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Episode 46: Brackets are Big Business ft. Andy Williams and Matthew ‘MattDotZeb’ Zaborowski

Imad Khan January 10, 2021 21

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SPEAKERS: Matthew Zaborowski, Imad Khan, Andy Williams

Imad Khan  00:01

What’s up everybody? This is FTW with Imad Khan. I’m your host Imad Khan. And joining me today on this Brackets are Big Business Edition is Dexerto’s Andy Williams.

Andy Williams  00:09

Hey, what’s up guys?

Imad Khan  00:10

And later on we’ll be joined by manager of competition operations at Call of Duty League Matthew “MattDotZeb” Zaborowski. But first Valorant. This past weekend 100 Thieves upset TSM in Valorant’s first major, First Strike. The two month old roster would completely restructured in October around former Counter Strike professional Spencer “Hiko” Martin beat favorites TSM. Leading up to the event TSM are seen as the strongest team in North America. But after 100 Thieves’ win, at least for Martin, it shows that a slower more deliberate pace is what leads to championship wins not individual talent or pure aggression. “It does feel like a lot of these teams aren’t really thinking tactically,” said Martin during a postgame interview. “They’re thinking in the style that we’ve been talking about of let our individual performers run out, get all the kills. And we’ll just win in the five threes and five v twos. But the second they go up against a team that has the experience and that plays more tactically, I can feel that sometimes they feel kind of lost.” So Andy, now that first strike is over to you, what are some of the key takeaways?

Andy Williams  01:12

Yeah. So following all this First Strike action, right, we saw a lot of we saw a lot of action across the globe first and foremost. And there was a lot of teams that caused some up that upsets really I mean, big narrative over on Europe across the pond was the Titan Killers of Team Heretics Team Heretics coming in as big heavy underdogs. And, obviously, you know, turning over some big teams, some big names, big brands, like Team Liquid, G2 Esports. And they look very convincing in doing so. Obviously, going back across the pond over to North America, we saw the likes of Sentinels and TSM coming in as heavy favorites after their Ignition Series winds and the rivalries that kick started there. And then 100 Thieves kind of almost came out of nowhere really, you know, we’ve we’ve seen them kind of look promising and the roster on paper look fantastic. Open qualifiers came around, and no one was really putting them at the forefront of their minds. It was all TSM, Sentinels. And then it just seemed to click Hiko and Co. kind of really came into their own in the open qualifiers, and TSM tried to palm off their loss as a quote, fluke. And it was nice to see 100 thieves replicate that same form carrying over into the into the finals. And so yeah, it’s really good to see, you know, an organization of that caliber on top. It’s been, it’s been long, a long time coming for for Hiko. I know, this is his first major win, even though he spent the best part of a decade in Counter Strike. So yeah, and then obviously looking, you know, at the globe as a whole, we have other teams that are starting to shine in their own respective regions. So in Korea, for example, we have Vision Strikers, and TSM play a Haze has actually come out and said that they base a lot of their strategies from this Korean team. And, and then of course, we have, you know, other teams as well, like the Absolute Jupiters of Japan, it’d be very interesting to see how these teams all come together on the international stage for sure.

Imad Khan  03:26

TSM coach Taylor “tailored” Broomall said that they’re the more technically skilled team or more mechanically skilled team, but flubbed it in the execution. And I mean, do you? Do you really feel that was the case?

Andy Williams  03:39

It’s a tough call, mechanically skilled? No. I personally wouldn’t say that the likes of TSM are more mechanically skilled. Now, that’s not to dispute the fact that they are a mechanically skilled team. You know, it only takes a brief look at the statistics, they were, I believe, three of their players. So you have drone, Subroza, and Wardell were in the top six of the global finals, statistically speaking, and that that metric there, we normally look at something like average combat score. And so in terms of the talent, it’s definitely there. But But when it comes to them being the most mechanically skilled team, it’s a difficult one to say, when we haven’t really seen the full caliber of players and what the potential is, you know, this this esports still in its infancy, right?

