Podcast video topics and time stamps:
2:31 Jack Etienne on the NA LCS franchise application process
7:01 Why you and not, for example, Immortals or Dignitas?
11:21 What does success look like in the new NA LCS, aside from winning?
13:01 Why did C9 acquire two extra draft picks at Scouting Grounds?
20:15 What is Cloud9 seeing in PUBG from an esports perspective?
25:48 Can the new NA LCS close the gap with Korea?
28:34 How does it feel seeing Swag perma-benched?
35:00 Going further back, what were you expecting when you founded C9?
38:08 What was the scariest part of founding C9?
44:56 What is 2018 in esports is going to look like?
Cloud9 has had a big year.
As one of only two organizations to secure a spot in both the franchised 2018 NA LCS and the Overwatch League, Cloud9 is poised to be involved in some of the largest esports competitions to date. And their co-founder and CEO, Jack Etienne, sees big things ahead in 2018.
Appearing on theScore esports Podcast, Etienne discussed scouting for their League of Legends team and developing North American talent, the challenges facing PlayerUnknown's Battleground as an esport (and why he's invested in it anyway) and how Cloud9 could become more competitive with the rest of the Counter-Strike world.
When it came to their position in both upcoming franchises leagues, Etienne knew from the get-go that keeping Cloud9 in the LCS would be a major priority. Describing the spot in the NA LCS as "the project of the year," Etienne said that "it took priority for me over pretty much everything ... for us it's the biggest evolution of esports that's been around in years and we had to be a part of it."
And the stability that comes from being a part of that evolution, Etienne said, gives him and Cloud9 the opportunity to invest more heavily in young talent.
"It allows me to invest more in developing new talent, really digging into local talent in NA, I can really invest in it try to find those future stars," Etienne said.
"And get them an academy house, get them really good coaching and management and make sure that we’re paying these guys a good salary for the amount of work they’re putting into it."
Etienne is serious about finding these young players. At Riot's recent Scouting Grounds event, which saw top solo queue players put onto teams to compete for the attention of some of League's biggest orgs, Cloud9 purchased two extra draft picks, including the first pick, for a total of three.
"There were some great NA talents that were showing up there and I wanted to be first in line to scoop up the best talent," Etienne said.
Alongside Cloud9's efforts to invest in up-and-coming talent, new organizations and investment that come alongside the newly-franchised NA LCS could have a serious impact on NA's infrastructure. And, according to Etienne, the changes could allow North America to close some of the gap between top Korean and international teams, and their NA rivals.
"I can tell you that every year that the scrims become much more competitive than they were the prior year," Etienne said.
"This year's scrims, we were having really solid scrim records against the top teams in the world. And it definitely made me feel like, 'Hey, we're making progress here.' And that our communication is getting better and it's being competitive. And I think that, given that trajectory, yes, we're going to become more competitive as time goes by."
But whatever the next year brings, Etienne said it could be the most successful for esports as a whole to date.
"2017 has been the most exciting year in esports that I've had. These two major franchises coming to bear, and being a part of both of them, I'm so thankful and excited. 2018's going to be huge, because now that we have that I'm going to be investing even more time into developing our League of Legends team and into our Overwatch team," he said.
"It's game-changing, for us, what's happened this year, and I'm so thankful that the publishers actually made these leagues to take this next big step for esports. So, 2018's going to be something special. I think it's going to be one of those years we remember where, hey — this is the year where esports actually is considered on the same par as a lot of the traditional sports."
Sean Weteselaar is a supervising editor for theScore esports. You can find him on Twitter.