If you paid attention, even remotely, to the middle tier of Counter-Strike in the last year or so, you might have noticed that there has been more and more famous names showing up in these tournaments, fielding a so-called “Academy” team. Indeed, organisations like Fnatic and North started to recruit secondary teams that compete in the semi-pro divisions of the scene.
While multi-roster teams aren’t exactly new, it’s worth noting that a global trend emerged in the last twelve months or so with big organisations picking up secondary teams branded “Academies”. Most of these teams gather promising players from their countries and let them compete and try to climb their way to the top while representing, and with the support of, a renowned esport organisation.
The concept of academy is already a few years old. You might remember FalleN’s former team Games Academy, before they moved to KabuM, which he later turned into an actual academy team between August 2015 and February 2016. However this trend only really began to pick up steam in the last twelve months, starting with GODSENT Academy during August 2016. Big names followed, with Fnatic a short while later, then North, EnVyUs, CLG, and so on. Smaller teams also joined the trend, with teams like Team Spirit, Space Soldiers, and very recently Flipsid3 signing “Academy” rosters.
So why would a team recruit a secondary roster? Well, one obvious goal is to develop and then recruit players into its main team. As an example, a couple of names that went through Games Academy during the actual academy period: felps, fnx, TACO. All these ended up joining Brazil’s top team later on. But if you look closely at the rosters, it’s not always that obvious and that simple that the goal is simply to find a fifth the day one is needed. There might be other development in mind for these teams that try to build these secondary rosters.
With these interrogations in mind, we had the opportunity to discuss with Jordan “Next” Savelli, Team EnvYus’ manager, and learn more about academies. It’s been actually a few months already since Team EnVyUs landed a second roster in late April of this year. What was the spark that gave life to this new project? What goals did EnVyUs set for this new academy roster?
Let’s find out.
Note: This interview has been conducted during the ESL French National Championship on July 1st, and translated from French.
Hello Jordan! You are EnVyUs’ manager since early 2015, and it has been a few months now that EnVyUs recruited an academy team. What is the EnVyUs Academy project, what are nV looking for in the french semi-pro scene exactly?
In this scene, EnVy are looking for multiple things. At the beginning the academy project was primarily about supervising the future generations of the top CS players in France, or at least in the french scene. I realized this, and with Mike [E/N: hastr0, EnVyUS’ CEO], when we wanted to swap a player, and especially when we wanted a younger player, like we did with DEVIL, we had to consider the cost involved. You might rush on the wrong person even though you probably shouldn’t, and moreover they’re not trained in your image, you don’t know what they’re worth.
With an academy team you have more hindsight, and it gives you more flexibility, if tomorrow there’s a player that either wants to stop, has health issues or personal issues. We have stand-ins right there that already know the playstyle of the main team, because they train notably by watching our demos and using the same stuff, more or less to play exactly the same roles. Based on this analysis, we came to the decision of having a solid academy team with good players, if not the best from the french semi-pro scene. Then, it’s supposed to be a one-year project, and at the end of the year we will advise whether we change the academy team or keep this one with small adjustments, in the event that some players would want to stand on their own two feet. That’s also the goal.
We have stand-ins right there that already know the playstyle of the main team
Was that project triggered by the fact that after the french shuffle and the advent of the super team, EnVy kind of got the “rest” and tried to make do with the remaining players, and thus appeared need to develop the french semi-pro scene?
No it’s been a long time coming project. What triggered this was the episode when we announced a lineup with devoduvek, then ScreaM finally joined the team, and devoduvek got left aside. I really liked this player, I think he has a huge potential and that even on Misfits he’s not used to the best of his capabilities in my opinion. That accelerated the process, we told him that we were keeping him, that he should not worry, that things would be good for him, that the structure was sticking with him.
