In March 2020, a French org then known as Kameto Corp entered esports, buying a slot in the LFL Division 2 (the domestic French league) and a team of players largely unknown to fans outside France. One year later, now rebranded to KarmineCorp (or KCorp for short), this small but ambitious project was already stacking accolades.
In March 2021, KCorp won the LFL Spring 2021 split, speedrunning Misfits Premier 3-0 in the finals. Two months later, KCorp would go 12-3 to win European Masters, the most prestigious EU LoL tournament besides the LEC itself, drawing a massive crowd of almost 400K viewers — more than other major esports would get for their premier competitions. With a loyal base of blue "ultras" supporting it, KCorp can very well be the next bit franchise in European League of Legends.
In May, Inven Global spoke to Zouhair "Kotei" Darji, one of the key figures on KCorp, about the creation of the team and what it feels like to command such a massive, passionate fanbase so early in org's history.
First of all, can you tell me how you got involved with esports?
At first, I was playing a lot of Counter-Strike: Source, where I started going to ESL tournaments. I was really young at the time and I was lying about my age. After that, it was more about League of Legends and I went to my first LAN at 17 with some other streamers. That’s basically how I got into esports. I was a big fan of esports, making memes on Twitter back in the day and that's how I got involved with it.
And after that, since Kameto [KCorp owner] was a semi-pro player and we were already doing a Youtube/Twitch channel together, we started streaming some tournaments together. I was sometimes a manager of some projects of Kameto’s and we did a lot of LANs in France. After that, we had Nisqy, who is a really close friend of ours. We had him from time to time and we helped him to make the right decisions at the time. We were really close to players from the French scene.
"It was not something that we planned. We had ultras starting to have profile pictures putting the blue walls, it came from the ultras of KCorp."
As far as I know, you are the person behind the scenes in KCorp as the managing director. Could you explain to me a bit more what are your duties within the organization?
I am handling a lot of different things at Karmine. I handle all the communication, everything that is communicated on social media but not alone, of course: I do it together with our community manager Maul and all the staff behind them. Sometimes I give ideas that are on my mind, but I myself am not tweeting on a daily basis. I am handling the big picture we have: how do we approach a new split, how do we communicate, and everything else. Besides that, I also help Kameto and Shanky [KCorp general manager] on the esports side: what title we should expand into next with Karmine Corp, what team do we want... Basically, all the esports decisions that we make come from Kameto, Shanky, and me. I also work on things around partnership deals and helping players grow their brand in Karmine Corp. It's a wide role.
Why did you decide to take on a more “hidden” role with KCorp? You build it together with Kameto and Prime but your name isn’t really on the forefront.
To help you understand this better, the storyline is that Kameto and Prime are joining forces to create Karmine Corp and I am behind Kameto, helping him. The French spectators were assuming that the organization was Kameto and Prime joining forces and that's why you don't see me as much because I am part of Kameto’s team.
Now, let's talk about League of Legends. KCorp started from the second league in France, after which you joined the first division and in a single split, you won the French league as well as European Masters. From your point of view, what brought you there? What was the work ethic of KCorp that made the organization successful in this short amount of time?
First of all, we had Shanky joining us, which was an incredible asset and one of our best moves, I would say. Shanky is the esports director of the club, he helped us and created this team in the off-season. A lot of people didn't have trust in us but we were confident that with this team we would be top 1 or top 2 in the LFL and we were aiming to win EU Masters.
What helped us do it? I would say we had incredibly talented players and a really balanced team, with more vocal and less vocal people. On an individual level, everyone was really good. Around that, we tried to bring our players to the best condition possible and make them as ambitious as possible from the beginning. That’s it, basically. After creating the team, all the hype and support we had was a big extra boost for us.
"The first thing Karmine Corps was going to be — that’s a fun story — it was going to be called Sharks and it was going to be focused on helping new and upcoming players grow and join bigger orgs."
Would you say being more open to the fans is a positive factor in the success of KCorp? Do you think the fans are more involved with KCorp compared to other organizations and even LEC teams?
I think any team that is not involved with its fans is doing it wrong and I think a lot of teams will start to realize that a lot more in the future. For example, [in May] we announced the arrival of Cabochard, and even though we could’ve just done it via social media, we’d always prefer a livestream event. It's always better to give more context to fans and be as transparent as possible. Not too much, of course, because it’s normal to not be able to say everything but giving the fans who are cheering for you on a daily basis as much context and information as possible is really helpful and powerful.
You peaked at 377K viewers during the EU Masters finals. How did you manage to create this huge community for Kcorp?
