Iceberg Esports is making headway for Canadian esports teams on the horizon. Daniel Escott sat down with Twin Galaxies again to talk about the future of esports and for the team (and that future is looking pretty good).
Two months ago, we sat down with Daniel Escott, founder of Canadian-based Iceberg Esports to talk a little about their past and where they stood at that time, with a small 9-man team at the time. In this additional exclusive interview with Twin Galaxies, Escott explained to us the Titanic-sinking potential that Iceberg is heading towards in the coming months.
Escott is slowly building up the team and heading in all directions. In the prior interview, Escott explained that Canadian esports is a dragging a little and that he hopes to boost it with his team. That said, sometimes you have to explore to achieve such a goal.
“The countries on the list so far in addition to Canada,” he started, “Are the US, United Kingdom, Japan, and India. We're looking into more expansion in continental Europe and the Asia-Pacific region as the year progresses.”
We asked him what changed his mind about keeping everything completely Canadian. “Well, the market really,” he stated, matter-of-factly. “We will still be based in Canada and our team focus on the Canadian esports industry hasn't changed, but we're shooting to make Canada the global home of excellence in esports. The only way to make that happen is to show people how we do things, and that means bringing it to their front door.”
He believes that the esports industry has to see the potential to believe it, but it’s no easy task.
“We've been doing a lot of legwork over the last month or so, networking with potential partners and investors to ensure the longevity of Iceberg. We've seen a lot of opportunities in esports as a more mainstream medium of entertainment, and how virtual reality will eventually tie into it. So, over the next few weeks, we'll be making a series of announcements about what those projects will look like in more detail. Eventually, it will see Iceberg operating on at least three different continents.”
Science tells us that when something is heated up, it expands...
Last time Twin Galaxies talked to Daniel, the team consisted of only nine members, but since then, the team is gradually growing over the next few months.
“The team really was a match made in heaven!” He continued, “We've been looking for an opportunity to break into the pro realm as so many have tried and failed before us to do. This team goes toe-to-toe with the biggest dynasties in North America and gives them a run for their money. They're all from NA, the majority of them are Canadian, and their values and ours are aligned very well. We couldn't have been in a better place at the right time.”
Although he didn’t have exact dates or locations, he explained that they were scaling operations over the next three months, with new offices most likely opening in summer 2018. His meager numbers are expanding to monumental strengths, as well. He said that the players within the team would number anywhere from 25 to 30 total at a time, plus 40 to 50 people in other tasks like admin, management, and coaching.
“There will still be a main HQ out of Toronto,” he continued, “and we're centralizing our team operations into Toronto to streamline everything. Other offices will be working with the local esports scenes to provide support and structure to allow them to grow, as well as conducting their own regional business operations. (Additionally), the whole roster is signed and confirmed.”
Canadian esports star Kurtis “Aui_2000” Ling has already joined the team as Dota 2 Support/Carry, among other things. Late last month, he hinted in a blog entry that he was joining a new team, but as of February, he’s proudly wearing the badge of honor.
“You'd think he'd be the team captain,” Escott said, “where this team is basically his brainchild, but nope. He's just a roaming support, being a team player, lending his experience and expertise when needed. He does, however, act more as the face of the team.”
As he builds the Iceberg empire, he reassures that the offices would remain balanced and welcoming. “I come from the tech world, particularly the tech startup world. So we're going for almost a Google or Shopify feel of open concept environments with clear boundaries for more dedicated areas. We're shooting for professional, but inviting. It should be an environment where gamers feels it's encouraged to be gamers.”
As the team grows, more games come with it
So, the question we were most eager to ask was what games Iceberg is shooting for. Last time, they had only the CS:GO team and a Halo team.
“Right now,” he said, “we have a CS:GO team in the Mountain Dew League, a PUBG team that we're growing, and now a DotA 2 team. We're looking into a lot of trends, but we're particularly looking at Fortnite, Rocket League, some fighting games, and Call of Duty.”
We noticed Halo was missing from the list this time. “It’s an option (to keep Halo), but the scene is still in a lot of turmoil right now, so I'd rather hold off on a pro level expansion until the next iteration and see how 343i handles the esports realm.”
With PUBG on Iceberg’s list, Brendan “PlayerUnknown” Green, creator of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds recently stated that the game is “not esports-ready” just yet, sparking the question “Is it yet and what will it take to get it there?”
“I think (PUBG) shows a lot of promise,” Daniel explained, “and it has been interesting seeing a game try to make the transition from ‘fun to play together’ to ‘esports ready’. It definitely needs a more well-established meta and a more engaging viewer experience like Dota or CS:GO, so it has some work to do, but it's definitely on its way.
As an owner of an esports team, belief in a game’s ability to be an esport helps tunnel the way for the industry. But, what does esports ready actually mean?
“I think it means that people can watch it and still enjoy the game,” Escott stated. “Something like Overwatch is very dependent on at least a rudimentary understanding of the game mechanics, whereas CS:GO is very much ‘shoot and kill’. If someone can sit down and watch it without needing 20 hours of playtime in it, it's an esport.”
Sure, but with randomization (or RNG), the best player in the world can be dealt a bad hand. How can esports solve for the RNG in Battle Royale games?
