Esports

How Nadeshot's 100 Thieves became the coolest organization in esports

by Adam Fitch

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Esports is full of big brands, a lot of which have been around since the industry’s humble beginnings. That alone is impressive, the ability to withstand the early days of a movement that’s still hard to monetize two decades later. Something that’s arguably more impressive, however, is a new competitor entering the fray and catching up with the legacy brands in just a couple of years.

That’s the story of 100 Thieves, the brainchild of Matthew “Nadeshot” Haag - arguably esports’ first superstar. During his iconic tenure on the now-withered OpTic Gaming, he managed to sign to Red Bull as an athlete, build an audience of millions, and win championships in a highly-competitive franchise all at once.

When Nadeshot decided to part ways with OpTic Gaming in the early part of 2016, it was hard to believe. His brand had become synonymous with the organization which was the first to masterfully blend esports and entertainment at that point, and it was simply strange to see him depart a group of people he considered family.

What came next was arguably more surprising: he started his very own team. Announced on April 18th, 2016, Nadeshot unveiled 100 Thieves - his own effort at forming a team. This time, though, he’d be behind-the-scenes, pulling the strings, and attempting to form a team that was truly his own.

Starting in Call of Duty, Nadeshot decided to sign the unsigned Call of Duty squad KingPapey to represent his newly-formed brand. Consisting of Royalty, Nelson, Examples, and Johnny, the team qualified for the second stage of the CoD World League through the relegation event just prior to Nadeshot reaching out to them.

100 Thieves embarked upon its first event - MLG Anaheim - with ACHES and Remy in place of Nelson and Examples, but they couldn’t achieve a single victory in the group stage. Moving onto the losers’ bracket, they were eliminated by Cloud9 and crashed out of the event in 17-20th place. The team finished Season 2 with a record of 4-18.

It wasn’t long before Nadeshot disbanded the roster and fled the Call of Duty once more on July 7th, 2016.

This wasn’t the start that Nadeshot had envisaged for his first venture outside of OpTic Gaming, especially since he was so used to success. A decision had to be made: could he continue to risk his own money with a potential of no return, would he step away from the entity altogether, or could he recruit some help?


The investment

On November 21st, 2017, 100 Thieves received a multi-million dollar investment from Dan Gilbert, owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers. This would allow it to evolve from a Call of Duty to a fully-fledged organization with teams of employees working within a sound infrastructure. It’d be fair to call this the real start of 100 Thieves.

At the same time, the organization announced that it had been selected to join Riot Games’ LCS as one of 10 long-term partners. In no time at all, the brand had gone from a failure to a member of one of esports’ more popular leagues with millions of dollars of backing. What was better was that it managed to recruit the likes of Ssumday, Ryu, aphromoo, Cody Sun, and Meteos to its LoL roster - a collection of players with their own respective fan bases and reputations.

Winning the regular season of its very first split was a massive achievement for 100 Thieves and an eventuality that nobody could have predicted. It firmly planted the idea of the organization being a force to be reckoned with in the heads of those who comprised the esports industry.

100 Thieves
100 Thieves
Nadeshot with Presiden and COO John Robinson (right) and VP of esports Jacob Toft-Anderson (middle).

Just a month after it received investment, it also entered a Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, another of the three most popular esport titles to date. Recruiting the former Immortals roster on December 12th, 100 Thieves had impressive teams in both American League of Legends and international CS:GO.

What transpired with the CS:GO roster wasn’t pretty, and can inarguably be described as a failed venture, but it was a test of character for the newly-revived entity. Could it bounce back from yet another wasted opportunity - and effectively a disposal of investors’ cash - to achieve greatness? Nadeshot answered that question with no room for questioning in the coming months and years.

100 Thieves re-entered Call of Duty on August 28th, 2018 when it signed Kenny and FeRo, quickly followed by Octane. With the roster completed a month later through the addition of Enable and SlasheR, the Call of Duty community - arguably one of the more passionate fan bases in esports - was entirely on the team’s side. All it had to do from here was to perform to its potential.

100 Thieves also started its apparel arm, one of three important business branches that it was banking on to help find success. Limited edition, streetwear-inspired branded clothing was being produced and released periodically - only after a healthy dosage of teasing and promotion, of course.

Content soon followed, with the Heist docuseries being launched in January 2018. Giving an insight into 100 Thieves’ League of Legends program, how Nadeshot - a giant personality in his own right - interacted with his players, and how the team’s campaign was going. A house tour, ‘vault’ videos that showed more behind-the-scenes footage, and videos with Gilbert’s Cavaliers all followed.

Nadeshot’s master plan was coming together before prospective fans’ very eyes.

