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Esports • Jul 05, 2019

Richard Lewis: OpTic Gaming in turmoil as Immortals group makes cuts

Richard Lewis: OpTic Gaming in turmoil as Immortals group makes cuts
Immortals Twitter

In early June 2019, it was officially announced that Immortals Gaming Club – the investment group behind esports brands such as Immortals, LA Valiant, and MiBR – had purchased the parent company that held ownership of OpTic Gaming and Houston Outlaws.  Confirmation of the purchase came after a protracted battle between parent company Infinite Esports and Entertainment, and OpTic founder Hector ‘H3cz’ Rodriguez, who had attempted to rebuy the brand he had sold in 2017.

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Many industry pundits see the move as simply a way for the Immortals Group to get into the League of Legends franchise league via a backdoor after Immortals were turned down initially, with Riot Games citing concerns about their “business model”. The company has done little to challenge these perceptions after announcing that the OpTic League of Legends team will be rebranded as Immortals for the 2020 season.

Also, in a recent interview with The Esports Observer, Immortals Group CEO Ari Segal said: “In some respects, I think this acquisition was born out of our failure to get into LCS originally two years ago. We were moving our business forward – but at the same time, we always felt that finding a way back towards LCS would be a fantastic outcome, particularly for the Immortals brand.”

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Riot Games
Immortals were initially turned down for the NA LCS but have used OpTic as a backdoor.

It was already common knowledge that, due to the rules about joint ownership in most professional Counter-Strike leagues and tournaments, they were going to release the Danish OpTic CS:GO team

The group have put their faith in the MiBR brand who, after yet another roster change, just crashed out of ESL One Cologne in last place. The Danish OpTic CS:GO team won DreamHack Open Summer just a few weeks ago though. 

A few days ago the owners also announced that they would be releasing their dominant OpTic Gears of War team that had won 17 championships from 19 events attended. 

Twitter: EsportsGears
The legendary OpTic Gears of War team is no more.

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However, there have been even more cuts and layoffs made in OpTic Gaming as the new owners look to put all the focus back on OpTic being a Call of Duty brand and not a multi-gaming organization. 

Sources close to the situation have told us that there have been approximately 30 layoffs across departments in OpTic Gaming and Houston Outlaws, with one adding that there were likely more to come as they only wanted a “skeleton crew” to keep the organization running ahead of Activision’s Call of Duty franchise league.

“They don’t want OpTic to be anything other than a CoD team within this Activision franchise league,” they added. “Everything else is going to be cut or rebranded.”

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The month started with the new management team of OpTic announcing that they were going to be the Los Angeles franchise (a territory they had wanted since buying the most expensive LA slot in the Overwatch League), which prompted a negative reaction from several of the Call of Duty squad

OpTic legend Seth ‘Scump’ Abner responded with a GIF of Lebron James pulling a grimace in disbelief. Ian ‘Crimsix’ Porter, who has been part of the organization since 2014, also replied saying the tweet was “bait” and mocking the management for accidentally leaking the branding of the league. In another tweet Porter also said he had “had enough” and asked his teammates if they had packed “the other jerseys” - using an image of Average Joes from the movie Dodgeball.

MLG
The new-look OpTic CoD team have spoken out about the Immortals move.

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Less surprisingly, Rodriguez himself was also critical, tweeting “that ain’t us” in response to the announcement. In the past, he has been vocal about the geolocation of esports organizations being a limiting factor and has said that OpTic is a global brand for everyone. 

He has also intimated in several interviews that the Call of Duty team will follow him to a new organization rather than play for a brand that doesn’t include himself in management. The tweets from the players certainly seem to corroborate this theory, which begs the question who would be representing OpTic Gaming in the CDL?

The content creation department were the hardest hit by the layoffs and, although it has garnered little interest, several of the high profile photographers, videographers and content editors have spoken publicly about their dismissals. These have included Joe ‘NoScopeJoe’ Lane, Chris ‘notsogood’ Ott, and Julian ‘XpectMotion’ Sanchez among others. 

These cuts make it look like the Immortals group have no intention of following through on some of the plans that were in place at the time of their acquisition, which included expansive original programming and documentaries made around the players on the roster. Social Media Manager Jonathan ‘BlackBeard’ Schmid has also decided to leave the organization.

Things are also a mess at the Houston Outlaws. Activision-Blizzard has given the Immortals Group 180 days to find a buyer for the brand or they will take control of the brand. It is our understanding that this has led to huge motivation problems within the remaining staff members as they understand that is it likely that they will be replaced as soon as a new buyer comes in.

“The situation is a mess,” a source close to the Houston Outlaws team told us. “Blizzard have told Immortals that because they control Valiant they cannot make any changes that would be considered influencing the Outlaws Overwatch team.

Right now there are people there who don’t want to work for them because they know, chances are they will be fired once the slot gets bought, but Immortals can’t directly fire them.”

Robert Paul, Blizzard Entertainment
The future of the Houston Outlaws is also up in the air.

The same source also told us that due to the same rules the Outlaws essentially didn’t have any funding. “Immortals are paying the bills but it is bare bones operational costs,” they explained. “The sale can’t come soon enough for them but the staff are left in the dark as to their future while everyone waits.”

Currently, it’s not clear who would be interested in taking on ownership of Houston Outlaws and whether a buyer would pay full price given the continuing decline in viewership. With it also having been reported that Activision Blizzard pocket 25% of any franchise slot sale price the sale could see Immortals Gaming Club losing money on the deal.

That might be of little concern. The primary interests behind the acquisition appear to be twofold. Firstly, get the Immortals brand back into North American League of Legends at the expense of the inroads made by OpTic Gaming; secondly, occupy the Los Angeles territory with both an Overwatch and a Call of Duty franchise. The rest of the teams and staff are looking increasingly likely to be casualties of this marketing strategy.


Disclaimer: Hector 'H3CZ' Rodriguez is a minority shareholder in Dexerto Ltd.

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Immortals, OpTic Gaming