We know what we are doing well. We have Kameto who is really passionate and when he is casting, you get hyped, even if you don’t know French. We gave our fans a lot of context from the beginning. After that, we don’t really know much, we know we did something good. The team was really hyped, we had everybody in France (and in general) supporting us. We had OTP this year who were hyping us as well — let's not forget it. But yeah, we just had an insane and incredible story with all of those players for whom — according to some — that would be their last chance if they didn't make it this year. Everything around this and all the support from the KCorp Ultras, who were making songs, making everybody put the blue wall on their profile picture... all of this helped us a lot and made us have these insane numbers. I can't wait for the next step and for the future.
I spoke before with some ‘’ultras’’ and I found the concept really interesting, as it is not something that you see often in esports. Just like in football, the supporters are the sixth man on the team. Do you think the performance of the players is better if they have this huge fanbase behind them or do you actually think it's harder as there is more pressure?
It's really hard to answer. I don’t think it's a black or white answer. All the players say it helped them because knowing you are supported that much means you want to do your best, but you also have this pressure, as you said. It was hard at first because those were insane numbers, but with time, our players got used to it and they knew what to do to handle the pressure.
I want to see a match where you have a full audience of KCorp fans, I think it will be insane.
We really can't wait to have those kinds of events. That's something we have been waiting for for a year and a half and even before starting KCorp, we were thinking about what we would do for live events. I can't wait for the first offline events.
When you created the team, did you ever think that you can get where you are today? What was the “year one” plan for the team?
Yes, of course, we were trying to be where we are now and we are not done yet. We want to go to Worlds with our League of Legends team, and we want to win many more trophies. We are not "fed" yet and that was our ambition from the start.
I want to know a bit about the planning behind starting an organization from scratch. How much time did it take you to engineer the start of the organization together with Kameto and Prime?
The idea of creating an esports organization had been in our heads for a few years. We had been talking a lot about it and we knew that one day we would be creating our own org but we were waiting for the right time. With Prime, we got along really well and we thought it was the perfect time to create one.
The first thing Karmine Corps was going to be — that’s a fun story — it was going to be called Sharks and it was going to be focused on helping new and upcoming players grow and join bigger orgs. Not an agency, but more like a club of upcoming talent. Then, we got an opportunity to join the second French league and we knew we couldn’t miss it.
"The next objective is to go to the LEC and we will do anything we can to go there as quickly as possible."
Before there was LEC and the franchise system, it was understood that it was not sustainable or attractive to maintain a LoL team in Europe. LEC changed all that, but KCorp is not in the league — you are competing in national leagues, playing to niche audiences. What challenges are there in keeping a business like this going? What is the #1 danger to such projects in your LoL ecosystem?
Firstly, we are not losing money at the moment with KCorp. Even without taking into account the fact that we sold Adam, we are not losing money and the club is sustainable thanks to the merch, the fans, the sponsors, and our activities. It's a huge deal when you see how other teams are doing. It seems like everybody is losing money besides us and Solary, I would say. We still have a lot of ideas to continue to grow.
I saw a lot of blue walls on my timeline and I even put one on my profile before the EU Masters finals myself. Can you tell me how did you come up with this marketing move?
It was not something that we planned. We had ultras starting to have profile pictures putting the blue walls, it came from the ultras of KCorp. When we saw that, we were like, “OK, let’s create an official blue wall so that everybody could put it behind their profile picture” and we had a lot of KCorp fans and ultras who were helping people do it. Besides that, we also had profile pictures holding an ultra’s smoke.
When we saw the movement, we knew we shouldn't let it fade, and we tried to officialize it and helped the ultras work around it. It was an insane movement but it wasn’t planned and that’s what’s really cool about KCorp. It's not just a marketing move. People want to do something cool and we will promote it. It was actually insane.
After winning EU Masters and the LFL, what is your next biggest objective?
We want to be the first team to ever win back-to-back LFL and EU Masters and I think with the addition of Cabochard we can do it. I can't wait for the summer split to start. I think we have a really talented lineup and we still have a lot to improve but I think this lineup can win it back-to-back.
The next objective is to go to the LEC and we will do anything we can to go there as quickly as possible — but without burning bridges, of course. Slowly but surely. Even if people think we like to sell a player like we did with Adam — we don't, actually! We would prefer to have a different approach. We don’t want to be just a training camp for new players to join the LEC. We don't want to be the team that develops players and sells them.
After that. we want to go to Worlds and win it. That's our main objective.
We are going into a new game soon, too. There is one game where we’ll 100% expand into, and it will be announced in the future. I am not leaking anything! [laughs]