Jason Lake Interview: "Next step is taking the industry to the level where all players are awarded the same benefits as
Complexity Gaming's CEO and Founder Jason Lake Interview ⚡⚡⚡ Esports news, analytics, reviews on WePlay! The latest news on WePlay!
Back in 2003, at the dawn of esports, when small groups of people met in small arenas to receive prize checks of hundreds of dollars, when the only sponsors were hardware manufacturers, and a generation of Fortnite world champions was just in the planning phase, an enthusiast named Jason Lake decided to open his own esports organization. Moreover, Lake decided to start with what he knew firsthand: Counter-Strike. And it was the triumph of his CS team (among a bunch of other disciplines) that he rejoiced most of all. Yes, he does love every game his organization is represented in, but one can't disagree that the feeling of reaching gold with your first love is unmatched.
You can hardly find another man in esports like Jason. He is the biggest fan, he is the main ideas aggregator, he does everything possible to make the scene develop, he does not forget about his own people and, most importantly, he is not going to stop. Never. We contacted Jason and asked him a couple of questions — about current and new disciplines, esports future, business, his feelings, failures and successes, COVID-19 and other. Jump in!
A couple of years ago, you said that your favorite word was "surreal." You have flown in a helicopter and inspected the AT&T stadium as a result of creating an immensely successful esports organization. Do you like what esports has become, and what is the next step in its development?
It's incredible to sit back and watch the growth of esports unfold. I often reminisce about the old days of LAN competition and reflect upon how far the industry has come. I founded Complexity Gaming back in 2003 on a hunch that esports could be massive. And now we are taking a page from one of the most renowned traditional sports franchises in the world, The Dallas Cowboys. Being transparent, it's rewarding that my intuition about esports all those years ago turned out to be correct. That said, there's still much work to be done. From my perspective, the next step is really taking the professionalization of the industry to the next level to ensure that all players are awarded the same benefits as professional athletes, which is what we're working toward day in and day out at Complexity Gaming.
You are one of the few CEOs who have really always loved esports and are very hands-on with your teams. Over the years, you have professed your belief that esports will become something sensational. What is esports for you now? Is it still something awe-inspiring for you, or has it become business as usual?
To me, esports has always been the perfect marriage of a new digital world with the timeless, age-old love of sporting competition – a digital sport for our new digital era. It's about community and gaming culture. It's about joy, laughter, and the relentless pursuit of competitive perfection and excellence. Esports will always have a special place in my heart, and Complexity will always be my "third child" (as I have two actual children). I continue to be inspired every day by new ideas and innovations that are driving the industry forward and challenging the status quo. To me, esports will never be business as usual; it's a lifelong passion.
How can force majeures, such as the current coronavirus pandemic, affect esports in the future in terms of investment? Some people believe that the pandemic will end soon, so they continue to finance events, while others are more cautious. There is a perfect balance that, unfortunately, we will never be able to see plainly. How do you think business can continue to move forward, while still offering safety to everyone involved in esports?
We'd be naive to think that the current state of the world won't financially impact esports. While we have seen a strong upturn in viewership and participation over the past several months, the world will never be the same as it was pre-pandemic, and we must be prepared to adapt accordingly. As such, we'll continue to see adjustments to return to live competition. There will likely be more studio LAN competitions without audiences during the remainder of 2020. Online play has provided a way for our industry to continue competition, but at the highest levels, live, in-person esports events are the true standard. Regardless, viewership and interest reached new heights in the absence of traditional sports and live entertainment. Though the current spike will ultimately correct, we have permanently increased esports overall economic and cultural relevance. In the long-term, this will result in more revenue, more viewership, and better global distribution.
One of the biggest announcements and a key event for Complexity was combining forces with the Dallas Cowboys, with the help of Jerry Jones and John Goff. How difficult was it for you to get this partnership, and what did you expect from it once you had it? What is the support system like from the Dallas Cowboys camp?
Securing a partnership with a household franchise like the Dallas Cowboys was a long-time dream of mine. It took years of hustle to find the right partners, but I could not be happier with the end result. The support system and infrastructure the Jones and Goff families have provided Complexity are the absolute best in the world. Our headquarters, the GameStop Performance Center, at The Star is just across the street from the Dallas Cowboys world headquarters, which makes for easy coordination and integration between our organizations. Our players work out at Cowboys Fit (where the Dallas Cowboys train) and eat at the Dallas Cowboys Training Table (where Cowboys players and staff eat). Plus, The Star itself is a pillar of the Frisco community, and we're fortunate to be at the epicenter of the hustle and bustle, just minutes walk to a world-class cafeteria, a state-of-the-art gym, a luxury hotel, a premier sports hospital, delicious restaurants, and a 12,000 seat arena.
Being self-sufficient for an esports team, and even the organization, people sometimes say is a fairy tale. Is it possible to say that the future of esports is just for such contracts, where a large sports club collaborates with an esports organization?
Esports isn't one size fits all. Each organization needs to chart its own path. Some will end up aligned with traditional sports franchises, and some won't. There are plenty of directions any one team can take, and it's too early to make a claim that one way is better than the other. Time will be the true judge.
