British-based competitive gaming culture brand Excel Esports has undergone quite the transformation throughout 2022. In January, co-founder Kieran Holmes-Darby left the organisation he and his brother Joel – who left Excel back in late 2020 – started up all the way back in 2014.
Additionally, it was recently announced that Excel’s leadership structure was undergoing changes, with creative director Oskar Sisi transitioning to the role of marketing and brand director, while esports director Tim Reichert would work more closely with CEO Wouter Sleijffers by becoming the chief operating officer.
Having joined Excel from the now-defunct Schalke 04 in September last year, Reichert has quickly taken its teams to new heights, with the League of Legends squad finally reaching LEC playoffs during the 2022 Spring Split, and the Valorant team getting into the VCT Promotion Tournament.
As one of the original founders of SK Gaming back in 1997 – three of the others are his brothers – Reichert has always been around esports, and it has always very much been a family affair.
I joined 8 month ago and I am blessed to work with great people and an amazing group of shareholders which made it easy to commit to this next chapter.
We will double down on brand&community and create an environment for the best talent.
Competition & talent remains a focus area https://t.co/dl0KdkJnk9
— Tim Reichert (@TimReichert79) May 27, 2022
During the recent launch of Excel’s brand new London office space, we got to sit down with Reichert to talk about his ethos for success, finding the right pieces for the puzzle at Excel, and some of the things fans don’t see behind the scenes when it comes to high profile roster deals.
So to get down to business, I would just like to ask more broadly about your traditional sport background and experiences with SK and Schalke, and how they have shaped your attitude to building a culture and your vision of success.
I would say, obviously, every experience a person gathers in their life helps to shape their personality. And with the history I do have with my professional sports background, my esports background at Schalke and SK Gaming, but also growing up in a big family – four siblings, two adopted brothers on top of that – helps create a little bit of my own personality, and I’m trying to bring all of that into my job at any time.
And that means, for me, it is crucial to have success, and to be a team player. Maybe the biggest lesson I’ve learned during my business career, but also as a brother and as a family member is if you stick together, if you work as a team, you will have success.
Sometimes you might be limited and you can’t win the World Championships – not everyone can be a world champion – but the better the team works together, the better the results. And that is something I think I can actually bring into an organisation – not just to the talent, but also maybe to the staff. Being a team player is always more important to me than skill – obviously you can’t become a professional athlete if you don’t have skill. But if you are not a team player, I will not sign you, and I don’t want you to be on my team.
And I think with our culture, the people who join Excel should know we will have their back as long as they try their best and be the best possible partner – though that does not also mean that as long as they work hard, they will be forever with us. Obviously, there are challenges and there are ambitions [to factor in as well].
That last point you made does segue nicely into one of the questions I did have. Excel has faced community backlash for certain decisions – particularly surrounding roster changes – in the past. What goes into making these decisions behind the scenes that fans might not see?
I mean, I think this decision (replacing Henk ‘Advienne’ Reijenga with Mihael ‘Mikyx’ Mehle) was actually a decision where, no matter what we could have done, people would not have understood, or maybe they understood, but they still did not appreciate it. Promoting a talent who performs well on the team, and then replacing them never looks good. Maybe we could have done things better when it came to the communication to the audience, but being as transparent and as good as possible to the team and to the players was more important for me.
Just as a side note, we made the decision after week one, then we needed to close that deal. We still needed to have a successful week two – because staying competitive means a lot for us – so I drove my car five hours from Oberhausen to Berlin on a Sunday to have a face-to-face conversation with Henk to deliver the decision and to give him an explanation.
Obviously, he could not appreciate this message, because he did not do anything wrong here. He worked hard, even harder than others. But we had a one-time opportunity to get one of the best players in European League of Legends history. Obviously I was aware that there would be backlash, and people would blame me and ask about it. But we want to be as competitive as possible, we want to be successful. And if we can attract these players, this is already a win.
Also to highlight the team aspect, adding Mikyx to the team was also a no-brainer in that direction, because he is one of the best teammates and team players I’ve ever worked with. So that gave me a lot of comfort and confidence to go for that decision. And yes, it was a tough one. It was a difficult one, and maybe I could have done better with the explanation to the community. But at the same time, I think no matter what we would have communicated, people would not have appreciated that, and would not have understood it for the reasons I’ve already given you.
Absolutely. I already knew it must have been a difficult decision for you to make, and hearing you say it in your own words really makes me appreciate it even more.
