How to Start an eSports Team

Soul destroying fact: Almost every eSports team that’s a household name is a re-brand or mashup of previously existing teams.

Team Liquid was a mashup with Team Curse. OG was a mashup with Team Secret. Fnatic literally bought or ‘acquired’ their original WoW, DotA, and DotA 2 teams. Same with Evil Geniuses.

In short, the garage band dream of starting your own team and taking those players all the way to the top is probably not going to happen. Even the Beatles broke up eventually. If you get it off the ground, the roster is probably going to be swapped around, torn apart, used as a farm team for richer organizations, sucked dry, and cast aside.

…are you still here? Good.

Related Articles: The Mark Cuban eSports Experience, How eSports Makes Money?

This is how you get into eSports. You make a name for yourself until the money people find you. Everything described above is a business decision by a player or an organization, and that’s not a bad thing! If you get to the point where you’re worried about roster poaching and selling your soul to a sponsor, you’ve actually accomplished something.

But let’s start at the start.

If you’re interested in trying to start an eSports team, you’re likely one of three things: An investor looking for a franchise, a brand manager looking for the right talent, or a player who is trying to figure out how to get into eSports.

This article focuses on players who wish to build and manage their own teams. Franchise investment and brand recruiting are interesting, but the economic realities of those positions are another world entirely. In short: This one’s for the players.

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There’s also a difference between trying to start an eSports team for your campus and collegiate competitions, and starting one with the intention of competing as professionals. Though the bulk of the article will be focused on professional play, I’ll explain that difference as we cover our first painful subject…

Are You Good Enough?

Pick one game. Make it a game that you’re passionate about, and one that has a heavily invested eSports aspect. Pick console or PC, and make sure the money is still there for competitive play.

Now get good. Real good.

The stark reality is, if you aren’t consistently placing in the top 1% of open leagues for your chosen game, you aren’t ready to be a team captain in the world of professional eSports. One of the first things that you learn in the business is that hours of practice are required every day, on both individual and team skills. If you aren’t hitting the top 1% of ladders, you’re not practicing enough. You are not yet good enough at your craft, or dedicated enough to even consider starting your own professional team.

However…

There is a stepping stone, and that’s collegiate and amature competition. Leagues and organized events at those levels can introduce you to other talented players without the pressure or expectation of making money off of your efforts. Even better, recruiting for such leagues happens all the time. Just search for ‘Collegiate eSports’ and the name of your chosen game, or ‘Amature League’ and the name of your chosen game.

Plenty of today’s stars started off playing for a school. Others were part of the vast network of eSports academies that started in South Korea, but have branched out to locations all over Asia and Europe. If you’re lucky enough to qualify for one of these academies, consider them the ‘minor leagues’ of eSports. Players like Fate were scouted right out of this farm system and into the professional scene. Either way, it is an excellent source of highly competitive match play.

Once you’ve cut your teeth on competitive play at the lower and more local levels, and once you’ve set aside several hours a day for hardcore practice, you’ll find your rank rising assuming you have the potential. Once you hit that top 1% (the higher the better), you at least have a chance (a slim chance, just by the nature of any new business or venture) to impress other players enough to get involved with competitive play on your new team.

It’s a lot of work just to get this far. Which begs the question:

Why start your own team rather than join existing ones?

There are many possible reasons, including regional limitations and the like. But perhaps you just want control over your own destiny. We’ll talk about how to join an eSports team later, as a ‘Plan B’. But for the moment, let’s press on and assume you’re ready to start the process.

Some Quick Navigation and Summary Video

If you wanted to skip around to the major steps, we’ve got you covered.

  1. Pick a Name
  2. Build the Recruitment Website
  3. Recruit Players
  4. Legal Agreements
  5. Online Qualifiers
  6. Streaming
  7. Live Qualifiers
  8. Fitness
  9. Plan B
  10. The Larger eSports Industry

How to Start an eSports Team at the Very Beginning

Step #1. Pick a Name

Here is the easy part: Pick a (possibly temporary, early rebranding is known to happen) team name, register the domain, grab a website and E-mail for it, get a cheap logo, bullet point a few realistic goals that other players can relate to for the website. 

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Step #2. Build the Recruitment Website

On the ultra-cheap, you can get an off brand TLD name for $2.50 (who knew that .party was a real domain suffix?), a Webnode website for £34.80 a year, a free Gmail account, and $5 for a Fiverr logo. Total of $42.30. Or the next plan up at Webnode gives you a .com domain and a branded E-mail. That plus the logo would be $63.80.

Who said glory was expensive?

After you have the site set up with your little bullet point manifesto of realistic goals and stock eSports graphics, attach a contact form for tryouts. This is the address you’ll give out to people who are interested in. Print five hundred business cards if you like, giving them to prospects and leaving them in strategic locations around event sites.

