eSports Update: Interview With Alexander Garfield

This interview is from 2011: The Year of eSports. Read on for the full version, or return to the original article.

Team Evil Geniuses is arguably the highest-profile professional gaming team in North America, with over a dozen sponsors and over 30 players across seven games on its roster.

First off, how does a "team" work in games that are based on one-versus-one tournament competition? Do players compete against each other in tournaments?

With Team Evil Geniuses and other similar teams, the word "team" is meant to be interpreted quite broadly. While we refer to ourselves as Team Evil Geniuses, EG actually consists of a group of different gaming teams (or "divisions," if you prefer), each focusing on its own game of specialty. A good analogy is that EG would be the gaming equivalent of the Yankees, if the Yankees weren't just a baseball team, but a larger parent company that supported many different kinds of professional athletes--and, for example, had a Yankees baseball team, and a Yankees basketball team, and so on.

So, Team EG has a StarCraft team (or "division"), and another for World of Warcraft, and another for Counter-Strike, and another for Street Fighter, and others as well. Some of these teams/divisions really are teams in the sense that they play team-based multiplayer games. Counter-Strike, for example, is a 5v5 game, and all 5 members of the Counter-Strike team always compete together in-game.

However, we do also have teams/divisions for games that are 1v1, like Street Fighter and StarCraft. Those function more as collections of affiliated, mutually supportive players, in that they they all practice together, help share strategies, and look to help their teammates succeed as much as possible. And while it should be noted that there are team competitions for both Street Fighter and StarCraft, those team-based competitions are still a collection of 1v1 matchups, with only one player from each team going against each other at a given time.

Unlike a typical clan of Battle.net players, I'd say the main differences would be the fact that EG is a multigaming organization, with a long list of corporate sponsors, its own tournament series and production studio, and a comprehensive management staff dedicated to taking care of everything our pro players need so that they can focus on winning, and winning alone.

What does a player get from signing with Team Evil Geniuses? Does EG pay them a salary? Cover their travel expenses?
Every player on the team receives comprehensive travel support to many tournaments over the course of the duration of their contract, as well as full hardware support from EG's sponsors. The majority of the players on the team are on salary as well. They also all have access to our fine managerial staff so that they can focus on practice and performance without being distracted by logistical duties.

Do EG members have day jobs, or do they practice full-time?
It really depends on the game and whether the player is salaried or not. Most of our salaried players compete full-time. Players who aren't on salary usually split their practice time with another focus, like school or an ordinary job.

Are players cut from the team for underperforming?
We don't cut players easily. We put so much time and effort into scouting new players that by the time we actually make an offer to someone, it's a long-term offer, and we believe in the person just as much as we believe in their past results. All of our contracts are at least 12 months long, and it takes more than a bad tournament or two to be released. Due to our comprehensive scouting procedures and what we think is a good eye for talent, the players we bring onto the team usually end up playing for us for a while.

How does EG generate revenue? Are sponsorships mostly limited to gaming/hardware companies, or are you getting sponsors with broader appeal as well?
Mainly sponsorships, but not entirely. EG as a company has several wings to it, with the team being only one of them. Our fans are mainly interested in the team and its players, but to EG's sponsors, EG is not only a team but an all-in-one marketing agency solution for the gaming demographic. We provide access to pro players, but we also run our own gaming tournaments, run our own broadcast streams, produce tons of interesting content, and do a bunch of other boring corporate stuff as well :). Historically, our sponsors have mostly been endemic, but we've had a couple of general consumer brands in the past, and we're hoping to bring on a few mainstream accounts for 2011.

Who are EG's rivals?
Well, at the moment, nobody in North America comes close, to be honest (on a corporate level, at least). In terms of business, our rivals are mainly based in Western Europe (Germany, Sweden, the UK) and Asia (China and Korea). In terms of pure tournament performance, every EG division has a rivalry or two going with other players and teams in their respective games. For StarCraft in particular, Team Liquid, ROOT Gaming, and Fnatic all have very good teams.

What's in store for the future of EG? Where do you see eSports going in the next few years?
People in pro gaming have a very bad habit of trying to forecast the exact moment at which eSports will "arrive" on a mainstream level. We're not those guys. We just focus on working as hard as we can to support our players as best we can, and improving everything we do as a company month by month by month. When players are happy, well managed, and worry-free, they tend to perform the best. The combination of tournament wins and excellent account management tends to leave our sponsors quite satisfied as well. So, we're going to keep sticking to that formula, and bring excellence in everything that we do, whether it's running the world's best pro gaming team, or putting on a pro-am tournament, or running a live broadcast.

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