Dignitas’ ODEE: “We sort of have plans for [Overwatch], so hopefully we will be involved with that sooner rather than later”
With well over a decade of existence, hundreds of players, and a ton of trophies Dignitas has become one of the biggest eSports organisations in the world, but that means they can never afford to stand still, and must always be on the lookout for their next move. The driving force behind Team Dignitas has always been Michael “ODEE” O’Dell, current Managing Director and member of the original Team Dignitas Battlefield squad. He is the one making all the key decisions, deciding which teams to sign, which games to focus on and making sure the company stays afloat.
In order to find out what we can expect to see from Dignitas in the coming months we sat down with ODEE at the CEVO Gfinity Season 9 LAN finals, where his Counter-Strike team finished in joint 5th/6th.
“I'm really pleased with the CS team,” said ODEE. “We put the two new players in at the end of last year and it takes time to gel. They have made some mistakes along the way and had a couple of complete cock ups, like at the Copenhagen Games for example. That went horribly wrong, but I have always said that you have to learn to lose in eSports before you start winning. But they are going to be one of the top three teams at some point in the next year, I have no doubt about that. The oldest player is Mathias "MSL" Lauridsen and he is 21, so they have a lot of time to get really really good but I don't think it will take that long before they are up there.”
Of course Dignitas isn’t just a CS organisation, they have teams across eSports with ODEE going as far to say, “I couldn't imagine Dignitas just having one team of five players, that would just be pretty boring.” One of the organization's most successful squads over recent months has been their Heroes of the Storm team, who recently claimed the European Championship. While the HotS scene is still growing ODEE believes that it has the potential to challenge both League and Dota in the MOBA sphere.
“I think [HotS] could challenge Dota and LoL for that top spot, and I'm sure fans of those games will disagree with me. But If you look back at both League and Dota right at the beginning, even right at the first few years of those games they were pretty small. And then all of a sudden it exploded. For me personally, Heroes I like because there is something happening all the time, so you spawn and after 10 seconds there is a kill, in some of the games you have to wait like 20 minutes until there is a kill.”
Signing a team in any eSport at the beginning of it’s life is always a risk, as the scene could fail entirely. But ODEE noted that the chance of HotS’ failure was never a concern for him. He just saw the game and wanted to be involved.
“I'm a big fan of Blizzard and what they are doing at the minute with their eSports program. When we saw what they were doing with the game 18 months ago we decided that was one that we were going to go for. We were lucky that we found some British players at last that are actually good enough to put a team together and win a European championship. So onto next worlds, we just have to get past the Koreans.”
With HotS well on its way to being a top eSport, Blizzard is now trying to get their upcoming Shooter, Overwatch, to a flying start. With the open beta having just concluded and the full launch set for May 24, many people are already looking forward to the eSports potential of Overwatch, and ODEE is one of them.
“As Overwatch was being announced I text[ed] my FPS guys and said, ‘get the team ready lads, we are back’. We are certainly looking at Overwatch, we have been looking at the scene, we know the players in the scene, we sort of have plans for it so hopefully we will be involved with that sooner rather than later.”
Unfortunately for Dignitas, their League of Legends position is not as bright as their other titles. After a storied history as a founding member of the North American LCS, the Dignitas squad was relegated just a few weeks ago, with many of the players having since left the organisation. Some fans speculated that with all the venture capital money that was invested in other NA LCS teams was a large factor in Dignitas’ poor season, but ODEE said this was not the case. In fact, the Dignitas squad wasn’t really sure why the performed so badly.
“It’s the first time we have ever had a team that has failed that actually doesn't know what happened. Normally in a team that is losing they start arguing and then they start blaming someone, but that didn't actually happen at all. The coaching staff, didn't get it. In practises we were doing okay, but when it came to sitting in the studio it just went horribly wrong. The money and the salaries did jump for sure, to silly levels in some cases. But no, we were able to compete more than happily with the squad that we had initially. Having to get rid of [Lennart "SmittyJ" Warkus] was an issue and that didn't help us at all but yeah, it’s too late now.”
One of the biggest missing games from the Dignitas roster is Dota 2. Despite being involved a few years ago the organisation has never signed another team, but with League of Legends now seemingly out of the picture or at least a lesser money sink could the time be right for Dignitas to return to the Dota world and pick up another team?
“We are still interested in getting a Dota team, but probably not anytime soon, probably not before this International. But you never know, things in eSports move so fast. Since this time last year all the sports teams in America have started waking up and knocking on the doors of eSports teams and we have spoken to a couple already. So millions of dollars are coming into eSports teams now, the budgets are going up, there's a salary bubble that comes with that investment. So VC funded teams and sports teams are used to spending a lot of money. Can I get a Dota team before TI? If someone drops a lot of money on my lap right now then yes, maybe, but probably not until the end of the year I would think at this point.”
League of Legends may offer a more secure and reliable income stream for the organisations, but the attraction of the $18million prize pools for The International are more than enough to draw in many teams -l even a top 6 finish can grant more winnings than many squads in other games make in a year. Back in 2012 and 2013, during the days of the Dignitas Dota team, The International wasn’t as big as it is now. But surely dropping the team must have irritated ODEE, especially seeing what it could have been a part of.
“It's annoying because three of the International winners from last year played for me a couple of years ago. We got hit by the post TI shuffle, it broke up and they all went elsewhere and then we ended up with a team that wasn't particularly good on paper, and it was like do we want to spend this kind of money and what will we get back in return. But at the time we didn't see The International going berserk with donations from fans, you just can't foresee these things. So you make mistakes going along, but right now we want to get League of Legends back and I want to get Dota back, that would be good.”
For a team like Dignitas, it is impossible to stand still Teams come and go on a regular basis and compete at more LAN events than any one Managing Director could reasonably attend. So from the man whose job it is to keep track of all the teams and what they are up to, we wanted to know just what the future will hold for Dignitas.
“We have got such a busy schedule with CS:GO, HotS and our Smite team are doing really well at the moment and we are scouting to see where we go next. We are planning what we are going to do with League and how we are going to get back into the LCS sooner rather than later and plus there is lots of people out there that are looking to invest in teams at the moment. So if any of them want to come and speak to me, then please do because having some big finance to compete against the big sports teams and the VC funded teams would be useful”
And with that our time with ODEE was over. Just what the exact future holds for Dignitas will only become clear with time, but with Overwatch and Dota both clearly in ODEE’s sights and rebuilding in League of Legends a priority, it will surely be a busy few months for the UK organisation. With venture capital funding flowing into the eSports world it could certainly have a big impact on Dignitas, whether they receive some of that money or if they stay totally independant. One thing, however, that we can almost be sure of is that with the experience and management of the people like ODEE, we will be seeing the Dignitas name around eSports for a long time to come.