As is fairly well documented, Joel and I indeed founded Excel Esports in a pub.
I was at university studying law at the time and Joel was a management consultant at KPMG. We were both definitely on the corporate path.
Both of us have been playing video games since we were kids – it’s been a big part of our bond – and so we were naturally drawn to esports
I remember we watched a few tournaments in North America, and I specifically remember being in awe at how big some of the MLG events were. All I could think was: “Why isn’t this happening in the UK?”
Of course, I would soon discover that it was happening over here, but not anywhere close to the scale of those American events. That’s what inspired us to start our own organization. We wanted to try and bridge that gap.
After that night in the pub, I spent the night designing a logo in my bedroom at Uni. That night was the first of many, at least for the next couple of years. We were the definition of “bedroom organization”.
When we first started Excel I managed to get a grant from my university, which was a fantastic boost. Joel had some funding saved from his full-time job as well, but that was all we had to last us for quite a long time.
There were plenty of times over those two years that Excel could have come crashing down.
Excel wasn’t built to waltz into the scene and win instantly, we were trying to build something, so we had to start small.
Lots of volunteers (including Joel and I) and players on pretty tiny salaries compared to the average of today. That’s what Excel was built on, and we’re thankful to everyone who played a part in those formative years.
I personally am a believer that you create your own luck, to an extent. When a lucky opportunity comes along, you have to be in a position to take full advantage of it.
As an organization, we have had some of those lucky breaks. in 2016, our Call of Duty team made it into the World League, so we sold the lineup to HyperGames. That gave us enough revenue to sustain ourselves for a decent amount of time.
There have been times when we’ve thought about throwing in the towel because we just couldn’t see how Excel was going to become successful, but grabbing opportunities like that has allowed us to keep on going.
For most of the years before LEC, it was very much about surviving.
Joel and I have always set audacious goals – both in our personal lives and with Excel. When we heard about the franchising of European League of Legends, we knew that this would be one of the most audacious goals we’d ever set.
The way we approached it and the way we told our tiny staff team that we were going for it was: “If we got into the LEC, it could be the springboard that allows us to make Excel one of the biggest organizations in the world. If we don’t make it in, it’s still a fantastic learning opportunity”
Once we completed the application, that entire approach went out the window.
We put together 160 pages of what was essentially: “How to build one of the biggest esports organizations in the world” by Excel Esports.
Out of the two brothers, I’m the optimistic one, whereas Joel is a little more pessimistic, and I struggled to believe that someone could look at our application and not want us.
The biggest problem at that time was that we didn’t have the money to apply to the plans we’d laid out in the application. So we took that application, made some modifications, and went to market with it.
I had never in my life sought investment on that scale. I had no idea how to navigate the world of venture capital, and frankly, I was quite far out of my depth. But I just had to get on with it and learn whatever I could whilst on the job.
There was a report going around at the time that we were initially rejected, but that wasn’t true. I don’t know what happened in other negotiations with other organizations, but we were in the process right up until the end, when they told us we’d got the spot.
Perhaps that was another instance of creating our own luck. Whatever it was, we got the job done.
There’s no point denying that we were one of the smallest organizations when the league launched. Because of that, we have to try and do everything better than it’s been done before.
In a lot of cases, I believe we’ve done that. Excel was the first team to start doing vlogs at the LEC and really ramp-up the “game-day content”, which other teams are now starting to follow. We were also the first organization to run a ten-person roster, which other teams have started following as well.
I won’t claim that we’ve come in and changed the whole system, but I do feel like we’re having an impact and that other teams are starting to look to us for inspiration because we’re trying to be innovative in as many aspects as possible.
Of course, there are teams like Fnatic and G2 Esports who are giants compared to us, and frankly most of the other European teams, but in the long run we want to be up there as well – which involves focusing on our growth, and making sure that we grow as fast, or quicker than they do.
Initially, we had a lot of British fans, obviously, but also a lot of fans who just wanted to see the underdog cause an upset.
Over time, though, the tides have turned a little, and more people on social media have started disliking us because we’re not as strong as the best teams in the league.
The funny thing is, I don’t really mind it.
Those people may not like us, but they’re interested in us. Even if they’re saying “Wow, you guys are terrible”, it’s better than them not saying anything at all because then we’re not being noticed.
I spoke to the Excel marketing team recently because I saw some comments saying “You should play Special over Mickey” or “You should play Kasing over Mystiques” – I think that’s great. People are getting involved, and I love that.
People care enough to want to select our team for us. Go to any premier league club and look at their twitter replies when they announce their lineup for a match. You’ll see exactly the same comments.
Everyone at Excel knows that this is a process and that we have a lot of catching up to do both in and out of the game. We don’t want to be the underdogs forever, but in this first year of competing at the top level, we’re happy to be the underdogs, because it’s the truth.
The first split went almost entirely as we expected. If anything, we were encouraged by some of the things we saw in our performances.
Our plan off the back of Spring was to do some restructuring to both the playing staff and the backroom staff and build on those positives.
The reality is that the restructuring we did was fairly heavy, and to be honest, we’re back to square one in a lot of areas because of that.
The bottom line is that being bottom of the table isn’t good enough, regardless of what stage of that process we are in.
It’s disappointing because we want to be successful, and no one at the organization wants to be where we are now, but we have confidence in our players and our performance team to turn things around.
A long-term partnership with the LEC has allowed us to put more effort into our marketing and our community interaction, which helps us be more secure for the future. But you’d only have to spend a day at Excel to realize that none of us are happy with the situation that we’re in when it comes to the performances and results.
I want to be as transparent as possible with everyone in the community, whether they love us, hate us, or barely know us.
Every time I see a comment that says: “Excel doesn’t really care about winning”, it makes me realize that we’re not doing enough to show everyone that that’s not the case.
So please, keep talking to us. Tell us what you want to see.
We’re not here to hide away and sit on our laurels.
Image Credit: Riot Games and Excel Esports