Extra Salt - the exclusive
Behind the new organisation that announced they’d be picking up the former Cloud9 roster.
For many CSGO fans around the world, the rise of South Africa’s Bravado Gaming in the international CSGO scene was watched with interest. When Johnny “JT” Theodosiou, Aran “Sonic” Groesbeek and coach Tiaan “T.c” Coertzen were signed to internationally revered Cloud9, the world held its breath. This was the fairy tale story esports eats up. Fast forward to 2020 and the players were dropped by the iconic organisation, reportedly because of a breach of CoVid guidelines.
And then some Extra Salt was added.
In a surprising move, a new organisation entered the fray. Extra Salt literally appeared out of nowhere and announced they’d be picking up the former Cloud9 roster. Rush B Media reported that Extra Salt was led by Daniel van Flymen and “backed by successful businessmen who have long-held a passion for the esports scene and are reportedly close with coach, Tiaan Coertzen.”
While the narrative online focuses on Extra Salt and their potential redemption arc, the real story lies in Daniel van Flymen. While the world might not recognise his name, long time fans of South African Counter-Strike would. Daniel is better known as Gandalf, the founder of Damage Control. Damage Control was started in 2001 and considered a pioneer in African esports. The team were one of the first to compete overseas and showcase South African esports on a global stage. They broke down barriers and propelled Counter Strike forward. Any competitive player now has these original trailblazers to thank for the interest in the local scene. Gandalf plays down the role he played in South African esports:
“I founded DC when I was about 14 years old. Back then the scene was in its infancy. It was pure magic to me, and I don’t think I’ve ever stopped loving CS. Back then, my friends and teammates would drive to Mayhem in Boksburg every two weeks to play on LAN (because 56K sucked). I played competitively for a while, competing at a few international tournaments with some of the guys who are still around - stYle, Hellhound, INCIN, Explicit - and some who are sadly not (Apocalypse). It was always my goal to live in New York, and in 2008 I was lucky to receive a scholarship to study here, so I left South Africa. I’ve been working as a software engineer since.”
For those on the outside looking in, the idea of setting up an esports organisation towards the end of 2020, with the pandemic still hanging heavily over the world and no clear sign of the exit sign, seemed risky. Gandalf says it wasn’t a rushed decision:
“My partner (Dave) and I had been looking for an excuse to jump into esports for a long time. Also, I’ve been watching CS for as long as I can remember. Towards the end of 2020, we decided that the time was right to dive in - when everyone else was leaving the North American scene.”
Esports was very different when 14 year old Gandalf first decided to start an organisation. New entities need to compete with juggernauts like Cloud9 who brag large financial backing and sponsorship. Many may feel that even attempting to go against these titans is a battle that cannot be won. Gandalf seems to have a pragmatic approach to launching and maintaining Extra Salt:
“There are juggernauts in esports, they’ve been doing this for a lot longer and have deep pockets. However, Dave and I have been building and growing tech teams for the better part of 10 years. The plan is to demonstrate success and bring larger partners on board. We’ve hired Nick Bee, the former Head of Esports at Alienware, as our Director of Esports, to help grow our partnerships and gain a foothold in the space. We know there’s a ton of work needed to get there, but we love esports and our plan is to start small and grow into an industry leader over time.”
Damage Control also has a place in the foundations of Extra Salt:
“Starting DC as a teenager taught me a lot. I learnt how to program because we needed a website; and photography and design because we needed branding. But more generally, it taught me how to build and manage teams as well as manage internal politics - lessons applicable outside gaming. I’ve used some of these skills for Extra Salt, but in the long term it’s more important to find the right people who are masters in their respective fields rather than trying to handle everything. My partner Dave is a fantastic and well-respected engineering leader. So between the both of us, we should have most things covered.”
Extra Salt is currently starting with a CS:GO roster, based on the founders understanding of the title as well as the high viewership and gamers currently invested. Though there may be plans to field teams in League of Legends and Valorant down the line. The current team has been set up in Austin, Texas. They’re based in luxury apartments with a pool and gym as well as a separate gaming studio to play out of. This is a short term setup and in time the organisation plans to build a gaming HQ. When looking in from the outside, it would appear the South African link may have been the deciding factor in Extra Salt choosing to acquire the old Cloud9 roster, though Gandalf says the decision was influenced by many factors:
“Dave and I had been talking about doing something in esports for a while, and I had been in touch with T.c and Sonic for a few months because I was interested in hearing about their experience in the US. Towards the end of their time in Cloud9, we considered the team’s value, saw potential and decided to pull the trigger.”
Gandalf says he hasn’t followed local CSGO but has met with the owners behind Goliath Gaming as well as Andreas Hadjipaschali of Bravado Gaming, the original mastermind of Project Destiny, which led to South African players competing in North America. Gandalf says he was blown away by the Bravado Headquarters and impressed with what Goliath Gaming is doing as well. Though his focus is now firmly on attaining the goal he set out to achieve when putting together the Extra Salt CS squad: