I had the opportunity to chat with Philadelphia Fusion President Tucker Roberts this week. We talked about the team, what to expect, and about growing the organization and the Overwatch League.
OWS: How are you and the team feeling after your run in the Stage Two Playoffs?
Tucker: So I’ll tell you how I’m feeling and I’ll tell you how the team’s feeling. Myself I’m really proud of everything that they’ve done. I think this has clearly shown that we can hang with the best teams in the league. I know a lot of people are thinking “Oh, anybody can beat anybody in one game. But in a big series, how would you match up?” I think going back-to-back with both the incredible teams shows that in a five or seven game series we can definitely hang with them. Which I think is unbelievable given that we’ve still only got 11 of our players available and we’ve only just begun. It’s halfway through the season, we missed preseason, and were the last team to start so I think it’s a credit to our guys. I’ll tell you how the guys are feeling though is they’re hungrier than ever. Nothing can whet your appetite but leave you unsatisfied by losing it [the finals] like that. They’re really hungry and the great thing about it is at the end of the day it’s a little bit of money but it doesn’t really matter to lose that game. What matters is the big picture, the big playoff. They’re going to have a lot more opportunities to turn that hunger into some big wins. I’m proud of them, they’re hungry, we’re all hungry and excited. I hope the fans of all Overwatch League teams are starting to see that we’re a real threat and that we can hang with the big dogs.
OWS: What’s been the biggest surprises for you organizationally since the Fusion acquired their Overwatch League spot?
Tucker: The biggest surprise I would say is how passionate our fans are. We get all sorts of nice gifts that our fans send us, our Discord community is so warm and is just a great way to wake up every day and have nice things written by our fans. They’ve done watercolor style paintings of everybody. That to me I never expected and really it’s just been amazing. I didn’t know that would be a thing when we joined Overwatch League and it’s been just a great surprise. Carpe the other day had this box of chocolates somebody sent him. They were unbelievable. This really elaborate, ornate box of chocolates. I really didn’t think there would be as much as there is.
OWS: We’ve seen a lot of drama going around the League with a bunch of different teams for a variety of reasons. We’ve not seen anything like that with the Fusion. What’s been your strategy for keeping such a large roster grounded with so much pressure on them?
Tucker: The number one credit goes to Roston, he is a high energy, happy guy. He keeps everybody positive. 100% our secret weapon is Roston. Credit to him that even on the tough losses he finds a way to make everybody smile and come back together. I think that if you’re running an organization like this you need somebody who’s role it is to purely manage the team. Purely manage the health of the team mentally. Other organizations I don’t think have that, or maybe don’t value it as highly as we do. One other thing I will say is the beauty of eSports and generally online gaming is that unlike in a regular job where you can interview somebody and its maybe 45 minutes or an hour interview, maybe do that a couple times. It’s tough to get a sense of who they are. In eSports you can watch their stream for hours and really get a sense of who they are. We were really cautious about who we let join the team. We would see people that would have anger management issues and just kinda said “No, that’s not for us.” No matter how skilled you are, if you’re toxic and are potentially going to hurt the team in a broader way, it’s not worth it. That’s been our guiding principal and that’s how we kept out of all the drama.
OWS: Some of the teams have provided their players with Apartments. The Fusion decided to go with a team house model. What was your thinking behind that and how is it working out so far?
Tucker: We thought a lot about this decision. I do think long-term being in apartments is a good idea. But for us just getting into Overwatch we didn’t know our players or our staff that well. We thought it would be easier to keep an eye on everybody if they’re all in one place. I do think that’s definitely been true. I think there’s a ton of benefits though too of having a team house. Like bonding as well as shooting content, obviously travel logistics [are easier]. So that was kind of what lead into our decision there and it’s been working out great for us. When we decided to go with the team house it occurred to me there were going to be 12 teams looking for houses that were for 10 people plus, all in the same area in Burbank, all in the same time frame. When we saw a house that we liked we just said “Let’s go for it right now, ASAP. Because somebody else will take it if it’s not us.” So we were just really early movers there and thankfully that got us probably the best house in my opinion.
OWS: What sort of revenue streams are you targeting for growing the Fusion business and the Fusion brand?
Tucker: We’ll be spending more time on sponsorships. Obviously when you talk to a sponsor you need to talk to them about “what is esports.” It’s a lot of work putting together a deck showing what’s the reach etc. We’re working on that part now. Not that we haven’t had sponsors already, we do. We haven’t gone out and targeted non-endemic sponsors it takes a little bit more work. So that’s going to be one of the big revenue drivers I think. Getting sponsors that haven’t done anything with eSports yet but are big, big brands that are interested in eSports. I think that’s where a big source of our revenue will be in the near future.
