I have a treat for everyone here at ESEA to start off the new year. I was brought on board the ESEA News team a few weeks ago to write editorial
(opinion) pieces for the site. I quickly realized there might be another way I could contribute, by conducting interviews
with prominent members (past and present) of the eSports community.
My first interview will be with former eSports team owner
Fitzsimmons. NickFitz is known for being the man behind the X3O Gaming LAN Center, the founder of X3O Gaming
, and for being one of the architects behind the popular online league CEVO. I worked with Nick back in 2008 as a journalist for X3O, and his passionate involvement in competitive gaming is one of the reasons CS 1.6 continued to flourish during the CGS era. NickFitz, you are a well-known guy in the eSports scene, particularly in the world of Counter-Strike. That being said, you ‘retired’ from the scene a few years ago now so could you give us a refresher on who you are and what your past role was within eSports.
I first got into competitive gaming in back in 2002-2003 when The CPL held huge international tournaments and the top teams from around the world would travel to the U.S. for fame and glory. After I started managing, I had a vision for getting to the top, and I felt that the only way to get an edge on our competition would be to create an all local LAN team.
NickFitz (left, 2007)
Starting with nothing, I created a team and began looking for a LAN center to sponsor us. We found X3O Emerging Technologies, a company who was just building their first LAN center in Rockville, MD. After closing the sponsorship, we became Team X3O and our careers officially began.
Shortly after, I was hired by X3O Emerging Technologies to run their gaming division and continue to grow the X3O Gaming Center brand. Through leveraging existing relationships with professional gamers around the country, league/event organizers like WCG and ESWC, and sponsors including Dust-Off, nVidia, and Razer, X3O Gaming Center quickly became one of the premiere LAN centers in the country. From 2007-2008 we held the Dust-Off Championship Series, the largest U.S. LAN center organized and run tournament series ever.
The gaming teams grew hand in hand with the LAN center. We managed top national teams in CS 1.6, CSS, Quake, and CoD 4 and represented the U.S. in a variety of international tournaments including ESL, ESWC, and WCG. Most people know that X3O Gaming was great at fostering up-and-coming gaming talent (with two of your CS 1.6 teams being bought out by compLexity and Gravitas, and your CSS squad going on to become the most dominant in the scene). Could you give us a run through of some of the teams and players X3O Gaming supported during its tenure?
We were fortunate to have some very talented and dedicated players come through X3O. For CS 1.6 it’s tough to really run through them all. Our original players included some great local talent including Kingof2v1, EnFoRcEr, crazed, NineSpot, rockytE, dSingh, and more. Over the years we've represented some of the best including GBJames, LuckyTed, n0thing, cbz, da_bears, n0sam, sunman, goodfornothing, patyojon, mehler, impulsive, dboorn, drew, hero; wow, just thinking back on all these great players brings back a lot of memories.
In CSS the team centered around PEX, AZK, Legend, adren, and sunman. CoD4 was led by Robert "griM_" Koster, and Quake 4 by David "icel0re" Ritson. Do you keep in close touch with any former players of X3O? Is there anyone you met though eSports that you would now consider a good friend outside of gaming?
During my time in eSports I was fortunate enough to form many great professional and personal relationships. I try to keep in touch as often as possible, and I have already found opportunities to work together again. "...I was fortunate enough to form many great professional and personal relationships." What has been and is currently occupying your time since you left the pro-gaming space back in 2010?
I stayed on with X3O Emerging Technologies as their Vice President of Operations, assisting with their transition to focusing exclusively on MSP IT Support for small/medium sized businesses. I left X3O in 2011, and I am now contracting for the federal government. While government contracting pays the bills, I've found my real passion back in talent management. In 2011 I started my own firm and I currently represent several local artists based out of the Washington, D.C. area. Do you still follow competitive gaming at all? What is your take on the current landscape of the scene? If you do watch any competitions, which ones do you watch and for what games?