In an interview with Thorin, you said that esports is an iceberg: a lot of things are hidden from the eyes of fans. Do you believe this is a good thing? It seems that in traditional sports, there is much more information about contracts and inner kitchen problems than there is in esports.
Traditional sports have gone through decades of development, which has resulted in more consistency, regulation, and transparency. Even then, a majority of the true "behind the curtain" material doesn't reach the public space. As time progresses, esports will mature, and some of these things will sort themselves out, but, like many businesses, the public won't have access to every nuance.
Complexity currently has seven active esports units, a streaming team, and a WoW unit. Are there any plans for any new disciplines?
We are constantly evaluating new opportunities to grow our organization. We actually recently announced our new Valorant team and are looking forward to seeing how the team develops as a part of the Complexity family.
You founded the organization 17 years ago. Looking back, are there any moments you regret? Were there moments when you wanted to quit and do something else?
When anyone reflects on 17 years, it's safe to say that we've all made mistakes and wish we had the opportunity to take back certain decisions and could have a few do-overs. I've certainly had those moments, but I wouldn't say I have any regrets. Without these missteps, Complexity wouldn't be the organization that we are today. As for quitting, it's just not in my DNA.
Do your players work directly with the organization, or do they have their own agents? How do you feel about agencies that represent professionals? This seems to be a rather undeveloped niche, why do you think that is?
Many of our players have agents. Generally speaking, I think it's wise to have trustworthy, competent representation when navigating complex legal contracts and business matters. There's no doubt we'll continue to see the agent ecosystem grow as esports revenues rise and the industry matures.
Speaking on your players, I want to really hone in on the CS:GO team. After the defeat at the Berlin Major, you wrote that you love the players, but do not accept such results. Also, you asked if there were any tier-1 players that wanted to get in touch. You said, "I'll pay your buyout and give you the world's highest salaries." After the dust settled, the Complexity roster was announced, and it caught many by surprise. It seemed to be a roster made up of struggling misfits and unproven players. But, you all saw something in them. Can you talk about or describe the decision-making process for these individuals? What qualities did they have that made you believe in them?
Despite having done a great deal of "Moneyball" type research, building a team is much more of an art than a science. We have a great group of managers that work for Complexity, who are seasoned experts in scouting organic gaming talent, recruiting players, and then helping to mold them into premier esports athletes. Their combined wisdom and experience in esports lead to the formation of the current CS:GO roster. We were seeking a combination of experience and youth to form a squad that was eager to outwork the competition yet experienced and smart enough to beat them in the server. We're extraordinarily pleased with how far the team has come in the first nine months, and we're looking forward to seeing how they progress.
As always, we'll do our best for both our players and our fans. We will continue to stay optimistic during this time and never stop working toward more championship titles.
At the beginning of the 2020 season, Complexity came out at the BLAST Premier Spring Series and stunned the world with their performance. After this, things moved online, which is where the roster seemed to struggle early on. Many believed that what happened at BLAST was a fluke, and would not be replicated. Fast forward to June 21, and you guys would go on to win the event. You proved your doubters wrong, but more importantly, you validated all those hard decisions you had to make in the offseason. Talk me through the emotions for you and the team once that last round ended. Does your favorite word, surreal, make the list of those emotions?
It was definitely a surreal and emotional experience. Our CS:GO team actually performs better on LAN than online. It took them some time to get in a rhythm with online-only play, but in the end, the result speaks for itself.
Now, we are in the much-needed player break of the season, just in time for you all to celebrate and cherish your hard-fought victory. There was a ridiculous amount of CS being played over the past few months. Moving forward, do you think we will see the Complexity team participating in fewer events due to the fear of burnout and maintaining player health? Is there some sort of magic formula you or the organization has to determine what events the players have to be in versus ones they can skip to rest?
Moving forward in a 2020 world flush with pandemic-related challenges, travel bans, and more isn't going to be easy. At Complexity, we put our players first. Our organizational infrastructure and our headquarters, The GameStop Performance Center, are designed to support player health and longevity. Hectic travel schedules and hardcore training regimens can lead to player fatigue and burnout, which is why we try to promote a balance between training and healthy living. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle outside of the game can have a positive impact on in-game performance. Additionally, we view recovery as an essential part of player longevity, and we encourage all of our teams and players to take the time they need to recover and reset. Some ways players can do so include cryo treatment to the wrists and other chronic pain areas, yoga and meditation to clear the mind, stretching regimens to reduce repetitive stress injuries, controlled breathing exercises, and more. We also try to make sure that players get as much sleep as they can.
Lastly, tell me your favorite thing about Complexity. What I mean by that is; different companies often have a varying company culture, what is the company culture like for players and staff at Complexity?
My favorite thing about Complexity is the people involved and the true, sincere passion the staff, players, and streamers have for what we do every day. Despite the years in our rearview mirror and the difficulties of being apart during this time, we're still out there problem-solving and fighting like it's our first day. As long as I'm around, my goal is to ensure that passion endures and that everyone is equipped with the tools they need to succeed.
Thank you very much, Jason, for the interview! Wish you all the best!
Special thanks to Dillon Bantel, Alex Park and Arseny Kuzminsky