As the NFL continues to expand its reach across multiple countries and with new forms of media, passionate NFL fans from all walks of life are getting in on the ground floor to reach new audiences.
Among them is Twitch streamer Sukhbeer Brar, who goes by the name EsfandTV (or “Esfand” for short) and has become one of platform’s biggest stars over the past few years. And he’s bringing his love for the NFL with him to Twitch.
Born in Texas and practically raised on football, Esfand built his brand while streaming World of Warcraft and other games to thousands of viewers. After years of hard work, he’s now one of Twitch’s biggest streamers, with nearly 1 million followers on the platform.
But after years of playing video games with a viewer count often in the tens of thousands, Esfand chose the year 2021 to branch out into another of his great passions: The NFL.
With the help of Twitch, he established Let’s Go! Football, a weekly show where he talks football with current and former stars such as JuJu Smith-Schuster and Ryan Shazier, along with some of his fellow Twitch streamers.
We got to speak to Esfand and talk about Let’s Go! Football, his start in sports media and Twitch, his favorite teams and the future of sports media on Twitch.
This interview with EsfandTV is made possible by Twitch.
TheSpun: You’re one of the biggest streamers on Twitch who also happens to be a diehard NFL fan. What made you want to add hosting an NFL show on top of everything else you do with Twitch? Esfand: I started an organization in October of last year and one of the big things we do is shows. We’re more of a media production company. Applying it to football - putting it all together was kind of a big deal. Sports is a growing section on Twitch. Nowadays it's not just a gaming website. Sports and especially the NFL has a growing audience of football. [Twitch is now broadcasting Thursday Night Football.] It was a perfect fit.TheSpun: You often stream for 10 hours a day, do IRL content and other time-consuming projects. How do you make time to research your football subjects and do you have any techniques to manage your time?E: Some days I’ll have the games on while I’m streaming. I’ll take note of what’s happening and the big moments, walking through the big things that happens… If I don’t really have have an opportunity to really get into what’s going on during the game because I’m streaming, I end up going back afterwards and either going through the whole game and skipping to the big moments or, if I’m really trying, skip the commercials and go really fast. I’ve got NFL Game Pass so I can go through games really quickly.
TheSpun: Your NoPixel character Cleetus Cornwood likes to brag that he was the special teams MVP in high school. Is that based on something true in your life?
E: No. So… what I did with him was tried to take every single Texas high school coach stereotype and everything you could possibly think of - old, grizzled, Texas cop, former sheriff - I tried to turn it into a character with Cleetus. He’s just very boisterous, talks about the glory days and claims he ran a 4.2 40 in college - when he clearly didn’t.
I didn’t play professionally, but I did play in high school and college a little bit. I got hurt almost immediately and worked on staff at SMU because I wanted to be a football coach originally. Before I started streaming that’s what I wanted to do...
I (ultimately) worked for Chad Morris at SMU and I was always getting in on coaching meetings - thought that’s what I would wind up doing with my life.
TheSpun: Did you play football with or coach anyone who wound up becoming a star in college?
E: Yeah, I know a lot of those guys. (But) I think I made a way bigger impact working on staff. I worked in recruiting and video, that type of stuff. Guys like Cortland Sutton and James Proche, the first draft class, were guys I got involved in. Justin Lawler, James Quinn, Trey Quinn... SMU has always produced talent, especially at receiver. We’ve always had guys who come out and play well. Cole Beasley and Emmanuel Sanders - those guys were before my time.
TheSpun: So now for the football-football questions. What is your favorite NFL team and why do you think the media hates your team?E: I grew up in Dallas, so it’s the Dallas Cowboys. I would say the media - people love to hate on the Cowboys. It’s America’s Team. It’s a very valuable franchise. It has fans all over the country. It’s always beneficial to talk about the Cowboys. Whether you like them or not, whether it’s controversial, you always have to talk about the Cowboys. Even during the 8-8 era (with Jason Garrett) - everybody is frustrated. That’s the best thing in the world for the media.TheSpun: What does your gut tell you about this year (not your analytics brain)?E: My gut? Hmm... I went into this year thinking “you know what, the Cowboys had it rough last year… losing Dak Prescott, not playing well. Things were not looking good. Is this team really… well rounded enough to go in and have a great season, make a run at the playoffs?” My gut says that the second that I truly believe that Cowboys are going to be good, they’re gonna completely blow it. If I believe, it’s just gonna go downhill. It’s like the Cowboys fan curse. And unfortunately I am starting to believe (laughs).
TheSpun: Speaking of teams that will not be going to the playoffs: The New York Jets. Your good friend Will Neff is a well-known Jets fan. It has been rough for that entire fanbase all year. How would you walk him and any other Jets fans off the ledge?
E: Listen… when it comes down to it: [Go] Team Tank. Go get that draft pick. Do what the Browns did for years. You’ll get some talent. It’ll be fine. Let it rip. Enjoy the ride. Make some memes out of it. The fact that Joe Flacco is coming back is kind of hilarious. But just enjoy the ride and get that draft pick.
TheSpun: Well speaking of memes, here’s a question that may force you to put your thinking cap on - How would you describe football to someone watching it for the first time ever?
