Friday, January 16, 2015

The Rebranding Festival

by Louis "Guichex" Lemeillet

Roster swaps are common in the off-season, but this was the year of identity changes. Alliance became Elements, Evil Genuises became Winterfox, Curse and Curse Academy respectively became Team Liquid and Gravity. Even LMQ became Team Impulse. New names have also made their way into the scene with the qualification of H2k, Team 8, Giants and Unicorns of Love, and some of the biggest EU talents regrouped into the challenger team, Origen. With all this, it appears quite normal that casual followers of the LCS might be a bit lost in the new season, but it might also hurt the brands and general viewership of the series.

How the heck did this happen?

Part of this major branding issue lies within the GoodGame story. To recap quickly, GoodGame owned both Alliance and EG brands, but the new Riot rules don't allow two teams with the same owner. Therefore, after GoodGame was bought by Twitch, Alliance went on to be Elements and EG reemerged as Winterfox. Did Alex Garfield, owner of GoodGame, decided to sell those two teams after selling his company to Twitch in order to spend the rest of his life watching eSports from a hammock on a beach with a mojito in his hand? Well, yes and no, since the new team owners (Maelk and Guitar) are both former employees of his. 

EG and Alliance have "given away" their LoL teams but kept their other professional teams under the same banner. Dota 2, Counter-strike, Smite, Starcraft, HotS, and other teams will be kept under one and one name only, while the over-mediated League of Legends teams will be under a different name. In the end, Alliance and EG will be hurt to some extent as their fans lose brand recognition and possibly some sponsorships. In some ways, it's a good thing, since Alex Garfield could have easily become one of the most powerful figures in the eSports landscape, owning dozens of teams. But it will reduce further infrastructural development in the Western Scene. Money comes from sponsor, and without them, you can't offer players the necessary environment to perform at their best level.

Multi-gaming structures, which have teams bringing in a lot of cash because of their mediatization and fame, allow some expenses to be redistributed to their minor gaming teams. Therefore, the latter have better infrastructures than others and theoretically win more titles on a minor league scale. Being number one in less popular games, and having a presence in LCS, even if you're not top two, still brings extreme fame among a very wide target audience and might bring more sponsors than just having a top two team in the LCS. The staff costs would also been reduced to some extent, as you don't have to multiply the number of executives, even if you're running teams in various eSports scenes.

Among all this, you're hurting to some extent the long-term possibilities of the brand. Evil Geniuses were already on their way to become the multi-gaming structure with the greatest “hall of fame” in western eSports history. Now they're shooting themselves in the foot by giving away their LCS spot. Even if Evil Geniuses have no problem attracting the best world players in the next years, it will probably hurt them in the long-term if Winterfox performs extremely well during those years. With LoL being the most popular eSport game at the moment, people will remember EG failing where Winterfox succeeded. It's quite an overly simple view, but I believe giving away both Alliance and Evil Geniuses might have been a mistake GoodGame didn't have to make. Even after being bought by Twitch, they could have kept the ownership of that one team among the two.

The same happened with Curse, who had to sell Curse Academy but voluntarily rebranded their main team and “shared it" with Team Liquid, another powerhouse in the eSports landscape, a move I felt was even worse than GoodGame's. Curse is an extremely popular brand along gamers, owning multiple websites which each of us has heard about at least once: the main Curse website with all the popular addons, MMO-Champion, Reign of Gaming, etc. And no, Liquid doesn't appear in the Curse sites. Why would you voluntarily relinquish a sports team which would bring further traffic and revenue to your websites? 

I understand Curse wants to partner Curse Voice with multiple players/teams, something they couldn't do while also sponsoring a team. I also understand Victor "Nazgul" Goossens and Steve “LiQuiD112” Archancet's idea of merging Team Liquid's fame to Curse's potential. Nevertheless, I believe Curse.Inc will suffer a great loss. Why do LG, SKT, Samsung and other huge international companies sponsor Korean teams? Because they know the success of the teams will bring additional revenue to the brand. Sponsoring a sports team for a company has always been some kind of wishing-well where you're throwing money in hoping for further success. Curse.Inc will be relinquished as mere sponsor like any others and will clearly suffer from this as Team Liquid will greatly benefit in terms of fame and mediatization. 

What year is it?!

