Call of duty

How H3CZ plans to make NRG the biggest brand in esports

by Adam Fitch

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There are only a handful of people in esports who you can call both a successful entrepreneur and content powerhouse at once, and Hector “H3CZ” Rodriguez is likely the first person you think of at that particular cross-section.

The 30-something-year-old phenom took what was once a humble group of friends who enjoyed playing Call of Duty and turned it into a global powerhouse that ultimately sold for millions of dollars. Though the end destination for his beloved OpTic Gaming was sour for most, the journey was undoubtedly a spectacle to watch.

This article will take a look at H3CZ, his uncanny talent of producing stars, and what exactly he’ll bring to NRG Esports - the organization he now calls home


Eye for talent

There’s nobody in esports who has rivaled H3CZ when it comes to spotting talent in the past, and there’s nothing to suggest that he can’t replicate such success. Some of the most notable and popular figures in the entirety of the industry have grown with OpTic Gaming over the years and got their big breakthrough working with H3CZ

Moving Matthew ‘Nadeshot’ Haag, Seth ‘Scump’ Abner, William ‘BigTymer’ Johnson, and Joe “MerK” DeLuca into a single house midway through 2013. Forming the competitive Call of Duty roster for OpTic Gaming, it quickly became apparent that they - alongside H3CZ - had plans that went way beyond simply competing

Video content and live streams soon came from the house and it elevated each of their own individual statuses in both esports and gaming entertainment. Whether it be a league play match, a public match, a vlog, or a prank video, members of the affectionately-dubbed ‘GreenWall’ lapped it all up.

Whether they were practicing, or just relaxing among themselves, getting to see the home setting of players who regularly travelled to events to compete proved to be appealing. Fans and viewers liked more than just the gameplay from this set of young adults. Transitioning content to Minecraft was perhaps one of the smartest moves H3CZ ever initiated; it was the game of the moment and it helped to solidify the fact the OpTic Gaming had transcended Call of Duty. The viewers were there for them, not a game.

Nadeshot was receiving hundreds of thousands of views and became a Red Bull athlete, Scump would command incredible audiences by just wrecking kids in a public match, H3CZ would provide fans with an inside look into what made the team tick and how the dynamic between his players really was. Stars were being forged here.

Things leveled up a notch with the OpTic Scuf House, a luxurious mansion that could house plenty of other content creators and competitors. The likes of Austin “Pamaj” Pamajewon, Nick “MaNiaC” Kershner, Michael “Flamesword” Chaves, and videographer Davis “Hitch” Edwards all moved into the house alongside the Call of Duty roster.

The hiring of Hitch is undoubtedly one of H3CZ’s most genius moments. Having already created videos under the guise of OpTic Intel out of pure passion for the brand, Hitch would enable a higher level of production and a dedicated output of collaborative content to be published on OpTic Gaming’s YouTube channel. The players grew with the brand; it surprisingly didn’t ever become greater than the sum of its parts.

Recurring videos such as docuseries ‘Vision’ and sponsored deliverables like ‘Smooth Competitor’ and ‘OpTic Trivia’ became mainstays on the OpTic Nation YouTube channel and provided fans with a more polished, professional look at their favorite players and content creators. Their own vlogs and videos would provide a more personal feel that gave a peek behind the curtain of the operation

Hitch launched the Vision brand for OpTic and the rest is history.

H3CZ had built a network of internet superstars that could each stand on their own, but who were willing to come together to help elevate the name they had all taken on: OpTic. There was always an air of exclusivity surrounding those who represented the brand though as he would cherry-pick players and content creators that would fit and help elevate the brand, so if somebody joined the team then fans knew it was for good reason.

This demand allowed the fans to aspire to join the team one day, a mentality that not only pushed OpTic Gaming members to be better but their supporters too. This could well have inspired a lot of the upcoming talent and helped to change the esports landscape for the better.


Building the GreenWall, brick by brick

Thanks to the success seen in titles such as Call of Duty, Halo, Gears of War, and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, OpTic Gaming managed to cultivate the GreenWall into one of the most fiercely-protective and impressively-supportive fan bases in gaming.

GreenWall was perhaps the most loyal fan base in esports and that’s because of how H3CZ conducted himself, his teammates, his team, and made fans feel as if they were part of an ever-growing community comprised of people with things in common. Most of what was being done - unbeknownst to seemingly everyone bar H3CZ - was unprecedented and wouldn’t be easily replicable by others.

There were plenty of reasons for fans to keep engaging and remaining vocal, though. There was regular individual content and ongoing collaborative series to look forward to, a small but well-selected amount of merchandise available for purchase that gave a feel of exclusivity, and a handful of teams that could hang with the best in their respective titles

Take any given Call of Duty event as an example of just how large the fan base of OpTic Gaming was. No matter where people had traveled from, or to, the GreenWall was the most dominant collection of fans in the crowd - and there was nobody else close. Even if the team was playing the UK against national players, chants of “Let’s go OpTic!” and jubilations surrounding impressive plays drowned out the entirety of the venue. This is a testament to the sheer fanaticism that H3CZ was able to produce.

Will he be able to create such an atmosphere and fan base at NRG, too? We have no doubt those who comprise the organization will be hoping for as much. Having such a large amount of support at events is sheer motivation and excitement for players and have millions of people awaiting your next piece of content is never a bad place to be in.


