The American Dream: Complexity's Path to Success
The American Dream: Complexity's Path to Success
Esports is a young industry, but it already has its veterans. European organizations Fnatic and Dignitas are approaching their 20th anniversary, while Ninjas in Pyjamas and SK Gaming have already celebrated it. Complexity Gaming, one of the oldest clubs in North America, will also soon enter its third decade. It was founded in 2003 by attorney Jason Lake in Atlanta, Georgia. He loved to play Counter-Strike and dreamed of great accomplishments. However, as it often happens, there were many difficulties on the long road to the American Dream.
No successful enterprise in the world is born without an idea, a main goal, which further dictates the modus operandi. For Jason Lake, that spark was the future of esports. In those days, the main disciplines were StarCraft, Quake, and, of course, Counter-Strike. It was with the latter that Lake was in love. He played the game himself and got the idea to create his own team. For the 30-year-old lawyer, esports was the perfect blend of ever-changing and evolving digital technology and the passion and urge to be better, faster, and stronger that have driven traditional sports for over a century.
Even back then, Jason fully believed that the industry would become massive, popular, and profitable. But in those days, few people thought about the professionalism of esports. Lake was the owner but acted as a coach, accountant, psychologist, and even a sponsor. In those ancient times, partnership agreements were difficult to pull off, so he paid the players out of his own pocket.
In the achievements section on the company's official website, their debut event win is UGS-O 2004, but Complexity achieved its first significant success in 2005: it was a victory in the equivalent of the CS World Championship — Electronic Sports World Cup 2005.
Valve’s FPS has always remained a priority for Lake: in seventeen years, many talented American and Canadian players have passed through Complexity, but at the beginning of the last decade, even the Brazilian squad led by Gabriel "FalleN" Toledo played for it.
Jason Lake has always prided himself on doing his best for his players. He pays them a salary comparable to that of other top organizations, provides all the necessary opportunities for training and recreation, listens to their feedback and requests, etc. But Complexity is not a charitable organization, so in return, he always demanded that players gave their best and achieved results. It's hard to forget his fiery tirade after last year's inglorious departure from the Berlin CS:GO Major. He said that he would not tolerate humiliating results and disbanded the squad.
This was not a random whim of the owner. Throughout the years of playing Counter-Strike and Counter-Strike: Source, Complexity has grown accustomed to winning. Yes, there weren't so many professionally organized leagues and seasons back then, and the prize money was generally much lower, but the spirit of the competition fueled everyone. The team constantly won prestigious tournaments, entered the world championships — everyone wanted to hold their own version of the World Championship — and consistently placed high in the standings. But with the release of CS:GO, Complexity's results collapsed: the most significant achievements up to this year were the 3-4th place at DreamHack Winter 2013, the victory at the Americas Minor Championship - London 2018, and the 5th-8th place at the subsequent FACEIT Major: London 2018. Full of difficulties and hardships, 2020 became a turning point for Complexity: the roster literally farmed the #HomeSweetHome series weekly tournaments, where they earned a total of $120,000, and then achieved their magnum opus — they won BLAST Premier: Spring 2020 European Finals.
Caster Alexander "Enkanis" Polishchuk shared his opinion on what caused this success:
“The victory was the result of natural hard work. However, I believe that the reason also lies in the many attempts to create a strong team that meets the standards of the tier-1 scene. Throughout the history of the organization, many players have gone through Complexity, and received good conditions for achieving results. I wouldn't be surprised if Jason is now consulted by knowledgeable people who understand which of the players would be nice to scout. I don’t think he does the player selection by himself.”
A good indicator of class and success is when the organization does not stand still even when the main discipline is not successful. In the 2000s, Complexity had players and teams in titles such as Day of Defeat, World of Warcraft, Team Fortress 2, Madden, and even Project Gotham Racing 3. And the more stable the industry became over the years, the more leading disciplines Jason Lake tried. At the beginning of the last decade, Complexity already had lineups for StarCraft 2, Heroes of Newerth, and various fighting games. It was in HoN where the American club signed the future stars of Dota 2 — Peter "PPD" Dagger and David "MoonMeander" Tan. However, the game did not take off, and the esports pedestal was shared by other titans of the genre — League of Legends and Dota 2.
