Spring and Summer of 2016 - Why, What, and What's Next
Some time ago Cull departed, then gabevizzle and Oldskool, and recently R3cKeD, and many of you started wondering what's going on. We mostly abstained from comment because we are always very careful about releasing any player information; even if that player parts with us on bad terms, privacy is something we do not take lightly. But unanswered questions lead to rumors, and rumors lead to misconceptions. Misconceptions become perception, and lingering perception becomes reality.
So it's time to address this; I believe we can do it while keeping key private details private. If a player has a family matter, a health condition, a love interest, or personality issues that affect performance - we believe that should stay private. Other things, especially behavior that's already public, can be disclosed.
First, some background.
Who Am I?
You know me as PwntByUkrainian, but outside of VG I go by Alex. I am a senior iOS engineer at Intel, Inc., which means that I write apps for Apple devices. I grew up sheltered because my dad said "no games all summer unless you bring home straight A's". So I did little outside of studying & playing video games, and I grew up a geek with a passion for gaming. I wanted to be a pro player but never had the opportunity. This is why today I am passionate about helping as many people as possible to be pro players instead.
GankStars was born a year and a half ago, but so far I have had zero financial interest in it - the law doesn't allow me to. I'm working in the USA on a worker visa, which means I can only be employed by Intel and no one else. I can help and advise a business and even make decisions, but I cannot be employed as a CEO, a manager, or any other paid staff until I get my 'green card' (which may or may not happen this year). I've made $0 from GS so far (I'm in the negative, actually, since I invested some of my savings), and this will continue to be the case for the foreseeable future. I work 40 hours a week at Intel and when I come home I do GankStars for one reason only: passion. I have plenty of opportunity in life whether GS fails or succeeds, so there's simply no motivation for any sort of greed, power grab, or anything of sorts.
As a side note, FooJee and IraqiZorro have also made $0 as co-owners so far. They're paid as competitive players & streamers, but in the same amounts we have compensated some of our other best players. Our new co-owners BFDMMEXI and Owens will not see any money anytime soon, either: eSports simply takes years of investment before it bears any fruit.
Who Are GankStars?
Same people we've always been: champions of community, competitive spirits, and naive defenders of sportsmanship and good relationships. We are sirius about building a great community and a place where players can flourish. Vainglory isn't just another game on our quest to expand to a mega-eSports org. No - Vainglory is home, Vainglory is fam. A home we've helped build - from the first streamed Vainglory LAN parties, to the famous pictures of VIPL I took that you saw in early articles by Red Bull, etc., to hero design somewhat shaped by our (and many others') feedback, to a lot of current Evil 8 players being GS, ex-GS, or from a team that at one point or another we helped in a significant way.
There's history tied to GankStars everywhere you look because we want to make history. There are other guilds and orgs that love VG as much as we do and have contributed greatly, no doubt about it, but there's perhaps nobody aside from SEMC itself who loves the game more. We are here to help VG grow, to inspire players in being positive, and to increase the overall pie so that VG eSports is actually sustainable for many participants, not just the top one or two. I am proud to say that we have made several decisions that hurt us in the short-term, but decisions that we thought had to be made to keep our integrity and to benefit Vainglory at large. Whether GS succeeds or fails, at least we know we can sleep well at night.
Yeah, Sure, but Why Did Some People Leave?
First, we've had a long relationship with most everyone on this list. As of the time of writing, none of players who left have stayed longer at their next org.
During the month of December 2015, you may have noticed Cull streaming a lot from Korea during VIPL S2... you can go to Mobcrush archives and see that he streamed over 100 hours that month. This naturally negatively impacted his practices and tournament performance, so we requested him to limit streaming hours. Myself and IraqiZorro, gabevizzle discussed this with Cull at a coffee shop in Seoul on our last day there during that trip. Cull was of a different opinion, plus he was presented with the TSM offer, so shortly after our discussion he left for TSM. It's hard to blame him here - TSM undoubtedly looked like a big opportunity back then, and the conversation about streaming perhaps rubbed him the wrong way. We supported his decision in the sense of it being an opportunity for him - Cull is well-loved in GS and if he wants to focus more on streaming or try out what seemed great, he should do that.
