Bradley Robbins is a tech, trade, and travel writer with a lifetime of experience with North America, Europe, and Japan.
You’ve got the team. Your friendly local gaming community has rallied around a title and continues to up its game. You’ve got a friend who is business-savvy and already ranting about how eSports is a “growth industry” with nowhere to go but up. He wants to know why the big names are making so much money and you’re still playing in the garage when your crew clearly has the skills to succeed. So how do you go about making yourselves the next set of EVO champs, or at least gaining the funds to get to the event?
Consider this carefully. Would you (assuming you are a local business owner) sponsor your team? Do they look like professional players or a bunch of guys who “play better with the right liquid encouragement” and hang out in a garage? Your odds of becoming eSports professionals depend heavily on your level of commitment. A realistic assessment isn’t about crushing your dreams with a spinning piledriver; it’s about figuring out where to go from here.
And likely, that involves self-sponsorship. You’re going to need to clean up your act. Before you ever approach a pro sponsor, you’ll need to look, smell, and play like a pro team. You’ll have to put time, effort, and probably a bit of money into your team. If you’re willing to make this investment, you’ve got a chance. If you’re already scrambling to get the crew to spring for pizza money and can’t convince them of the worth, well, you just saved yourself from a bad time. Your friend with the business savvy should be invited to put his money (or time investment) where his mouth is at this stage, as well, but he likely won’t bankroll the whole team.
It all starts with the tools to get the job done. Tournament commercials tell you this includes cans of energy drinks, the ability to do a victory dance properly, and the right chair for the job. The chair and a good controller or fighting stick can help—they can’t compensate for lack of skill, though.
Make sure that your team has the proper tools it needs to succeed. Create a schedule. Practice like you’ve already got a slot in the semi-finals. Replace broken or worn equipment. If it isn’t broken and doesn’t pinch your rear when you sit in it, you probably don’t need to replace it yet.
Developing a Team Logo
Have fun with the team concept outside of practice hours. Now is the time to draw up your team logo. Figure out your two (or three, max) team colors. Come up with a rallying cry to put the pros on alert.
Unless you’re independently wealthy and don’t need a pro sponsor, don’t waste funds on the traditional “band shirt.” Wait to get the fancy cycling jerseys, and just snag some branded water bottles for your crew. It’s just to get your logo out there. And it does need to be front and center on your social media. If you promise to give some to your Facebook friends (you do have a team Facebook page, right?), you might even get them to spring for the bulk cost.
Everyone knows someone who thinks they’re a social media expert. Until you have pro sponsorship, that person is probably your best bet for managing your Twitter, Facebook and Instagram feeds. Make sure they know the rules of the road. All that news that makes headlines about teams flailing on social media, members getting booted for saying insensitive things, and the like needs to be as far from your accounts as possible. You’re gamers, not YouTube personalities, and there is such a thing as bad publicity when you want someone to pay you for doing what you love.
Armed with the power of social media and your community’s backing, head to the nearest local/state tournament for your top games. Sign up with your team name, tote along your water bottles, and try to dress in neat clothing (collared shirts in your team colors are a great start) that is well-pressed and matches.
Be paragons of cleanliness and hygiene. Have a good smile for the camera. This is your chance to impress the talent scouts who are looking for individual players and the companies who would love to get their logos in front of the camera. Even if none of your crew makes top 8, they’ll get the experience they need for the big leagues.
First tournament in the bag, now you can consider the swag for your swagger: matching pants and jerseys. But wait, who is going to pay for this? Hit up the local comic book and gaming stores, not the big chains. Meet with the owners of the places your team members work or places you frequently shop for related goods. Show potential sponsors the best footage of your crew at the event.
Bring along any photos you took of your team shaking hands with celebrities and eSports announcers or fans and vendors at the tourney. Make a press kit. Don’t buy the shirts until you have a local sponsor willing to spring for them, however. You want that logo to look just right when you’re ready to move to the next level. Sometimes it takes a few trips to the local and state tourney scenes, but if you’ve got the chops, you’ll find a sponsor.
This is where you’re going to run into the big names. The Capcom Pro Tour announcers and some of the biggest names on Twitch will likely make an appearance, top players from around the world. This is your second big photo op and your chance to strut your stuff on the bigger stage.
Don’t forget your local tourneys and state events. But, when it comes time to show off that fancy sponsor logo in front of the cameras, have your crew in place early and looking like real pros at the regionals. Volunteer for interviews when the local news teams come visiting, and sign up as an expert to help journalists looking to cover the event. They likely won’t know Daigo Umehara from SonicFox without your help, but they’ll recognize a professional-looking team when they see one. Be that team.
The Big Leagues
Regionals are your place to shine as well as the place that you’ll likely spend the most time, but once you’ve got a few sponsors on the local and state level, you’re ready for the big leagues. The EVO championship series, the Capcom Pro Tour, the King of Iron Fist, the insanity of the League of Legends championships—none of these are outside your grasp. If you’re looking to score the biggest sponsors in the industry, you need to make a showing at these events. Your current sponsors want to have Red Bull, Cup Noodles, and major computer manufacturer logos next to theirs. Going to the biggest names won’t help; when you’re ready, they’ll come to you.
Bask in the Glory of Being an eSports Team
When it’s all said and done, you’ve got friends, you likely have fans and sponsors, and you’re playing a game for prize money. You are living the dream. Even if you never get past local sponsors and regular regional events, you’re likely already a community superstar back home. Bask in the glory of being an eSports team. Wear those logos with pride, and act as professionals waiting for the next big break. Complacency kills careers, even in the gaming world. Show them what you’ve got, and never stop moving.