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Published: July 8, 2021

Written by: Stoyan Todorov

Owning your esports team is no different than owning a business. You may have started because the idea of owning an esports team sounds fun, but to make it prosper, you will need to show no small amount of business acumen, understanding of the industry, and talking to the right people.

Of course, many teams in esports today started as grassroots organizations. FaZe Clan was recording “how-to” videos for Call of Duty, demonstrating trick shots, and teaching people how to do better in the game. Team SoloMid, which recently rebranded, began as a community forum for League of Legends.

Gradually, both organizations have grown well beyond their intended original goal, and so has the esports industry. However, for an esports organization to be successful and an esports team of all things, you need to approach the subject with the seriousness it deserves.

There are many things to consider here, and we will walk you through the entire process. In the end, you will see that if you want to start an esports team, you will have to first ask yourself if you can commit the time, let alone financial resources, to make this venture work.

How to Start an Esports Team: The Basics

Anyone can start an esports team. What you need are a few team members who will most likely be your friends. However, to have a professional esports team, you must have the right people, and those will most likely not be your friends. It’s important to make sure you understand everything about the industry, the chosen game, and the skills and qualifications needed to succeed in the world of esports. Before you rush to a name, logo, and website, what you need to do is lay the groundwork, and that will take time.

You will need to sort out the logistics, find talented esports players and members of your team, and show no small amount of business flair. Securing loyal team members is not too difficult when looking to start a team but giving the entire organization a sense of purpose and establishing long-term goals that keep people motivated is usually not easy.

#1 The Financial Cost of Hosting an Esports Team

The first thing to decide is how much budget you can allocate. The best way to embark on creating your own team is to create a simple Excel Spreadsheet and then fill it out with all your projected expenses. Are you going to attract talented players who are looking to break into the competitive scene without expecting too much monetary return right away?

Or, are you trying to get involved in some of the most popular games instead? Setting up a Dota 2 or League of Legends professional esports team can cost you a lot. Dota 2 is perhaps the more accessible of the two games, but you still have to account for travel costs and accommodation expenses, and not least make sure that your players can lead healthy lifestyles that allow them to play optimally.

Image credit: Epic Games

Therefore, sorting your finances first will be an important step towards starting an esports team. A successful business owner will learn to account for every little potential expense and act in a way that doesn’t put the team in a difficult financial situation. Salaries, tournament fees, and travel expenses will all add to your budget woes unless you come prepared.

Therefore, every new team should budget for at least a year and cover regular day-to-day operational expenses as well as contingencies. We have all heard the stories of owners starting an esports team without really giving it a proper think-through, resulting in a social media debacle.

To save yourself a similar embarrassment, it’s best to always budget and consider every little expense. Even if your first esports team doesn’t succeed, you may want to try with a new team later on. However, to do so, you will have to have a credible reputation.

#2 Start with Smaller Games

When looking for a game to compete in, you will probably be tempted by some of the big ones. Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Dota 2, and League of Legends are very popular. They have great engagement with fans and advertisers, and let’s face it – there are hardly any other games that have the same prize pools for their tournaments.

So, if you want to win big money, you will probably want to compete in the most viable games in terms of financial return. In theory, this sounds great, but when there is so much money involved, you ought to ask yourself – are you going to be able to find team members who can actually win any of these events?

The most talented players are already playing for the top franchises out there, and there is certainly no way you will be able to afford them if you are on a tight budget. But, there is a way to start an esports team and not have to deal with exorbitant costs. Of course, to do so, you will have to have a much more tailored approach and pick smaller video games.

How can you know if a game is a right fit? Well, there are many new esports games right now. Even if you focused on Brawl Stars, Valorant, Wild Rift, or Legends of Runeterra, you would soon realize that the entry costs are actually much smaller.

Sure, this means that the professional tournaments for these games will also allocate much smaller prize pools, but you are building a brand that can be leveraged and not necessarily trying to live off a particular game or the prize pool associated with it.

To put it this way, a game may disappear, the funding may die, but your brand name will live on, and people will know who you are. A professional team is just the means you need to set up your identity. FaZe Clan never relented from their content creation arm, and as a result, they drove steady revenue during the pandemic when most other teams didn’t have any tournaments to attend.

