Two weeks ago, Los Angeles-based esports organization Immortals signed Dota 2 squad Team Phoenix—comprised of the all-Korean roster that last competed at The International 6.
The newly-christened team has yet to play any official games, but the ever-present CEO of Immortals, Noah Whinston, took to the Dota 2 subreddit to host an AMA regarding the move and his motivations for entering Dota 2.
Naturally, the community jumped at the opportunity to probe the mind of one of the most important executives in the industry. Whinston was more than happy to enlighten fans, and to give them a peek into what caused him to pull the trigger on Team Phoenix in particular.
Competitive potential, results, and establishing a presence in North America
Before disbanding at the end of TI6, Team Phoenix (then known as MVP Phoenix) was one of the strongest teams out of Southeast Asia. First place finishes at Dota Pit League Season 5 and WePlay Dota 2 League marked their achievements in 2016, with an impressive fourth place result at the Shanghai Major topping it all off.
“We wanted a team with competitive potential—one that could qualify for TI8 and represent Immortals well at the event,” said Whinston, when asked why he chose Team Phoenix. He continued by noting that he was looking to establish Immortals first and foremost as a team North American fans could cheer for. “We wanted a team that was willing to establish a North American footprint.”
One user asked Whinston if he would hold on to the new roster should they fail to produce significant results in the upcoming season. Whinston responded by pointing out how important the process of improving a team is, compared to just plain results.
“I think failing to produce results is contextual,” he said. If they never win another game ever again, we probably won’t keep them. But it’s important to understand the reasons behind that.
“At Immortals, we’re more focused on the process than the results,” Whinston said. “We’re of the firm belief that with the right players, and the right process, results will come—even if it’s not easy early on.”
On coming into the Dota 2 scene
Immortals’ acquisition of Team Phoenix marks the first time that the organization will be fielding a Dota 2 team. Immortals’ League of Legends, Overwatch, and Counter-Strike (up until recent events, that is) teams are established in their respective games.
But in the two years since Immortals was established, only now has Whinston decided to finally get in on the Dota 2 fun.
“Entering an esports scene at this point in our lifespan as an organization is more based around the team we’re signing than the particular game,” Whinston answered. “There are lots of games that have support from the game publisher, thriving viewership, etc.”
Whinston also noted that the move was more about what he had seen and heard about the former members of Team Phoenix, rather than the game itself or its ecosystem. “In the case of our Dota 2 team, there was no guarantee that we would enter the space,” said Whinston. “Entering Dota 2 was a byproduct of finding the right players for our organization.”
Dota 2 writer and streamer Sovann “Skim” Kim asked Whinston how long Immortals would stick around as a brand in the Dota 2 scene, pointing to different organizations having come and gone over the years. Whinston answered by saying that the brand would be here for as long as they can find players that adequately fulfill what they’re looking for.
“I think the value and the passion and the excitement we’ve seen in the Dota 2 community is going to exist far longer than these five players will keep playing. As long as there’s a right roster for us to work with, we’ll be here.”
Fan engagement and being more than just competitors
It’s no secret that Whinston is a hands-on type of esports CEO. His series Noah’s Notes involves him getting in front of a camera to address Immortals’ fans and the esports industry directly, which is quite unique in the industry at large.
This “talk to the people” philosophy extends to the organization’s different rosters, which all involve themselves in creating content targeted at viewers and fans. When asked about what sets Immortals apart from organizations that already do that type of content (including Valve), Whinston pointed to the oft-neglected human element in esports.
“We want you to get to know our Dota 2 players as people, not just characters on a screen,” said Whinston. “Accomplishing that takes a lot more resources than have traditionally been pushed into content thus far in Dota 2.”
A big part of why Immortals selected Team Phoenix as its first Dota 2 roster was the fact that they prioritized things outside of simply competing and playing video games just as much as improving their gameplay and winning tournaments, according to Whinston.
“We wanted a team that prioritized out of game growth in addition to in-game growth,” he said. “Fitness, nutrition, and mental skills are just as important.”
It would also seem that Whinston and Immortals are taking steps to provide their teams high-quality facilities and equipment in order to keep up with their fitness. He mentioned the “IMT Campus,” which seems to be a facility in development by Immortals that will act as an “all-in-one” team house.
“We’re also leveling up the infrastructure for our Dota 2 team. We’ll be bringing them onto the soon-to-be-announced IMT Campus, giving them access to physical and mental wellness trainers, and making them into well-rounded athletes. These are all core to the IMT mission.”