Entertainment

Patriots’ Kyle Van Noy, Boston’s XSET out to change the esports landscape

Van Noy and Patriots teammate Adrian Colbert want to help the Boston-based gaming club bring more diversity and inclusion to the gaming community -- and eliminate the toxicity within it.

Kyle Van Noy Patriots XSet
Kyle Van Noy. XSet

The game never ends for Patriots outside linebacker Kyle Van Noy.

That’s not just a nod to all the work he puts in each week in the film room, the weight room, or on the practice field as he prepares to stuff ballcarriers and hunt quarterbacks every Sunday.

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. 

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He’s also a competitive gamer.

“I usually play Tuesday and shoot content on Tuesday,” he said. (Tuesdays are his usual off-days during the NFL season). “Then on Sunday, depending on what time we play and how my recovery’s going, I’ll hop on after a victory.”

“You get good traffic when you do that,” he adds with a laugh.

Van Noy has been into video games since the days of Sega Genesis and PC consoles like Dune 2000, with his all-time favorites including Nintendo’s Super Smash Bros and current Xbox franchises like Call of Duty and Halo.

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The most important question, though: who’s his go-to on Mario Kart?

“Princess Peach,” he said. “She’s a bad you-know-what.”

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 Patriots’ 2019-20 season ended, Boston-based entrepreneurs Marco Mereu and Greg Selkoe were in Los Angeles talking shop.

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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, according to Mereu, and they knew they wanted their newest enterprise to be tied to the city.

“We just felt like there was a real opportunity for a gaming organization to be founded on the East Coast,” Mereu said. “And with both of us being East Coast guys, we thought we could tap into more of the urban cultures of Boston, New York – 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 versus what gaming has traditionally done on the West Coast over the last 10 years.”

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Those early conversations gave birth to XSET, where co-founders Selkoe and Mereu serve as CEO and COO, respectively. The club now 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.

A handful of them, like Providence native Jason Gallucio (aka “Loochy”), are from New England.

“I was like, ‘Oh, this is a match made in heaven,’” Gallucio recalled about XSET’s pitch to join its ranks.

“Loochy,” who plays with XSET’s Call of Duty: Warzone squad, says he too was looking for something outside of the “West Coast flavor” he saw growing up as a gamer and content creator.

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“The East Coast, in New England especially, has a lot of history. There’s a lot of very, very passionate gamers over here, and I think a lot of people are going to be very, very happy going forward to have such a big name representing them on this side of the country.”

Jason Galluccio (aka “Loochy” of XSET. XSET/Marco Mereu.

XSET also prides itself on its promotion of 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 — then a former Patriot with strong ties to the area — on board as an initial investor and advisor for helping expand XSET’s brand into professional sports.

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Van Noy in turn brought current 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 prominent NFL players like Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott and Tampa Bay 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.

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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.”

Taking on the “toxicity”

Gallucio has seen and heard a lot during his time in gaming chat rooms going back to Halo 2 and old Call of Duty lobbies, and he knows firsthand how unfriendly those places can be.

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“I remember some of the voice chats you’d get in some of those lobbies…extremely beyond toxic,” he recalls. “And for some reason, it was accepted more back then.

“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. And I feel like in general the trend is pushing more positive.”

Part of XSET’s mission to foster a “family”-style 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.

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Of course, not everyone’s gotten the memo on that.

In March 2021, 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.

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“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.”

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Selkoe added it’s important that the club’s members “feel loved and supported” and praised the way its teams rallied around XSET’s talented all-woman CS:GO squad, which battled vitriol when competing in men’s divisions.

“Ultimately we want gaming to connect people and bring them closer together,” he said.

Selkoe also emphasizes XSET’s commitment to the mental health of its gamers and content creators and “take the stigma out of” prioritizing self-care, highlighting its social media campaign in which XSET members normalized talking about their daily struggles.

He noted that athletes in particular can teach gamers a lot about how to deal with the pressures and criticisms that come with competition and having public profiles.

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Van Noy knows a thing or two about that.

“I’ve had multiple people come in my stream like, ‘That’s why you’re not the best, that’s why you’re not good.'” he said, “And I continue to be like, ‘I think I’m doing alright.’ It’s just part of the gig.”

He likens the backlash he and some of his peers get when exploring interests outside of respective sports to the phrase “shut up and dribble” used to stifle athletes’ speaking out on social issues.

Van Noy acknowledges the need to keep priorities in order — in his case, making sure he’s ready to disrupt opposing offenses for the Patriots. But he doesn’t buy that you can only be great at one thing or that he has to limit himself to simply being an object for someone else’s entertainment: “I have other dreams, goals, and aspirations.”

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“We’re trying to stiff-arm that, in football terms, and continue to show kids that you don’t have to try to be successful at one thing,” he said. “It doesn’t strictly have to be throwing a football, shooting a hoop. You can do it gaming, business-wise, there’s so many different angles that you can do. And you should just jump for it.”

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