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Hidden just behind the stage of the League of Legends European Championship (LEC), there is a plaque wall showcasing the competition’s winners from every season, since 2013. Only three names can be found: one-time winners Alliance, current European champions G2 Esports, and the longest standing team in the league: Fnatic.
The latter’s players and staff have naturally shifted over the years, as has the symbol resting on their jerseys. Fnatic unveiled its latest rebrand on the LEC 2020 opening day, sporting a symbolically “sharper” and “evolved” direction for the company. “Although being 16 years old as a business, we are still a startup,” said Patrik Sättermon, a former Counter-Strike professional, and Fnatic’s chief gaming officer and co-owner.
“Going into 2020, the ownership group we have now crafted, the board, the senior management team, we’re positioned for capturing the opportunity we still feel is there.”
Speaking to The Esports Observer hours after the rebrand went live—brief glimpses on LEC promo content notwithstanding—Sättermon said Fnatic’s new logo and identity was more modern, fresh, and globally attractive. Designed entirely in-house, he added that it’s ideal for a company based in the UK but active in four continents.
“I believe this brand is more up to date with the design of others,” added Javier Zafra, who recently joined as director of League of Legends for Fnatic. “It fits better to where we are heading, and also as Patrik was saying, even though we still look like a startup, we are creating good steps for the future.”
Zafra, who has held operations roles across multiple teams, was one of several new hires this year, alongside Alexander Hugo; co-founder of the German esports organization PENTA and League of Legends news outlet, The Shotcaller. “What we’re looking at is to take charge of the neverending changes you’re required to do in esports,” said Sättermon. “I think it’s just a part of this narrative where, yes, we’ve done quite well in the past, but we’ve only just started.”
Not only has Fnatic won half of the seventeen total seasonal splits to date in the LEC, in 2017 it was the first non-Asia-pacific team to make it to a World Championships final. That’s also excluding its victory at the very first Worlds in 2011, back when League of Legends was far less global.
Operationally, Fnatic was one of the first teams outside of South Korea or China to move its players from the gaming house to an office space (or gaming studio), back in 2017, when it also tried its hand at training up academy players. “We can probably write a book about that year in terms of how busy and crazy things were, but things went quite alright,” remarked Sättermon.
All LEC teams compete from Riot Games’ studio in Berlin, and with a few exceptions, those players live within the city throughout the competitive season. While shared housing traditionally doubled as a training space, an increasing number of teams in the LEC, as well as its North American counterpart, the League of Legends Championship Series (LCS), has players living close to an actual office facility.
“We can’t leak too much [at] this point in time, but facilities are a really big part not just of the sports side of Fnatic, but just how we want to bring technology, innovation, and also do something for the fanbase,” said Sättermon.
Fnatic announced last year that it had raised $19M USD in a Series A funding round, led by Lev Leviev of LVL1 Group, with additional investors including Beringea, Blackpine, Unbound, and Joi Ito.
“Over time we will start to level up and become the absolute leader in esports facilities, be it in Berlin, or in India where we have a mobile team now.”
For now, Fnatic’s London HQ remains the training ground for its academy squad Fnatic Rising, which battles in the UK League Championship (UKLC), a tier-two competition introduced just last year. Based in the UK capital, it made sense for Fnatic to join fellow British team brand Excel, and try and push an esports market that’s largely known for its broadcast talent, Call of Duty prowess, and affinity for console gaming, but not much else.
“If I’m not mistaken, we were the most successful ERL team; placing top four twice in the EU Masters, and winning both splits of our local league,” said Sättermon. He added that while UK esports may be strong commercially, its ecosystem is behind the Nordics, Germany, France, and Spain, and Fnatic’s involvement in the UKLC is just one attempt to bolster it in the future.
“Brexit or not, London will remain a very central place,” he said. “It feels quite natural for us; we’re not putting up any borders, flags, or standardized language, but it feels very natural for us to be based out of the UK, not only as a company but because we feel it is reflective of the global world we live in.
“For us, it’s important to become a reference in Europe, regarding the academy system,” added Zafra. “Not only in finding new talent, but also maintaining and retaining it, and being able to put them on the LEC in the future.”
Bolstering the academy system was just one part of Riot Game’s European overhaul back in 2018. Fnatic and the other nine LEC competitors each committed a minimum of €8M EUR ($9.2M USD) in exchange for a fixed place in the league and revenue sharing. Though financials remain close to the vest, Sättermon affirmed that year one of the partnership was a “massive success.”
“Incentivizing the teams and by extension, the players to think long term, will allow people […] to invest deeper and on a longer horizon,” he said. “Can that help prolong a game’s existence and relevancy? Yes.”
“We’re going to be here in the next decades to come. That’s exciting, that I might even grow old watching our team playing League of Legends or the future League of Legends, winning the LEC or a future version of it.”
Fnatic has never faced relegation; Zafra went through the process while CEO of current LEC team Origen. Not long after he took the position, a change of players resulted in the team going from season finalist to drop-out.
“That’s actually something that can make a really big difference in how you manage your business, and it can get rough, and we know that esports is fast-changing,” he said. “This way, we can have more security in terms of how to organize long term plans, also from a content perspective with players.”
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