The Gaming Gaffa: How do you run an eSport team?

4Kings boss Jason Potter reveals just what it takes to manage the world's best gaming team.

4Kings cover image.
© Red Bull UK

Jason Potter has a bit more on his plate than the average 21 year old. As the director of Esport Media and the general manager of 4Kings, he’s not only running his own business, he’s in charge of one of the world’s best eSport teams.

Perhaps stable is a better way of putting it: 4Kings don’t just specialise in one game. The team plays host to the world’s best Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, ShootMania Storm, Quake Live, and BloodLine: Champions players. It’s up to Potter to manage 15 players, no mean feat when they’re based in six different countries across Europe, from Sweden to Slovakia.

“It’s a 24 hour job,” Potter tells Red Bull UK. “The day can start in a multitude of ways overall, it’s relatively unrestricted to certain roles. If there is something that needs to be done - you do it.”

That’s a long to-do list too: everything from arranging deals with sponsors and overseeing publicity and marketing to sorting the travel to tournaments for the pro-gamers. Oh, and making sure they practice, and play nice. Anything from from “organising practice schedules for the players, travelling with them to events, working through contractual agreements, corresponding with tournament holders and dealing with prize-money requests, and occasionally acting as a mediator when there is frictions between the players,” he says.

© Red Bull UK

4Kings are one of the most illustrious pro-gaming teams out there, with a history stretching back to the early days of eSports. The team founded by Satheesh Anandan, was born out of a QuakeWorld clan in 1997, but soon expanded to the likes of Counter-Strike, WarCraft 3, Enemy Territory and Call of Duty.

Potter wasn’t even in high school back then of course, but he was already in love with gaming.

“I’ve been gaming all of my life, and through it. Gaming has always been a social event for me, and one which is extremely fun and rewarding...I took great pleasure in meeting new people and competing against them. The virtual world is a battlefield and learning about people who pursue it as a profession was exciting, new and something I had to be a part of.”

© Red Bull UK

The Plymouth resident, who also studies game design, got involved in pro-gaming simply as a volunteer. Pretty soon, he was running 4Kings, but with a view to turning it into something much more than just a successful gaming clan. He set up his own company, Esport Media, to help bring 4Kings and other top gamers a structure, and help keep them pro.

“Esport Media was specifically created to push forward and professionalise the eSports movement in the UK,” Potter says. “After a careful evaluation of the community we felt that 4Kings was not only the franchise with the biggest potential...having the pioneers of professional gaming being mismanaged was an insult to every passionate gamer in the UK. Esport Media provided 4Kings with much needed professionalisation of the structures and streamlining.”

The same structures you’d expect in every other sport, in other words: the work goes well beyond paying the bills and sending out a few “Go team!” emails. Potter says that managing an eSport team has more than a few similarities to outdoor sports too.

“I believe parallels can be drawn to a certain extent...You need to organise the overall practise schedule, organise travel to tournaments and generally keep the happiness of your players at a high level in order for them to perform well. You have to balance financial risks with the potential advantages that could be brought to the franchise.”

“However in most sports the work is much more centric, meaning you have established practise facilities and a local base. Esports, due to its virtual nature, has a much more decentralised work pattern. Players can play from all over the world and usually come together for practise camps or tournaments.”

That’s about to change though: Potter’s even helped arrange a permanent 4Kings training facility for Counter-Strike gamers Craig ‘onscreen’ Shannon, Pete ‘pt’ Wright, David ‘deus’ Kinnaird, Elliot ‘wez’ Welsh and Marc ‘Mangiacapra’ Mangiacapra. They’ve all been practising in the same house in Manchester for several months now, getting ready to take on the world’s elite.

They’ll have a lot to live up to though, as 4Kings’ virtual trophy cabinet is full to bursting with world championships and victories at top tournaments in everything from Counter-Strike to League of Legends. Their Warcraft 3 team has won the Electronic Sports League (ESL) championship no fewer than four times.

4Kings, the best gaming team in the world.
4Kings eSports© Red Bull UK

Bucking the wider trend in eSports for MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena) games like League of Legends and Dota 2, Potter has actually refocused on first person shooters alone, and dropping its strategy game teams.

“We as a franchise moved away from [MOBA games] because we strives to contract players that not only show a certain dedication in practise and tournaments, but also put an extreme focus on players that identify with the core values of the franchise,” he explains.

“We feel that to this point we have not been able to identify a team that we consider material for 4Kings where the financial risk of signing them is justified. We’re contacted by potential players on a regular basis and evaluate every player as a potential signing. A comeback isn’t ruled out, however we’re not sacrificing the financial viability of the franchise to just have a team.”

It’s financial viability that’s a big concern for pro-gamers: when the economy takes a downturn, they’re hit hard as sponsorship vanishes. “The last time the industry was significantly tested was during 2008, and there were wide-scale bankruptcies which caused massive decline for several years after,” he says.

Potter’s focus for 4Kings has been on moving away from a reliance on sponsorship alone, and there are signs that’s happening in the wider industry too.

“The most definitive change has been the emergence of new media into the industry, which has radically turned events from a sponsor-exhibition based activity to an enormous marketing and advertisement opportunity,” he says.

With game streaming sites like Twitch.tv and games built for spectators taking off, there’s a larger audience than ever before - and bigger prize pots too - so pro-gaming may be here to stay this time. Even if it does take a hit next time the bottom falls out of the economy though, all the hard work is worth it, says Potter, who says he loves running 4Kings.

“It’s an honour to do so. The brand is synonymous with many of the greatest moments that the industry has seen, and has a deep-rooted heritage and history with British gaming. I’ve spent years watching these moments, and it’s extremely motivating to know that you’re an enabling factor within that. Managing Four Kings is probably one of the best jobs you can find in this community.”