Imad Khan  04:36

Right. And, you know, I mean, what, I guess where do you feel that, you know, things will shift in the upcoming 2021 season? I mean, how will TSM tried to, you know, get back from this loss?

Andy Williams  04:49

Well, it’s funny, you should say so, we run the viral and updates Twitter page, and we’ve recently put out some interview segments that we placed on there from First Strike. hazed, one of the veteran players on the TSM roster, actually came out and said that he still firmly believes that they were the better team. So I think you know, now looking ahead to 2021, we have the valorant Champions Tour coming up. And I think the big narrative is going to be some of these rivalries starting to blossom, before we really get onto the international stage. So regionally, we’ll start to see some of these bigger organizations go toe to toe, you know, we’ve seen Sentinels and TSM kind of exchanged blows over social media, you know, 100 Thieves seem to be coming into that as like a triad. They’re over in Europe, we’ve had the G2, Liquid, FPX rivalry for quite some time. But now, you know, the likes of Heretics and Summon are coming in, and they’re taking some scalps. So it’d be very interesting to see whether or not you know, those underdogs, quote, unquote, can can hold up their end of the bargain when we get to the very big stage of the champions.

Imad Khan  05:57

And then explain TSM, triple duellist composition. I mean, for somebody who doesn’t follow Valorant, like, what does that exactly mean? And is this an effective strategy moving forward?

Andy Williams  06:06

Really good question. So, I mean, first and foremost, triple duelist, what that means, essentially, we have different agent types within the game, right? So character types, and a duelist is one of the if not the more aggressive character type. So their abilities are tailored to be able to allow someone utilizing that character to going headfirst gung ho, and take the fight to the team, right. So you know, naturally, that lends itself to a more aggressive play style. Now, the triple duelist composition is something that North American valor has boasted, and kind of wore on its sleeve throughout First Strike. Now, with regards to that being the only matter, I wouldn’t say so, you know, different regions seem to be utilizing different agent compositions in different ways. For example, we don’t really see that so much over on the European side. One thing that I will say, though, is that TSM are very vocal and very stubborn in the fact that they don’t like to use Sentinel agents who typically are on the other side of the spectrum, which offer a more passive approach to the game. And, again, another interesting thing that came from the hazed, interview that we recently did was his thoughts on Sky. And that’s the latest agent to actually be added to the game. And she provides a lot of flashing abilities, and also a lot of map control abilities as well. So she kind of crosses that bridge between, you know, not requiring requiring the Sentinels for information like a cipher would provide. And obviously, being able to utilize a triple duelist composition,

Imad Khan  07:54

Do you feel that Valorant might run into the same issue as Overwatch League where it might need to go into like this two to two setup, which essentially means having, essentially to have, you know, your team is only made up of like, two characters of each class, you can have like three of one class per team.

Andy Williams  08:11

Well, I think Riot have been very vocal in their objective here, right, that they’re looking to provide a very, very, very wide spectrum of characters, character abilities. And I think getting stuck into a narrative or a specific formation is only going to hinder teams moving forward, right, it’s going to hamstring them. You know, I think the more fluid teams and the teams that look more promising now are the teams that kind of have more strings to their bow. You know, for example, we seen SummonFC, you know, a team that’s kind of come from nowhere, really. And those that might not have tapped into the EU seen before first strike wouldn’t have heard of some NFC. But that team, they utilized a plethora of agents, we had one specific player DOMA. Actually, I believe he utilized five different agents in the event, and I think he used three or four different agents in the grand final alone. And that ranged from duelist all the way down to Sentinel. So I think being able to be versatile in your approach is most likely going to prove the most beneficial for teams moving forward.

Imad Khan  09:21

And then final two questions. You know, while we don’t have official numbers, the data provided by esport stars suggests that first strike peaked at 300,000 viewers in North America with another 106,000 in Europe and 72,000 in Turkey. What do you make of these numbers?