OWS: I’m a Philly native, so this one is for me. Philadelphia is the greatest city in the world, you’re connected to the greatest hockey team in the world via ownership. When are we going to see the Fusion collaborating with the other Philadelphia sports teams?
Tucker: Very soon. Probably between stage three and four. We’re planning a trip to Philadelphia pretty soon, when we do that we can partner. I’ll tell you all the Philly sports organizations have reached out and are excited to work with us. There’s so much love in the city of brotherly love, everybody is excited about esports. Probably in between stage 3 and 4 and then in the summer they’ll be some other stuff coming up for sure as well.
OWS: Every team had to make a lot of educated guesses prior to the Overwatch League starting. What’s one thing you guys nailed that you think other teams missed on. Second, what’s one thing you think you may have missed on or not seen coming that you’ve learned from.
Tucker: Credit to our head coach Kirby here. He really wanted this strategy, that we wanted 12 players so we could run internal scrims. That’s turning out to be the ‘standard’ in the league right? He was an early advocate of that. When we build the team we said “That’s what we’re doing.” That said, it took us a little bit of extra time to get Snillo and EQO into the country. That was an educated guess that we thought made sense on paper, but who really knows? It gives us a great practice environment and is really a huge advantage and keeps everybody feeling like they’re on the team. They’re not just on the bench, they’re playing on the computer with players on the team, they’re bonding, there’s healthy competition. It creates a really good dynamic. I’ll tell you what we didn’t know, is probably one of our infamous videos, a pretty cringe-worthy video “This is how we do it in Philly.” We’ve hopefully turned that around in the more recent videos we’ve been putting out. I think that’s something that out of the gate we probably stumbled with, but you live and learn. If you embrace the meme it can’t kill you.
OWS: What markets are you targeting for fan development outside of Philadelphia and why?
Tucker: This is pretty interesting. It makes a lot of sense if you think about it, we have a ton of European fans. Because of Poko, Boombox, EQO, Snillo, Fragi. A lot of our players are European. So we have a ton of European fans and I don’t know how many of them are going to have a true Overwatch team right in their backyard. So I think there’s a real opportunity for them to become Fusion fans. You’re obviously a Philly guy, the Flyers have a ton of Swedish fans and Finnish fans because they’ve had a lot of Swedish and Finnish players over the years. So I think there’s precedent there in real sports, that you can build up a fan base across the sea. We would love to do that.
OWS: You start out targeting fans of the game of Overwatch, then you presumably move on to video games and esports fans. After that, what kind of markets do you see your organization and the Overwatch League targeting? How drastically do you think that will start to affect your Fan/Customer Aquisition Cost (CAC)?
Tucker: I think within Overwatch since it’s such a unique game there’s a chance to attract video game fans of shooters, but also RPG’s, and anybody in esports. So I think within video games Overwatch is really great because it fits across a broad spectrum of the player base. But when you get outside the video game players, when you’re talking about people who don’t play any video games at all, how do you make them a fan? I think there’s a real opportunity, at least today, from the parent’s I’ve spoken to who are all interested in what their son or daughter is playing. They want to understand it, they don’t play games but they want to understand and watch it. To be able to at least hold a conversation about the players and what’s happening. So that’s in my opinion a radical cultural shift that’s changing right now, at least in America. You’re seeing parents that want to learn as opposed to before where there was kind of this disdain for video games. Now it’s turned a corner. When I was a kid it was Pokemon and everybody was calling it “Pokey-mans” almost to put it down, right? Intentionally not even learning how to pronounce the name of it. Where as today, whether with Minecraft, Fortnite, it doesn’t matter what the game is, every parent you talk to goes “Oh, my son or daughter play this all the time, they watch this on that. How do I get involved? I want to be a part of it.” I think that’s our next big audience leap, is to go for family members who don’t play games that want to be a part of it because they care about stuff their kid does. That happens in all sorts of sports, you look at football, how many really play football vs watch it? To get to that level you need to have a broader reach, beyond just the players, and to do that I think it’s on us a little bit to make the game a little bit more [accessible]. In my ideal view we should have a separate broadcast almost where it was more intro to Overwatch as opposed to “Here’s the real deep-dive analysis” which is what players love. You can’t piss off that audience, but you do need to do something like that for people who have no idea what’s going on. I think there’s a path forward that hopefully will go down, which will be to open up that audience. If we do that’s a much broader audience. I think Overwatch in that sense will scale way bigger than the video game community.
OWS: Do you have anything in particular you want to say to all the Overwatch League fans, and Philly Fusion fans out there?
Tucker: Watch out for Stage Three, we’re going to come in hot. I know Snillo has been grinding real, real hard. We’re hoping he’s going to improve his performance especially… on his walkouts. It should be good.