I would like to add one thing, because something which was also discussed in the community was that the team was actually not involved here, before the decision was made. This is something I would say is more unusual in esports than usual. Usually you have very close communication with your players about roster decisions. In that specific case, it was very much also about the culture and the personalities of our team.
We knew that this team could have huge success – the biggest success Excel ever had – if we added Mikyx. But if we would have asked the players, they would have still said no, not because they thought it was not a good change, but because they are team players and they love to work with Henk, and they would never have backstabbed him. Never, ever. That’s just the personality of all these players.
So asking them would have brought them into a really weird and awkward situation, which I just did not want, and me and the coaching staff were convinced that this move would be for the better and would bring us even more success. So this needed to be a decision for us as the management and the coaching staff, and not of the players.
MAD Lions is another team that’s received a similar amount of backlash when it recently dropped Reeker for Nisqy. Do you perhaps feel that European fans have become too attached to this idea that every talent coming into a team needs to be homegrown?
I mean with this I feel differently. I think it’s amazing that League of Legends has a community which cares so much, and which is so passionate about that. So I love that there are actually discussions around roster moves. And also you will, as an organisation, get shit if people think you made a mistake.
People will never have the full picture. It’s impossible in esports – and it’s the same in [traditional] sport – to give them everything they need to know because there’s also sensitive information about these players which you don’t want to share in their best interest. So it is something we have to work with, and we have to live with.
I actually only see the positive aspects of that. Because it creates interest, it creates discussions, and that is good for industry and for the ecosystem. And if you ask me if it’s negative that people cannot demand developing European talent, I also think this is super positive, but at the same time you need to be strong as an organisation in your decision making and not get pushed by community desires.
When it comes to your own roster decisions, you need to be strong, you need to have your own opinion on that. And then you have to be clear, fair, and straightforward to the players you are making the decisions with. So I think MAD Lions was in a horrible, horrible situation here: they didn’t achieve their goals in Spring Split, and there was an amazing midlaner available.
I think Reeker did a good job, but if there are two good options on the table and you have to make a decision as an organisation, and if you think going for that experienced veteran player gives you a better chance of being successful, this is also fair to the rest of your roster because the four other players are working as hard as possible to have the best possible success. It is hard, but it is the nature of the business and our job.
Speaking of success, Excel has had a very positive start to 2022 with the League team reaching LEC Playoffs, and the Valorant team getting into the VCT Promotion Tournament. I would love to know a little bit more about what you feel the recipe for success has been so far this year.
I am blessed with a very strong coaching staff. So when I started working on the rosters, I was very happy to have Jimmy ‘Jumpy’ Berndtsson (Valorant team head coach) and Joey ‘YoungBuck’ Steltenpool (League of Legends team head coach). And during the offseason I think we managed to gather a really strong group of people – talented, gifted, but at the same time, again, people who work very well together, so there we had significantly more success than in the past.
I would also say my reputation and relationships from Schalke may have helped to convince these people to join our journey, so for the first time we could actually sign top, top players, and that obviously makes life much easier for the coaches to have success. And we are not done yet. We had success compared to Excel historically, but we could have done better, and we’re aiming for better in summer, especially with Mikyx now around for more than just a few weeks. We currently have a bootcamp in Korea, and I can already tease it’s a very good one – a very exciting one.
On our way to the top 💯 pic.twitter.com/w8HcRL2F7L
— EXCEL (@EXCEL) May 25, 2022
The Valorant team looks good. Unfortunately, the Valorant ecosystem if you don’t make it to VCT is not the most exciting one. But still, we want to have success here.
So back to the question: if you have good staff around, if you have a vision and a journey to show the people you want to work with – and I mean, last but not least, obviously a bit of economic power to compete with the best – it helps when gathering these rosters, and these are top, top rosters.
Thinking briefly about the Valorant team and the future there with the changes that Riot has announced for the VCT format next year – should Excel not find its way into VCT next year, is the plan still to support the team in the VRL?
There’s no decision made yet. What we’re focusing on right now is creating the best possible application to get into the long term partnership of Riot and Valorant – we will put a lot of priority on that in the next couple of weeks.
So let’s just hope for the best and let’s hope that Riot will realise that we will be an amazing partner long term. We know it will be a challenge and there will be many, many big brands and big organisations who also want to be part of the ecosystem. But we have good arguments why Excel should be part of that ecosystem, and why we should be a long term partner so we will work on that.
In the meantime, the team will try their best to show we are ambitious. And if the decision is made, let’s have a follow up conversation on that.
Reichert and Excel will surely be looking to build on the progress made so far this year, both in League and Valorant, as well as across the other games the organisation is competing in.