Twitter: 100Thieves
Twitter: 100Thieves
100 Thieves starting roster for Black Ops 4.

The Drake effect

Things seemingly couldn’t be going any better for Nadeshot’s thriving organization, but things just kept rolling. World-famous rapper, singer, and businessman Drake invested in 100 Thieves through its Series A funding round in October 2018. Co-leading the funding was Scooter Braun, the entrepreneur who represents the likes of Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande.

Drake is one of the most popular figures in pop culture and him becoming involved in an esports organization, especially in such a vital way, will only be a positive for the company on the receiving end of such fortune. Said company being 100 Thieves, though, only cemented its status as a game-changer in esports, entertainment, and gaming.

Mainstream press quickly came after Nadeshot’s social media-shattering selfie with Drake, and that again gave a significant boost in awareness for 100 Thieves in the mainstream. Perhaps more importantly, in the world of esports, the organization became the one to look out for. In an industry that’s comprised of dozens and dozens of competing teams, it had truly made itself stand out from the pack. That alone is commendable.

100 Thieves committed to putting its newly-sourced $25 million capital towards building a “lasting brand on the back of the content and apparel that our fans have come to love, scale our apparel business, and build a world-class management team.” From there, it made a series of new hires to support its lofty - but oddly believable - ambitions.

Bringing in content creator Valkyrae to live in the 100 Thieves Content House LA was another impressive move, and it happened in the exact same month as the funding round. Valkyrae has been a force in video game content creation even since Fortnite reached its own meteoric heights, and managing to secure her as effectively as a face of your organization displays a certain level of ‘clout’ or ‘influence’ - for lack of a better word.

In the following months, the organization would go on to recruit both superstar and underrated players to its Fortnite roster. The likes of Ceice and Elevate joined its ranks on the lead up to the Fortnite World Cup. It also entered another emerging Battle Royale title, Apex Legends. These moves proved that 100 Thieves is committed to entering promising, newly-released titles in hopes of becoming competitive and taking home trophies.

While Apex Legends didn’t go as planned for many - developer Respawn is still trying to figure out how to sustain such popularity - Fortnite proved fruitful for the team. Placing third in duos, Ceice and Elevate took home $1.8 million and represented 100 Thieves masterfully on one of esports’ biggest stages to date.

Later on, it would also manage to sign CouRage - another gaming superstar. Once a Call of Duty caster who was good friends with Nadeshot, he left his job at MLG to pursue content creation and found himself at the forefront of live streaming with the attention-stealing title, Fortnite. Playing with the likes of Ninja, it’s believed that he had received countless offers to represent an organization. Him picking 100 Thieves was another big, fat win for Nadeshot and co.

100 Thieves
100 Thieves
Nadeshot with 100 Thieves co-owner Drake.

Round 2

100 Thieves followed up its Series A round with $35 million in its Series B, just nine months later in July 2019. The news quickly followed the hiring of Doug Barber to head up its apparel arm, and this hire made sense once the intentions behind the funding were clear. 100 Thieves planned to develop a 15,000 square foot headquarters in Los Angeles to house its operations, competitors, and content creators.

The most surprising part was that it would have its own retail storefront where it plans to sell its own apparel collections. This, in theory, will bring a lot of fans to the new physical location of 100 Thieves and help to drive fan engagement on a scale that’s rarely been explored in esports to date.

It’s done a plethora of other innovative things since, perhaps nothing as outlandish and impressive as having popular rapper Lil Dicky perform at a party ahead of TwitchCon 2019. Sure, musical acts have been utilized at esports events for years - but for a party, hosted by an organization nonetheless? It’s unexpected and it seemed like an utter blast. Being friendly with a major music star only adds to the perception of coolness, of course.

Looking forward

There’s plenty on the horizon for 100 Thieves, with its stellar reputation among both fans and industry figures alike being propped up by every decision Nadeshot and his team make. Whether it’s the innovative (and rather costly) facility that’s being built in L.A. or the brand’s inevitable return to the CS:GO scene, everybody is awaiting 100 Thieves’ next move.

There’s more apparel to be made, with Nadeshot even going as far to tweet “Everything moving forward in 2020 is about [to] take our apparel to another level” when referring to 100 Thieves’ last apparel drop of 2019. With the brand’s undeniable streetwear and fashion influence, from the designs to the way in which the products are marketed, more and more people will be looking to be part of 100 Thieves’ astronomical rise to mainstream recognition and popularity.

It’s clear that 100 Thieves sees itself as more of a lifestyle and entertainment brand that just so happens to also compete in video games, so you should expect to see more content, more unique partnerships, more unique activations, and even bigger and unexpected moves in 2020 and beyond.

Nadeshot has built a juggernaut with its finger in many pies, and everybody wants a piece of it.