudden end to the sports season and these former players’ college careers.
“Guys getting to miss out on that is really sad,” Agau said. “If I would have missed out on it, having been there before, I definitely would have been devastated. We just kind of wanted to provide an experience that can some somehow bring that same excitement.”
“What better way to get involved than to do something to give back to these guys that had something taken away from them, that they work so hard for and also to be able to give back to some different charities that will need the money currently,” Melander said.
Half of the money raised from the tournament was donated to two charities: Direct Relief and Save the Children. Agau and Melander hope to grow their company and continue giving back through their virtual games.
“We would love to make this an annual thing. It’s a unique thing to do,” Agau said. “A lot of those guys do play video games. So this is a good way to help raise money, get money in their pocket, people can tune in and watch and support their guy. A last hurrah to support one of their guys.”