North Texas esports showed its staying power during a challenging 2020. Can 2021 be even bigger?
It’s been more than nine months since Kyle Bautista had a normal day in the Complexity Gaming office hanging around the proverbial water cooler catching up with his colleagues.
His visits there are rare at the moment, but that was always the best part about being at the GameStop Performance Center – the personal connections between staff, players and coaches at the esports organization in North Texas.
Complexity’s chief operating officer, Bautista, lives three minutes from the office but hasn’t been safe since March 2020.
“We responded and said this would be our biggest year yet,” said Bautista.
The COVID-19 outbreak forced the world to change. Esports couldn’t avoid change either, but it looked different from the hubs of other competitive leagues like the NFL and NBA.
Esports sure thrived as players competed from afar.
Envy Gaming’s headquarters on Victory Plaza in downtown Dallas had also not been as vibrant and lively as of March.
The other powerhouse esports team in North Texas had big plans for live competitions and events, some of which would have taken place in their shiny new downtown office. The teams should travel around the globe in order to survive in a steadily growing industry.
Ian “Crimsix” Porter of the Dallas Empire in the Call of Duty League was surprised at how much he would miss the live events.
“I realized how much I loved to travel to these events or even in general,” Porter said. “The COVID lockdown and precautions have now become a normal life. Going back to our old normal will feel weird. “
Esports weren’t crippled like other companies. The industry was actually raised in some ways, but the loss of live events forced a change in strategy. Companies learned last year what is really necessary and that could mean a calculated future.
Esports is in gear for 2021, as has Dallas Morning News coverage of the Dallas Empire and Dallas Fuel in the CDL and Overwatch League. 2020 showed what sport can look like in this new age.
“We’re just going to take this thing one day at a time and do the best we can under the circumstances,” said Bautista, “and try to do our part to prevent this thing from getting.” worse. “
FILE – Game computers will be on display in the Team Envy and Dallas Fuel offices in Victory Park in Dallas on Friday, February 1, 2019.(Ryan Michalesko / employee photographer)
The NBA announced the suspension of their season on March 11th. The moment was a catalyst for other competitive leagues to follow suit. Esports went online quickly as the Call of Duty League announced that live events for the online game would be canceled on March 12th. The Overwatch League did the same on March 13th, and eventually esports was controlled remotely. Even if the teams would train together and compete against each other, this would not happen in places that were set up in front of fans.
This was possible because it was the real origin of the industry. The venue competition, with thousands of fans all the time, is still relatively new. But the sport was the only team competition for a period of time until the traditional sporting leagues returned with plans.
During this time the sport was the big hit. The New York Times even reported that bets on esports have increased 40-fold in some cases.
All the teams had to do was compete from home.
“We’ve been here many times, attending a lot of online events, and it’s pretty normal in sports anyway,” said Mike Rufail, Envy’s chief gaming officer. “It was difficult that we couldn’t all be in our facility together just because it’s such a nice place to train, but they all did a really good job from home.”
Esports had this advantage over traditional sports. The show went on with no health risk. That was the first batch of damage control. The closings of offices to crowds, as Envy and Complexity did last March, happened at the same time.
Now, like many others in the US, players like Porter, who won a CDL World Cup in 2020, are working from home.
Of course, organizations miss the thrill of competition in front of a noisy crowd. These competitive weekends were also opportunities to interact with fan bases and build brands.
The lack of personal events also led to cost savings. Complexity and envy don’t use their wallets to spend money on transportation, hotels, venue rentals, or even food and laundry as it reduces travel expenses. Organizations, on the other hand, have missed out on ticket sales and personal merchandising.
Avi Bhuiyan entered the industry after graduating from the University of Texas Law School in 2013. He launched his own long-form storytelling website, esportsguy.com, worked for Riot Games, and even helped on the buy side when North Texas oil magnate Ken Hersh invested Envy.
Some teams were relieved to save money on live events, Bhuiyan said.
“I’ve spoken to at least two teams who essentially wiped their brows and were relieved that they didn’t have to settle for the Overwatch League cost in terms of live events, venues, and hosting and the like, as those prices are in the Relation to the astronomical are ticket revenues, ”said Bhuiyan.
