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Building a Guild: Lessons Learned

(The summary is at the end.) I was asked this question by quite a few people. It seems fitting to start our Blog with something that inadvertently speaks to the history of the guild. We hope this helps other teams start and solidify faster so we all end up enjoying a more rich Vainglory community. This isn't an exhaustive list, and there is always more than one way of doing anything, but I feel the things listed here are important to almost any foundation. With no further adieu, here's what I learned from my time as a leader of GankStars. 

Find Partner(s)

You want someone as mature as you or better to help you. Ideally, both you and your partner(s) will be mature enough to not take drama personally and to be able to separate being a leader from being a member. If you're not mature enough to do that - don't start a guild, and just join one and learn until you feel you've learned enough. Knowing your weaknesses is a strength.

Why find partner(s)?

- running a guild is just as hard as running any organization, and having someone there for the times you're down or unavailable will significantly speed things up

- everyone makes bad decisions, especially in the spur of the moment, so having a second (or third and fourth) head(s) will help you avoid those decisions

- it forces you to work as a team right away; if you can't work as part of a team and can only bark orders, you will likely fail eventually 

- if all you want is credit or to be "the man," are you really in it for the right reasons? Paint an arrow on your mirror with the words "The Man" above it and save yourself and others a lot of time!

GankStars as we know it today was founded by myself, Sphix, and IraqiZorro. This month, FooJee joined the leadership and competitive teams, so we have four people making decisions. Has it always been sunshine and rainbows with so many people running something? Not even close; humans lead to drama, always, and you and I are no exception. Yet I can name multiple instances where, had it been just me on leadership, the guild would likely wither off and die. Same would be true if I wasn't there - having a different point of view made all the difference. 

Agree on a Uniting Goal

Make sure that you and your partner(s) aren't in it for fame, ego, profit, or other selfish reasons. Selfish reasons are fun for you, but they don't inspire others. You should have a common, genuine goal such as "providing a fun environment for newbies," or "running one of the best teams in the game." If you feel your partners are after self-promotion (shouldn't be hard to spot based on their actions) - talk it out immediately, and move on if you can't resolve it. 

After you have a vision, make a few rules centered around your goal. All of your new members should share that goal and agree to those rules. And I mean all of them. The first person that doesn't will start driving a wedge in your culture, which will eventually lead to a crack and some sort of drama later on.

The more guilds spring up, the harder it will be to attract the players you want. A great goal/vision and a clean set of rules will help you attract them. 

To give you an example, GankStars started with a simple goal: to have a place for friends to play and grow together. At the time Vainglory was very young and that's all there was to it. Eventually we added trying to be the best pro eSports team in Vainglory. We have 4 rules that support that goal:

  1. No assholes or drama queens.
  2. Everyone must be willing to improve and take feedback.
  3. Everyone must have and show great sportsmanship.
  4. New members cannot join if existing members don't approve of them.

Your vision is your destination; your rules are the paved road you stay within to get there.

Focus on People

Web site, logos, Twitter, etc. do matter, but they mean nothing without people. I don't recommend producing bad-quality anything, but consider starting with just a Twitter account. Outside of that, focus on recruiting & keeping great people. 

People lead to drama - accept that fact. It's not wrong or right, it just is. This will test your chops as leader(s). The key is to take yourself out of the situation as an individual and look at it as an unbiasedly as possible. Is the person really mean, or are you/another member in a bad mood and just took something they said badly? That said, don't let anyone in the guild run amok. If your most-skilled player (or most-social one, if that's your guild emphasis) is being a total ass and refuses to apologize - kick them. Better now than later. Don't worry, there are many skilled/social players out there, but they won't want to join you if you have assholes pushing people around. 

Books can be written on drama and people. In general,  always hear out both sides of the story and act on facts alone. Be kind, and give people second chances *if* they ask for it and apologize for the first time. Try not to argue with anyone publicly. Ask them in public to tone something down if things are happening too fast, but use PMs to resolve the situation or only PMs if possible. After the situation is resolved you can ask the person to apologize publicly - it doesn't have to be a long thing, a simple sincere "sorry about that" will do most of the time.

We had our share of drama at GankStars. Rude people were kicked. Sometimes I screwed up and had to post an apology. Sometimes another leader screwed up. We had leaders leave temporarily. We all grew from these experiences, and in the end it was buckets of humility that helped us get through things. Always carry buckets of humility with you (or boxes, if you're Taka).