Topping the competition

Not only did OpTic Gaming create entertaining and engaging content under the leadership of H3CZ, they won championships - and lots of them.

What H3CZ did with his Call of Duty team is nothing short of awe-inspiring. Alongside building the players into superstars in their own right, he also instilled a culture of discipline and hard work. This translated into a high amount of victories and top placements, cementing OpTic Gaming’s legacy as one of the best teams to ever compete in Call of Duty. 

It’s fair to say that Call of Duty esports as a whole was mainly propped up by OpTic Gaming’s amassed following, with decent viewership of event streams being heavily dependant on the fact that H3CZ’s team was competing. FaZe Clan and EnVyUs had their own healthy followings, but it was undeniable that the GreenWall had its team’s back like no other fan base.

If he was able to prop up the entirety of Call of Duty - one of the most popular franchises in gaming history - then just imagine the audience he could command in even more favorable titles given the resources and trust needed

CWL
CWL

OpTic Gaming’s time in Halo wasn’t too much different to its campaign in Call of Duty, creating content on the franchise and putting up a good fight at tournaments, too. Stream viewership was still rather dependent on OpTic Gaming’s presence, though not as drastic, and the team wasn’t quite as dominant from the get-go. It was solid evidence that H3CZ hadn’t created a one-trick pony and that his formula for success transcended Call of Duty.

In his typical style, he kept working away at the roster (with guidance from those around him - he was never too egotistical to think he knew best about professional players) and he finally hit the jackpot with the acquisition of Counter Logic Gaming’s roster. This was a team that could reach H3CZ’ impossibly-high standards of performance and was loved by the fans from the minute that it was revealed in a Vision episode. He dedicated time and resources into Halo until an opportunity arose to undeniably become the best and he took said opportunity at the first available moment.

Entering Counter-Strike: Global Offensive at the beginning of 2016, this marked OpTic Gaming and H3CZ’s first venture into what was perceived as a tier-one esports title. The landscape was incredibly competitive and you’d be hard-pressed to find a North American roster that’d be able to challenge for the top spot.

Picking up the former roster of Conquest, things wasn’t plain sailing for the organization to begin with. Roster changes happened months later but showed that H3CZ had the ability to cut friends off of his teams if he feels the appropriate results aren’t being produced. With Tarik “tarik” Celik and Óscar “mixwell” Cañellas as recent signings, OpTic Gaming managed to win a prominent tournament against top competition after a slew of underwhelming performances.

ELEAGUE
ELEAGUE

ELEAGUE Season 2 was the event in question and indicated to the rest of the CS:GO scene that H3CZ was serious about building a strong, capable roster with North American talent - ensuring they were present in content while getting adequate practice and preparation. The roster never really lived up the subsequent hype around it but H3CZ remained determined to climb back to a good spot, spending significant amounts of cash to acquire promising talent and always looking to move forward. He never gave up, and this drive and passion are invaluable to an organization.

Acquiring the Gears of War roster that previously competed under Enemy later in 2016, H3CZ couldn’t have picked a better team to start OpTic Gaming’s tenure in the Epic Games franchise. The team instantly kicked things off with a victory at the Gears of War 4 Kick-Off Live Showcase, and the first-place finishes effectively didn’t stop from there until they left in recent months.

Though not naturally content creators, the team still interacted with the other members in content at the OpTic Scuf House and their sheer dominance in-game quickly made them a fan-favorite. With LAN wins in Columbus, London, Atlantic City, Paris, Las Vegas, New York, and Dallas in 2017 alone, they gave the GreenWall plenty of reasons to show their support and expect brilliance from them.

As explained by Co-CEO Andy Miller, NRG has always been perceived as the underdog – it’s a brand that’s always been up-and-coming instead of one of the few at the forefront of the industry. That is slowly changing after several high profile results, including their Overwatch League team, the San Francisco Shock, winning Season 2 of Activision Blizzard’s first franchise competition. 

The Shock hit the ground running as one of the strongest teams in the league and maintained that position throughout, appearing in all three stage finals and completing two stages undefeated. In the playoffs, they suffered an upset in the very first round but made a dominant run through the lower bracket to claim the title without dropping another map after their initial loss.

Despite Shock’s impressive win, many would argue they are still awaiting their monumental breakthrough moment in esports and entertainment, especially from a fan perspective. With the Chicago Call of Duty franchise that will compete in the new CoD League 2020, that moment could very well come soon. After all, there’s no one more experienced in taking a CoD team to the next level than the ex-OpTic man.

Content is being made and uploaded to YouTube by NRG, but it’s irregular, perhaps not receiving the views it should get, and it’s sporadic - H3CZ would be able to fix this in an instant if it’s within his wheelhouse of responsibilities. With both a new Co-CEO and Team Summertime now on board with the organization, it’d be silly not to expect content to receive a boost - not just in quality and consistency but in viewership and popularity.

Then you come to other aspects of business and entertainment that H3CZ has proven successful at in the past: bringing in major sponsors, selling merchandise, and building championship-caliber rosters. With a wealth of resources behind him, and with a little trust and ownership from his fellow executives, the sky’s the limit for H3CZ and NRG.