While I don't follow competitive gaming regularly anymore, I do check in from time to time. A lot has changed from when I was involved in the community and it's especially interesting to see how much social media plays a role. X3O Gaming as brand was primarily known for their Counter-Strike, Quake, and Call of Duty teams. With all of these being FPS titles, are you surprised that there are no FPS games at the top of the eSports world right now? Along the same lines: why do you think the shift in viewership/popularity in the world of competitive gaming has moved almost entirely to RTS (SC2) and MOBA (LoL) games?
These are really tough to answer. I can't say that I am surprised to not see FPS titles dominating competitive PC gaming. There were a lot of factors that were involved. Over the course of two-four years we saw:
- Most FPS game communities become divided, including CS/CSS and a new version of CoD coming out every year
- A decrease in sponsorship funding for FPS based teams and events
- Most gaming centers in the U.S. close their doors due to the economy
The list can go on and on. Additionally, many of the top professional gamers would spend hours playing other games including DotA, as they slowly became bored of their competitive titles.
After the CGS was formed, many of the top CS 1.6 teams left to focus on CSS. This left us with a handful of professional teams left. We could only play and practice against each other so many times before it became counterproductive. Without getting regular practice time against the more challenging European teams, many players lost their competitive drive.
All of that, factored in with new RTS games coming out (with modern graphics and more reliable online streaming), led to the decline of FPS titles in U.S. competitive PC gaming. You are one of the few individuals that ran a successful North American eSports organization over a span of years. What legacy do you feel X3O Gaming left behind in the eSports scene?
Honestly, the scene has changed so much today, I wouldn't be surprised if many young gamers don't know who we are. For those that do though, I hope that they can look back at X3O's successes and see that with hard work, it is possible to rise to the top of the professional level. We always tried to treat our players and fans with respect, and look out for their best interests. Our organization started with nothing, knowing no one in the professional community. Over the course of four years we went representing players that would lose in the opening rounds of local LANs, to representing the U.S. in tournament finals around the world. Did you enjoy running the competitive gaming tournaments at the X3O Gaming Center more than managing the professional teams under the X3O banner itself? Or was it the other way around?
While managing the professional teams was always a strong focus of mine, I really did enjoy running the tournaments. The same drive that led me to get involved in CEVO's creation, led me to continue to push our tournament programs. While they were far from perfect, we strived to make sure our tournaments ran on schedule, by a lead admin, who enforced the rules and ensured fair game play. Do you look back fondly on your own experiences in competitive gaming as a team owner?
I definitely look very fondly on my past experiences. I'm grateful for all of the opportunities I had to work with such talented and dedicated players and great sponsors. "I definitely look very fondly on my past experiences..." What is your most memorable moment personally?
It's tough to pinpoint just one moment. Standing behind the team as they win the final round and finish first at a tournament is very rewarding. It provides a sense of accomplishment and reassurance that all of the hard work, all of the hours of practice; it all paid off. A couple of years ago the X3O LAN/Gaming Center shut down and you had mentioned that a larger facility might be in the works. With it being 2013, is it safe to say that this new gaming facility will never materialize?
As I no longer work for X3O Emerging Technologies, I can't speak officially about their plans to get involved in gaming. Even so, I cannot envision a near future where a new gaming center would be a fiscally sound investment. Besides a LAN/Gaming Center specifically, do you personally have any plans to get involved in the scene again? Will we ever see NickFitz Management Group working with professional gamers?
I have no direct plans to get involved with competitive gaming again. My management firm primarily works in the entertainment industry, with a strong focus on musicians/artists. With that being said, if the right group of individuals came along, we would definitely consider representing them. Team Evil Geniuses (EG), arguably the most profitable and dominant organization in the scene right now, describes themselves as a ‘new media agency.’ Their current founder and CEO (Alex Garfield) has mentioned on numerous occasions that operating an eSports organization like a traditional sports team is not the right approach.
As someone who is familiar with brand development and marketing strategies in your daily work, what is your opinion on this topic?