Midsize teams have changed some of their spending habits. North Texas’s RBG Esports, which includes pro teams from the Rocket League, Counter-Strike and Fortnite, have hired a video editor, discord manager and social media manager, said Michael Swann, chief operating officer and General Manager of the RBG.
Both Complexity and Envy avoided pandemic-related layoffs, wage cuts, and even hired staff, Bautista and Rufail said.
Despite a pandemic, Swann said he never questioned his company’s future.
“Longevity and the team were never really an issue,” said Swann. “It really came down to what we can do now?”
Go through changes
Finances and how money works in sports are still a mystery to many outsiders. Swann even admitted it was complicated but explained how similar it was to other companies.
Esports organizations can make money in a number of ways, from sponsoring and advertising to selling tickets, creating content and merchandise.
“There comes a point where you have to make a decision, just as you have to come to the realization that at some point you have to spend some money to make money, or at least be relevant in the industry you want to be in . ” Said Swann.
That was his pre-pandemic attitude. Allocating funds to top talent for quality teams is a strategy. Rufail has done this many times, as can be seen most clearly in the Dallas Empire team, which he made in late 2019.
Other sports organizations have focused on areas such as content creation, apparel and media. The top organizations seek a healthy medium with a mix of these strategies.
Envy secured brand partnerships like the contract with Jack Links, but also went out and signed chess streamers and content creators Alexandra and Andrea Botez. The complexity in the creation and variety of content was increased significantly by the Fortnite streamers “Maddynf” and “Electra” in 2020.
Esports organizations like 100 Thieves have become a notable force as a clothing line.
Rufail even joked that Envy needs to improve its own clothing game.
What does all of this mean for the growth of the sport? Bhuiyan described this as multi-strategy organizations and that helps them sustain or even thrive when a staple like live events disappears during a pandemic.
“I think esports teams just iterate quickly and try to figure out what works for them financially,” said Bhuiyan. “To be honest, I think this is what will happen before the pandemic and what will happen after the pandemic.”
Bautista added that sales targets are tougher now. Products and partnerships made up the lion’s share of sales for a significant number of teams, he said. Backup plans were key.
Swann’s company watched more intimate videos showing his team’s strategies from the games. RBG trainers chatted about their weekend games to post 10-minute videos on YouTube. That and a social media manager have encouraged their entire commitment so much that they assume that 2021 will certainly be their biggest year as an organization.
The teams that, as far as Swann knew, suffered the most were the little ones who relied heavily on live events to stay afloat. The venues themselves were struggling, as seen when Esports Stadium Arlington announced new management and downsizing due to pandemic losses.
That is the unfortunate truth. At @EsportsStadium, every event opportunity we had planned for 2020 has been canceled or postponed. A hard spin on virtual shows was the only way to go – although that market quickly saturated. https://t.co/3yGbz3f0Bl
– Jonathon “Panda” Oudthone (@solidxpanda) December 12, 2020
While venues and live events saw the biggest change during the pandemic, other sports have hurt because the lack of travel made certain locations more desirable than others to compete.
The North American Counter-Strike, for example, is in a difficult situation. Envy let go of his CS team, Swann wants it to be revived, and Complexity has even stored his team in Europe.
To start with, Bautista and Complexity kept their CS team in Europe in 2020 to prevent anyone from getting sick while traveling. That and the number of traveling teams that boarded planes every weekend to visit a new area of the world were exhausting.
“We have definitely seen travel to the extent that it may have been a bit difficult for players both physically and psychologically,” said Bautista. “And that’s been talked about for a long time, especially in CS: GO.”
Before the pandemic, Complexity’s CS team was working in the Frisco office. It got stuck in Europe when the travel bans came in and then moved out of Denmark and Serbia. There was a brief home visit but now Complexity CS is in the UK.
Bautista said he and Complexity are constantly working for their team to have a stable home and that is difficult. However, esports has shown that it can grow into what it needs to be. That’s enough to stay on course.
For more information on sport in the Dallas Morning News, click here.