The Making of a Prodigy ft. Jérôme Coupez
Interview with Jérôme Coupez talking about what makes a player a prodigy, the goals of Prodigy Agency and the recruitment process in esports.
Everyone loves Oleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev, Nicolai "device" Reedtz, and Nikola "NiKo" Kovač; not only are they iconic names within the scene, but they're some of the best players to have ever touched Counter-Strike. Nothing is more satisfying than seeing some of the world's best players pull off ridiculous plays. Every fan wants to see the highest CS level because it's so entertaining and exciting, and we have so much respect for the players who can do the unimaginable.
In late 2018, the world discovered the incredible Mathieu "ZywOo" Herbaut, a French superstar that would become the best player of 2019. However, people are quick to label less-established players as cheaters, stream-snipers, and so on. ZywOo, much like Robin "ropz" Kool a few years earlier, was initially suspicious to everyone in the pro scene, but people's attitudes changed once they realized that the youngsters were legit. In fact, ropz and ZywOo are now some of our scene's most well-beloved players, as the community has developed a lot of respect and admiration for them over time.
The point is, while many are suspicious of "nonamers," deep down, we all want to discover the next ZywOo, the next s1mple. Since I discovered the esports scene, finding these diamonds in the rough has been my passion. Some are youngsters who have been grinding in the FACEIT Pro League. Some are criminally underrated players that have been flying under the radar for years.
It's easy to look on HLTV and find AWPers with excellent statistics, but finding the future stars of our scene goes far beyond that. Good statistics are vital, of course, but people often don't look past KD or HS%. Sharp aim, good movement and positioning, incredible game sense, reliable utility usage, accurate communication, an open mind, willingness to work with teammates, a professional attitude; these are only a few of the elements that compose a great player.
While I've had a reasonable turnover rate when it comes to scouting out talent, I figured I'd contact a professional to learn more about their approach. To help me crack the code, I spoke to Jérôme Coupez, the Founder and CEO of Prodigy Agency.
What are you looking for in a "prodigy"?
We are looking for players who have all the necessary qualities (full package) to be a top-level professional player. This obviously includes the "talent" in-game, but also the abilities outside the game, such as motivation, interpersonal skills, self-criticism, etc.
Concretely, it is important for us to represent players who are the best in the world or young players in the making who can become so, with all our support.
Moreover, I expect our players to share our values based on respect, being humble, dedicated, and hard-working, but also being able to respect a contract, his team, his teammates.
Considering that Toft is part of the Prodigy Family, you seem comfortable representing younger players with a lot of potential. When you're looking to represent someone, how important is previous experience to you? What makes you confident in signing rookies?
It is a combination of both. We represent the best players in the world, but also young players unknown or almost unknown, whose potential we have detected. The objective is for us to give them the support, the experience, the tools, and the network necessary to evolve quickly in order to integrate the "top tier" and become world-class players. We have a pretty strong success ratio with young and upcoming players, and I really enjoy taking care of raw diamonds, providing the best support they could dream of, and seeing them joining successful and known teams... It's such a specific feeling!
Seeing them grow as a player and as a person makes us really proud!
Are there cases where you wouldn't represent a player, even if they were incredibly talented? If so, what are the minimal conditions a player must meet? (e.g. if someone had s1mple's talent, but a terrible attitude, would you still represent them?)
Yes, this has happened a few times. A player can be the best in the world on his game, but if he doesn't match our values, I'm ready not to represent him. It's important to me that our players have strong values and share mutual respect, both for myself and for all our employees.
To clarify, you can have a strong personality, but you still need to be a nice human being, that's really important to me. If you can't say the basics "Hello," "Please," "Thank you," then it's not a fit for us.
With the exception of Prodigy Agency's VALORANT roster, you're not an organization looking to create a team. How much research do you do on a player? Do you watch their demos?
We don't really have a Valorant roster. It's basically a "mix name" that allows us to align our players under a known tag and give them the exposure in order to showcase themselves during events with the main goal being to find them teams and/or organizations to sign with... and it's working pretty well!
We actually have "scouts" on all the games to find the best and upcoming players, and I'm doing a lot of work in that area myself also. I watch less and less "demos" myself as an agent, but mainly the official games of the players, checking all the stats and everything. Then, we have specific people to review demos if needed.
How is your recruitment process different from that of a general or team manager in an esports organization?
We have a different goal and vision. For Prodigy Agency, we want to accompany talented players that we can help to develop and perform over the very long term, joining potential projects over the years. It's a recruitment that is also very much based on the affect and the relationship that we can build together. Whereas for the director of a team, it's normally based on creating the best possible team and therefore recruiting the player that fits the project at the right time.
I want us to be recognized by all the players as the best to provide support and protection.
For a player, what are the advantages of being represented by an agency? What services do you offer?
With Prodigy Agency, we offer total support. Our goal is that our players can focus on what matters most, play, and perform. The rest we can take care of. We have a true family mindset, which means that we truly take care of all our players, providing the same support and services to all of them, no matter it's the best player in the world or a 16-year-old that is still unknown.
It is obvious that our "network" and our ability to talk to any team around the world to introduce our players is a huge advantage and something that would be almost impossible for most players being on their own. The legal aspect and the negotiation of contracts is a crucial point. Many young players have signed very restrictive contracts in the past, and our great expertise and experience of sports and esports contracts is an undeniable and obligatory asset for all players.
Of course, we manage the careers of our players (finding teams and projects, negotiating and validating contracts with our lawyers, etc.), but also the day-to-day management, administration, relations with the teams, etc...
We also provide a full suite of services, including taking care of the marketing of our players, from branding to full social media management, content, YouTube, etc... Basically, we provide all the support and protection that our players could want or need at any time.
When one of the players you represent isn't on an active roster, do you actively search for opportunities? How many resources do you allocate to looking for new homes? (e.g. nukkye, NaToSaphiX)
Yes, obviously! This is our "primary" role and our main objective: to find the best opportunities for our players. So if a player is not on an active roster anymore, our main duty and focus are to do everything we can to find the best options and possibilities for this player, and work even harder than usual!
We put all the resources needed to do so, and to take care of this player, to make sure he has the support needed in this difficult situation.
Agencies aren't very common in our industry. Do you think that it's a booming market?
I think that esports is still a new and emerging ecosystem. When I started to work with players, it was totally new (depending on the game), but it's now absolutely needed, in my opinion, like in every sport. There are already several agencies in esports, but not so much with a good reputation or that really takes care of the players from all angles.
I think that we will see more and more agencies according to the growth of esports, and I only hope that they will provide the right value, protection, and support to the players... that's the only way to be sustainable, in my opinion.
What are your ambitions as a company? Moving forward, would you assemble rosters from scratch for organizations looking to enter the scene?
My main ambition with Prodigy Agency is to be the absolute top-of-mind in terms of players' protection and support. I don't want us to be the "biggest" agency because we have the most players... I want us to be recognized by all the players as the best to provide support and protection.
We have a true family mindset, and we will keep doing our very best for the players. Right now, we are also focusing on developing new angles to our full suite of services, including everything related to health and performances (sports psychologist, mental coaching, neuroscience, etc.)
Assembling rosters from scratch for organizations is obviously something that we can do, but I always want to be really careful with any potential conflict of interests, as I want us to always have the players' interest first.
Finally, what advice would you give to future prodigies?
My main advice would be to do everything you can to improve from all angles and focus on becoming the best version of yourself. Try to be the best player but also the best person possible. It depends on the games, but learn from the best players, watch demos, and try to be smart and efficient in order to move forward in your career.