#3 Focus on Local Events and Work Your Way Up

As a continuation of the last two pieces of advice, you want to probably focus on games that have a strong ecosystem locally. Of course, certain countries and regions will be much better developed in terms of esports potential, and that is something you ought to factor.

If you can’t compete locally, you can at least compete in a region, whether that is East or West Europe, the Nordics, North America, Asia, Southeast Asia, CIS, or somewhere else. These are just broad examples that do not mean to suggest that you ought to focus on any of these regions.

However, if the opportunity exists, you should probably consider joining local tournaments first as they will save on the traveling costs and offer field conditions to test how well your players perform under pressure.

There are many opportunities to “start small,” as a matter of fact. Your organization can try its hand at open online qualifiers, which are usually plentiful. There will be monetary incentives to keep your players motivated and working towards the end goal.

Before you can even consider your organization a professional esports team, you will have to become a force to reckon with in those open and semi-professional qualifying events. Once your players are able to move past those, you will be able to revisit your focus and see if you can’t go bigger.

#4 Pick Players to Represent Your Organization

Look, finding the right players may seem like a bit of a do, but it’s actually easy to get into. Even the most successful organizations out there will reach out to players through conventional channels such as social media and ask players to submit their name, current rank in the game they are applying for, and perhaps a short motivational letter.

But really, what matters is how good a player is. Once you have secured this talent, you will be able to move into the world of competitive gaming a little more freely. One thing that could prove an issue is if you hire players and set unrealistic expectations.

That is why you ought to sign contracts with your players and establish very clear rules regarding remuneration and what percentage of tournament winnings will go towards the organization and building its image, outreach, and securing sponsors.

Image credit: EA

The selection process is a key point in your organization’s first stages, and it’s a lot of hard work. If you find highly successful players and put together a team that can drive results from the very beginning, that will put you on the map immediately.

However, you also have to plan for what your players do outside of the game. Esports has been faced with a string of sexual scandals where men in power have harassed, assaulted, or abused colleagues.

Some players have been ousted from teams over domestic violence. When a team is still young, you may be tempted to associate yourself with a promising player who has the raw skills but volatile character and sketchy past. It’s best to focus on building a genuine esports organization whereby you do not sacrifice your good name for the temporary performance boost.

Of course, there may be players who are contrite and have made efforts to fix past mistakes and who may want to get back in professional gaming, and you may consider giving such people another chance.

#5 Build Your Brand and Add Content

Once you are ready to give your esports team a shot, it’s time to start building up your brand name and intellectual property. As mentioned before, you are hardly just looking to win tournament prize pools. Competitions will certainly play a role in boosting the team’s morale, and they will contribute a hefty financial incentive to make it easier to scale, but they are hardly the whole story.

Gamers are interested in communities and organizations they can relate to. Esports has been able to beat traditional sports in this that esports enthusiasts play the game and even get to meet their heroes online on occasion. So, there are many ways to build up content and branding.

Sure, you need the right logo, name, and overall presence in social media, at tournaments, local events, if there is enough interest in esports where you are based. Apart from competing, you may want to be involved in other brand-building exercises.

As mentioned before, FaZe Clan really did beautiful things with their intellectual property by building a juggernaut of content production. They didn’t think local – they went big and international, channeling YouTube viewership, expanding into branded goods, and even making the Sports Illustrated cover as esports athletes.

Team SoloMid is another example we often use here. The team started as a forum where people were sharing various League of Legends strategies. Then, there were the weekly scrims where people from the forum would come together, including the owners, and play the game together.

Over time, the forum became more and more popular as it continued to add value, and it even outpaced the main forum boards, which were mostly discussions about the servers’ ropey state at the time. The point is, there is a grassroots drive-in building everything, and you can indeed build from the grounds up as long as you get in early, show dedication and commitment, and never falter from the end objective.

#6 Scout Young Talent and Train Them

This point is partly an update of how you should pick players. Look, you can always snatch up young talent, and to be honest, young gamers are probably your best pick. Whether those are students or someone going to college, if you find the right person or people, you may be able to cultivate loyal members of your team and field these players in leagues.

