exceL eSports: Further Investigation Required

If there is one thing that you are guaranteed to find, in abundance, at any LAN event, its energy. The walk up the stairs to the convention hall that would be housing the weekends Am2Pro tournament belied what was actually going on behind a pair of inconspicuous doors. The Leicester rugby scene must be a rowdy one as this place installed some industrial grade sound proofing at some point. The moment I opened the doors the cliché of being hit by a wall of sound came into full effect.

The event had kicked off only thirty minutes previously but the main hall was already filled to what looked close to capacity. Walking in alone I felt more than a little overwhelmed that any event, let alone an organisation’s first LAN, could command such an audience through its doors. Yet, here was the evidence in front of me. Teams already sat in front of banks of consoles practicing, headsets on, eyes intently focused on the monitor in front of them. Crowds of people had settled in behind them, watching the action unfold in front of them almost as intently as those conducting the action. All the while, it would be hard to miss, the team of organisers and staff dashing about with purpose in their stride.

This may be an amateur event, it may be Am2Pro’s first outing into the world of LAN gaming, but it was clear that this was still an event to be taken seriously. But, that’s a story to itself, I’m here in search of a specific team. Following on from my previous article where I was introduced to the owners of a new eSports organisation, exceL eSports, I was impressed enough by them to warrant an even closer look.

Joel and Kieran Holmes-Darby, owners of exceL, left me with a very big question that could only be answered by seeing it with my own eyes. I knew what the guys were like, how they wanted their organisation to be run and perceived by others, so, what kind of players would they actually attract? I was left with the very distinct feeling that despite a burning need to be successful, neither brother was willing to sacrifice everything simply in pursuit of that goal. Attitude and personality were all qualities that were spoken about in our first meeting that ranked on the same level as ability and skill.

I found Joel doing exactly what I expected him to be doing at his organisation’s first event, networking. Business cards were exchanged with a few people whilst others were invited to catch him online at a later date, all were people who would play their role in helping exceL eSports advance, whether the person concerned realised it or not. None of this is done maliciously, Joel is business minded and knows what is required for success, wasting no time in making his mark on the eSports world and ensuring that the name of exceL is recognised as quickly as possible on as wide a scale as possible. Certain individuals will help exceL and it is these people who are now being targeted. Whether it’s a potential player for a team roster or someone to help run the social media aspect of the organisation, if they fit the exceL model then the chances are that Joel and Kieran already know about them and have them in their sights.

The team was away getting food before their matches started but it took only a few minutes for them to arrive. Led by Kieran, the first thing that struck me about the team was their immediate demeanour. Smiles, handshakes and direct eye-contact all round, not what I was expecting. In truth, I wasn’t sure what to expect but if I had been confronted instead with shuffling feet and a generic nod of the head in my direction, I wouldn’t have been all too surprised. That’s one of the stereotypes at the forefront of the gaming community and one that is now being challenged at every turn. There wasn’t any evidence of the trademark awkwardness in front of me. Here stood four young men, attentive, jovial and showing actual enthusiasm at the concept of talking to me.

Introductions were quickly fired round as we decided to move off to more comfortable settings so the guys can all get some much-needed energy into their bodies whilst I observe their behaviour and needle them with questions. The four players were Aaron, Indy, Sean and Rhys and whilst it’s clear to see that this is a new team meeting for the first time face to face, for some of them, their shared easy-going attitude makes getting along very easy and the atmosphere between everyone is relaxed from the get go. This is what I came here to see, to experience. I didn’t simply want to run an interview with these guys, anybody can do that, I wanted to see their behaviour, body language, how they spoke to people and also how that all interpreted into the way they played together.

