From advanced analytics to yoga, the Madison Square Garden Company is altering the template for how to create an esports winner.
When Counter Logic Gaming was created nine years ago, it quickly established itself as a cornerstone in the burgeoning world of esports. Its teams, known for aggressive play and big personalities, found swift success and helped propel the sport from a fledgling venture into a worldwide phenomenon.
Still, when The Madison Square Garden Company acquired controlling interest in CLG in 2017, there was work yet to be done. Beginning with its marque League of Legends team, the organization lacked a systematic approach and a clear plan to keep the good times going.
“There was no foundation, no infrastructure,” says Matthew Nausha, who as Director of Esports at CLG shares MSG’s vision to build an operation mimicking the most successful pro franchises in any sport. The focus is on creating a solid blueprint, and the goal is straightforward — to thrive over the long haul.
Gone is haphazard decision making and what Nausha calls “a culture of underperforming.” In its place is a clear system prizing teamwork and leading-edge metrics that has made CLG a model in the sport. Nausha and League of Legends head coach Weldon Green are now flanked by an analytics team and are working to strengthen the organization’s international scouting, critical in a sport that draws players from across the globe.
Overall, the emphasis is on player development for seven teams competing at six games. League of Legends has its own strategic coach, Heo “Irean” Yeong-cheol, and there is a ready brigade on call for all the teams — including a fulltime cook, a dietician, a physical therapist, massage therapist, yoga instructor and financial advisor. Perhaps most striking is a new CLG Performance Center in Los Angeles equipped with a slew of nouveau touches, including a replica of a match stage to help keep players in competitive mode.
Just how future-minded is the organization? Daniel Lee, the point man for Scouting and Analytics, carries this credential: he was a Quality Assurance Engineer in the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at NASA.
The approach is showing results. With each season divided into a spring and summer split, the League of Legends squad catapulted this summer from the bottom of the standings to a strong third place finish. Earlier this month it vied for a wild card spot in the World Championship next month across Europe, coming up just short, while the CS:GO Red club is one of the strongest women’s teams globally. Kevin “PewPewU” Toy, on CLG’s Smash team, is one of the highest ranked players in the world, and the Fortnite team’s breakout player is Harrison “Psalm” Chang. As runner-up in the World Cup Finals solo division, Chang played at a packed Arthur Ashe Stadium in July and came away with a $1.8 million purse.
Demanding, With A Gentle Touch
Esports comes with its own grueling challenges for players who typically hone their skills on home computers, largely uncoached and with little sense of what it means to be part of a group. They are then thrust onto a worldwide stage with vast social media followings.
CLG manages to blend a hard-driving insistence on excellence (players routinely practice 12 or more hours a day) with a nurturing sixth sense for what young competitors need. Nausha is a therapist who has counseled families, adults and children, while Green has a master’s degree in sport & exercise psychology. Along the way, he worked as an English teacher all over the map, including Chile, China and Finland.
Green can sound like an unforgiving taskmaster when he insists his players devote nearly all their waking hours to the sport. “I tell them, ‘Olympians are not average people,’ ” he says. “They can rest in the offseason.” But his aggressiveness is tempered by a holistic approach that includes meditation for the players.
CLG is bringing exacting methods to the scouting and recruiting process — making it a vanguard in the sport. Instead of signing players based on second and thirdhand hearsay, CLG parses the data while thoroughly evaluating the character of players. The League of Legends roster includes two Americans, a Canadian, a German and a player from South Korea. The organization is now planning to base a scout in Europe, another in South Korea, as well as one in North America. A larger international footprint improves the organization’s ability to assess whether players are coachable and can adapt to a foreign place and perhaps a new language, says Nausha.
“These young men and women are making a very difficult transition,” he says. “We have an obligation to help them adjust and learn life skills. You have to care for your players. Look around. That’s the trademark of the most successful organizations in any sport.”
About The Madison Square Garden Company
The Madison Square Garden Company (MSG) is a world leader in live sports and entertainment experiences. The company presents or hosts a broad array of premier events in its diverse collection of iconic venues: New York’s Madison Square Garden, Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden, Radio City Music Hall and Beacon Theatre; the Forum in Inglewood, CA; and The Chicago Theatre. Other MSG properties include legendary sports franchises: the New York Knicks (NBA) and the New York Rangers (NHL); two development league teams – the Westchester Knicks (NBAGL) and the Hartford Wolf Pack (AHL); and esports teams through Counter Logic Gaming, a leading North American esports organization, and Knicks Gaming, MSG’s NBA 2K League franchise. In addition, the Company features the popular original production – the Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes – and through Boston Calling Events, produces New England’s preeminent Boston Calling Music Festival. Also under the MSG umbrella is TAO Group, a world-class hospitality group with globally-recognized entertainment dining and nightlife brands: Tao, Marquee, Lavo, Avenue, Beauty & Essex and Vandal. More information is available at www.themadisonsquaregardencompany.com