Step #3. Recruit Players

Now, the real pain starts.

Recruiting really is the hardest part of the process. It’s also quite literally the first thing you need to do in order to be a team instead of a solo player.

esports-recruiting

You’ve already spent hundreds of hours to become one of the very best at a single game, so focus on that one game and no other. It doesn’t matter if these players are great at other games, or on console when you’re recruiting for PC (or vice versa). You’ll be expecting these players to get good the same way you did and be able to demonstrate those skills live.

Yes, live. Or the closest thing you can get to live. Because this stage is the easiest way for cheaters to dupe you. It has happened to some of the best teams in the world, from smuggling programmable mice into The International, to coach spying scandals, to getting a VAC ban shortly after winning the CS:GO World Cup. And it happens a hell of a lot more at lower levels of play.

So live tryouts on a standard (high quality) gaming rig or console is the preferred method of finding new players, all with non-programmable keyboards and mice of course.

The second best option is live streamed trials with a dedicated keyboard and mouse cam. Point that face cam downwards. The player’s hands must be visible during all gameplay, and the footage examined afterwards to see if the action matches up with the way the controls are being used. This isn’t foolproof, but it’s as good as you’re going to get without live trial sessions.

That is, of course, if you can find players at all.

If you’re starting a regional team, it had better be near a major metropolitan area. Unless you plan to offer a rent free team gamer house experience, nobody is going to move halfway across the continent to join your new team. So your player pool needs to be big, while allowing these players to keep their current living arrangements. That means big cities.

This is a good thing, because you’ll need to be attending every convention, event, and competition within a hundred miles in order to scout and advertise. Putting up a website doesn’t magically attract talented gamers to it. You need to go where they are, not the other way around.

Outside of live scouting, or if the team is going to be virtual instead of regional, you’ll need to get the word out online. You’re looking for people who don’t necessarily know how to join an eSports team for the first time. Go to places on Reddit where they allow recruiting. Go to gaming clan sites like Seek Team or Looking for Clan. Don’t sugar coat the requirements, the tryout process, or the dedication involved. They need to know what they’re signing up for.

Talent and drive are the main criteria. They need to want the lifestyle and be willing to commit to the practice and teamwork required to make it happen. Financial stability is another good sign… this shouldn’t be anyone’s ‘hail mary’ move, because long term success isn’t just dependent on hard work. There are skill caps involved, and some people won’t have what it takes to go from ‘A’ level to ‘A+’ level. They need to be confident that they can go back to doing whatever it was they were doing and still make a living. Playing scared never works out.

The recruitment process is likely to take months. All the while, you can be honing your game, practicing with new members of your team, solidifying roles and strategies, and identifying what talent gaps you might have. Remember that eventually you’re going to need to recruit one extra player, a good generalist as an alternate.

Once you start playing in qualifying or money tournaments, you’re going to need contracts. It’s best not to spring this on your players at the last second. So at this point, we move out of the baby steps stage and into the commitment stage.

How to Get Into eSports the Legal Way!

After months of hard work, the candidate roster is solid. You’ve played together for weeks, and there’s no obvious fatal personality conflicts. You’ve entered some amature tournaments and gelled well as a team. It looks like a good fit all around.

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Time to lawyer up.

You’re about to consult legal council for the first time. How big of a deal is it?  In recent years, eSports specific law firms started to open up. This is serious business.

You need to incorporate, create a boilerplate contract that you can use with your current and all future players, and as part of that contract you’ll determine how living arrangements are going to be conducted and how the money is going to flow.

This is the first major financial commitment. If you want to back out, it’s cheapest to do so right now.

As part of the contract, you’ll need to discuss minimum commitments. Commitments of time, commitments to practice and compete, and the like. This means everyone has to consider their ‘day job’ and how they pay the bills, and weigh the time spent there with the time required to make a real run at eSports. It also means that more remote players agree to fly or drive out for live events as needed.

Of course, one hopes that it isn’t all for nothing. The contract discusses compensation as well. That almost always involves prize split, some percentage of any sponsorships picked up, and the like. Considerations for the (present or future) alternate player and their split need to be kept in mind. Whether or not they’re called up to play, their practice and availability need to be rewarded. With more flexible comps, that might mean an even split. And the alternate might have other duties on the management and logistics side as well; all of that would need to be detailed in the contract.

If the team isn’t living together, the provisions for divided housing and remote competition and practice should be fairly simple. Live competition is going to be the stickler. It will absolutely be required at some stage. Sacrifices and compromises must be made as far as which events they’ll be able to attend.