To fill Cull's spot, we first looked at Statusbaked. Problem is, we had a great relationship with LibX (we helped them during Autumn Finals with advice/practices), and they seemed to be the next big upcoming team. As I said above, we believe that having multiple strong teams helps all of Vainglory. If we took Status, we would have put a big hole in LibX and break our word about caring for the overall health of the scene. No matter how hard we looked, the choice was between gutting another team by stealing their jungler, or recruiting a very green free agent. Note: we're not saying Status wanted to leave; I don't remember if we even ended up approaching him. I'm just using him as an example of players we looked at and why we didn't make them offers.
So the best option at the time was to move FooJee to Sirius. Iraqi and Foo played successfully on Kollab before, so we had reasons to believe this would work. We also knew that both were leaders and shot-callers by heart, and that this move could result in a collision of personalities. Alas, there was only one way to find out which would come true. You know the rest: the team was able to perform at top 3 level, but couldn't win 1st. The synergy between FooJee and gabe just wasn't the same as between Cull and gabe, and the dynamic between Iraqi and FooJee was good but not the best. This situation upset gabevizzle after 3rd place placement in Winter season, Hammers sold him on Kinetic, and he decided to leave. Gabevizzle expressed exactly zero concerns with the team until the day of Winter Finals, so there was absolutely nothing we could do to even react to this. At the same time, I failed as a manager to bring out the opinions. Sure, I asked gabe regularly if everything was okay and he always said "yes", but some people have quieter personalities and it's a team manager's job to recognize that and provide an atmosphere where everyone feels they can express themselves fully.
Moving FooJee to Sirius had ripple effects; Oldskool was left on Vega with R3cKeD, but without a great replacement for FooJee. Him and the team tried his best, but eventually he left on good terms. This was more of a "we can't find you a perfect teammate" situation rather than anyone having any bad feelings. Oldskool maintains a great relationship with GS and is well-loved amidst all GS members; we're very happy to see him doing great. Go Skool!
Once gabe left, we needed a solid support. R3cKeD was a natural choice because he worked quite well with FooJee. However, the dynamic between Iraqi and Foo remained at 70-80%, and other failures occurred (which I'll keep private to respect player privacy). In the end, R3cKeD wanted Iraqi to stay on Sirius, but we wanted Iraqi for Cerberus. We knew the EU team would benefit from Iraqi's experience and leadership, and we hoped we could find a laner for Sirius. Frankly, we underestimated the importance of Iraqi being on Sirius for R3cKeD, so when opportunity presented itself to jump ship, R3cKeD took it. R3cKeD - I love you man, and I'm sorry this was mishandled, but honestly not much choice was available.
We do not plan on selling. This stance cost us some players, and we wish them their best, but it's a stance that we nevertheless currently have. Some players see Cloud 9 or TSM or FNATIC and want to play for them - I don't blame them. But all of those top dogs were our size once upon a time, and I see absolutely no reason why we cant be as good if not better. But Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither was Cloud 9 - patience and hard work is key. Best teams aren't ones that can have a win streak, but ones that can grow stronger from their losing streaks. There's nothing more awesome than building something from ground up and being able to say, "I was a part of this!" If you're the kind of person who loves that idea - join us :) We're here until we succeed or die.
Now, no team makes zero mistakes. No org is perfect. I can probably write another blog post about lessons I've learned, and I'm sure Iraqi and FooJee can add a list of their own. But the above captures the specific departures we've had, or at least according to the information we have. There may be other reasons players simply haven't told us about.
Why Wasn't Sirius at NA Spring Live Finals?
The absence of GankStars at the Spring Live finals was a pure miscommunication. When we were invited to VIPL, it was our strong understanding that Sirius will be able to come back to NA in time for Spring Finals. They placed 2nd in qualifier 1, which gave them enough points to be seeded for the Finals. So we thought, sure - we can go and defend NA's title in VIPL and then come back and fight in the Finals.
Well, 2 days before leaving for Korea we were told that VIPL finals were on the same day as NA Live Finals. Plane tickets were booked, apartment rented - not an ideal situation. We also had zero information about the importance of Spring season as it leads into Summer - there was no info about the new format, etc. So we tossed a coin and went to Korea. Looking backwards, had we had full information, we'd likely skip Korea due to conflicting schedules. And this isn't to blame anyone for it - as far as we know, some key information simply wasn't available at the time.
We didn't get 1st in VIPL, but going 3-0 and then placing 3rd isn't exactly a failure either.
By the way, I'm On 2nd Bag of Popcorn Now, Continue...
