Efficiency in management: Los Angeles Gladiators GM Brenda Suh values sustainability in a volatile industry

The groundwork is set and Suh now has bigger plans for the Gladiators in 2021.

Photo by Robert Paul via Blizzard Entertainment

When the Los Angeles Gladiators entered the Overwatch League offseason after the 2019 season, the franchise was considerably behind its competition.

Kroenke Sports and Entertainment, the parent company of the organization, was dealing with a transition of power away from the Sentinels management after a lawsuit regarding a prospective franchise deal and a mutual decision to part ways. Many core players left the team in favor of free agency and head coach David “dpei” Pei was set to take over the vacant general manager role as a result of Sentinels’ departure.

Despite legal hurdles and a late entry to the player market, the Gladiators managed to form a formidable roster for the 2020 Overwatch League season. But the team failed to live up to expectations, posting an 11-10 regular season record and dropping out of the postseason in the quarterfinals. 

Since then, the offseason has looked as grim as it did last year. Popular main tank player Son “OGE” Min-seok has opted to become a free agent. The ever-iconic Finnish support duo of Benjamin “BigG00se” Isohanni and Jonas “Shaz” Suovaara both retired from competitive Overwatch. The Gladiators’ active roster has shrunk from 10 players to just four, three of which are DPS players.

As a result, the Los Angeles Gladiators are looking to Brenda Suh, the org’s new general manager, for clarity in leadership and competitive strength in the upcoming 2021 season. 

Suh will maintain her current role as the director of operations for Kroenke’s esports division but is set to work even closer with the Overwatch League team as its general manager for the next year. Dpei will still retain “full competitive decisions” on the team as he transitions fully back into the head coach role, according to Suh.

“We trust his vision for the roster for the coaching staff,” Suh told Dot Esports. “The difference is the way these pieces intersect the team’s dynamics. We made it important to split that role between two people.”

The latest GM for the Gladiators has an impressive track record in esports, including previous management experience with the Seoul Dynasty and the Guangzhou Charge. But it was Suh’s background in logistics that inspired her to further her career in management. By planning and providing support for large-scale convention events, she discovered her appreciation for efficient organization. Her values have since stayed the same throughout her active stint with the Gladiators.

“I really love organizational behavior and the developmental cycles of everything,” Suh said. “Everyone always talks about the parallel between [esports] and traditional sports. I can kind of see the growth patterns, but it’s crazy to think about how much, like, job security really factors into this specific job—and how that translates into competitive or team decisions.”

COVID-19 complications ruined the Gladiators’ homestand plans for the 2020 Overwatch League season. | Photo by Robert Paul via Blizzard Entertainment

One glaring issue that Suh quickly found in the esports scene was the lack of job security due to high volatility. Many Overwatch League teams had been making executive decisions on a year-to-year basis without a long-term vision or the infrastructure to support it. She dislikes the idea of pressing the “reset” button and blowing up rosters every year. And while it may seem like the Gladiators are going down that road this offseason, Suh wants to make it clear that she and her team have a near-zero chance of making such impulsive decisions in the future.

As the general manager, Suh recognizes that there’s immense pressure for new rosters and teams to either succeed quickly or risk losing their jobs. It forces coaches to make short-term decisions, which is something that she doesn’t want for the longevity of the Gladiators franchise. So when Suh looks at the results of the unexceptional 2020 season, she actually finds a year’s worth of valuable lessons to apply to the upcoming year.

The key takeaway is that the transfer of the GM title from Dpei to Suh allows the former to focus on his competitive vision while the latter specializes in maintaining a sustainable system for the team. This doesn’t just include making sure that the players are in a positive work environment, but also to guarantee that the players’ interpersonal lives are being taken with care.

“When I look at efficiency, I look at how we put resources around our team and how it leads them in the right direction for what our cultural goals are,” Suh said. “Our players and our coaches don’t need to be worrying about language lessons or better housing. We should do all that ahead of time to make sure they don’t have to worry about it… I think that [responsibility] should always fall within the management.”

It seems that the L.A. franchise, according to Suh, has identified the correct evaluation markers after the 2020 season to now make the proper team acquisitions to fine-tune its roster. Suh didn’t say if any rumors—such as the popular leak of Grant “Moth” Espe joining the Gladiators—are true, but she’s confident in her team’s plans for the upcoming year.

“We did all the right things [this season],” Suh said. “And now that we’ve built that, let’s hit the foot on the gas.”