NFL draft season is upon us, with all the best college football players being lined up like a gym class game of dodgeball and being fought over by the top teams in the NFL. This draft system is how most sports teams recruit new team members. When it comes to esports, things are similar, but different. While we don’t quite “draft” our players, there is a process in the esports industry to how to recruit and sign new players and teams. From the dozens of messages we receive to our Knights Twitter daily,(which, yes, I monitor, to all those people who responded “thanks man!”) many of you want to know what this is. Fair warning - reading this article and trying to apply it to the best of your ability doesn’t mean we will contact you tomorrow. Everything is dependent upon circumstances, resources, and timing. Still, understanding the process and criteria that helps esports teams choose their players and teams is a valuable asset to those of you who aspire to step into the arena of esports. It’s important to know what makes a good player stand out, and what immediately disqualifies someone.
I went and sat down with our resident “recruiter,” the Knights Team Manager, Jon Oh, to ask him about his process. I start out the interaction by offering up a Starburst as a symbol of goodwill (pink of course) and a promise I’m not approaching him with more work. He seems to accept my offering, so I get right to it.
The process of choosing teams begins long before the actual players or groups even come into the picture. The initial starting point is looking at the market and environment – what is the barrier of entry into the game? (fancy wording for how hard is it to compete, be recognized, etc. Anything that might make it a challenge to enter the competitive scene of that game) What is the cost of entering? (Overwatch $$$ vs. PUBG $) What do the prize pools look like? What branding and marketing will we get from it? (Fortnite is EVERYWHERE right now. Everyone wants more Fortnite. You want more Fortnite? We will give you more Fortnite.) And, most importantly, do we even want to go into the game? Ultimately, it comes down to what do we gain versus what are the risks.
Once we (by we, I mean I have absolutely no say or contribution to this discussion) decide a game is something we want and need to be a part of, we (also not me) begin looking for players. Jon will often start by browsing the community, talking to other professionals or connections in the community he knows, and occasionally looking back on team submissions we have received in the past (that does not mean keep spamming our inbox – I am the one that has the pleasure of responding to the 9 million emails). Sometimes, we will find one person or have one player in mind and ask them for recommendations. This often works well because there is already an immediate synergy between the two, and they often already have experience playing with the existing team members. These two are very important when we are choosing new players to join an existing team or players
From there, there is a vetting process. We examine the candidate’s social media to make sure they represent what the Knights stand for (professionalism is not dead, and is still very possible even if you have a Twitter). Word of mouth is important – we will ask other players in the community or specific circle about the candidate as a person, player, professionalism, character, etc. A lot of applicants I’ve seen tend to forgo the professionalism, since esports is such a progressive and “cool” (you guys say it, not me. I think you’d disagree if you saw us nerding out in the office with bouncy balls) field. However, you have to remember – you are still applying for a job. Surprisingly enough, I do not feel inclined to forward on the applications of people who insult us or list their only qualifications as how awesome they are. Make a resume and be professional – you can show off your coolness later.
If, by then, you meet all of our qualifications and have good stats, (kill ratios, wins, competitions… I guess… I’m not the team manager, I don’t know these things!!) then we will begin talks about possibly joining the Knights. It may seem like a long and tedious process, but every single one of our players and teams represents the Knights brand as a whole, and that is a lot of trust and responsibility to give someone. Therefore, we need to make sure we are making the right choice. Sometimes, a person may be a good candidate, they just don’t align with us or aren’t what we are looking for right now. Don’t be discouraged – there is another organization out there for you.
An esports “draft” is not your average sports draft. We don’t have a funneled pool of highly-skilled and trained athletes to choose from, we have to search across the country, across the world, to find our players. Also, our scouting process is quite different. We don’t just go off strict numbers and performance results – word of mouth and opinions are also a large factor in signing a player. However, the best part about esports drafting and players is that it is an even playing field. Anyone and everyone can compete, regardless of genetics, physicality, or gender. Your ability to be strong mentally is more important than being strong physically. So, keep practicing, learning, and thinking. – and who knows, maybe you’ll be the next one drafted to the Pittsburgh Knights.