The founder of London Spitfire and CEO of Cloud9 Jack Etienne talked to Championat.com about the creation of London Spitfire brand, the mistakes he made in their first season and how to get investors to spend money on esports.
The path towards the Overwatch League finals
I am unbelievably happy about us reaching the finals. London Spitfire was formed when we really needed this kind of team. The players figured out how to overcome the obstacles in a key moment and became strong.
At the start of this path I thought that the road to these finals would be easy. I expected to be competitive at every step of the league’s groups, to always stay in top 3, to easily reach the finals. I couldn’t even imagine how difficult this path could be. That’s why I value our participation in the finals more that if everything would’ve been easy. The difficulties we overcame make this moment special.
Working with Korean players and experts
I have worked with Korean experts for many years now. Our translator and manager, Seunghwan “Robin” Lee, mostly works with the guys from London Spitfire. A few years ago he worked with the League of Legends roster. The LoL head coach is also from South Korea (Bok “Reapered” Han-gyu). When I hired him he could barely speak English. In just two years he speaks freely.
I know some of the Koreans well, working with them is pure joy. Naturally, they have their weak and strong points, like everybody. When you’re working with a team consisting only of Koreans, one of the most beautiful things is the versatility of their talent. They are truly special.
The language barrier is something that can be difficult to fight with. When I worked with the team where people talked in different languages, it was very difficult to get the players thinking and acting in the same way. Sometimes it is simply impossible. I am glad that we have a team like London Spitfire and we don’t bother with these kinds of problems. It’s one of our advantages.
On creating the London Spitfire brand
When we were discussing what city we should chose, I wanted London. When everything happened, I dreamed of picking a name and logo that I could be proud of, that would mean something for the British fans. I spent a ton of time on picking through hundreds of different names and making a list of the most interesting ones.
We held a global research study between Great Britain citizens. In the end, the names me and my team liked fit with the results. Spitfire and Spitfires were in top 2. Then we tried to understand which would fit better: plural or singular. When we made the decision, it became clear that London Spitfire is a name that personifies the region.
After that, developing the logo got faster. We had something to chose from. Blizzard designers showed the basic concept and I instantly fell in love with it. The way its plane looks within the shield reminded me of the soccer league emblems. Looking at logos of other teams I realized that we are unique. It is obvious that I am biased, but we have the best logo in the league.
The difference between a club and a national team
I think that some people miss one detail when saying that London Spitfire is a national team. The Overwatch League isn’t the World Championship. That kind of event is wonderful by itself, with each nation having their own team to represent them. But in the Overwatch League you simply build a team from players all around the world. They won’t necessarily come from the region you chose, but they will represent it. This is a new concept coming from professional sports.
None of the serious clubs would gather a roster representing only a certain country. If London Spitfire would gather players only from London, we would have severely limited ourselves in opportunities. Overwatch League is built on different principles. We are looking for talents around the world to create the best team in the world.
Leaving the Crunchyroll marketing vice-president position
Gaming… If I would’ve had to choose what to do every day, one thing, I would’ve chosen gaming. Working in sales allowed me to buy a PC, get internet and play World of Warcraft or any other game at home. Career was always secondary for me. I was always focused on gaming. In the end it lead me to working in an adjacent field. I came from a corporate structure to Curse, which was tied with gaming. I liked it. I was following my heart. But even working in Curse I was thinking about going on a raid with friends every day. That’s all I wanted to do.
At the same time I wasn’t declining competitive games, even when I had no team. The passion to the game lead to formation of the first roster. I had to choose between striving for what I like and working in Crunchyroll. It is a great company really. But it was just a job that I was really good at working in sales. It was completely different from what I was in love with. I am very lucky to find a career that I care about and that inspires me to do what I love.
On convincing investors to spend money on esports
At first it was very difficult. I never had problems with companies that acknowledge the value of audience. I never had problems involving them. The rush would’ve ended at the exact moment I started saying: “Yes, yes, yes, he doesn’t have the money to even start participating in the project.”
I kept hearing 'I don’t have the budget for esports'. Only on sports, sponsorship deals and media. Many companies simply don’t have the budget to sponsor esports teams. So I had to get the money they had and find a way to fit their economic model.
That is how I started selling TSM, when Cloud9 wasn’t even on my mind. TSM owned a lot of sites, so there was plenty of advertisement space. I wasn’t selling just a partnership package, I was selling the potential behind it all. I was saying: “You buy the sponsorship package and get the logo on your jersey, joint actions, constant mentions in social media.” But the point was that if they would even manage to get any profit, it would come from the site ads. That was only the beginning.
I was visiting companies and saying how much profit partnering with us would bring. All I did was train the companies to prepare their money. Every time I sent them the check, I realized how profitable that is.
At some point I no longer had to do this. They got used to buying the team sponsorship packages. But it was a long and difficult process: getting the sponsors used to putting their budget into esports. Especially if they had never done anything like it before. Just when they started earning money, they paid for integration, they saw the results and never stopped.
Something special is happening right now: companies sign million dollar budgets for esports clubs. It’s a breakthrough in business. Now we have millions.
On learning from the players
Every season, regardless of the game, teaches you something new. The biggest lesson is the experience of working with a team. I invited 12 players, each of whom had to be in the main roster. I had a certain vision of having them practice with each other, combining personalities in a team, changing players when necessary. This dream was not to be. I will not make the same mistakes again.
Winning the Overwatch League
The trophy is unbelievably big. We didn’t even know where to put it. It was also heavy. This was an amazing year for Cloud9 and London Spitfire. I won’t talk about this being my achievement. Everything was done by these guys. I managed to be working with fantastic people. I am glad that I had a chance to work with such young guys, they are amazing.
Jack Etienne's London Spitfire triumphed at the Barclays Center on Jul. 28, 2018, against Philadelphia Fusion, becoming the first champions of the inaugural Overwatch League. Overwatch fans have the World Cup to look forward to next, with the first game of the tournament kicking off in 10 days.