What It's Like to Live and Game Together Around the Clock
When Allied Esports pressed pause on their live events, four young employees stepped up to run virtual tournaments from their shared living room.
They may be operating out of a living room, but the four Allied Esports coworkers running point on worldwide virtual tournaments are hardly just lounging around. These days, Tournament Directors Kevin Forsstrom and Stephon Millon, Chief Engineer/Producer Justin Carter and Tech Ops Manager Gerard Cana — each in their 20s — can usually be found bounding between Discord and Twitch to make sure the gaming experience goes smoothly for thousands across the globe.
It wasn't always like this. Until last month, Allied Esports hosted live events at company-operated venues — like Vegas's pyramid-esque HyperX Esports Arena at the Luxor — and mobile broadcast-and-performance trucks. But when the company was forced to scale back amid the coronavirus, Forsstrom had an idea: He would repurpose his North Las Vegas house as a command center for virtual tournaments. Almost immediately, Carter, Millon and Cana agreed to co-quarantine alongside him (and his roomate Jon and Carter's Yorkshire Terrier, Padmne), even though they realized it could be a major commitment.
"We all knew this would be going on a little longer than what was originally pitched," says Forsstrom, the most bearded of the available trio. For our Skype chat, they are congregated — as one might expect — in ergonomic chairs around multiple monitors. "But we're all still pretty excited about getting to work together and having things to do and getting to put together cool shows."
Suffice to say, the guys are scoring major points with their bosses. "I think as a company, we're very blessed to have folks who have raised their hands to be able to do that," says Allied CEO Jud Hannigan.
Forsstrom, Millon and Carter (Cana, alas, was on another business call) took a brief timeout from tournament-jockeying to elaborate on how they're balancing coworking and camaraderie in such confined quarters, why they seized this opportunity and what it's taught them about connectedness in the modern world.
So no misgivings about this experiment now that it's happening indefinitely?
Carter: It's not like we're doing the same cookie-cutter thing every day. Every day it's a new format, a new challenge or different-style game. I think we all figured it would go at least a month or two, so we knew what we were getting into.
Millon: Yeah, for me, it was like, we have this time to do somethng great for ourselves and for the company as well, so let's just do it.
Forsstrom: I've kind of secretly always wanted to do something like this. It's just weird that this is why it happened, instead of a more opportune time.
What have been the challenges you couldn't have foreseen, even if you did anticipate this being an ongoing thing?
Carter: One of the challenges tech-wise was to figure out and communicate in-game and through broadcast with our talent and gamers. We've been fortunate enough to understand a lot of the technology available to us, like Discord and some of our streaming platforms. Another part was the generic stuff, like how do we fit a table in the living room or find enough beds to sleep on?
Forsstrom: Gerard just straight-up bought an air mattress. [Laughter] It takes up half my den.
Carter: Finding enough power in a house is interesting.
Millon: That was the realest thing, because for every outlet here, we have to figure out which breakers they go to so we don't trip anything and ruin the broadcast.
Forsstrom: And ruin our power bill. [Laughter]
But to that point, it had to have helped that the company was giving you the resources you need to pull this off.
Forsstrom: They wanted us to be safe, so they said, "Don't leave the house. We will send food. We will send supplies. Kevin, you need better internet, so we'll help you out with that."
So this situation has, in a way, actually improved your quality of life.
Has this given you insight into how the company can function more efficiently long term?
Carter: I think it opened up a completely new revenue stream for the company. We've already been doing the tours with the truck and the in-house experience with the arena and a lot of to-tape stuff, but never fully online.
Forsstrom: And for Stephon and I, since we've been here since day one, we've always wanted to do online tournaments. It's always been a pipe dream, but it's like, where do we fit it in and make sure we're not taking anything away from our weekly shows in-house? We think we have a pretty good way of doing that once we come back so we can maintain the online schedule the way it is and maybe reinvent what we do in the arena.
How do you guys create boundaries between your work duties and needing personal space?
Forsstrom: I don't know about you guys, but I'm very much an extrovert, so this does not drain me. If they weren't here, I'd be way more miserable. I get my own room though, so you guys might have a different opinion on that. [Laughter]
Millon: Especially with my snoring.
When this is over, is it going to be weird to be back on site or in an office after this intimate time together?
Forsstrom: I'm gonna be honest — we were all pretty intimate before this. [Laughter] We've been at Airbnbs together, spent 10 days on the road kind of thing, so we're already there. It's almost like nothing has changed in my opinion. I felt there would be things that were like, oh man, you're getting on my nerves. But I haven't seen anything yet...yet.
Millon: What are you looking at me for? [Laughter]
Have you given much thought to how drastically this is all going to change life as we know it in the big picture?
Carter: We've realized that a lot of people are going to be hurting after this, and they're not gonna have money to come and see us in the arenas, so it just drives it home for us to continue doing the best we can with these online tournaments, so at least they can experience esports in some form or fashion. And we're just being cautious, cause if one of us gets sick, we all go down.
Forsstrom: The economic backlash of this is super scary for most of us. We all are still chugging along, working and getting paid, but there's a lot of people who aren't, and that scares me. My girlfriend works at a hospital, so I haven't seen her in over a month, and I probably won't see her for at least another couple months. It's moments like that where I appreciate what we have here right now.
Millon: It is a whole bunch of bad that's coming with this, but there is some good that's coming with it too. It proves that technology has come a long way to keep people connected. We're able to do these online tournaments and help people come together and build communities and tell them, "Hey, we hear and see that you are here, and we can't make physical contact, but enjoy this tournament and play have fun." They're getting the competitive feel of things, and feeling like they're the center of a competitive spotlight in a given game or moment. It actually brings us joy seeing people win a tournament and being like, "Let's go!" to their friends.
What kind of specific feedback have you gotten from users about how this has helped them through this time?
Forsstrom: The first week was awesome, because at every tournament I had four or five people send me a DM saying, "Thank you so much for putting this on, this is super-cool." And it's continued to be that way over the last month. When we run the tournaments in person, most of the time I'm not directly interfacing with the guests, but in the online format, they get an opportunity to send me a direct message and interact with me. Getting that feedback feels nice. It's like, "Yay, I did something cool. These people really like this." That makes it all worth it in the long run.
Millon: It's a learning experience for us, but it's also been a learning experience for them. There have been countless players who I've walked through a whole process or go live on Twitch or set up their computer in certain ways. [It's] me giving knowledge to somebody, and them being thankful and spreading that to their friends and connecting with even more people.
Forsstrom: It's ironic that it took until nobody could do sports for esports to be acknowledged like that.
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