The team had played in tournaments online before so playing together again was no big shock but it quickly surfaced that they were nervous at the prospect of it being their first LAN event. There are huge differences between online and LAN events, the biggest factor being reaction times. There is no lag, no random disconnects, the only restrictions come from the refresh rate of the monitor being used, an area where milliseconds are as crucial here as they are in the Olympic 100m sprints. Things get that close. Even so, as soon as it’s mentioned as a worry, Joel is on hand to remind the guys that they still have the ability to perform well. Quickly the team agrees and the mood is diverted from taking a nose dive, straight back to one of enthusiasm.

I still want to find out about the teams worries, but I approach the questioning a little more casually, more mindful that there are nerves in play here and I don’t want to unsettle the team in any way. It would appear that I had gotten there too late as any fear that comes up is quickly quashed with a counter argument in the same breath. The guys had clearly spoken about all of this before and talked one another around. I could sense that some team building had gone on here, and it had paid off. The feeling of support between the team was evident, each was confident in the others ability and skill to the point that not a single worry or concern was ever mentioned about it. Not once. No criticism of a style of play, no complaining of a tactic, nothing. If they existed then they were definitely dealt with prior to the event itself. A quick glance out of the corner of my eye towards Kieran and Joel on the opposite side of the table revealed faces of quiet pride, a small smile of confidence from Kieran whilst he listened to his team talking to me. The only real fear that had come round was that of the inevitable wait to actually get started. With nigh on 70 teams in attendance, it would be nearly another 3 hours before exceL eSports got their chance to prove themselves in the flesh.

Again, almost the instant that the guys worked out how long they would have to wait, Kieran and Joel were in action. If there is ever a way that they can positively influence the team, be sure that one or the other, often both, is on hand. The sheer amount of energy coming from the brothers is directed at their team, they in turn feed off it. I saw the whole dynamic like that of an engine. Kieran and Joel are the mechanics of the whole system, with the team being the engine itself. If the engine shows any sign of failing or stalling then the brothers are on hand to put it back into shape as quickly and efficiently as possible.

It was decided that they would go check out some of the other teams playing, see what the competition would be like, as well as the atmosphere, when it would be their turn. We settled in behind a known online competitor of theirs and all talk sharply turned to tactics. Just to be around this conversation was another aspect of this event that I wasn’t expecting and as I listened to other teams talking, it was clear that here was another reason exceL felt like a different team to be around. Where others were giving blow-by-blow accounts of certain kills, these four guys were talking frame rates between certain weapons given the situation and against certain other weapon choices. I felt like I was listening to a podcast aimed at the top leagues in Europe, not an amateur even in Leicester! At the time I had no idea if what they were debating was correct, or if it even made sense, and it didn’t matter. The confidence in their voices, each team member listening to what another had to say, comments backed up with proof, all these factors were just another tick in the box of my previous interview with exceL.

When it was finally time for the guys to take their seats, I could now vividly visualise that engine revving, the guys were ready and they wanted to be off the line more than anything. Not one of them could sit still, it had been a long wait and all they wanted to do was get their first game underway. All the time Kieran and Joel were ensuring that everything went smoothly. From asking the team if they needed anything, offering last-minute words of encouragement, to calling over officials when a cable had to be changed, nothing escaped their attention. It was their job that the team only had to worry about playing right there and then and they were doing it very well.

I had come to the event to see what kind of players exceL eSports would attract. In the few short hours I had been with them, I had my answer. Joel and Kieran were looking to create an organisation that others could either aspire to be like or aspire to join. One where ability and skill in any given game would not be enough to get you through their doors and onto their roster. Just like a school that has a good reputation for creating well-rounded individuals, exceL is quickly becoming an organisation that has the potential to create a plethora of role models for other gaming generations. Good role models. Players that have a healthy amount of respect for those around them, players who understand that their actions have repercussions beyond just themselves. Put simply, players that you just can’t help but like! Yet, not just players, people that you like. Yes, it’s about gaming in the end, it’s a competition, but how you win is just as important to every member of exceL eSports as the act itself.

Perhaps, that’s the underlying message with which exceL is being built upon. To be the greatest requires more than being Number One.