But if it’s going to be a team house, things get even more complex. Is everyone paying a piece of the rent, or is someone the landlord? Is everyone responsible for their own hardware, or will there be standard clan PC builds or consoles provided? Utilities, cost of living considerations, and a number of other things will need to be detailed in the contract.

Either way, you’ll be agreeing to provide critical team servers, ranging from communications (TeamSpeakDiscord, etc.), to private game server rentals (depending on the game).

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And of course, everyone will need to agree to an anti cheat pledge, to the amount of notice time needed for leaving the team, to clauses for being removed from the team for lack of performance or as a management decision, etc.

All of that, along with articles of incorporation, stock ownership, and the like are legal matters best left up to the professionals to put into the official documents.

With all of the agreements signed and paperwork filed, you now have a team…

…a team who has won absolutely nothing yet.

How to Get Into eSports – Day to Day Before the Pay

Having taken the loose team structure, forged it into a well oiled machine, and signed all of the paperwork, you just need to survive and start making money before the team goes bankrupt. Eazy, right?

Step #5. Online Qualifiers

Online tournaments and qualifiers are clearly the place to start, as they should be running year round (if they aren’t, you’ve really chosen the wrong eSport). If everyone is living and working remotely and has a second job, the pressure is lessened. But if there’s a gamer house and all the related expenses, putting wins on the board becomes important really quickly.

Remember that this is a business, and post-tournament analysis is vital to improving the performance of the business. Like real sports, boiling down an entire match until there are a few key lessons to be learned is a difficult prospect. But someone has to do it, either the team manager or the alternate if that’s part of their duty list.

Step #6. Streaming

Streaming is a possible source of income, though it’s not likely that anyone will have an overnight following. Even with success and notoriety, these things take time. But eventually stream income might make up a small percentage of team earnings, turning practice time into (semi) profitable time.

Step #7. Live Qualifiers

Live tournaments are next, as part of gaming conventions or events in your game’s national tour schedule. Anything within a three hour driving distance is fair game, possibly more for some remote members. You’ll want to hit absolutely everything local that has cash prizes. Events beyond a three hour trip you need to make sure the expected value of a podium finish is worth the costs and lost time. Some of the big key qualifying events (for spots in national leagues for example) are worth it, even if you have to travel quite a way. Keep expenses to a minimum, as these are working trips not vacations.

esports-live-tournaments

The goal is playing on some of the bigger eSports circuits that have national and international reach. For example, tours sponsored by ESL and Dreamhack. We’re talking about the various pro leagues and world leagues that move from city to city. Everything you do should be driving you in that direction. Because that’s where the money is. Just search for your game of choice with the words ‘pro tour’ or ‘national qualifiers’ to see what’s out there.

Step #8. Fitness

This may sound strange, but don’t ignore physical fitness. Yes, it’s an eSport. But team heath is just as important to success as in any other sport. Proper diet, workouts, ergonomics, eye wear, gaming chairs, hydration, breaks, and regular stretching are keys to longevity in eSports. Look at the top teams. You don’t see a lot of out of shape competitors, even though they spend most of their day with butts in seats. Stay fit and healthy as a team. It will pay off in the long run.

esports-fitness

If you’re satisfied with how qualifying and low stakes tournaments are going, you simply need to keep at it and keep improving. If the results are disastrous, you need to look at method changes, roster changes, or failing those things – dissolving the team and associated company. Your course of action will depend on living situations, contracts, and other commitments.

You’re highly unlikely to get sponsorships until you start seeing some success. So podium finishes mean everything when you’re getting started. With good placement (and ultimately wins) comes opportunity: Local sponsorships, slots on streaming events like Twitch Rivals, paid or expense-free invitations to bigger tournaments, and the like. Only after securing enough of these ‘automatic’ income streams and opportunities can you move out of the startup phase and into day to day operations. Then comes the big sponsorships, finding an eSports agent, talking to parent organizations, franchise discussions, and everything else that comes with running a real eSports business.

Step #9. Plan B

Only a small percentage of teams will make enough money to survive those early months. The odds are stacked against you from the start, really. But within a year, you’re going to know if there’s a future for this team or whether you should be looking at a plan B.

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Plan B – How to Join an eSports Team

If you’re ready to trade in a little independence for opportunity, you can leverage your recent eSports team experience into a brand new start. This means swallowing your pride, giving up a little bit of control (more than a little, to be frank), and learning how to join an eSports team that you didn’t establish yourself.

If you’re taking courses or you’re going back to school, eSports scholarships might be available. In the United States, the National Association of Collegiate eSports can give you more information.

To seek out a new team at the professional level, you need to continue to be a high ranking ladder player. Don’t let your skills deteriorate. If there are solo or pick up competitions available that have some measure of notoriety attached, participate. You’ve lived the lifestyle, but you need to work hard to maintain your competitive edge.

