So, you want to make a competitive eSports team. Where do you start? How do you run it? Why should you care? These are just some of the questions I would like to try and answer.
Professional eSports teams are ran very similarly to professional sports teams. For the sake of this article, I will be looking at hockey teams as an example because we are in Canada, and that’s what we do. Sports teams are businesses, plain and simple. Their main purpose is to make money. They do that by providing a service, which is entertainment. This means that a successful team is first and foremost, entertaining. In hockey, the most entertaining things to watch are big complex plays, executed by skilled players who can almost dance with the puck. But teams can be successful even if they aren’t the most skilled. This is why the position of enforcer exists, or why butterfly is the most popular goalie stance. People enjoy watching players hurl themselves at other players, creating drama and conflict. It’s entertaining. So how does this translate to your eSports team?
If you treat your team like a business, it’ll help set you up for success later. As you approach the different areas of your team, it needs to be thought of as a business owner. Let’s start with players. Who will they be? If you want to be successful within a league, you need to think skill and entertainment. So you will hold tryouts, treating each tryout as if it’s an interview. What can this person bring to the team? Are they extremely skilled? Do they perform in an entertaining way, perhaps choosing champions or cards that aren’t particularly strong in the meta, but seem to be effective within their playstyle? Are they a team player, someone who can communicate well, compromise and adapt? Do they show leadership or strategic understanding? Do they display creativity, something extremely useful when trying to think “outside the meta” and catching people off guard? All of these attributes come into play for a skilled and entertaining team. Lastly, and arguably the most important attribute you will be looking for, is commitment. Just like any business, your players need to dedicate their time if they want to get hired. What use is an extremely skilled player if they never show up?
This leads us to practices. They need to be scheduled, and regular. Remember, your team is a business, and if you don’t put the work in, the business cannot produce its services. If no one shows up to make the pizza, there is no pizza to be sold. How much your team puts in is what it will get out. Practices are what your team does. Think of practice as the Monday to Friday, with games being the weekly inspection. Your job isn’t to work only the day of the weekly inspection. Your job is to work every day. A hockey team is good, not because of the players, but because of the team as a whole. They gel, they encourage, and they help each other improve. Even single player teams do this. Starcraft teams will share their strats among the team and help point out weaknesses. The idea is that every team member is just as good as the rest, so when a competition comes, if one player hits an unlucky streak, there are still three or four who can keep going. So practice, and practice more. While practicing, experiment. This leads to the next business concept. Meetings.
Yes, you should have meetings. These are your review sessions, where you look at your past games and performances and brainstorm how you and your team can improve. This is also where you talk about upcoming games and teams you may be facing, what research needs to be done, and possible strategies to overcome them. You then take everything you talked about in your meetings, and apply that to your practices. Communication is key in every business. Talk about what you think is working as a team, and what can be worked on. These meetings are also where the business concept of Research and Development comes in. Talk about upcoming patches, how they might affect the meta. What are other teams doing and how is it working for them? Come up with some crazy ideas. Brainstorm about champion comps, item builds, and strategies. Then take all of that and bring it into your practices. Write down the things you want to test, and schedule a practice to do so. This guarantees that you will be trying new things and shaking it up. If it didn’t work, you now carry that knowledge with you. Meetings and communication as a team are just as important as any other aspect. How can a ship sail without an understanding of its surroundings and a plan to overcome them? So, what do you do now that you have this all figured out?
Now that you are confident that you can deliver your product (entertainment) to the masses, how do you go about marketing yourself? A business’s success is based off of three pillars: quality of product, who knows about the product, and how you treat those people. At this point, you should already have quality down by virtue of your practice and players. Marketing can help with the rest. As such, you need to start worrying about branding and image. How the public views you is just as important as the product you are selling. You need to advertise yourself. In sports, the way to do that is similar to any other business. Websites, Facebook, Twitter, etc. Twitch is obviously a great medium for eSports teams. You want to cultivate a following. This advertising is strengthened by a well-designed brand. A professional logo and website will go a long way to legitimizing your team in the eyes of the masses. Marketing advertises your product to fans. That product is entertainment. These advertising mediums are great, because they also allow you to interact with your fans/customers. Your brand is what customers will attach to. It’s not really the team, it’s the brand. That’s why hockey teams can switch up rosters, coaches, and GMs so much, because people attach to brands. If you take the time to create a strong brand for yourself, your business will have longevity. People will stay loyal to the brand even when the product might start to waver. This also leads us to diversification.
Now that your team and brand are established, and you are delivering your product well, it might be time to expand and diversify your product offering. Look at starting up teams for other games, under the same brand. Coke has Diet Coke, Coke Zero, Vanilla Coke, Cherry Coke etc. Esports teams do the same. TSM has a Heroes of the Storm team, a Counter Strike team, Super Smash Bros. players, and their original LCS team. Not only that, but they also have teams in different leagues. By this point you might be discovering that your business is no longer a team, it’s a brand. Once you have a brand, you can start making the switch from amateur to professional. I’m not talking about skill level, I’m talking about monetization. People want to support the brand by showing people who they root for. Merchandising and other services are now open to you as a brand, which in turn allows you to start paying your players, which will encourage better performances, which will increase the quality of your product, which will help strengthen your brand, which will help you sell more merchandise… I think you see where this is going. Since you treated your team like a business from the get go, the transition from amateur to professional will be relatively smooth. You have been thinking professionally the whole time. From hiring, and possibly having to fire employees. To managing the day to day of your employees, and ensuring your product is delivering. To research and development, meetings, and marketing.
Does this mean that running a team is boring? Absolutely not! Just because the concepts translate appropriately, doesn’t mean it’s not fun. But it does take hard work. Success takes work, dedication, and commitment. Don’t go into it expecting much, unless you and your players are willing to put in the time and effort it takes to be successful. I would absolutely say that you shouldn’t go into it unless you have the passion and drive to push you forward. Passion means you will have fun in your work. And really, isn’t that what this is all about anyways? Having fun?
Kadins (@MrRousseaux) owns the marketing and production firm Wide Mouth Media. He is also the current President of SKL. More importantly, he has been gaming since he was old enough to hold a NES controller. Professionally, he has produced and directed hundreds of WHL live broadcasts, contracted marketing services for provincial health districts, and consulted on branding for many companies in South West Saskatchewan. He’s also a total feeder.