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Guild Esports is biding time to get “S-tier” expansion right

We speak to director of esports Grant Rousseau about proving doubters wrong and future expansion

Headshot of Grant Rousseau

Many scoffed at Guild Esports when it first revealed itself to the world last summer. The David Beckham-backed esports organisation that aimed for hyper growth by floating on the stock exchange was met with widespread scepticism, and many in the esports industry saw its claims and promises as empty and unachievable.

I’ll happily admit I was one of those sceptics; as was the man now overseeing Guild’s four esports teams, Grant Rousseau. With a track record helping League of Legends teams perform at the highest level for organisations such as Excel and Splyce, Rousseau now has the task of building top-tier teams in Valorant, Rocket League, Fortnite, and FIFA – plus undoubtedly more in the future as Guild’s remarkable rate of expansion continues.

Despite the organisation being less than a year old, it’s already bagged its first trophy following Henrik ‘Hen’ Mclean’s Fortnite Champion Series squad winning the Chapter 2 Season 5 European title. It also boasts one of the top rosters in Europe for Rocket League and, its Valorant team is one event away from qualifying for the first Valorant Masters LAN in Iceland, and its FIFA player has qualified for the eWorld Cup this season. Consider that initial scepticism pretty much dead and buried.

The Loadout spoke to Rousseau about how he’s found his first six months as Guild’s director of esports, where the organisation may expand to next, and what to expect from its soon to be launched academy system.

The Loadout: A simple question for you right off the bat: Did you make the right choice leaving Excel and coming to Guild around six months ago now?

Grant Rousseau: You know, I’ve been waiting for someone to ask me that. I’m surprised it’s taken this long for someone to do it. Personally, it was the right decision. I have been fluttering for so long with wanting to work directly in performance again – running teams, building rosters etc. – and it’s something I’d just love to do from scratch.

So from a personal standpoint, I was very happy to [make the switch] for my passion’s sake, and tick off my goal of wanting to bring UK esports forward. I love Excel to bits and they gave me the chance to come home when no other group could – for that I will be forever thankful. But knowing the opportunity of Guild and its backing, its direction, and the staff they’re hiring just felt like something I couldn’t turn down and I definitely feel like I made the right decision.

I think that’s shown in the last six months, Guild’s growth has been beyond ridiculous. In that sense it was quite a scary decision, I was a bit unsure at the time, and I think a few of us were quite unsure about if Guild was legit or not. But now I’m very very happy I took the chance.

As you just mentioned there were a lot of doubters and sceptics when Guild was announced. Were you one of those people and what’s it now like to be part of the team and proving people wrong?

I’ll happily admit I was a sceptic – anybody following my Twitter at the time knows that! It’s a bit of an internal joke now, Andrew Drake on our board never lets it go when I join his meetings. I think that scepticism was fair though – there have been a lot of teams, both European and American, who have announced a start up, brought in this major celebrity, said they’re doing esports, and then it doesn’t go anywhere. They disappear.

Actually, [the scepticism was] to Guild’s benefit, because it put them on the front page of esports news and gave them a lot of recognition for them to go: ‘Right, you all don’t believe in us, now we have to make you believe with what we do’. I think a lot of other start-up teams don’t get that opportunity to have that fight.

It’s been pretty mind-blowing to see how quickly Guild’s ballooned from just the Rocket League team at the start to what it is today. You’re obviously now looking after a bunch of teams, but previously you’ve mainly looked after League of Legends teams. What’s it like now having all of these to watch over?

Yeah, it’s been an interesting switch up, because my history has always been League of Legends. While I’ve overseen other esports I haven’t necessarily had such a direct involvement as I have with the League of Legends equivalent. So in that sense, it was quite scary for me, because I always talk about how my specific knowledge was related to that game. But then sitting back, the philosophies and behaviours and processes are transferable to numerous teams.

I want to dive into some of Guild’s teams, and I’ll start with your five-strong Fortnite roster. Why has Guild expanded so rapidly in Fortnite at a time where other big organisations aren’t?

I’m surprised that more teams haven’t entered the scene, or from what we’ve seen, are leaving the scene. Fortnite’s competitive makeup isn’t always the most logical – it’s so different to every other esports model. These are players who have grown up where social media is advised and almost weird if you don’t do it, and they’ve grown up knowing that promoting how much they earn is a good thing.

I think Guild, with the resources we have behind scenes in terms of marketing and partnerships, can do Fortnite correctly, where other teams can’t.

We’re also trying to put it on another level where we turn these players into genuine professionals, they’re getting fitness [training], they’re getting nutrition, they’re getting our weekly team meetings. We feel as a unit, even though we’ve got five players who compete in different squads against each other, and it’s quite nice. We’re all chatting together all the time and trying to bring that performance philosophy together with good marketability… [because of this] we’ve become an attractive org to join in Fortnite.

You’ve also established yourself as a top name in European Valorant. As a new organisation, was it a no-brainer to enter a fresh new game, and what’s it been like to see the guys become one of the best teams in EU and get close to that Iceland Masters event?

