Greetings, this is Eddy, I’m the COO of the Guangzhou Charge, a professional Overwatch esports team founded in 2018 that will compete in the 2019 Season of the Overwatch League. This is my first story, in what I hope will be a series of stories that document the trials and tribulations of founding and growing our startup.
This is an exciting moment for esports as we sit on the precipice of going mainstream, after a decade of explosive growth from a fan-driven grassroots movement.
But these are perilous times for esports as a business — there have been significant capital inflows but will esports live up to the hype that it will evolve into a form of mass entertainment to rival traditional sports (with revenue that live up to lofty valuations)?
I can’t answer that. But what I can do is to share stories from the front lines, by documenting in real time what I believe will be an extraordinary journey with an extraordinary group of people.
Here is the first in a series of (long) posts on how we rallied to compete at the Pacific Challenge as a built-from-scratch startup.
We have good relationships with the Gen.G ownership, and we were pretty excited when they approached us about competing in the Pacific Challenge. We saw it as an opportunity for our team to get LAN experience in front of a large crowd before the season starts, and we could use the event as something concrete to work towards during boot camp. It would be good exposure, too, for an expansion team to share the stage with an established team like the Dynasty.
Then came 2 key developments that dialed up the stakes.
First, the Watchpoint season preview aired and the league’s commentators opined that we might end up being the next Shanghai Dragons. This Watchpoint diss seemed to uncork a flurry of rankings that had our team near the bottom. Within our own walls, we were feeling quietly confident about how we stack up. Our players didn’t seem to care too much about what others were saying. In our goofy team Discord, I tried to get a rise out of our guys from these power rankings, and all I got was Happy saying something about the pundits being “foolish lads”, then Kyb got a laugh out of a Korean player using a British turn of phrase, and they all went back to being goofy….
From a business perspective, perception does matter. Fans (even if subconsciously) do want to realize a return from the passion they invest in their team. So the more a team might suck, the higher the threshold becomes for that team to attract fans, especially given a choice of eight new teams to follow. And of course no business partner wants to be attached to a historic failure of a team. Our leadership was careful not to put any pressure on our coaches to treat the show match as anything but that, a show match to entertain fans and to give our entire roster some experience under bright lights. But the business team started to view the Pacific Challenge as a unique opportunity to change the narrative about us.
Then a second dark cloud appeared on our horizon: the labyrinth of the U.S. visa process.
The league requires teams to obtain P1 visas for their players (which are traditionally issued to athletes). We started the process early, with help from expert immigration lawyers, but as time went on we started to get worried about the latter part of the visa process which requires lengthy submissions, in-person interviews at the U.S. consulate, and a prolonged period where the consulate holds our players’ passports for processing.
Our original plan was to boot camp in Seoul, where in addition to training we’d be able to have our international roster together in one place to complete the visa processes at the U.S. consulate in Seoul. And if there are visa delays, we could still participate in the Pacific Challenge and continue to train in Seoul afterwards until visas came through.
But then the other shoe dropped: we found out that in-person interviews at the U.S. consulate in Seoul were taking far longer to schedule versus what was normally the case, which might then push out our timeline to move to L.A. back by several weeks. This long of a delay was not good, because it would substantially increase our boot camp costs while reducing both the time our players had to acclimate to living in L.A. as well as scrim time against OWL teams that are already in North America.
So we made a major pivot to boot camp in Guangzhou. We did that because the U.S. consulate in Guangzhou had a much shorter queue for in-person interviews, which would keep us on schedule for traveling to Seoul for the Pacific Challenge at the end of December and then traveling onward to L.A. shortly thereafter. Moreover, we could leverage our basketball training facility near Guangzhou which had plenty of space, player dorms and a central pantry that could feed our team.
But we also opened ourselves us up to new risks by boot camping in Guangzhou, the biggest one being that if there were delays in getting players’ passports back from the Guangzhou consulate, we had a very small buffer before we would miss the Pacific Challenge entirely. We needed to thread the needle on the visa process to avoid the nightmare scenario of having to back out of the Pacific Challenge after it was announced that we’d participate. It would have been a huge embarrassment to fail in such a visible manner for our first ever coming out, not to mention causing a massive disaster for Gen.G.
To jump ahead a bit, we were able to pull off boot camp in Guangzhou, and we managed to obtain P1s for all our players and coaches (except for poor Kyb who is probably waiting in line at the U.S. consulate in London as I write…), which in turn allowed us to take the stage at the Pacific Challenge in great shape.
It wasn’t easy. Especially because we were (and still are) a lean startup that was being stretched in multiple directions to put out concurrent fires. Be sure to come back for my next story, where I look at the behind-the-scenes sausage making that was our Guangzhou boot camp. And later on, I’ll talk about our marketing and communication strategy for the Pacific Challenge to wrap up this series of stories.
So how did we do against Dynasty? Check out the VOD here.
Thanks for reading.