Andy Williams  09:36

It’s difficult. It’s a very, it’s a very difficult metric to hold a esport that is in its infancy by. I think there’s a lot of excitement around valorant right now, in terms of what it can bring to the scene. You know, esports as a whole, the excitement also revolves a lot about around Riot being at the helm of this, you know, we all know what they’ve done with League of Legends and the partners that they’ve had involved in that, and the way that they’ve actually managed to open that up to a global audience. But when it comes to Valorant, specifically, I think we’re in quite a unique position. I think it has all of the, I think has all of the ingredients of a Counter-Strike, in the sense that it has these tension curves that we build up to every round. And it allows the spectator to remain gripped. But it’s also it’s also very PG, right, in the sense that it’s brand friendly. It’s it’s very marketable. And I think this is just a start for valorant. In my personal opinion, it’s a case of watch this space. But I think that we probably want to answer that question at the end of Champions Tour this time next year. That’s when we’ll truly see whether or not Riot and Valorant will be successful with this as an esport.

Imad Khan  10:56

And then last question, unlike other teams, 100 Thieves was able to play together at the Cash App Compound in Los Angeles. According to Martin, this is a big reason for their success. Even if the Coronavirus lingers late into next year, do you feel that other teams will try to make sure splitters are together under one roof?

Andy Williams  11:15

I mean, I mean, they have to right? You know, we’ve seen that 100 Thieves as a roster, relatively new, you know, compared to sentinels, T1 compared to TSM. They’ve all they’ve all been together since since the start of the game, right? And then this this new roster, you know, a band of veterans and a couple of newbies have come together. And they’ve blown the competition out of the water. You know, it’s fair to say holding no bias here, 100 Thieves are the best team in North America. You know, they’ve proved that they can take down the big dogs, they’ve proved that they can also take down the little man. So it’s not just a case of being able to devise specific strategies. It shows that they are a versatile, versatile team. And I think a lot of that success pertains to the fact that they were able to boot camp, and so been for teams to be able to boot camp, I think it’s a very essential ingredient in being able to prepare yourself for a tournament. And I think 100 Thieves were the ones to take it the most seriously. Right, you know, they said they prepared for this like a major. It meant a lot to them, both as an organization and then also for the players. You know, I’ve mentioned previously that Hiko really wanted that coveted major, he didn’t get it in Counter Strike, he comes over to valor and a lot of people judge them very late on his career. And hey, presto, he puts in the work he gets the right guys on his team. And there he is with that with that major trophy. So yeah, I think teams need to boot camp and with regards to the impact of the global pandemic, you know, right of putting in place here to try and kind of account for that so they have contingency plans for their masters level tournament’s in champion store. These masters level tournament’s just to preface are meant to be the first international tournament’s and the first of which is scheduled for around March of 2021. So, there is contingency plans in place to be able to allow for players to play, you know, a regional level until the global pandemic passes. And you know, with the next Masters Tournament looking to occur middle of next year. But obviously teams you know, ahead of that will definitely need to boot camp, especially if they want to shine on the global stage for sure.

Imad Khan  13:28

Well done. Andy, thank you so much for jumping on.

Andy Williams  13:30

Not a problem. It was a pleasure to be here. Thank you very much for having me.

Imad Khan  13:34

And now I’m joined by Matthew “MattDotZeb” Zaborowski. Last week esports tournament organization platform smash.gg was purchased by Microsoft for an undisclosed amount. Smash.gg was founded in 2015 as a competitor to Challonge the goal was to help tournament organizers better organized entrance give fans a way to follow brackets. It started off focusing on the fighting games community, but has since expanded to include Rocket League and Hearthstone. Microsoft’s acquisition is a curious one. Microsoft hasn’t pursued esports at the same level of gumption as Activision Blizzard. But maybe there are plans to better integrated with esports using smash.gg, and it’s Azure platform. Matt used to work at smash.gg. At the moment, the company has been hush on what this acquisition means. But Matt might be able to give us some insight. So Matt, having worked at smash.gg, was this type of acquisition always in the blueprint?

