In this post, I will look at how we executed on boot camp in Guangzhou, and why doing this successfully meant that we passed our first significant stress test.
I will break this boot camp series into several parts: this post will focus on operations, the next will be about our players’ experience at boot camp, and the last will go into marketing and communications.
As I wrote in my previous post, holding boot camp in Guangzhou was a last minute pivot for us. To put into context why something as seemingly routine as boot camp became a major hurdle for us, I’ll go back in time a bit and re-live some key decisions made over the summer months.
Back in August, we were the first expansion franchise announced for 2019 along with Atlanta. Up to that moment, it was just a few of us working with the league on due diligence, negotiations and (a big stack of) legal contracts. Once the announcement was made, we then went through a critical period where we aligned with our ownership on key decisions that would in turn inform how we build our organization.
Two key decisions made in this period turned out to have direct impact on why boot camp became a significant hurdle for us.
First, we decided to to build an international team with a mixed roster. And second, we decided to build from scratch rather than exploring partnerships with endemic esports clubs—working with an endemic would have given us an immediate head start on staffing and training facilities, but it was important to us that we control how we build our culture, even if that meant giving up short term gains.
These early decisions had some significant implications.
Hiring was impacted because we needed to hire competitive team leadership that was capable of managing an international roster (vs. an arguably easier path of a single nationality roster). Thus, it took more time and effort to identify the right hires because we opened up our search to, and eventually hired staff from, multiple countries.
Our initial operation was also impacted. Since 2019 competition will be hosted primarily out of the Blizzard Arena in Burbank, we decided to build our base operations in Los Angeles rather than in Guangzhou. This meant that many of us worked remotely from several different countries (coupled with extensive travel), which impacted our coordination and communication.
Thus by late summer, momentum admittedly slowed, and we were faced with a tight window to complete team branding (which included multiple design iterations, legal clearance, and creating content to support brand reveal) and roster construction (which included scouting, player trials, trades, contract negotiations and creating content to support roster reveal).
By the way, I don’t think we were the only ones in this situation; in fact, if anything we may have had a bit more time than other expansion teams because we were among the first new franchises to be announced.
When building our organization under these circumstances, we had to hire senior leads with ready-made networks. We needed to identify good people quickly, but it was just as important that these people could bring on other good people quickly. Our initial hires also had to be able to flex across multiple roles and fill multiple holes. It was the only way we could scale and operate effectively within a compressed time frame.
I’ll fast forward to November when we made the decision to boot camp in Guangzhou. Because of the earlier decision not to partner with an endemic, we had planned to outsource boot camp in Seoul where there are vendors with this expertise. When we made the pivot to boot camp in China, we had a core operations team of … let’s just say not many more than the number of people needed to screw in a light bulb. We were also dispersed across multiple locations including an advance team that was headed to Los Angeles to build out our team house. To take on the added challenge of hosting our first ever boot camp, we needed to add a lot of hands.
So our General Manager tapped his network to bring on two staff who had experience in the kind of set up and tear down that we needed. On short notice, they parachuted into our basketball facility and completed boot camp set up in under a week at a facility that had no PCs or broadband.
And we flexed like mad. Our General Manager was an IT professional before his esports career and wears multiple hats. Our player coordinator also has an IT background (as well as being an ex-player and coach at the Contender level) and he flexed to do IT and heavy lifting on visas. Our video editor helped on everything in between.
Add to that mix a countless number of late nights and remarkable staff cohesion for such a new organization, and we managed to pull off boot camp in China.
As discussed in my previous story, meeting this challenge provided a springboard to where we are today — by boot camping in Guangzhou, we succeeded in securing P1 visas in a timely manner for our team which allowed us to travel to Seoul to compete at the Pacific Challenge. This may turn out to be a competitive advantage viz. other teams that will not have the big stage experience until months later. And having P1 visas allowed our players to travel straight to Los Angeles to start the next phase of preparation for the 2019 season.
In fact our players landed in Los Angeles yesterday and our scrim schedule is fixed for the next several weeks, filled with quality training against Overwatch League teams. I believe that we are the first Chinese team to arrive in Los Angeles this year, and early acclimation and scrims may turn out to be another competitive advantage.
As we work toward the start of the season, we will face a fresh set of challenges, but our operations team should take a moment to feel great about a successful boot camp that led to giving us potential marginal gains over the competition.
Be sure to check back later for Part 2 of this boot camp series, which will be a peek into the our players’ experience at boot camp as well as lessons learned that we will carry forward.
Thanks for reading.