Even if players didn't swap that much, the casual followers of the LCS might feel a bit lost during the first weeks of the series. Along with learning a crowd of new teams who entered through the expansion tournaments, they'll have to grasp even more with the Alliance, Curse, LMQ and EG rebranding. In fact, I'm a little lost between the swaps, the new teams and aberrant news like Alex Ich joining Team 8 as a sub. It feels like it's the end of an era and I don't know if I'll get as hooked during Season 5. Time will tell but I believe I'm not the only one in that situation and many people might go on and look for something new. Oh wait, what's that new game again? Heroes of the Storm?

The Challenger scene will be quite hurt too, as many of their big names made it into the LCS, leaving behind a few teams with an uncertain future and a bunch of newcomers who might have a lesser skill level. H2k, Coast, Unicorns of Love, etc. grew a fan base during their time in Challenger Series, and those fans follow them to the LCS now. The “lesser competition” will take some time to get back on their feet and to offer the same level of games we had last season. Of course, as all couldn't make it back into LCS, EU & NA will each have one “super-challenger” with Origen and Fusion, but it might not be enough to attract viewership if they just stomp everyone else.

In the end, it's not something major and the LCS format changes already foreshadowed that Challenger Series would be hurt to some extent. For Riot, the changes were necessary to stay on top and answer consumer's desires, and it'll not result in a loss for them. They might lose a bunch of people watching LCS but the additional viewership brought in by new teams, and the more cohesive 10-team format, will quickly make it look as a bad dream. Also, a great deal of eSports followers are more following players than teams, therefore the rebranding of teams and the new hole in the Challenger Scene will not impact them at any point. Only Alex Ich's fans might still have trouble bringing their jaw upwards, trying to believe what they just read.

So wait...who's this team again ?

The fact that all those rebranding happened at the same time as the LCS bringing in two additional teams also left us with another major issue, although it might be just disturbing me: the too-much diversity in team names.

Unicorns of Love, Elements, Copenhagen Wolves, Team 8, Fnatic, Counter Logic Gaming. Not one of those names has a similarity with the others. People, and I can understand that, are just coming up with what's in their mind and what they find “cool.” Or at least that's how I imagine it. And to some point, apart from following the basic branding rules such as: easily readable for anyone, not too long, in english; that's all you gotta do. Yes, I'm looking at you Origen. Do you seriously expect casters to pronounce it with the rolling “rrr” sound on stream?

I must say, even if SEA is not like this anymore (maybe apart from the animal emblems), at least I loved their names. Saigon Jokers, Taipei Assassins...that was some NBA/NFL cachet right here. Of course, I can't expect for all teams to rename themselves, it'd be utopic. But I believe that, as I already wrote for fashion, the lack of uniformity in names is something that will not help mainstream sponsors take your business seriously. It looks unorganized, like a brainstorming session where everyone is throwing their ideas in and no one ever agrees. And come on, it's not like the video gaming and fantasy universes were too small to find any good ideas. Direwolves, ogres, centaurs, ents, tressyms, griffins,'s full of great names! Why do that instead of naming it “8”? I know I'm seeing this with some bias as I have a marketing background, but still, Team 8 doesn't bring anything to my mind when I'm reading/speaking it. At least bend turn that number 90° to the side, and you'd have Team Infinity. There I can imagine things: infinite potential, to infinity and beyond, etc. There you call values in the minds of followers and companies alike, and you can develop great storytelling and communication around it.

As I said, it's more of a personal matter to me here but to some extent I tend to believe some companies might look at this with the same eye as mine, and between one team with a generic name and one with a great storytelling, well the choice is perfectly obvious. You take the one you can do the most with in terms of communication and marketing campaigns. Even Elements looks somewhat childish and silly, but they still bring something to the table like “Froggen is the air” and “The Elements coach will be named The Avatar!” or whatever. It brings something imaginary which can be promoted. But at least Team 8 is still better than the “Team eSports,” an atrocity I witnessed in some CS:GO tournament.

Branding and naming is a very wide topic and might appear as rather plain for a lot of people but, for that reason, it's one of  the most difficult exercises for marketing professionals, and it's a decision that shouldn't be taken lightly. I know it's difficult for Riot to have a real and legitimate impact on naming decisions, and it's also none of their business, but with the number of teams growing and the rebrandings, the start of Season 5 will result in some kind of immense jiggery-pokery for the viewers and might hurt brands and Riot alike in the long-term. 


by Louis "Guichex" Lemeillet

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

curse didnt own the team, they were only a title sponsor. Liquid112 owns it. Curse saw more money in promoting curse voice, so the told him they no longer wanted to be the title sponsor. He found team liquid as the next best option for HIS team (not curse's) hence the switch.

Actually read about the acquisitions before writing an article about them

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