I think Alex is right; and he's proven that by being the largest & fastest growing North American based gaming franchise, year after year. My approach with sponsors was likely similar to Alex's, in that I would focus on creating tailored marketing strategies to increase physical
X3O.CS 1.6 (2007)
brand awareness and provide new physical points of sale and exposure amongst their key demographic, provide brand ambassadors that can travel around the world to represent their brand, and provide additional exposure online through a popular community website targeted to their audience. To a sponsor, this sounds like business as usual. It just so happened that I would execute this strategy by advertising their brand and selling their products directly to gamers in my LAN center, leverage my top professional gaming teams to act as brand ambassadors at tournaments and conventions around the world, and then bring it all back together with carefully planned online advertising and promotions on our websites. Our gaming center, teams, and sites were simply the vehicle in which we allow our sponsors to interact with their target demographic. Knowing what you now know about managing an eSports team and also the business side of marketing, what would you have done differently during your tenure as X3O Gaming’s lead man?
That's really tough to say. If anything, I would like to have been more aggressive. What I mean is that because we had the knowledge and understanding of how to create successful marketing campaigns around competitive gaming, we could have been more aggressive reaching out to new clients. Recently I published an article where I described the rapid change of spectatorship and social media in eSports. When you officially pulled the support on X3O’s last pro-gaming team (the CS:S team consisting of PEX, AZK, Legend, adreN, and sunman), you mentioned that it did ‘not make fiscal sense to be managing professional gamers at this time’ (June 25, 2010).
Do you think X3O Gaming would still be around today if the branding opportunities/potential revenue streams currently being utilized by teams and players (Facebook fan pages, Twitter, and Streaming) were being used by X3O in the past?
Having all of today's social media services would have been a huge help. They allow organizations and players to interact with their fans in whole new ways, creating a myriad of additional touch points we just didn't have before. "...Today's social media services would have been a huge help." It was only a few years ago when hundreds of people would flock to IRC channels to watch text-based score-bots. Now, tens of thousands of fans are watching tournaments and individual players live-streaming their audio/video to fans throughout the world. What do you think of the drastic change in this area of competitive gaming?
I think it’s great. As technology has continued to advance, the competitive gaming community has adapted to the on-demand functionality that today's fans want. This adaptation has allowed more fans to get involved in unique and convenient ways. Speaking of your former CS:S team of PEX, AZK, Legend, adreN, and sunman – that core roster (with slight variations) went on to have major success after X3O shut its doors.
How does it feel to see the success of that core squad (Team Dynamic, winning an incredible 8 ESEA titles) when it was that team you chose to support until the final days of X3O Gaming?
I am extremely proud of their continued success. This group of guys worked extremely hard to stay at the top of their game, and proved time and time again that they were arguably the best CSS team in North America for many years. Recently I was reading up on some old eSports history and I stumbled across the Cyber Athlete Professional League (CPL) Wikipedia page. Despite being infamous for many controversial reasons, this tournament was arguably the beginning of modern day LAN-based eSports competitions.
X3O Gaming won the last CPL Winter Championship in 2007 for CS 1.6. Despite the event being boycotted by many other top teams at the time, how does it feel to have X3O Gaming holding the top spot for the last CPL CS 1.6 tournament ever held?
Ha, it feels good. It's definitely a shame that more teams didn't participate, however we worked hard to prepare for that tournament, and are definitely proud of the win. Any final words you wish to make Nick? Are there any old teams/players/friends you want to give shout outs to?
Thank you for doing this interview! It's always fun to talk about my time with X3O. Other than that, I would just to thank all of the players who played for me under X3O. Without their hard work and dedication, we wouldn't have been nearly as successful.
I would like to personally thank NickFitz for taking the time to do this interview and give the ESEA community a retrospective look into some eSports history. It is because of people like him that eSports is where it is today and I’m sure the various players X3O has supported in the past can attest to Nick’s enthusiasm and dedication towards the competitive gaming scene.
(Pictures courtesy of X3O Gaming