This brings us to Summer Split 1, where we had 4 new members on the team - zhyno, PajamaDrama, LoneDelphi, and MackDaddyB. zhyno broke his iPad during week 2 and couldn't play for awhile (the split was half-way done before zhyno told us what happened). Pajama, Delphi, and MackDaddyB have great attitudes but aren't nearly as experienced as most of the Evil 8 when it comes to competitions. They're good people, but they simply need more time together than what they were able to have so far. Our NA team Sirius was knocked out of Evil 8 as a result, and we're looking forward to claiming back our spot.
So what's next? When we looked at the Summer season, we were once again careful when approaching players who were already on other teams - we really didn't want to gut any team out there. But frankly it seems nobody else cares about this, so perhaps we should just accept it as a reality of eSports. In both EU and NA, we have so far only recruited players that reached out to us first or were free agents.
Our teams have always been meritocracies. FooJee isn't on a team because he's a co-owner; he's on it because he's a good player, a good captain, the best shot caller we currently have in NA, and because we really didn't want to gut another team. We're quite mature so having a co-owner on the team doesn't have a big effect; however, we realize it's still not ideal. I currently serve as a remedy to that - I'm not on any team and so have an unbiased perspective re: team's performance, health, etc. It is my job to give honest feedback to both FooJee and IraqiZorro when it's needed.
Will FooJee remain captain after Summer? Not likely. FooJee is great at business, and we have a lot of business work to be done behind the scenes. His ability to fulfill co-owner duties are very limited while he's competing, so it's not ideal to have him play long-term. So if not FooJee, who will lead Sirius (assuming Iraqi is still in EU)? Hell, if you're that person - step up and message us :)
Cerberus is doing great. To answer the question we get a lot - L3oN isn't currently playing for one reason only: he can't travel to Summer Live Championships. Thus, the team that is able to go must get as much live experience as possible. L3oN is amazing (both as a person and a player) and we are looking forward to the day when he steps on stage at an event to a roaring cheer of the crowd. Vainglory is very young; there are many years ahead and many opportunities.
We don't want Iraqi to be on EU permanently; he's there to pass on experience and help the team mature into a scary, scary three-headed beast to be reckoned with. I don't know if it will be one season or two seasons, but ideally he comes back to NA sooner than later. Iraqi is flexible and can fill the role of a captain just as well as he can be an excellent laner with someone else being a captain. If Iraqi can perform well with all the extra responsibility, I can only imagine that he will perform even better if he isn't distracted by shot-calling. But first there would need to be someone who's is a better shot-caller - and that's a high bar to reach.
Hokay, I Guess That All Makes Sense. What's Next?
One thing we as GankStars can proudly point to is our track record: no unsportsmanlike moves, respect for all teams out there, directly helping many teams & people, and doing our best to push VG forward while of course still trying our best to be one of the best. We've given money to other teams so they can travel, we've advised at least a dozen other teams on starting up/organizing, and we even helped our direct competitors get sponsors. This will never change - it's simply our ethos. Call us stupid, but doing anything else simply makes no long-term sense. We need Hammers, Phoenix, Nemesis, Team Secret, TSM, SK, etc. If the scene isn't healthy, then "success" means very little.
in the coming months, we're doing some cool moves starting with the addition of BFDMMEXI and Owens as co-owners. SaffireSky joins us as the social media queen. Steven Wong joins us as PR & Marketing. We're looking to expand the leadership/management team even more - if you have the attitude, work ethic, and time, you know what to do! Especially if you'd like to manage the expansion to Overwatch.
Our next big task is a gaming house, and we've spent months so far filing the required forms with US Immigration to enable IraqiZorro to live in the US - it's a long, arduous process. Meanwhile, Owens is building up our support staff - analysts, coaches, etc. We're looking to put processes and best practices in place that a truly professional team should have: from diet and exercise to training specific to reaction time to a system that measures progress via tests. We're looking for players who are as serious about VG and eSports as we are.
Of course, we'll continue to help grow the community in general, not just the pro players. We're doubling down on GS Academy and it's now in two languages: English and Russian. We're looking to add Chinese soon. I just want to say THANK YOU to GankStars Galaxy members! We're also growing our EU and NA guilds and looking for fun, active, awesome people to join us!
As a side note, we want to thank you guys for the support. Yes you, the one reading this. It's pretty awesome to go to Twitter to read all kinds of amazing messages no matter if we win or lose that day. It's just.. great. Cheers!