E: Hmm… I think this is why the football content I do on Twitch works: I used to be a World of Warcraft streamer. World of Warcraft is not football, in a lot of ways. But I started streaming Madden, did it for fun, and I kind of took an audience of people with a heavy European portion and it turned into growth playing Madden and talking football, and eventually I started doing the Tailgate Show… I kind of started it by making fun, good content about football and not just about X’s and O’s. Lower the barrier to entry.
Now this is where the answer comes in: Football is VERY complicated. When you’re watching it, everybody looks different. It’s not like soccer where everybody looks relatively the same - similar types of builds. In football you have guys that are tall, they’re short, wide, big, strong. You have everything. So when you look at someone and think that’s a football player, how do you know?
The game is almost like chess, playing football. Because you have your different pieces that do different moves and look different, and every single play is “hey I’m doing this move on the board” and based on where each team on the board wants to move their pieces, is where you’ll get your result. And I guess the variable there is how well do people do their job.
It’s a lot like human chess, in a lot of ways.
TheSpun: Time for the Speed Round. Walter Payton or Jim Brown?E: Walter Payton.
TheSpun: Randy Moss or Jerry Rice?
E: Jerry Rice.
TheSpun: Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers?E: Tom Brady.
TheSpun: Kyler Murray or Lamar Jackson?E: Kyler Murray.
TheSpun: Joe Burrow or Justin Herbert?
E: Justin Herbert.
TheSpun: Maddenor FIFA?E: Madden.
TheSpun: John Madden or Al Michaels?E: John Madden
TheSpun: Who’s a greater video game football player: Michael Vick from Madden 04 or Pablo Sanchez from Backyard Football 00?
E: Pablo Sanchez (laughs). Dude’s broken. Absolutely broken. [Vick] was broken too, but Pablo was absolutely broken.
TheSpun: Who’s a Twitch streamer you know personally who doesn’t really talk about sports, but is privately a diehard football/sports fan?
E: AustinShow. 100-percent. He does mostly shows and has always done that kind of thing on Twitch as well. A lot of people don’t know but he’s a diehard Vikings fan. The first few episodes of the Tailgate Show, he called me and said “Dude this is amazing content - the fact that you’re combining IRL and football and putting it together is huge.”
Then we started talking about Let’s Go Football and he’s like “absolutely.” He did so well on the show that everyone was like “we have to have him back.”
And Will Neff too.
TheSpun: You do play Madden NFL a lot. What are your thoughts on the Madden Ultimate Team?
E: Not a huge Ultimate Team guy. I’m kind of a roleplayer. I did the Cornwood stuff. What I did was I play franchise mode on stream, have my green screen set up, pick a team to rebuild and come up with storylines… I’ll make up some kind of lore about players I pick up. I come up with all this RP and this lore, so that the viewers get attached to the characters.
Like recently we drafted “Larry McRary” who’s 5-foot-5, and before every game I’m getting up on the screen, telling them that they suck and making it funny for the audience with TTS post-game questions. That’s one of the things that’s fun about the NFL - the funny post-game press conferences. I wanted to make the “postgame funny pressers” into Twitch content.
TheSpun: Excited for the new NCAA Football game?
E: Very excited. NCAA was an incredible franchise. What I did in high school going back about 10-11 years, they had the NCAA Team Builder - the web app - where you’d go in and punch in all the player names for the teams then download that into a game.
I made our high school football team - I was going to be a coach - and gave players ratings. I would take everyone’s stats - 40-yard dash, vertical, long jump, bench press, and came up with formulas and get a rating. So I took that, put it into NCAA and for my senior project we would simulate the games and determine whether we’d win based on the simulation, and I think I was only wrong once when we lost in the in the high school playoff game.
There were so many great features in NCAA that they put into Madden. I hope they apply that same innovation to NCAA [in the next game].
TheSpun: What is one big goal you’re trying to achieve for yourself with Let’s Go! Football - and how do you plan to go about achieving it?
E: The big thing for me is to on the front end of pushing sports - more specifically, football - on Twitch. That’s why Let’s Go! Football is important to me. I think there’s an audience there. Being able to do sports content somewhere where I have a pretty large platform already is a blessing. I’m very fortunate to be in that position.
I just want to continue to grow the show and get its name out there. That’s the big thing for me it’s letting people know “Hey if you wanna watch sports talk content on Twitch, that’s the place to go.”
Esfand might be the biggest name on Twitch giving the platform a bigger piece of the football pie, but by the looks of things he'll hardly be the last.
Twitch VP of Global Creators Constance Knight told TheSpun in a statement that the company's goal is to become "a top destination for sports fans." To that end, they intend to continue bringing athletes, teams and content creators together to make that a reality:
“Over the past year, the sports category has grown tremendously on Twitch, largely accelerated by the hundreds of streamers utilizing the service to broadcast and livestream content around their favorite sports teams and leagues. We’ve seen the excitement from our community around this vertical, and we’re continuing to invest in not only original programming and partnerships – like we have with the NFL and Thursday Night Football, but our Creators as well. Twitch is becoming a top destination for sports fans to come together as the service is bringing together athletes, leagues and fan bases to engage with one another, ultimately creating a sporting experience that cannot be matched, even in person," Knight said.
With talented and passionate creators like Esfand paving the way, it might not be long until Twitch becomes a massive player in the sports media scene.