I think like with Fortnite, [our Valorant team] kind of breaks the mould a little bit. [A lot of teams seem to] have one or two super special carries – like everyone talks about Adil ‘ScreaM’ Benrlitom at Team Liquid, for example – and there are these one or two players who could just shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot, and everything else is built around them.

I think we break that mould by saying: ‘This is a different game. This is a different style. Let’s stop playing it like other games.’ We do it our way, focus on utility, focus on the coaching and the analytics, and be a squad of five where no one’s really out shooting each other.

I think back to when we won the other day against Ninjas in Pyjamas to get top two and qualify for that Iceland qualifier. I think the interviewer asked Malkolm ‘bonkar’ Rench ‘Oh, Yacine ‘Yacine’ Laghmari was dropping kill after kill today. Why do you think he’s so good?’ And bonkar just said that we’re a team of five and Yacine came out [on top] because [we played like] a group. So I think that feeling is what makes us so different and special.

I also find it quite funny that we came top four in the first stage, we’ve now guaranteed ourselves a spot at the Masters 2 qualifier, and sometimes we’re still spoken about as the underdogs. I think that comes up [because], we’re being different in the way we play the game.

I also want to talk about FIFA, as you have a world class player in Niklas ‘NRaseck’ Raseck on the team but decided not to expand further and pick up a PlayStation teammate for him. Why the caution around FIFA expansion?

So I think it’s just a reflection of the esport as a whole for the past year. I think [FIFA] struggled a bit during the pandemic, mainly because they were very reliant on offline tournaments to promote themselves and to push themselves. Online has never been the focus of FIFA when it comes to the top level.

So I think in that sense, you know, we’ve got NRaseck who is a fantastic player and we sat back and said: ‘There is a player who’s capable of winning a world championship’. So if we’re okay with that fact, what do we gain right now by just expanding when the nature of the FIFA esports industry is just a bit slow and unsure right now? I think it will be very different in a year’s time when COVID has ended and LANs are back.

For now, we’ve got a world-class player that we’re happy with. And I think we’d rather just focus on making him the best he can be and for him to get our trophy rather than having three or four players that are spread out across the board.

Looking to the future, I presume the expansion isn’t going to stop. A few months ago it was revealed Duncan ‘Thorin’ Shields was brought in as a consultant to form a CS:GO team, so I was wondering where you’re at with that?

I mean, there’s only so much I can say. I think the best way to put it is: Guild wants to continue to expand, we want to be in these absolute S-tier esports, but we want to make sure we do it right.

If you’re going to enter one of these big, big games, you need to do it right. So I can’t really comment on where we’re at, but we can say that we’re doing the necessary work – as you saw with Thorin – to make sure that if we do enter, we’re ready. And we can do it in a way, where we can be a top team very quickly. The last thing I want us to do is to come in and be bang average for two years and have spent a whole bunch of money to do that.

You also come from a League of Legends background, is that somewhere you would personally like to see Guild expand into in the future?

I’ll happily say that, from a pure passion and personal point of view, of course, I would love us to be in League of Legends. But we have to be realistic. [Some] people were talking about the LEC; there are ten spots, and they are all taken. We have no control of that. So I think that’s the best way to put it. I would love us to enter [League of Legends] but whether there’s a possibility is a completely different matter. And that’s not in our control. So we’ll wait and see whether perhaps one day it is in our control.

One of Guild’s biggest USPs at launch was the promise of an academy system. Is that something you’re involved in developing, and how far along is it?

Editor’s note: This question was asked 24 hours before Guild released its academy plans to investors.

It’s coming. We want to get it right. It’s not far off. I can’t talk specifics, but it’s close. The academy was one of my biggest attractions to joining Guild.

I think what we’re trying to build here is unlike anything I’ve seen in esports, at least in Europe, in terms of an academy system that is treating it like football or traditional sport. We are going to raise the next generation of talent from a young age, and build them all the way up into professional players, whether with Guild or with someone else, as that’s how academies work.

My involvement is [designing] a roadmap for a player to go from wherever they are to the first team. And secondly, [identifying] what kind of player Guild is looking for. So I’m not involved directly in the sense of helping run these academies or anything, but I am involved in saying: ‘This is what I want in a player, can you go find it?’

I think it’s crazy exciting. If you’re from the UK, I think the academy will be the biggest thing to happen to UK esports for a very long time. I’ve seen what we’re building and I promise you this is unlike anything you’ve seen. And for that reason, I’m so excited to finally build a generation of UK talent which has been my goal from the start.

Whether you are a fan of an esport, whether you just [casually] play a game, or whether you want to play with friends, there’s going to be a format that works for everyone. You don’t have to be or want to be a professional player – maybe you just want to get a little bit better at a game, or maybe you just want to hang with your friends. That for me is the most exciting thing that’s going to happen.

And outside that I hope that Guild could inspire the UK scene to make it what it can be.