The team in the former discipline was formed by Complexity back in 2011, at the very dawn of the LoL pro-scene. During the open tournaments era, the team won several minor events, such as ESL Go4LoL 2011 and NESL Pro Series Season 7, and got into the NALCS twice after the creation of the regional league: first in 2013 and then in 2014. After relegation from the major league, coL made another attempt to return there but was unsuccessful, and the roster was ultimately disbanded. Midlaner Neil "pr0lly" Hammad achieved the greatest individual success among all the former players: he led H2k-Gaming to the 3rd-4th place at Worlds 2016 as a coach. He is now working as an analyst for LCS broadcasts.
In Dota 2, the success of Complexity was much more tangible. In 2012, the first year of its existence, the team took part in The International and even reached the winners bracket, ahead of NAVI and Orange Esports. However, the defeats against Team Zenith and EHOME put an end to the team's ambitions. Complexity returned to TI three years later: the spot was earned by winning the American qualifiers. The main event of the season gave the impression of deja vu: the team reached the upper bracket again, lost there — this time against the future champions Evil Geniuses — and then was eliminated by Virtus.pro in the lower bracket.
Since then, the club has not gotten to The International again, but over the next four years, it has visited seven majors, the best result among which was achieved at The Shanghai Major 2016 — 5th-6th place and $200,000 in prize money. After a failed attempt to qualify for The International 2019, it was announced that the organization was disbanding the Dota 2 roster.
It is with great appreciation that we announce the release of our Dota 2 roster today.— Complexity Gaming (@Complexity) August 26, 2019
We'd like to thank the team for this season and wish everyone the best moving forward.
Over the next few weeks and months, we will be evaluating our options for the next DPC season. pic.twitter.com/OUDByYCAUd
At the time, the statement said the club planned to “look at promising options for the next DPC season over the next few weeks or months,” but a new roster was never signed. Perhaps, among other things, this was influenced by the unfavorable situation and the cancellation of everything because of the coronavirus pandemic. It is likely that after the situation around the world improves, Complexity will return to Dota.
But the most successful unit under Jason Lake's wing has always been Call of Duty. After the release of Black Ops II, Complexity signed a roster that included ACHES, TeePee, Crimsix, and FEARS. They won their very first online tournament, Frag Cup IV. The debut LAN event for the roster was UMG Chicago 2012, where the team again showed up and reached the final but lost to the powerful OpTic Gaming. After the match, the young players of both teams could not restrain their emotions, and the verbal skirmish almost turned into a fight between ACHES and NaDeSHoT.
Failure to win the final only pissed off the players — they triumphed at MLG Spring Championship 2013, Gfinity London 2013, UMG Atlanta 2013, Gfinity 2, MLG Fall Invitational 2013, and ESWC 2013, and also finished fourth in the Call of Duty Championship 2013 that season.
Complexity's dominance continued in the next Call of Duty — Ghosts. The team won MLG Fall Championship 2013, UMG Philadelphia 2014, and several MLG GameBattles tournaments. But each player's gaze was firmly focused on the 2014 World Cup. They passed the qualifiers without incident, getting off only with a slight scare in the first round. At the tournament itself, the roster dominated right off the bat and confidently won its group with a 9-1 map score. In the playoffs, Lake's guys easily beat TCM, Xfinity, and FaZe Clan, and then defeated OpTic in the final of the upper bracket. In fact, this was essentially the final of the tournament since, in the decisive match, the team simply smashed through Team Envy without any resistance.
The squad finished the season with Complexity and then moved to Evil Geniuses, where they achieved nothing. We can confidently say that this decision was bad for all parties involved since the new roster, signed by Lake, also failed to adequately show itself. After a 13-16th placing in the Call of Duty World League Championship 2018, the Call of Duty division was finally disconnected from the ventilator.
In the United States, to make your American Dream come true, you need to shine bright and impress influential people. Jason Lake did it — Complexity drew the attention of the Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and the real estate tycoon John Goff. They acquired a majority stake in November 2017, and later the organization moved to Frisco, Texas, to the GameStop Performance Center, closer to the Cowboys headquarters. These newfound finances have allowed Lake to turn his long-standing idea into reality — to give esports athletes all the infrastructure and privileges that athletes have in traditional sports. The club also went through a rebranding: the capital "L" from the compLexity name was removed, the team colors changed from red and black to blue, and the lone Texas star became the new logo. Jason Lake was absolutely right in his judgment about esports back in 2003: it is an industry with a turnover of a billion dollars, more and more non-endemic brands come as sponsors and partners, and the number of viewers is measured in hundreds of millions. The future is already here, and Complexity is an integral part of it.