This was the biggest year ever for eSports. Competitive gaming has more players, a bigger audience, and a brighter future than ever before. Over a period of 10 days, the Daily Dot will profile people who’ve fueled this unprecedented growth, from top players to industry visionaries.
In earlier pieces, we looked at Cosmo Wright, the king of speedrunnning, and Chris Gonzalez, the best fighting game player alive. Today, we’d like you to meet Alex Garfield, the George Steinbrenner of eSports.
The year started somewhat poorly for Alex Garfield.
Evil Geniuses, the eSports team over which Garfield, 29, serves as CEO, had made StarCraft 2 its bread and butter. Drawing constant comparisons to the Yankees, EG made a habit of spending big money on big stars in what was the biggest eSport around—until it wasn’t.
As StarCraft 2 ceded its top place to League of Legends and then Dota 2, a so-called “Evil Geniuses curse” plagued their highly paid, highly visible players who seemed incapable of winning big events. To top it off, Greg “Idra” Fields, one of the most famous and divisive StarCraft players of all time, was released from the team in May for poor conduct and, one assumes, poor results.
Another eSports executive might have faded away or at least taken time to regroup. Not Garfield. Instead, doing his best George Steinbrenner impression, Garfield built an expensive, all-star Swedish Dota 2 team called Alliance that would quickly become the best team in the world. In August, Alliance won $1.4 million and gold at The International, the biggest prize in eSports history.
When his Evil Geniuses’ StarCraft 2 players had personal issues with Swedish talent Johan “NaNiwa” Lucchesi, the solution was to simply add Lucchesi to Garfield’s other blockbuster eSports squad. No other person in eSports has that kind of option.
Due to the notoriously secretive nature of his organizations, it’s not possible to pinpoint exactly what kind of money is flowing in and out of Garfield’s holdings—except to say that it’s obviously more than almost all of his competitors. He’s a notoriously bright young executive who plays hardball and believes in squeezing every dollar out of each opportunity.
Just before 2013, one might have criticized Garfield for fielding squads that were great entertainment products but relatively poor competitors. His StarCraft squads didn’t win much but gold. But now, with the Alliance squad in his pocket, such criticisms are harder to land.
Another eSports executive might have been satisfied with what was already an unparalleled eSports empire. In January, however, Garfield bought a top League of Legends team and draped them in Evil Geniuses’ blue. Still unsatisfied, he made a great spectacle a week ago announcing that his Alliance brand would be coming to League of Legends, the most popular eSport in the world, to compete in the League Championship Series alongside his Evil Geniuses team.
Fans immediately noted that this seemed to be explicitly against publisher Riot Games’ rules that limited owners to one team in the league. It didn’t matter. Garfield owns the two brands but not the two teams, Riot explained, not going into any more detail.
Having performed an impressive bit of opaque acrobatics to jump through some sort of very lucrative loophole, Garfield pulled off a veritable coup in the richest and most well-organized league in eSports. The empire is expanding.
Or, if you’re on the other side, it’s just another win for those damn Yankees.