Matthew Zaborowski  14:22

No, no, it was not. You know, it was certainly something that had began to be discussed in the latter years that I was there. I was there for about three and a half years. But when I initially joined, you know, a lot of the focus was primarily about building out the platform, rather than selling or being acquired by by any entity at all. There is, you know, the potential for it.

Imad Khan  14:50

I mean, Were you there when the company raised that $11 million in series A funding?

Matthew Zaborowski  14:55

Yes, I was I joined a few months after the seed round had happened. which I believe was late 2015. I joined in June 2016, when I received my offer.

Imad Khan  15:05

And you know, what was interesting when I heard that news, I mean, $11 million in the tech world is not a lot of money. But for a platform that was so grassroots like Smash.GG, it seemed like a lot of money. I mean, was that a lot of money?

Matthew Zaborowski  15:18

I mean, absolutely, absolutely. It was the most money I’d ever been, I’d ever seen. I, my background is not in tech at all. Um, you know, it’s, it’s in esports. And in Smash, in particular, I was working at a call center before joining the company. So it was a huge shock to me to be joining a tech startup and and, you know, the culture around that and just the scrappy nature of it.

Imad Khan  15:42

I mean, after that series, a funding came in what was the company able to do that couldn’t have prior?

Matthew Zaborowski  15:48

Well, we nearly doubled in size following that. I think within the next maybe 10 months, we had hired an additional 25-30 people, when the series had come in, we had about 20-ish. So that allowed us to break out into many more teams to begin working on different parts of the site in congruence that we otherwise would have had to put off. So it allowed for more product and engineering development, we were able to increase the size of our partner support team. And we’re able to hire part time members as well to begin offloading some of the work from the full time employees in terms of customer support and more of the day to day recurring tasks that we would do for the organizers on our platform.

Imad Khan  16:33

And that’s really interesting, because I’m trying to think like, I feel that the underlying technology for smash GG isn’t necessarily like crazy complicated, at least not complicated for a company as large as Microsoft. So I mean, but is right, do I just have like a completely ill conceived notion of what is actually happening underground at Smash.GG?

Matthew Zaborowski  16:54

Perhaps for people that aren’t engineers? It is easy for us to think of, well, this is this is just a software like, you know, other other companies can build it. Why, you know, why is it necessarily valuable? You also have to consider that this software has five years of development within it. And as you’re building out something like that, it’s, it’s certainly not an easy thing to to replicate, there’s a lot of sort of changes and forks along the way that you might not have anticipated. So nobody could really go into the SmashGG codebase, necessarily and say, I’m going to copy this. But as the years went on, there were lots of refactorings and things of that nature. But, you know, I think the sheer amount of time that the software has been being built out with the expertise that it has had behind it, you know, especially if you’re building a comprehensive tournament operations software, you absolutely need people who understand competitions, you need people who understand the industry that they are pitching these, the software to. And that’s not to say that Microsoft wouldn’t be able to source those people. But SmashGG, very clearly built itself out with a core team of individuals that have a high degree of expertise, with competitions and within the Smash community, which is the Smash community being the game that the platform had really pioneered itself with.

Imad Khan  18:21

So maybe it’s like to an extent that because SmashGG was a grassroots thing, that’s the grassroots, you know, thing that started from these smash community and as homegrown, it’s not something you can necessarily throw money at, you know, it’s something that maybe if Microsoft did try to create a competitor, it wouldn’t have necessarily caught on. Do you think that could be a line of thinking?

