When you think of Call of Duty esports, a handful of iconic brands come to mind. Team Envy is one of those legendary, long-standing names that fans have come to expect to see when travelling to an event or watching online. However, with the franchised Call of Duty League on its way in January, new brands have emerged.
Dallas Empire is one of 12 franchises that will take part in the $25 million-per-spot league, owned by none other than Envy Gaming. To discuss the decision to stick with Call of Duty, the process of deciding upon Dallas Empire, and the organisation’s new facility in Victory Park, we spoke with Mike “Hastr0” Rufail, Owner and CEO of Envy Gaming.
Esports Insider: At what point did you decide on the branding of Dallas Empire? Dallas Republic was being thrown around as an option too, right?
Mike Rufail: Yeah, we were discussing that team name too. There was a long list of names that we could have picked for the team, we had a big internal discussion over a long period of time and we definitely put thought into it. We made sure that we were prepared to go with the one that we wanted to go with: Dallas Empire.
ESI: Did your announcement plans change at all once the branding was leaked ahead of time?
MR: It didn’t change it one bit actually! The leaks are fine, we registered a few different domains and a few different team names. The options leaked but nobody knew 100 percent for certain what our team name was going to be. I think we did pretty well with our plan and executing it, even with people discussing our branding before we got it out there.
“Every team is going to bring something to the table in the Call of Duty League.”
ESI: How do you feel about the other franchises’ branding and roster announcements?
MR: Everybody’s in a different situation. We’ve been around a long time and even though some of the newer ownership groups didn’t really have the full brand reveal that we had, I still think that you can’t really detract or base your judgment of those organisations just off of that.
I would say every team is going to bring something to the table in the Call of Duty League that’s going to be a strength for them. I think one of ours right now is making sure we make a splash with our branding.
ESI: Atlanta FaZe exists through a partnership between Atlanta Esports Ventures and FaZe Clan. If you were aware of that type of naming deal being possible, would you have done something similar considering the legacy of Envy in Call of Duty?
MR: We were given a certain amount of time to understand we could do that but we were already pretty far down the line and pretty committed to starting a new team brand.
ESI: How did you find the process of securing a Call of Duty League franchise in comparison to Overwatch League?
MR: It was certainly easier just because we have a relationship in place and we were already a partner with Activision Bizzard. We definitely had a little bit of an easier time going through the whole process behind the scenes: securing our position, all the documents, the legal work, and all of the other things that go into it.
All of those things were something we were already familiar with and Activision Blizzard is familiar with us so it was probably a little bit easier on their side also.
ESI: Was there a time when Envy considered not being part of the league? It obviously has a storied past in Call of Duty and is a staple of the game’s esports scene but $25 million is a lot of money.
MR: We had to consider whether or not this was something we absolutely wanted to do. I would say we’ve been pretty committed from the get-go though, it didn’t have to take too much consideration just because of our history in the game.
“I don’t think franchising simply fixes everything.”
ESI: Call of Duty has always been a mid-tier esport, never really reaching the same heights as CS:GO, League of Legends, and Dota 2. Is the CDL a step in the right direction for the scene?
MR: I think it’s a method of structuring a league in a more organized way, but also I would say it’s hinging on a lot of other variables. The growth of Call of Duty esports isn’t just “franchising fixes everything,” there’s just so many things to talk about. There are a lot of factors, such as the development of the game. What changes in the mechanics of the game? Are we advertising the league and teams in the game?
I don’t think franchising simply fixes everything. I think it’s going to take maybe years of iterations on different aspects of the community and the scene to make it what it can be.
ESI: Will you support the amateur and path to pro scene through Call of Duty Challengers?
MR: Our team won’t be fielding a path to pro team, but maybe we would create a partnership – that’s something we’re exploring. We will certainly hold amateur competitions within our home market area, so there will be opportunities to enter open bracket competition in Dallas [in 2020].
ESI: Which franchise are you considering the biggest rival of Dallas Empire heading into the inaugural season?
MR: This might change soon! Obviously with Chicago Huntsmen, we’ve got a lot of history and a lot of the players have a past with each other. From my standpoint, I would love to find a world where there are other teams that can create meaningful, good rivalries with us and I think this first season will kick some of those off.
ESI: Can you tell us a bit about the new facility you’re building out in Victory Park?
MR: We are building out what I think is going to be one of the world’s premier esports training facilities and it will encompass specifically-modeled facilities for the Dallas Fuel and the Dallas Empire. We will also have a Counter-Strike facility and an Overwatch Contenders facility. We also are providing a mental skills coach and performance coach that will be working among all teams.
The other side of that is something I haven’t really talked about much: we’re building a full entertainment and media production suite within our office space. We’ll have a large studio that can house custom-built sets for some of our content, as well as a live production studio.
ESI: Why did you pick that location in particular for the facility?
MR: It’s just the most happening part of Dallas. It is absolutely an incredible place to be because it’s a progressive area; it’s very new, upbeat, young, fun, and we think that embodies the lifestyle of our players right now. It’s a great place for them to come and train every day.
ESI: With Envy now owning two Dallas-based franchises and building out its new HQ in Dallas too, do you think this localisation affects the global appeal to the organisation?
MR: No, not really. We’re going to do the same things we’ve always done globally to attract a global audience. I would say we’re going to go way beyond that now actually. It’s something we’re excited about and have been really getting prepared to do.