“That's a tricky one,” he responded. “It’s why I struggle with the distinction between (the words) ‘competitive’ and ‘esports’. Games that include RNG can be extremely competitive but simply cannot be an esport because there's no defined way that a player can win solely on their skill. That's the role of the meta, to provide some predictability that a skilled player can use to craft their decisions and tactics. I don't think there would be anything wrong with removing randomization entirely from a game like PUBG, and in fact, I think could be a very interesting proposition. If weapons and kit were in set locations, a bold player would run for the best gear immediately where a more tactical player would avoid it at the start knowing that the area with the best gear is going to be a bloodbath.”
As the team grows, so will the rules and leagues involved, but each game has their own scope involved.
“It'll be on a game-by-game basis. We're not confident there is a regional or global body yet that can properly regulate or ‘govern’ esports, so we're blazing our own trail and just setting new standards, hoping others will follow.
How do physical sports fit in to esports?
Now that the team is growing, the business model has to evolve with it. Esports, as a whole, is also growing up more each day. Teams like Echo Fox are not only founded and owned by ex-pro sports players, but are being brought up in similar fashions. Do teams and organizations need to treat esports the same way was mainstream sports like NFL, NHL, and the NBA?
“Going mainstream is inevitable (for esports),” Escott, excitedly, said, “but that puts a lot of responsibility on the shoulders of orgs that I don't think they're ready for. By taking investments as just a team, they're promising a return on that investment through their teams. While that's very optimistic of them, I have little faith that they'll be able to meet those expectations. It'll slowly evolve into something similar to running a NFL franchise, but I don't think people understand that it isn't identical. Teams need to work on their business models before they can really be taken seriously, which is why I have put so much focus on having the team be a team, not make the team a cash cow.”
To that end, we asked what will make Iceberg standout in the crowd when everyone is setting up a similar way.
“I think what makes Iceberg different is our approach. We've really taken a new direction in trying to make this whole thing feel like they're joining the Iceberg team, not getting bought or sold like a commodity. Putting artificial divisions between people based on their role or influence only irritates people and rarely serves a purpose.”
Daniel insists that a key to helping the team grow and mature is being hands-on with them as the owner and management, while maintaining an administrative foothold.
“We have things worked out that allow us to scale with our partners without becoming too removed. It's all about hiring the right, qualified people to do the job. We're building out our hierarchy in a lean fashion but with robust individuals. There is a board, but we do our best to leave decision making at the lowest level possible. Makes it easier to adapt.”
What the future may hold
One game left off of their massive list of games was Overwatch. With a need to bring Canadians into the spotlight in esports, would Iceberg be willing to grab an Overwatch League team in the future?
“Honestly, I'm very skeptical of the Overwatch League and really wouldn't call it a success. I think it has validated its model, but it's underperforming audience expectations and the viewership is on a slow but steady decline. If Overwatch is still around next season, maybe. But not with the OWL.”
We also asked Escott’s thoughts on the persistent League of Legends Championship Series (LCS), which showcases a nine year old game and, yet, still grows every week.
“LCS is a different story entirely. Very strong business model with fantastic organizations involved. Depending on when the bids open up for the next round of franchises, it might be nice to see a Canadian franchise enter the mix.”
With games under the Iceberg roster like CS:GO, Rocket League, and some fighting games, Iceberg has set some sights on the Atlanta-based ELEAGUE, which is owned and operated by Turner Broadcasting.
“ELEAGUE is, in my opinion, doing the best job in NA right now as far as leagues go,” Escott established. “There will be many more competing leagues enter the mix as it goes mainstream, but I think ELEAGUE can handle it better than most. As for Boston, I've always liked the city. We have a CS:GO team in the MDL right now, but looking into professional CS:GO for next quarter is already on my list.”
With a massive list already in the works, we asked Daniel what hopes he has as far as the future of esports and where audiences and investors put their attention next. He laid down his hopes for a former juggernaut to return, among others.
“I'd like to see Halo make a comeback,” Escott professed. “It went to a dark place in 2017 and I think there's little hope of recovery until a sequel, but the franchise still has a special place in my heart and seeing it on a level comparable to COD would be great. I'd also like to see racing games come out a bit more, I think they'd translate really well to the mainstream. I'd like to see F1 for sure, but I think there's an interesting first-party opportunity with Forza that can't be dismissed. Additionally, there's some great Canadian talent in Starcraft 2 that I'd like to look into. Aui_2000 on our Dota team used to be a SC2 pro before his Dota career.”
Iceberg Esports isn’t without its travel and events and has no plan to slow down anytime soon either. Escott laid out immediate plans to head to competition all over the world in as short as a month.
“Our CS:GO team is aiming to be at Mad City in March, we'll have some other players and staff at EGLX, our Dota team is qualified for the GES Championship: Indonesia minor, and we're playing an awful lot of qualifiers this month too! I'm also looking into options for some esports business summits, try to get a better feel for the global industry.”
“The ball is most definitely rolling,” Escott left off on a sentiment targeting all esports organizations. “What I can say is that, over the next few months, we're shooting to redefine what an esports organization is. It's not about the game, it's about the players.”
Daniel has full faith in Iceberg Esports and hopes to reshape the entire industry in his wake. With their newly established hashtag #FearTheNorth and several announcements yet to come, Iceberg is well on its way to being a monster in the industry. Twin Galaxies would tend to agree with Escott’s sentiments, and it will be interesting to see where the road leads for the intrepid organization this year.