Matthew Zaborowski  18:43

Certainly, I think it’s a lot easier to acquire comprehensive thought software than created on your own. The company was in a position to be acquired. So it was an easy fit for Microsoft, I believe. The platform itself began development with community members providing feedback regularly. You know, the founders of the company had started going to smash tournaments in 2014 2015, and began to know who the people running the larger events are and bringing them into weekly product update calls as the software’s first being built out. So there was a lot of very specific feedback for the Smash Bros. community, in particular, to make this software something that will be an improvement on all other bracket software’s that they have used prior.

Imad Khan  19:32

Yeah, so I mean, the way that smash GG made its money was through March sales for to help, you know, build funds for tournament’s correct.

Matthew Zaborowski  19:40

I wouldn’t say SmashGG made its money through that I wouldn’t say smash eg at any point. I mean, it was never a profitable company, and merchandise sales were largely going to the organizer SmashGG might take a 5 to 10% cut of the total depending on the amount of work that SmashGG had done in setting up the shop with their own full time. resources. But the platform itself was never profitable. And the shop revenue was never anything that you know, I wouldn’t say it paid for a single employees salary. Most of that, you know, anything within the shops would we would be giving it back to their community back to the organizer that, you know, is running the event.

Imad Khan  20:21

I see. And then I guess my last question that everyone’s kind of wondering is, how much do you think Microsoft paid for smashed GG? I assume it’s at least $11 million?

Matthew Zaborowski  20:30

I actually know. And I can’t say.

Imad Khan  20:34

Well, very cool. Let’s jump on to the LACS3. And we’ll touch on this really quickly. So there’s a an upcoming online charity smash tournament featuring melaye, and project m, being run by streamer Ludwig Ahgren. And the idea from what I gather is, it’s a way to kind of challenge Nintendo after its cease and desist order for The Big House Online. And according to this video, it would be very bad optics for Nintendo to try to cancel a charity tournament. And I mean, how much money has been raised so far?

Matthew Zaborowski  21:09

I haven’t looked at it today. But the last I’d seen it was over $70,000. And that was with a starting point of him putting 10,000 of his own up. I believe the donations that he has driven are separate from that. So if I’m not mistaken about that, then we’re looking at over $80,000 currently.

Imad Khan  21:28

does that make it the largest Smash out prize pool in history?

Matthew Zaborowski  21:35

I don’t think it has because he’s not bragging about it on social media yet. But no, I am. I mean that lightheartedly, of course, but no, it is it is at least the second. However, I do know this.

Imad Khan  21:52

Mm hmm. And has there been any rumblings from Nintendo’s lawyers?

Matthew Zaborowski  21:57

If there have been they aren’t making it apparent to the community.

Imad Khan  22:00

Okay, okay. Well, I think this is something that we’ll have to check back in on after the after the tournament happens. Or who knows? Maybe there are some more developments happen in the upcoming week when when can viewers check out the tournament?

Matthew Zaborowski  22:12

That’s the 19th and 20th of December 19. This month

Imad Khan  22:16

20th. Okay, very cool. So

Matthew Zaborowski  22:18

just later this month, twitch.tv/Ludwig L-U-D-W-I-G. Should be very exciting. It’s certainly a great initiative. He is incredibly entertaining on the mic and he is putting his best foot forward for this community which he has, I guess you could say originated from, you know, and it’s, it’s thrilling to see that

Imad Khan  22:40

well with that. Thank you so much for jumping on Matt.

Matthew Zaborowski  22:43

I appreciate you having me on today. This was very fun talking to you.

Imad Khan  22:46

And that was FTW with Imad Khan. If you liked the show, please rate subscribe and share full transcripts of the show as well as links to our Patreon can be found  ftwimad.com. To follow Andy and keep up to date on valorant eSports. Follow him @05amw on Twitter. To follow Matt and everything smash and Call of Duty League, you can find him @DotZeb on Twitter. Follow me in my writing over at the New York Times The Washington Post and elsewhere find me @imad on Twitter. And Ron Lyons is our audio producer. With that we’ll catch you guys next week.

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