Then it took some time, as we needed to gather the persons and I had already a lot of work related to the main team that was being recreated. There was a project with devoduvek, around him. Then we all know what came after, with Misfits recruiting him. But in hindsight, that was probably a stroke of fate because we got JACKZ and VKLL and they’re absolutely great. Overall the five players we have are, even though that’s not the initial project we imagined, as we were aiming for younger, “fresher” players.
So not really the best from the french scene but players with more potential then?
Yes, players that weren’t already molded, that didn’t already have routines, habits. We basically wanted to take a rock and shape it, kind of like a diamond. Eventually we ended up with an average age of 23 or 24, which is quite old for an academy team. But these are players that never got past the limit between the french semi-pro level and the European semi-pro level. This is already a big step. We’re helping them with that, with Vincent and Damien [E/N: Happy and maLeK] who work with them. We’re helping them with their progression, with climbing that step serenely. We got the young impetuous ones with hadji, JACKZ and VKLL, and on the other side we have Lambert, who has an extraordinary experience, and PetitSkel, whose qualities everyone knows about. On paper I like the project, and humanly as well this is great to work with them.
Is there, for EnVy Academy, the aspect of developing the team as an asset that could be transferred afterward? We saw that could be very lucrative, as we remember some famous transfers like the international G2 lineup that was sold to FaZe. Is that aspect considered?
It could be considered. Right now that’s not how we see it, but if tomorrow someone come to us and tell us “Your team has qualified for this and that tournament and we would be interested to buy them”, at that moment we will ask ourselves about it. Although, beyond the fact that we would think about it, I insist that it is mainly the players that will decide. We will handle the behind-the-scene, financial stuff, but the human aspect and what they want is in their hands, I do not force anyone to do anything against their will.
The human aspect and what they want is in their hands, I do not force anyone to do anything against their will
This leads into my next question: how do EnVy work with their academy? Is that a hands-on or a hands-off approach? To which degree are you involved with the academy team? To be more precise, are the goals set by you or them?
We really set the goals together, but those we set are in my opinion very attainable. For now there’s objectives that they exceeded, notably to qualify for the DreamHack Valencia Closed Qualifier. They did it in a convincing way. Unfortunately, this qualifier then had stronger team and maybe they didn’t prepare enough or choked, but that’s just the lack of experience that shows. Us, we’re more about discussion, like if they ask us “we would like to attempt this tournament, what do you think?”, I’ll be looking at the teams there and tell them “it would be nice to make a top five, a top four, or just qualify, what do you think about that?”. They say what they think about that, and that’s it. They’re all competitors so they’ll always say that they want to be first, and that’s cool to have that kind of answer, it’s not a half-hearted answer like “well we don’t know”. They always want to reach the top.
The way we work together… Recently we had a lot of work with the main team, and we still have, but we’ve found a balance with maLeK so he has a few hours a week on the side with the academy team. During this time he can teach them a few things. Happy also works with Lambert, watches the demos, tell him what he thinks. I work with Loic, Neoskai [E/N: EnVyUs Academy manager], to train him to be a manager. We could say that the biggest link between the main team and the academy is the link between Loic and myself.
Let’s move on to the global trend of academy teams, we saw Fnatic get one, GODSENT, North, Gambit with a different branding pro100. CLG and Flipsid3 got one less than a month ago as well. What do you see as the main factor that triggered this trend?
Frankly I don’t know. I don’t know how to explain that. I think it was just a need at some point, the need to create your school, to train players in your own way so that you can recruit them afterwards and be sure of what you are getting. Secondly, I think there’s the financial aspect as well, that’s for sure. Where does it come from then? We are simply following the sports model. And beyond that, we’re also following the League of Legends or DotA model. There’s a lot of teams on LoL that works that way. They have one or two sub-teams, and they train against them. I even think that’s also happened in DotA, where a team would face their academy team and in the end they would win because they know all the flaws in the main team, and the main team wasn’t able to fix these.
