The Clutch Success Stories is a short series that tells the stories of some of the start-ups that have taken to the stage and emerged victorious at Esports Insider’s live pitch competition.
It All Started With A Toys”R”Us Catalog…
When James Duffield, a lifelong gamer, started his career after university in 2011 when he was designing catalogues for the now-defunct brick-and-mortar retailer, Toys”R”Us.
Fond memories of skimming through the catalogue looking for the latest game and console releases with friends, strikes a chord with many millennials. However, for Duffield this is also somewhat of a fitting origin story for TEAMS.gg, a platform that aims to bring people closer together through gaming.
With a focus on the marketing and advertising world, Duffield’s career was just beginning. He developed a knack for creative design and finding unique ways to highlight brands. After a casual gaming session with some friends, James decided to leverage his creativity to market something different than water guns and wrestling figurines — gaming video content.
Posting your first piece of content is always the hardest, it exposes you and creates vulnerability, unbeknownst to Duffield, that courage would come in handy later in life. As he started creating more and more content, Twitch took notice.
Following Twitch’s acquisition by Amazon, a small operation in Europe needed support on the design and brand integration side of the platform, something James was very familiar with. In 2014, he made the leap to Twitch and officially was working in the gaming industry.
As his roles and responsibilities expanded at Twitch, he continued creating content on the side, with mild success. Finally, one of his pieces began to go viral. James was stunned and immediately began to dig into the ‘why?’.
After reading through hundreds of comments on the video, titled “How To Find A CS:GO Team”, he inadvertently stumbled upon the foundation of TEAMS.gg. Gamers wanted a place to find like-minded people to play their favourite games with. If they were willing to find companions in the comment section of a YouTube video, there was certainly a business opportunity to create a platform for matchmaking.
As Duffield continued at Twitch, he was building TEAMS.gg with his two co-founders — Stuart Crouchman and Tom Russell — on the side. Conveniently they were back-end and front-end developers, so the ultimate goal was to build the hub for finding teammates in multiplayer games. Over the first few years, the trio were testing different iterations, trying to find the best path forward that really resonated with the community. As a lifelong gamer, Duffield cares far more about what the community wants and needs, something the gaming industry has a history of ignoring.
In the end TEAMS.gg opted to operate under a more data-driven system, with an algorithm doing most of the work for the player when it comes to matchmaking. Through statistics and surveys, players are matched up based on their preferences, such as common interests and in-game goals.
In 2019, after getting the platform ready to launch, Duffield was ready to call upon some of that courage from back in his early content creation days and make the full-time leap. All of a sudden, TEAMS.gg went from a late-night and weekend project, to the founding team’s sole focus. Initially tailored to just CS:GO, they began introducing the platform to the general public and started to get some early interest, recording 2,000 listings on its first day.
The network all three founders had created over the years from working in the gaming industry also proved to be pivotal.
Through Duffield’s network, they were made aware of Esports Insider’s live pitch competition, The Clutch, and encouraged to apply. Duffield and his co-founders thought they were ready to take TEAMS.gg to the next level, but quickly realised they had never concisely pitched their business. The Clutch required them to dig deep and explain their business in a few minutes to potential investors and industry stakeholders, which is easier said than done.
“The Clutch really encouraged us to hone in on what we were actually building,” Duffield shared. “Going through this forced us to perfect our pitch, and it changed everything.”
In the end, it was time well spent as TEAMS.gg won The Clutch at ESI Digital Summit in 2020.
Now that they had a true North Star, it was time to take that pitch and bring it to the big leagues. TEAMS.gg went on to raise £500,000 and the platform was ready to build and scale. They finally had the money to hire engineers and marketing to expand TEAMS.gg. If it wasn’t for The Clutch, perhaps this wouldn’t have been possible or at least it might have not happened as quickly.
The Clutch is back for 2023! Taking place at ESI London in October, the world’s esports and games industry festival, applications are now open for startups. Last year Mouseskins walked away with $15,000 and even more value in connections and awareness. For 2023 we’ve widened the remit to allow for entries from the esports, video games and the creator economy sectors. Apply ASAP!
Where Do We Go From Here
With money in the bank, a team of amazing people and a vision, TEAMS.gg was able to grow from thousands of users to over 150,000. The platform was able to add a chat function within the app, which saw usage and matchmaking go up massively, according to Duffield. The founders were also able to market the product and garner global interest, which has led to TEAMS.gg expanding into six esports titles — notably VALORANT and Rocket League. Everything was going great…
The economy, however, had other plans for TEAMS.gg, alongside most other companies in the esports and gaming industry. Unfortunately, their second raise didn’t go as planned and the platform was forced to scale down its staff and focus on revenue generation. This was certainly not the vision, but if starting a company was easy, everyone would do it.
“We are going to make it,” Duffield stated with unequivocal confidence and who am I to doubt it. Gamers constantly look for like-minded people to play with and TEAMS.gg has the solution.
When thinking about who has the most to gain from expanding communities and keeping players engaged, aside from the gamers, it’s the publishers. It is in the publisher’s best interests to keep their players playing and engaged. Duffield believes that TEAMS.gg provides an excellent opportunity for publishers to do just that.
Duffield is currently working with his co-founders to continue growing TEAMS.gg’s user base, generating revenue and keeping his business growing. Despite the economic downturn, after hearing Duffield’s story I believe that TEAMS.gg will see the light at the end of this dark tunnel.