Guard Your Brand

Your brand isn't just your logo; your brand is literally everything that can be in any way linked to you or your members. Anything and everything that is public in any way ultimately relates to your brand. Think of "brand" as a synonym to "trust" - it takes time to build, and no time to lose. 

Ask your members to be wary of guild brand. If they show affiliation with your guild on Twitter but their profile is offensive - that's direct damage to the guild brand. Don't ask the public to be rational; instead realize that your members' behavior will always reflect on your guild's brand. 

Was your member rude to a random person in in-game chat that one time? Your guild brand just took a hit - cross your fingers screenshots don't get posted. Did you or your co-leader just tweet something arrogant or negative? You just damaged your brand. Think twice before you do things, and ask everyone to pay great attention to how they represent your guild. 

On the plus side, building a good brand by doing small good things pays off big time in the long run. Trust me, you may not have been approached yet by that amazing potential new member you were hoping to recruit, but they know your brand and will reach out if their situation changes if they find your brand to be good. Other guilds won't be afraid to promote you if your brand is positive. On the other hand, promoting a guild with a negative vibe would reflect bad on the guild doing it, so people won't do it. Nobody owes you anything in life - this Earth was here before you, and it will keep spinning just fine without you. So focus on earning trust instead of asking for it.

Brand is a big reason why we have the "great sportsmanship" rule. We don't post screenshots of wins online, for instance, because bragging isn't a good brand. 

Actions > Words

At the start all you have is your word, and that’s fine. But once you lay out your vision and rules, it’s time to shut up and let your actions speak on your behalf. Don’t focus on being popular or recognized - just do what you set out to do well, and the rest will come (assuming you’re not negative/toxic).

This means:

  • Don’t gloat
  • Don’t brag
  • Don’t talk crap about other teams or guilds
  • Don’t make a ton of promises
  • Don’t reveal plans much ahead of time unless you need to raise money or other support
  • Don’t answer insults or let people push your buttons; when you remain on high ground, the trolls only make fools of themselves

This is especially true for your own members. If you promise things, do them. If you have rules, follow them. A fish rots at the head; don’t be the head that rots. Prioritize integrity. That doesn’t mean being unnecessarily strict or controlling - it just means staying true to your word. Guess what, you’re not just building your guild’s brand on the outside - you’re also building a brand on the inside, as well as your own (leader’s) brand. When you lead, the spotlight is on at all times and everything you do is scrutinized - keep that in mind.

Recruiting

I already mentioned that everyone being on the same page about the vision/goal and the rules is important. That may be hard to accomplish if you recruit too fast - you don’t have the time to really check what people are made of. We made that mistake a few times at GankStars and it bit us just about every time.  It’s up to you how slow you recruit, and I wouldn’t artificially slow down recruitment - but make sure you have enough time to feel people out. A few days is a minimum, in my opinion.

If I told you that we decline over 95% of applicants, you’d think it’s because we are more known now or are more focused on being competitive. But the truth is, we’ve always done it, and doing it is what helped us be more successful. It’s hard to find people who fit your vision of the guild, and that’s okay - nothing wrong with knowing what you want. Don’t be afraid to say no. You don’t go out with every single person you meet, right? So say no a whole lot more often than you say yes; it’s a red flag if you don't. Be nice about it, though :)

How did GankStars recruit? We started by posting in Vainglory official forums. After we got our web site, we added an application page there. We’ve also approached people we met in-game if we liked how they carried themselves. Finally, and this is up to you, we have a rule about not poaching - if someone isn’t guildless or doesn’t apply to us first, we don’t go out to recruit them. That just creates bad blood between guilds and you can get by without doing it.

Miscellaneous

We’ll discuss sponsorship, merchandise, internet setup (how to test for good wifi and such) in future posts. Honestly, if you’re starting, you shouldn’t be worried about sponsorship or anything like that. Focus on what matters - your core vision - and the rest will come naturally.

Voice - use Discord app, it’s great and free. We highly recommend not using Skype due to security issues (definitely do _not_ give your Skype username to anyone you don’t know, and do not accept requests unless you’re 100% sure you know the person).

Web site - we use squarespace.com because it’s simple, good enough, and cheap. I hear Weebly is also great. I know some well-known guilds have beautiful sites on WordPress, but I believe that’s a lot more work.

tl;dr

  • find partners
  • come up with a uniting goal/vision, and create rules from that
  • focus on people at first, not small details
  • guard your brand, both external and internal one
  • actions speak louder than words, so speak less and do more
  • recruit slowly
  • be humble, always - can't emphasis this enough

I hope this helps someone!! <3 Now go start the next big thing.

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