FaZe Clan made headlines in May 2016 when they left the nascent World Esports Association (WESA) less than two weeks after the organization's reveal to the public.
But now, more than a year later, FaZe has returned to the fold. In a press release that was murky on whether FaZe had ever actually left, WESA announced on June 14 that FaZe and OpTic Gaming were now members of the organization.
FaZe Clan manager Erik Anderson took the time to speak with theScore esports about why FaZe chose to return and what he sees as the future of WESA.
Though he notes he was not working in his current role for FaZe at the time of the organization's initial departure from WESA, he was able to speak to some of the thoughts behind the decision to leave back in May of 2016.
"[WESA] definitely didn't want anyone to exit, especially in the way that we did," Anderson explained. "It was very public, it was very sudden. Frankly, we thought they rushed the release, the announce, and everything around it, before it was ready to go."
That initial announcement happened shortly after news of WESA's existence leaked on social media, leading to a flurry of speculation. WESA's Twitter account tried to address concerns before the official announcement came a few days later, on May 13.
While Pietro Fringuelli initially took the role of interim commissioner, WESA hired Ken Hershman for the commissioner position in August 2016. Anderson cited Hershman's background in television — he was president of HBO Sports — as a boon to the organization.
"I think that he seemed like he had a good vision for where he wanted this to go, was very pragmatic about ESL's involvement, and ultimately the plan to not really have it be involved once they get far enough down the way. But also recognizing the fact that you can't just start this from scratch without somebody paying the bill."
FaZe also felt the addition of more North American organizations — Renegades in March 2017, and OpTic Gaming alongside FaZe in June — was an important step to show that WESA was dedicated to its stated goals across multiple regions.
"If it was just European, then obviously that's going to lend itself more to the whole position in the space that WESA is still just European-focused, on the ESL front, just that kind of stuff," he said.
Anderson said FaZe had spoken with OpTic about their thoughts on WESA during the run-up to the decision. The two organizations have a lot in common: a legacy of content creation, a strong YouTube fanbase, and a focus more on first-person shooters, especially the various Call of Duty titles.
But while FaZe had initially aligned with WESA, OpTic had waited to pull the trigger.
"Because [OpTic aren't] a League team, the same as us, they don't get talked about in the same sense. But Hector's [OpTic owner Hector "H3CZ" Rodriguez] reach in social is quite large, and him entering games and him doing things is a very positive thing," Anderson said, adding that OpTic's move into WESA "is also a very interesting thing, and also aligns us more with some of the people that we know in NA extremely well."
Another big factor in FaZe's return was the multi-team ownership prohibition introduced by WESA in March 2017. The measure was criticized by some for allowing a very generous grace period: 18 months for organizations to disentangle their interests.
"Under the Multi-Team Ownership Prohibition, no team is permitted to be completely or partially owned or controlled by a person or entity that owns or controls another esports team or organization participating at WESA sanctioned events," the WESA press release explained. "For any team that has a pre-existing multi-team ownership, the Executive Board may grant the team up to 18 months to come to compliance. During this time period, the teams will be run independently."
This isn't just an academic provision. ESForce Holdings, which is Virtus.pro's parent company, has interests in both SK Gaming and Natus Vincere.
For teams like FaZe and OpTic, who aren't part of those tangled webs, it's an important stipulation.
"At least for us, we don't have any involvement with anything else. And I know of all the different rumors, and I know the reality too. I've talked to some of the other team owners, they don't hide the fact that there are stakeholders that cross over," Anderson said. "Will they be able to enforce this fully? I don't know, I just have to have faith in the fact that it's going to be enforced."
But perhaps the most important part of the return to WESA is how FaZe views the future of that organization. ESL has been a big part of WESA's creation and currently holds two of the four executive board positions. To some, that level of influence is worrying.
"I think the reason [WESA] brought in someone like Ken is to eventually decouple the two. I think we'd be less interested if that wasn't part of the general plan. Speaking very frankly about it, if it was just an ESL offshoot, it wouldn't be that interesting," Anderson explained. "It definitely is being supported by ESL, to kind of grow it. As you saw from the PEA situation, they needed an outside partner. I don't know who it would have been, because we never got that far. But they were going to have an outside benefactor effectively, kind of supporting whatever the league they were going to be setting up was. That just happens to be ESL in this instance."
ESL, he said, is a company that now has to compete to survive and thrive. With ECS and Turner's ELEAGUE already in the space and more interest undoubtedly to come, there's no resting on laurels. Improvement is the goal, and WESA is one step in the process.
Still, he said, the logical conclusion is that for WESA to succeed at its stated goals, it will one day have to stand alone.
"I think WESA only succeeds in its long-tail view as a separate entity from ESL. And I think that when that happens, the state and the health of the esports ecosystem as a whole, that's a really positive indicator of course. That indicates that the space is big enough to allow those two to separate completely, and to stand alone."
Josh "Gauntlet" Bury is a news editor for theScore esports. You can find him on Twitter.