The main team enjoys a lot playing against them because they see that they’re committed and that when their game is sound and solid they’re very hard to counter
I think that’s a good concept, to have them like sparring partners. We try to work this way with our main team and the academy, although that’s not simple because of the plannings which are notoriously packed. The main team still enjoys a lot playing against them because they see that they’re committed and that when their game is sound and solid they’re very hard to counter.
With the development of all these academy teams, we saw tournaments organizer looking at that trend and getting involved, especially with regards to the topic of potential conflicts of interests as that’s the same organization behind both teams. There’s been two different cases so far, either forbidding completely both teams from participating at the same time, or forcing teams to rebrand like the case of Fnatic with Ballistix? Did it change anything in the approach for EnVyUs Academy?
For us, not at all. Then we will take a closer look the day they qualify for a tournament where the main team is present, but rebranding is relatively easy. In the Fnatic case, we all understood that it was still Fnatic Academy playing under the name Ballistix, which is one of Fnatic’s sponsors. So if tomorrow we need to go to one of our sponsors and sell them the idea, are they interested yes or no, etc. You see about the money exchange, a fair exchange between both parties, how visibility is impacted, etc. That’s still the same managerial core of the structure behind the rebranding. Well as far as I know about Ballistix, at least.
On this point, a more personal question. If the main team can potentially face the academy team in a relatively high-stakes tournament, don’t you think there’s already an issue and that the academy team should already be standing on its own two feet as a main team, not necessarily with the same organisation?
In my opinion, completely personal, if tomorrow both teams would end face each other in a tournament, any tournament, even a Major, let’s even say the semi-final or the final of a Major... Or let's even consider the most complicated situation, the match that qualifies for the Major. Let’s say both teams are on 2-2 at the Major qualifier. You’re happy anyway. You have to consider that first. And personally, I would never force my players to play worse, they should give everything they have 100%, they should do the show, because that’s also what CS is about. And if that’s the academy that wins, I’d be twice happier. On a communication level that’s an insane victory. And secondly you see that you have managed to build a successful project. And after that you know that any team could knock on your door to buy that team.
I would never force my players to play worse, they should give everything they have 100%, they should do the show, because that’s also what CS is about. And if that’s the academy that wins, I’d be twice happier
About the conflict of interests part, I can understand the issue. But conflict of interest or not, isn’t that just smoke and mirrors to change the name of the team? For me that’s just that. Yes I can understand that there’s this potential issue, but there’s been already for example LDLC White and Blue, they were in the finals of ESWC 2015 and it’s even LDLC Blue that won the match to everyone’s surprise.
On the contrary I find that great, and there’s even more animosity between both teams because the academy team wants to show that they can be better than the main team. And then, there’s sixteen teams in a tournament, so the probability that the two face each other… Well ok, that happened a lot with G2 and EnVyUs recently [laughs], but then.. that’s the game. No I don’t find this controversial. Then of course, if your boss is telling you that the academy team needs to lose so that the main team can advance, no, that’s unacceptable. I’m all for the sport, all for the show.
How do you see the evolution of the semi-pro scene on the short and mid-term? More precisely, is there still room for the modest structure that don’t have huge financial means to actually build a project? Or do you think the scene will be phagocytosed by the bigger organisation that want to have a hold on it to shape it the way they want?
For me the real issue is not there, there will always be room. The real issue are the players, that ask more and more, compared to what they asked even just three months ago. Players from the lower tiers should not forget where they’re from, that they need to prove themselves before earning money. I think that’s actually what’s killing the small organisations in France. The players asking way more that what they should. Words and actions. First we prove our worth, and then we can ask for more. It’s not because you’ve won an event, a PxL [E/N: a small french LAN] that you can ask for money. I exaggerate a bit, but that’s the gist of it. The economy is still tenuous… yes the top teams are making and paying a lot of money, but that doesn’t mean the small teams have the same resources.
Players from the lower tiers should not forget where they’re from, that they need to prove themselves before earning money
Text and interview: Ragnarork
Editors: Hayl_Storm, lichter
Photo credit: Aurélien Mignerat/ESL, Patrick Strack/ESL