Inven Global reporter Nick Geracie sat down with Team Liquid's Ken "Chaobo" Serra to talk about managing one of esports' most expansive brands, how he met Steve "LiQuiD112" Arhancet, and TL's venture into Apex Legends.
My name is Ken "Chaobo" Serra and I am currently the Head of Community & Engagement for Team Liquid. I basically manage all of the forward-facing initiatives for TL.
So you work with multiple esports communities on behalf of Team Liquid?
I currently work with every single one of the communities. Regardless of whether it's a website, or a discord, or a social media channel, anywhere the brand engages the fan directly is in my territory.
That sounds very expansive, given how many esports TL is involved with. What does your day to day look like for that type of job?
We have a team of community managers that span all across the globe. They can be anything from a moderator involved in a forum or discord server all the way up to someone who is directly involved with growing those communities. It's a lot of oversight and trying to pick up and understand what the trends are in the industry.
Day-to-day it's back-to-back calls, meetings, and emails all the time. It's funny because I used to be more directly engaged with the fans. I still am when I go out to events, and when people DM me, I will always respond, but my role has definitely evolved more in trusting other people to do that work while handling administrative tasks.
How did you come to work for Team Liquid in this capacity?
I used to be in the gaming industry. I worked for a lot of news outlets like PCGamer, IGN, and NintendoPower. Esports has always been a passion of mine. I used to compete in games like Halo and Call of Duty. I went to all of the MLG circuits a lot of World League tournaments.
Esports was always something I wanted to get into, and back when I was a games journalist, I attended E3 and met Steve Arhancet, Team Liquid’s co-owner. He was the director of Curse Esports at the time, and that was that. *laughs* I got his card and ended up expanding into websites for Curse. Then, the company grew, and here I am.
Congratulations, that's quite a long road. You have a lot of influence on Team Liquid's brand, so I'd love some insight into how you approach the way the TL brand comes across.
In terms of the brand, the overarching theme is definitely professionalism. We're kind of known as innovators in the space, and we're going to be the last team you see that has any news about contract issues.
From that brand perspective, we move down to our athletics, which is definitely a focus on pursuing greatness, winning titles, becoming the best, and steady improvements from our athletes. Under that are the individual themes and brands associated with all of our different games, and while I can't speak to the specifics of every single one, we go deep into each individual game and figure out a strategy based on what we learn.
So you get to know the community before building a strategy.
Absolutely. From an athletics standpoint, we are in fourteen different games at the moment. It's not enough for us to just sign players because we can. We really like to dive deep into what type of value an organization like Team Liquid bring to the table when we associate ourselves with various games, players, and scenes. The question is always, "Can Team Liquid give the fans something meaningful when we enter into a space?"
The space TL most recently entered is Apex Legends, and you have a professional Apex Legends Roster formed primarily from your Call of Duty: Blackout team. Did having a team built from previously established TL athletes change your approach this time around?
In this particular scenario of Blackout to Apex, no, not entirely. We felt the fit was natural. In our acquisition for Call of Duty: Blackout we acquired Tanner “Rogue” Trebb, Gage “Caliburn” Meyer, Thomas “Flanker” Cook, and Brenden “Casper” Marino. These guys have all been great and represent the brand very well. We feel that given the opportunity that they will showcase themselves as some of the best players in any game they choose to play.
It turns out that Treyarch wasn't doing a whole lot for the CoD Blackout scene in an accelerated fashion, and Respawn came out of nowhere and announced Apex Legends and it picked up really fast. A lot of the core concepts are very similar to Blackout, and immediately we saw the potential fit for the transition.
In addition to your professional team, you are also focused on growing a Team Liquid Apex Legends Discord channel and the Proving Grounds. Can you tell us a bit about those ventures?
The Liquid Apex Discord as well as Proving Grounds is our way of giving back to the community. We felt this was the way we could bring the most value to a scene that does not have an existing competitive scene. We wanted to not only give opportunity to fans of Team Liquid, but also potential aspiring competitors in the space.
We wanted to create these tournaments where we could potentially see the potential within the competitive space for ourselves. People who want to play professionally and competitors who simply want to test themselves now have a platform to do that. We hosted the Proving Grounds and 100+ teams showed up. It's only a four hour event.
Unfortunately, custom servers aren't around, but with the statistics we've seen and the ability to watch everyone's streams, we are able to examine potential talent that may even be signed to Team Liquid in the future.
Sounds like a win-win for the community and Team Liquid. Do you think this multi-leveled approach is only applicable to Battle Royale games?
Not necessarily. Esports fans weren't esports fans at first, they were gamers. We all play games, we all enjoy them, and that's kind of why we're here. Some of us are a little more hardcore than others. A lot of the concepts that can be applied to a Battle Royale community can be applied to CS:GO or League of Legends.
It's only a matter of whether it makes sense for an esports team to do it, because in the case of CS:GO, for example, you already have a lot of organizations who are already doing the equivalent of what we are doing in Battle Royale scenes. So no, I don't think this concept only applies to BR. I think it's a matter of finding what the community needs are for each respective game and trying to see if it makes sense for someone like Team Liquid to do something like this.
Is there anything specific that TL has on the horizon for Apex Legends that you can share with us?
In regards to things we're looking towards in the future, our website team is developing a couple of sites I can't talk about yet. A lot of the community initiatives we are doing are in regards to our Discord channel. We have a couple of things planned that no other discord channel, website, or other type of community is currently doing for Apex Legends. We plan on introducing stat tracking in regards to kills.
There's a lot of technology associated with our plans for the Apex Legends community and website that will be exciting for fans to see. In regards to the future, the hope is that we will find talent from within the community and sign them to Team Liquid. We're hoping to field two rosters moving forward. It's not a guarantee, but there's always hope for someone out there.