Leverage any relationships you made with other eSports professionals when you were on the road. They might have the inside track on new opportunities. Get into Discord channels. Stay in touch.

esports-live-tournaments

You’re looking to start out small: Local teams. Teams that need an alternate or a stand in. Small franchises. Anyone willing to give you a try out. Sometimes, the same places where you scouted your old team members will become your new stomping grounds. If you discovered them there, it stands to reason that other people will be scouting those venues as well. You might also use Seek Team and Looking for Clan, but be highly selective. There’s no benefit to saying ‘yes’ if you don’t see a future in it.

Stream hard, and research streamer clans. Often, you’ll have a lot of mid sized eSports organizations that pick up talented streamers. Names like Tempo Storm and Fade 2 Karma pick up dozens of variety streamers all across the eSports kaleidoscope.

As you build your name, brand, and reputation, you might not be able to avoid a second job, at least part time. There’s no shame in that. If you can manage to keep your second job eSports-adjacent, all the better. But if not, do what it takes to pay the bills as you seek out the right team for you.

Once you have some name recognition, you might want to consider an eSports talent agent, if you can get one signed. Search for ‘eSports talent agents’ to get some idea of the percentages, costs, and signing criteria of each agency.

Eventually, if you keep your name clean and in the spotlight, someone will approach you. Or not. There’s no guarantee, and anyone who says that there’s no luck based component to breaking into eSports needs to have their head examined. But make a good run of it, you’re only young once.

Step #10. The Larger eSports Industry

What Are You Really Working Towards?

There’s a 30,000 square foot room carved into the heart of the Luxor Hotel. It is the biggest eSports arena Las Vegas has to offer. If your motivation isn’t to play for the highest stakes, in front of a screaming crowd of fans, then what is your motivation?

Just this morning, HyperX extended their agreement with arena operator Allied Esports Entertainment. They see eSports as the future, and are willing to pour millions into that prediction. The likes of Intel, Betway, Red Bull, and hundreds of other sponsors have been funding eSports for ages. They’re building the infrastructure for tomorrow’s superstars.

The HyperX Arena is an eSports arena Las Vegas can be proud of. And the hype is real. But why bring it up now?

Because when someone asks how to get into eSports, that ambition doesn’t have to stop at becoming a player.

esports-jobs

Whether or not you’re successful after you start an eSports team, you’ve opened up a door. Your direct involvement in the scene, even at a minor level, puts you miles ahead of other people insofar as an eSports career.

Depending on your other talents and passions, the careers that eSports experience can lead to are limitless. Some former eSports pros have become: Journalists. Pundits. Technical staff. Sales staff. Sponsorship managers. eSports betting staff. Infrastructure provisioning experts. Testers of competitive games. Full time streamers. Management. And that’s just to name a few.

So much money is being poured into eSports, just being around the scene can lead to some interesting opportunities. If you think that HyperX is the only eSports arena Las Vegas will ever see, guess again. There will be more. More crowds, more sponsors, and brand new eSports on display.

You now know how to start an eSports team. But you also know how to get into eSports in general. And that second skill might be far more important in the long run.

Getting yourself into peak gaming form is the first hurdle. Some people never get that far, and instead seek out others to carry their slack. That doesn’t work out though. Only when you can be a good example of a gaming professional will you be able to move on to the next step.

How to Start an eSports Team Conclusion

The fundamentals of team building have to come next. You will need to assemble a group of talented, dedicated, well rounded individuals that will mesh well together. That much is certain.

Next is the legal battle. Every aspect of the life that you’ve planned for yourself and for your team must be codified. Otherwise, it is sure to result in disappointment for all involved, and bad feelings all around. And of course, without a solid legal foundation for your new business, you won’t get very far.

Then the grinding. The endless qualifiers. Days spent online. Hours of thankless road trips. All leading towards the slightest chance to make it to a regionally important competition. If your team falls short, you start all over again.

At some point, it becomes make or break time. Long term goals become shorter and shorter as patience and money wear thin. Either stability is achieved… or the dream dies.

Temporarily. Because there is life after the team. You still get to keep the experience. The good habits. The drive. You can still stream and get yourself out there. You can compete, scrap, work hard. If you’re good enough, and if you’re lucky enough, your fate might be on someone else’s team. At least for a while.

But either way, the world of eSports will never be closed to you again, because you were a part of it. With the industry growing like it is, the number of roles within this vast ecosystem sparkle like the stars in the sky. Or like the stage lights hanging above a massive arena.

You can still be part of the action, weather or not you make it with your eSports team. In the end, it’s up to you.

Are you looking to start an eSports team or organization? If so, please comment about your own personal experience below. We’d love to hear from you.

Save this infographic as a quick cheat sheet for starting an eSports organization!

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