Podcast video topics and time stamps:
5:15: How the Houston Rockets decided on League of Legends
11:35: Why after is this the first thing we've heard about Rockets esports
15:50: Will Clutch Gaming move into other esports?
19:17: Explaining CG's "unprecedented competency in analytics"
28:13: What Scouting Ground could mean, acquiring an extra draft pick
37:18: What does success mean for CG, beyond simply winning?
56:43: Why should esports fans care or be excited about the Houston Rockets?
Four new teams will enter the NA LCS in 2018, each one owned by traditional sports franchises, each one a debutante in League of Legends competitive play.
When it comes to the Golden Guardians, 100 Thieves and the Houston Rockets-backed Clutch Gaming, making their mark among already established powerhouse brands like Team SoloMid and Cloud9 won’t be easy.
For the org touted by Riot Games as having an “unprecedented competency in analytics,” the first step to doing so is simple: win.
“Our stated goal since day one was to try to make Worlds this year and try to [field] a roster that gets out of the group stage next year,” said Sebastian Park, director of esports development for the Houston Rockets and newly-minted NA LCS team Clutch Gaming.
The former Team Archon CEO, who has been with the Rockets’ front office since December 2016, made the proclamation on theScore esports Podcast, where he talked about CG’s commitment to transparency, why professionalism that mainstream sports orgs bring is good for esports and revealed why his team took Scouting Grounds so seriously.
But the LCS is a zero-sum game, and not every team can top the standings. So how does Clutch Gaming plan to set themselves apart from the pack? In a word: transparency.
“We want our fans to basically be the Tuesday morning quarterbacks and be like, ‘Hey, why did you make that decision?’ It’s only going to help us get better,” he said.
“We really want fans to understand why we’re making the decisions we are —to know that we like them, we support them and we appreciate their support and to be honest and transparent with them throughout the entire process. Here’s why we picked this person, here’s why you should be fans of us — and give people reasons to be fans,” he said.
“We’re really willing to admit what we don’t know.”
Clutch Gaming isn’t the only team, new or old, to boast non-endemic backers with deep pockets and sports experience. Fellow LCS newcomers Golden Guardians and 100 Thieves have the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers behind them, respectively. Team Liquid is owned by aXiomatic, a group helmed by sports and entertainment moguls Peter Guber and Ted Leonsis. FlyQuest is owned by Milwaukee Bucks co-owner Wesley Edens, OpTic Gaming were recently acquired by Texas Rangers co-owner Neil Leibman, and the list goes on.
With so much non-endemic money and influence flooding into esports over the last few years, fans who’ve followed teams, players or leagues since their grassroots beginnings and who may have zero interest in traditional sports might be left asking: why should I care?
“The honest answer is that you don’t need these people if you’re a fan,” said Park. “If you’re a fan, it doesn’t matter how much an organization pays its players. It doesn’t matter if an organization is the Houston Rockets or Golden State Warriors. That doesn’t matter. But for people in the industry, it’s really important.”
Pro sports experience, structure — and yes — cash, can help change esports’ Wild West climate for the better, he said.
“The joke used to be, if you hadn’t been screwed, well then you haven’t been in esports before,” he said.
“I haven’t checked my bank account to see if I’ve gotten paid in past few months because I know I’ve been paid, because I work for the Houston Rockets. I know that when we sign a player and I commit to being able to pay them for the year or two years or however long, my ownership will come through and we will pay those players and live up those engagements. That hasn’t always been the case.”
The former Team Archon CEO knows first hand the pitfalls of working in an esports environment where simple things like getting paid can be a struggle.
“It’s really hard to emphasize just how much heartache and stress there was trying to be able to pay our players on time because sponsors weren’t paying out,” he said.“I still have money from an organization in China that is owed to me personally. And credit card debt I was racking that I had to rack up in order to get my players dinner or lunch.
“Those are the things that have really screwed our industry for a long time.”
But with esports increasingly becoming a more stable business environment, thanks in part to the entry of big-name brands with bank accounts to match, things are changing, said Park.
“No one right now is afraid that their Academy League spot’s not going to pay them money,” he said. “People in Challenger were very much afraid.”
“It is not necessarily going to show dividends for fans day one,” he said of orgs like the Houston Rockets entering esports. “But in the next few years as we’re able to retain better and better talent, because people aren’t afraid of going bankrupt or not being able to pay for their apartment, then at that point they will see the results of having super cool people, super smart people, super exciting people really growing their game and their sport.”
Colin McNeil is a supervising editor for theScore esports. You can follow him on Twitter.