Knowledge of the game is also helpful, of course, but supporting players is equally important. Young players are impressionable, and they do have a sense of loyalty that you can nurture in them. Offering even small benefits, such as a good salary, a clear path to success, and even some gear and goods from sponsors, can easily influence promising talent to stay with your brand and help you build it.

Now, there is no way of knowing what a “success formula” is, and you cannot promise esports athletes whom you recruit young that by sticking with you, they would be able to compete in the highest competitions. However, what you can offer is a clear structure that you can sit and analyze together to see if the plan is feasible, to begin with.

If you are not sure about how mature young esports athletes are, just remember that a 16-year-old Kyle Giersdorf walked away from the inaugural Fortnite World Cup Final with $3 million as the grand prize, probably reshaping the young man’s life.

Gamers are social creatures, and if you can bring them together under the roof of your esports house, you are looking at a better chance of succeeding as an esports team.

#7 Talk to Sponsors and Reach Out

Sponsors are becoming aware of the esports industry, but they don’t quite understand how to get involved. That is where your brand can come in and forge sponsorships that will help those third parties to get involved with competitive gaming and reach millions of new consumers, whereas you will be able to establish the financial backbone of your team.

There are many sponsors that can benefit from the popularity of competitive gaming and they can all do so using your esports team as an entry point. All that you need to do is cultivate a healthy fan base which can be done through many traditional channels such as social media and building your website and company profile.

However, it’s important to approach sponsors, whether those are regional and international, and offer them branding and advertisement opportunities. Reaching out is never easy, but as long as you are working hard to create value for stakeholders and potential sponsors, you will be able to elicit strong benefits by bringing more mainstream sponsors to the sector.

It’s important to explain to sponsors that they need to advertise intelligently, that is, not to oversell their products as something they are not. That type of expertise will be appreciated by partners who are keen on getting involved with space.

#8 Continue to Network and Connect

Networking is important in every industry, and esports is no exception. After all, if you want to run a business, you will have to treat it as such. Starting an esports team is just that and connecting with other people from the industry is important.

You will want to be on good terms with other esports teams owners and generally reach out to publishers, companies, and anyone who may have any bearing on your team. A simple example will be if your region has a strong esports college program. Now, colleges are not supposed to teach professional gaming, but you may be able to recruit talent from there or work out some partnership with a school that teaches esports.

Image credit: Riot Games

There are pretty much countless ways that you can make an esports partnership work for you, and that is why it’s important to network. Pursue and explore ideas, get in touch with tournament hosts or see if you can establish some sponsorships. Recruiting an up-and-coming streamer on Twitch or YouTube can help you with communication between your team and fans.

Whether you are aiming locally or globally, having ties with people from the entire spectrum of esports is always the best way to push your team forward.

#9 Care About Your Team Members’ Well-Being

For a while there, there was the misconception that just because gamers play in front of a computer or a console or from a handheld device, they hardly get tired or need as many breaks. Athletic performance is usually tied with proper rest, exercise, and a dietary regime, and as it turns out, the same pretty much applies to esports.

If you want your team to play to their best, you ought to show a genuine interest in their health and well-being. It’s not just about the performance at the moment. Tired and not well-rested gamers will not be able to perform well during their training sessions, which are not just about scoring or winning matches.

These sessions are about cultivating skills, eliminating mistakes, building muscle memory, and discussing strategies for upcoming matches or tournaments. That is why as your team’s finances improve, you may consider hiring more health specialists to help out everyone on the team to get the proper rest they deserve.

#10 Make Sure There Is No Ego

A team can go from doing well to failing completely over the smallest issues. Ego is usually one of the reasons why many gaming outfits disband and lead to years of rivalry and toxicity. We have seen it even on the highest level of esports, but it’s best to avoid that.

When you start an esports team, you will be under a lot of pressure, and you may be tempted to exercise a sterner tone towards players and staff, but you can only lead by example, and this example should be one whereby you elevate but do not denigrate. If you let your ego get in the way of your team’s success, then you are already on the wrong path.

You ought to work out issues as a team and make everyone understand that your success is a team effort. There are no bosses and no underlings, and what you do, you do together to push your organization’s reach and chances of even bigger success. That is why it’s important to find like-minded people who can work with you and are prepared to do what is necessary to make their teamwork.

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