Former Chicago Bears outside linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer has been very busy since his retirement from the National Football League, which includes co-founding a company, Overdog, that allows sports fans to personally connect with their favorite athletes through a common hobby: video games.
Hillenmeyer, 33, spent eight seasons in the NFL after completing his four years at Vanderbilt University. Originally drafted by the Green Bay Packers in the fifth round of the 2003 NFL Draft, Hillenmeyer signed with the Chicago Bears at the end of the ’03 preseason. He played all eight of his successful seasons in Chicago, recording over 380 tackles, 7.0 sacks and two interceptions alongside fellow Chicago ‘backers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs.
It didn’t take long until he began to make a name for himself in another industry following his retirement. Hillenmeyer met his co-founder, Steve Berneman, through a mutual friend in 2012. From there, the idea of connecting fans and athletes through the common love of video games shaped into a business plan and the two business partners began to put the plan into action.
Hillenmeyer took time out of his busy schedule to speak with us over the phone yesterday to discuss how Overdog works and what it took to make it all happen.
How Overdog works:
Hunter: “The idea is that it’s an athlete that’s probably going to go home and play video games anyway. They’ll pull out their Overdog app immediately prior to that and send out a challenge to their fans––any sports game or shooter game, like Call of Duty, that they happen to choose. During the process they can actually send a quick little video of themselves. The fans can set customized filters, so they can only hear from athletes from a certain sport or athletes playing a certain game or a certain time of day. Then a fan can accept that challenge and win the opportunity to connect on the Xbox or PlayStation, and we connect the gamer tags and allow the fans to go sit down and play against the athlete.”
Where the idea came from:
“Well I think there are lots of businesses built around the idea of connecting athletes with fans that rely on the athlete doing things that they don’t wanna do. The athletes are very busy, and they’re usually very focused on their sport or their craft. That’s creating a situation where you’re asking guys to do things, or showing up to certain places at certain times, and that’s a lot to ask of them. So Overdog has a very simple premise. If you can connect athletes with fans using an existing habit or hobby, then it’s gonna deliver a better experience for everybody.”
What Hunter’s relationship with his co-founder is like:
“We were both already kind of in the start-up world, with mutual friends. The person that actually introduced us (Hunter and co-founder/CEO Steve Berneman) is now the Chairman of our board and one of the original investors. He and I have pretty complimentary skill sets. I have a deep history in sports and a lot of relationships that have been useful to us, and he was in Austin doing start-up law. So I think we were very complimentary to each other in building a team together, and that’s proven to be the case. We now have 10 people at Overdog and especially in the last four or five months things are really taking off.”
Overdog has approximately 350 athletes working with them at the moment, and that’s only expected to grow over the next few months. While the team is currently working on a complete overhaul of the phone app as we speak, in order to fix a few bugs and improve the overall experience on the app, Hunter expects to have an even greater experience for users in the next couple of months. But simply improving the overall experience on the phone app isn’t the only change Hillenmeyer and his Overdog team are planning to make in the coming months:
“Right now it’s exclusively console-based video games but we would like to power the same experience for mobile games, PC games, or any kind of connection. And at some point it won’t be geared towards just pro athletes. It’s not just about waiting in line to play against a pro athlete, but it’s about giving people that love sports and love gaming a better way to blend the two together. Whether that’s connecting two athletes, or an athlete and a fan, or two fans. Those are two enormous markets with very engaged and passionate users.”
While there are many companies, websites and apps that attempt to bring fans closer with their favorite athletes, not many are able to merge the two together with a common interest as well as Overdog. “We’re not really asking them to do anything except play video games that they were going to play anyway. We’ve built a business model into something athletes are pretty much already doing.”
So while he doesn’t believe that Overdog will turn people into gamers, he does believe that it has the potential to successfully merge the already-existing sports world with the already-existing gaming world.
And from the looks of it, the Overdog team has already done so.
“We’re trying to make gaming better for sports fans and sports better for gaming fans. Anywhere that there’s an overlap between those two worlds, we’re going to be a part of that conversation.”
For more information on co-founders Hunter and Steve, as well as the entire Overdog team and company, check out the website and social media links below:
(Note: We do not own the photo. Borrowed from chicitysports.com. No copyright infringement intended).