On Running a Startup Esports Org

We've been growing Rome Revolution from the ground up since 2017, starting at zero and building out teams, player communities, and sponsorship.  It's an organization in line with the starting goals of the business LAN Mob - to find and promote the best local gaming talent at the next level. I'm happy for the successes we've achieved in doing that, and feel there is much more in store for us in the coming years.

To me, it has always been about the players. I was born and grew up in Rome when the city was moving through a rough transition, the 90s seeing a base closure and many small businesses evaporate with it. The economic impact together with the nationwide trend in arcades decelerating at that time, meant we went from having multiple arcades in town to none, and I found myself as a young teen with limited entertainment options outside my home. We had a couple bowling alleys, a movie theater, and not much else. Hanging out with friends at Walmart actually became an acceptable social alternative outside the home.

So that was always a driving force behind forming the LAN many years later in my adulthood - creating the kind of place I had needed as a youth in this town. And I think we've succeeded in that, starting on a very small budget and growing it organically, but I still have a much greater vision for what that LAN will look like in Rome, and on a larger scale Central New York. I can't wait to reveal that.

The esports wing of the business is focused on growing those players who are interested in competing as esports athletes, ranging from upcoming talented youth to adults looking to make a living at video games. That often means content creation - players building their own brands through channels such as Twitch, YouTube, and various social media platforms. The esports org has aspirations of being a large org some day, but we're also grounded in the realities of where we are today, and taking small steps towards that larger goal.  It's been a fun endeavor finding players from all over, helping grow their skill, and competing in events. But not without its challenges!

The Frustrations of a Start-up Esports Org

There can be day-to-day frustrations - small potatoes stuff - but those aren't really the focus of this blog post. The most frustrating parts for me personally are when the organization is mischaracterized as something it is not. The three I want to focus on for this blog post - and I'll address each one individually, are:

  1. Esports Orgs Bring no Value (I can do it Alone!)
  2. Esports Orgs are Exploitative (The Brand of Team vs. Brand of You)
  3. Esports Orgs are Greedy/Profit Focused

Esports Orgs Bring no Value (I can do it Alone!)

The value an org brings is three part - financial, mental, and social.

The financial side comes through sponsorship, and I don't mean just a jersey, but helping you cover entry fees, transportation, hotels, food, equipment, facilities. Competing at the next level beyond your local area requires money, and orgs are built to provide that. This is an area we've done some work in through the years, from minor sponsorships to majors, and we're planning to ramp up in 2020 to increase our investment here.

The mental side is often the most overlooked, and applicable to EVERY game played, but especially when it comes to team games where your attitude towards the game can have an impact on the greater group effort. Getting four to six people to all share the same mind in approach to the game for optimal play is not an easy task. We've also seen players with above-average to outstanding raw skill at a game, but the inability to properly function in a team environment. The bottom line is if you're playing any game with the wrong mindset you will inevitably get stuck at some point in your development. This is where services like coaching come in, and having structure and procedures for dealing with problems, and mature in game leaders. An area we also want to increase investment in 2020.

Lastly the social side is probably the most visible part of the org. You're going to make new friends, connections, and gain opportunities to interface with other orgs through competitions. You'll also gain the promotion of affiliating with a brand that can advocate your own brand to a wider audience. Find an org you believe in, one that's focused on growth and investment in you, and work to develop that relationship. Know the owner(s) and what they believe in. You will absolutely grow together with the org, and if you're lucky enough to find an org that ends up going pro you'll be in a very good position to launch your own career. Maybe instead you end up outgrowing the org to the point where you can go out on your own, or get picked up by one of the major league orgs (Cloud 9, TSM, 100 Thieves, CLG, Faze Clan, and many more). That should be a happy moment for both you and your former org that wants only the best for you. 

Esports Orgs are Exploitative (The Brand of Team vs. Brand of You)

A good esports org will support your own personal brand development. Your success is their success. The struggle here - and this will be true throughout life in any job you work - is the feeling of your own hard work going to profit a brand that is not owned by you.

The Brand of You is the most important part here. People want to know YOU, all your quirks and personality traits, hobbies, what you had for breakfast. That is what you're selling, what will bring you followers, and what will stick with you throughout your entire life, no matter what org you're a part of.

It may seem like with all these direct platforms it's easy to go it alone. You may feel you don't need all the structure an org can bring for you, helping you with your mental game, with the financial costs of developing your brand in this space, and with the social boost that comes with affiliating. It's true some people can make it on their own, but there is nothing wrong with affiliating with an org you believe in either. You'll no doubt meet some great friends along the way and enjoy the ride together. If you find an org that's really willing to invest in you, and if you invest back into that org, a positive growth trend can form, the brands feeding off the strength of each other.

Esports Orgs are Greedy/Profit Focused

Often the path to growth in esports involves competing in increasingly difficult arenas to improve yourselves as players. There are plenty of brands who have made it big, or have invested huge amounts in infrastructure in the hopes of achieving that. But most brands that are growing are not making money.

Certainly with the brand we've started here in Rome, we realize we need to get players out to larger events to get them the experience they need to grow. If we wrap up a $3,000 sponsorship package to Evo Las Vegas and send our best Smash player, we do it knowing this is a really expensive learning experience. Smash college tuition if you will. That player is going to come back much stronger, and hopefully what they've learned is shared with the greater community through continued play, and in that way the local community grows and benefits from the experience. But we have no allusions that the player we send will come anywhere near top-16 in such a major event without first paying their dues, usually through multiple trips. Many players have been farming these major tournaments for years and are greatly experienced, so it's rare when you see someone come out of nowhere. Most everyone has to pay their dues and make the slow grind to the top. The Kyle Geirsdorf ($3 Million Fortnite World Cup Winner) overnight success stories are the rare exceptions; success often takes a lot more time, travel, and costs.

So in these early phases of growing there are going to be a lot of events like this where we send players knowing the odds are stacked against them, but leveling up their own knowledge and experience for the future. In the case of youth, maybe a college scout takes notice and a college sponsorship comes out of it - many colleges have full esports arenas and scholarship programs running today. For us as an org, in the short term it does not make any money for us, and to me investing money in others development with no guarantee or expectation of return is the definition of selfless spending.

So the characterization of esports orgs as greedy just doesn't add up in our case, because what we've built here in Rome is the exact opposite of that. I feel that characterization is a toxic, destructive idea and I've pushed back very hard on that.

Thoughts on the Future

2020 will be an interesting year. I put a heavy burden on myself financially in starting LAN Mob in 2015, and that weight is starting to come off my shoulders now five years later. That means I'm going to have a lot more resources to invest into the LAN. I'm being careful how I invest those resources as I want to get maximum value for everyone involved - staff, players, and myself. But I believe a lot of people have been sleeping on LAN Mob and Rome Revolution, and that this year is going to turn some heads.
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1 comment:

  1. Wow, I didn't realise there are so many challenges in starting up an esport org. It is similar to do an education startup, like online tuition