The fans in most of the Esports community have a tendency to support certain players they like rather than a whole team. There are teams that have established themselves as prodigious teams by making their mark on the short history of Esports. Teams like SoloMid or Cloud9 may have big fanbases, but the fans could leave for another team if their favored team suffers defeats for an extended period.
This is why many teams put so much money and effort into recruiting star players who have amazing skills. While this trend has become more prominent as the NBA or a lot of major capital has invested in Esports, there is a team that has chosen to go in a rather different direction: Immortals, the franchise team that owns LA Valiant of the Overwatch League.
Noah Whinston, the CEO of Immortals, wanted “Immortals to be an organization that fans will cheer for even when they are going through rough patches.” He is known for establishing Immortals at the age of 21, making him the youngest CEO of an Esports organization. He is a leader in Esports trends not only thanks to his passion and ambition but also due to his rational thinking and background in sports statistics.
Of course, he didn’t aim to be a CEO at the start. Like many in the industry, he started as a fan during his time as a student. Though a fan, he was not remiss about the flaws he believed were present, especially when it came to the way the Esports teams interacted with their fans at the time. Along the way, he began to think that he wanted to manage a team himself and began to earn renown from his studied predictions on Esports bettings. His reputation attracted investors, and they helped him establish Immortals; the team didn’t have many good results in its early period and there were many unexpected difficulties.
“It's really like being a parent. When you have a really good time with children, it's really fun; when your children throw a tantrum, it's not fun dealing with that. In the work environment of a 'real' company, when one of your employees does something wrong, you'd just fire them. In esports, it's better to repair the relationship and teach them why what they did wasn't the right thing to do. It's a lot more like a family relationship than that of a business.” - from an interview in May 2017
Although there may have been many difficulties along the way, Immortals began to gradually gain momentum as time went on. Their League of Legends team, which started with the Team 8 players, was placed 2nd in last year’s NA LCS and made it to Worlds. Although they went through the pain of disbanding the team after they were not selected for the 2018 NA LCS, the efforts that Immortals showed us during last summer should not be looked down upon.
Immortals’ Overwatch team, the LA Valiant, is also a well-received team. They placed 1st in the Overwatch Contenders 2017 Season 0: NA and ended up being one of the top teams in the Overwatch League Stage 1. Even though they may not have done so great early on in Stage 2, they are a team with vast potential and have the ability to make up for their losses in the title match.
One of Immortals’ strengths is that although they lack a large number of star players compared to other teams, both their owner and players are all young. The ambition of the young players and the family-like team atmosphere have become the base of the team’s strength, and are a key part of Noah Whinston’s mindset.
“It helps a lot. I learned how to prioritize team synergy and mood. Prioritizing individual skill too much ends up leading to a bunch of talented players that don’t play well together. My concern when it comes to the roster is finding the right personalities and mentalities that help us build a great team.” - from an interview about the Overwatch League in August 2017
Obviously, pro gaming is a career that constantly requires players to prove themselves with their skills and results from tournaments. It’s also a difficult occupation to sustain without any stable income model, because a lot of money is needed to operate an Esports organization. Noah Whinston shared his foresight, asserting the Esports “teams need to pay more salary and invest in better coaches” and expects that the industry will be “more profitable 2 to 3 years from now” during an interview from last year.
The future that he sees for Esports is very bright. In order to reach that future, the Esports ecosystem should aim to become stable and sustainable for a long time instead of being based on earning immediate profits. In fact, the Overwatch League which the LA Valiant is taking part in has been showing steady growth despite the skepticism it received when it was first announced.
“Actually, the biggest discrepancy between traditional sports and esports is how traditional sports don’t depend on sponsorships like esports. They don’t need sponsorships to survive, while esports really depend on it. I think it’s because esports teams lack the tools to directly monetize the fanbase.” - taken from an answer to a question about future team profit, from an interview in August 2017
What visions do the owners of other Esports organizations in NA have for Esports? We are planning to listen to the CEOs of Esports organizations at the 1st IGEC-ESPORTS DEEP DIVE (Inven Global Esports Conference), to be held on May 1st in Irvine, UC. Noah Whinston, the owner of Immortals, will be joining us as a speaker in order to share his thoughts and future vision on Esports.
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