The word gaming house conjures images of sponsorships, professional competition and hardcore video games, but in Australia the reality is much more common: a group of guys and girls getting together, bringing their computers or TVs with them and turning a multi-bedroom house into a geeky fiefdom.
Legacy Esports have gone a step further with the ASUS ROG Gaming House, however, convincing the manufacturer to invest in their first gaming house anywhere in the world. But precisely how do you start from scratch and get everyone to invest in the idea of a house as a marketing platform? That's where Michael Carmody comes in.
Michael Carmody, the manager of Legacy Esports and something of a father figure to the players, doesn't fit the traditional mould of an esports manager. He plays League of Legends, but only in the sense that someone "plays" a video game by opening the application and joining a match.
But his value to Legacy, League of Legends and the Australian esports scene aren't based around his Bronze league rank. It's his business acumen, sensibility and experience from industries that have traditionally had no association with esports that could change everything.
So how did Legacy go from being spread across Australia to having all their players in the one house, in Sydney's Lidcombe? According to Carmody, it started with a spreadsheet. The title: Legacy Dream Goal-Gaming House.
"I came and I spoke to the players. What I do is I build and I develop; multiple companies, I’ve gone through this sort of thing, so I just put on my business head and said where’s your goals, where’s your strategic direction," Carmody explained. "They looked at me funny and said who are you, what is that."
The diet of professional gamers
Their confusion is understandable — the oldest member of the team, coach excluded, is 23. Some of them are still studying at university; one teaches children to swim at a local pool to make ends meet while he furthers his esports aspirations. It's not the kind of experience that's conducive to operating in the business world.
"So I said, look, if you’re going to do this, there is a way that you run an organisation," Carmody went on. "There is a way you do business, there are budgets, there are cashflow projections, there are all of those sorts of things." That sounded good to the players, so they offered him a managerial position. The next step was to get the players what they wanted, which was a gaming house.
ASUS were an existing partner before Carmody took over the role, so he began renegotiating things to see whether the company would be interested in investing further. "I came on board and basically said to ASUS this is what the players want, this is my spreadsheet and this is a hole with your name on it that, if you want this to happen, I need this from you," he said.
It wasn't just a leap for ASUS, either. It required a leap of faith from the players, something many applicants were surprisingly unwilling to commit to. "[It’s] very hard to pick up a new player when the opening line is you need to move and rearrange your entire life," Carmody said jovially, "which strangely enough for a sizeable percentage of players wasn’t an attraction."
Part of the house's value as a marketing platform is a dedicated area, and hardware, for regular streaming
It wasn't just the prospect of resources that was daunting though: as friendly and affable as Carmody is, he expects — rightfully so — the players to treat the house, and their League of Legends career, as any other professional would treat their livelihood.
"I am going to give you a large amount of resources, but I am going to expect a professional outcome," he explained. "That doesn’t mean you get to sit there with your mum cooking you dinner, you live in your bedroom every day. That’s not the player we want. We want the player who’s going to the gym every day. We want the player who’s committed to 7-8 hours of professional work every day. And that shrinks the pool a little bit, the pool of players you can draw from."
Part of the success relies on maintaining solid chemistry within the team and a healthy, happy environment. To that end, Legacy has also employed the services of a sports psychologist who can also act as an outlet for any issues that arise. That's important given the situation: the gaming house is the first time most of the team will have lived out of home.
"We literally just sent out a 'how are you coping' survey last week," the Legacy manager replied when I asked about keeping morale up. "[The players] have been in the house a month now: 'Where are you at? Anonymous survey. Dump what you like, try to be as anonymous as possible.' We need to give them an open field. Part of the reason why we get a performance psyche in is because he is a clinical psychologist, he can keep an eye on [the players] and we’ve talked to him about flagging and supporting."
"We’ve said to him, 'We’re going to look to you for clinical care if you think there’s an issue' and it comes under the same sort of medical stuff. Patient confidentiality: players can talk to the psyche and he can’t tell me there’s a problem. They have confidentiality, full sort of setup, they know there’s someone they can talk to outside of the organisation, an independent person they can say, “I just can’t cope, I just can’t deal” or whatever else. We’ve given them a space to do that."
Each of the rooms has a plaque with the players' name on it, although not all of the rooms are the same size
Carmody even maintains a calendar to help ensure he keeps in regular contact with each of his players. "I have a bit of a calendar, have I spoken to this player in the last week, and I make sure — 'I haven’t seen such and such around or haven’t crossed paths in Teamspeak or I haven’t seen him.'"
"Even if it’s just when I come up to Sydney, I make sure I go for a walk around the block with one guy, maybe just, “Are you OK, how are you adjusting, haven’t seen your family for a while.” And I’ve got a pool of emergency funds to fly people home for a couple of days if they just want to go see Mum or whatever."
It's all designed with a sole purpose in mind: to allow the Legacy players to, as any professional would, focus on their job. Riot — and many players from many different games — like to call the scene professional. But, as Carmody pointed out, it's not quite there yet.
"Riot likes to make the term is that [its] a professional league, my definition of a professional league is that you get paid," he explained. "Now they were paid — paid as contractors so no issues — but they are paid less than the minimum wage given the amount of hours they practice and whatever they put in. And even then, so because of that they have to do jobs."
"They have to get part-time stacking shelves. [Tim "Carbon" Wendel] does the swim instructing sort of work. [Aaron [ChuChuZ] Bland's] at university and a few of them have various other ways, but they can’t focus on the game. So you cannot become a professional unless you live as a professional, work as a professional, get paid as a professional."
But now that's all changed. And the results speak for themselves. Legacy hasn't dropped a single map in their first four matches, although they won't face their main rivals Chiefs (who trounced them last year for the right to travel to the international wild card tournament) until mid-March.
If those performances continue, the house might become the foundation upon which Legacy's dominance is built. And it's all thanks to Carmody's skills, nous and one single spreadsheet.