Interview with Rogue CEO Frank: "I think a lot of the larger organizations missed the boat"
Frank Villarreal is the CEO of Rogue, who first entered the esports scene as one of the founders of NME esports. He has since founded one of the top Overwatch organizations in Rogue. In light of the Overwatch World League announcement, we decided to seek him out at Blizzcon and pick his brain about the advancement of esports.
For our readers who might not know who you are, would you be able to introduce yourself and give a little background on your time in esports?
Sure. I’m Frank, the CEO of Rogue. I started in esports about 7 years ago, but I’ve been a fan for 13 years. I started as the research helper and producer for the OneMoreGameTV talk shows, LiveOnThree and Inside The Game with djWHEAT. Went from there to interning at the special project department at Twitch, which was really just me and Marcus. From there, once I graduated college and had enough money saved up, I helped found NME. I came in right after we acquired the expansion League of Legends team and helped make the changes necessary to get us into the LCS. Worked with NME for about a year and half to two years. During the time period, built a Smite team that got second at worlds; the Gears of War team that won worlds; the CSGO team, while we had it, was top four in North America; the League of Legends team, which made it to the LCS, and a couple other assorted teams. I had some creative differences with the other owners at NME and left to create something that I could call my own, which was Rogue.
One of the biggest announcements to come out of the Blizzcon, so far, was the confirmation of the Overwatch World League. While there’s a lot we can and cannot talk about, it does seem to be taking the form of a traditional sports league with combines to allow players to be scouted and teams grouped together by regions/cities. Do you feel this setup can be applied properly to esports?
I think that if the audience is there, this will work extremely well. But we have not seen the level of audience necessary to support a system like this yet in OW. Overwatch is an extremely young game, so I think it has the potential to get to the type of viewership numbers that would allow for a league like this to thrive. But even League of Legends took years to develop the type of audience necessary to support their LCS.
We are currently in an interesting time in esports. We have the big three titles in League of Legends, Counter Strike, and DotA, all with long life spans. What makes them so long lasting, and what can Overwatch do to compete them?
Well, it's interesting you say that. I think Overwatch has the most potential to be a truly global esport. Every region has the potential to compete at the highest level. The audience loves the game both in the East and in the West. DotA is more loved in Russia and China, than anywhere else. Korea barely plays the game, besides MVP. League of Legends is more loved in Korea and North America than it is in Europe, or China. CounterStrike is only loved in the West, while the East plays Crossfire. Of the three big titles, none of them is a truly global game. What we have with Overwatch is a game, which is loved by the east and west, and has the potential to be the first truly global esport.
As esports grows and larger organizations enter the scene, the concept of player’s representation starts to become more important. What is your stance on this issue and how do you think esports can better balance the communication between the different sides of the industry?
I think that there are a few things that need to happen in esports over the next five years to allow for player representation. I think there needs to be an organization/owner's association and a player's association. But for this to happen, people need to agree on things. There needs to be no involvement from tournament organizers. The problem that we have right now is a lot of these associations, like WESA and PEA, are influenced by tournament organizations, especially ESL. When you have that influence, you can never be truly unbiased when it comes to what is in the best interest for the owners or the players. We really need our own groups. I would definitely not want the publisher to be involved in any type of association. I want owners to be involved in a separate organization from the players. I'd like to see a board of owners and players negotiate on the behalf of each party to come to a common ground.
Building off of this, a lot of big investors have started entering the scene. I’ve always been wary of this. But as an owner, what is your take on big money entering the esports scene?
So I think it is clearly obvious from what we have seen in League of Legends and CS:GO, that bringing in VC money inflates salaries to a point, which is unsustainable in the current esports market. But it is because these VC are seeing the future of esports. Franchises in esports in the next five years will probably be worth 150 million or more. They are willing to take the risk to put in more than they are getting out right now, for that better future, but it is choking out smaller, new organizations. We were really lucky that within 5 months of forming Rogue, we had Steve Aoki as an investor. We've been able to enter that group of investor funded esports orgs.
Not a lot of people really know how investments in an esports team really work. When an investor gives you funds, what do these usually go towards?
It completely depends on what the investment is. Usually it goes towards mitigating expenses. Most esports organizations are operating at a loss (the vast majority), so the investor money goes to cover current expenses or expansion until we get to the point five years down the road.
Despite how many investors are entering the scene, we actually are noticing a lack of big esports names in Overwatch. Organizations, like CLG and TSM, do not currently have teams. Why do you think this is the case?
I think a lot of the larger organizations missed the boat. I was still talking to a lot of the LCS owners when I entered the OW scene with Rogue. Because as a new organization, I felt we needed a new game to catapult us to become a big name. Most of the organizations at the time were wary of Overwatch mainly because they had heard some of the Overwatch League plans and
What we have with Overwatch is a game, which is loved by the east and west, and has the potential to be the first truly global esport.
rumors back then and did not want to enter before it was necessary. So now they are feeling they missed the boat a little bit because Overwatch has grown at such a rapid rate that they would love to have a big team, but they are all already signed. I think it is clear top organizations have been trying to buy out teams from smaller organizations since Overwatch really started to get big. A month or two after launch, we were already seeing major sports organizations and esports organizations trying to buy out the Rogue team.
Specifically as a team owner, what can Blizzard do to help you run your team and keep Overwatch sustainable?
I think the best thing Blizzard can do, in terms of running the teams, is financial support. Any type of attempt to influence an organization's decision limits their ability to do their job. However, financial support always helps organizations grow. We saw what the League of Legends stipend can do. Even though a lot of LCS orgs complain how small it is, it allowed them to grow, allowed the players to receive higher salaries, and allowed the scene to become what it is today. Hopefully, we'll see some type of league stipend from the Overwatch league.
Let’s talk about the esports medium. While esports seems to find its home mainly on streaming websites, we have seen the movement of esports to television, even as early as MLG and Halo. What are the big things we should take to improve the viewer experience for television broadcasts?
I don't think the television format necessarily helps esports. My personal feeling is, with the current esports tournament format, a television broadcast would really need a dedicated channel to esports to succeed, which is what we have with OGN in Korea. Unless a channel is dedicated to esports or gaming, it is very hard to fit esports into a 2 hour or 3 hour broadcast.
Let’s get into some fun questions. If you could marry one Overwatch character, who would it be?
I haven't thought of this question at all. I think the obvious answer is Mercy. As long as she can build her ult, I can live forever.
The Rogue logo is an iconic blue. If you couldn’t use blue, what color would you make your logo?
Back at NME, I had Red and Black and I really liked that color scheme, but it is very hard to make any merchandise with it. The red and black really bleeds. I love Orange. The reason we have the burnt orange hair on the logo is because I needed orange in our color scheme.
Where did you guys get the name Rogue?
My cousin. I told her that I was looking to start something of my own instead of continuing with NME, and was looking for a name. I gave her a list of 15 names, which we had looked at. Her favorite was Rogue. We were almost Thunderstruck. Sean Hadaka, our general manager, had talked me out of Thunderstruck because it was too long a name and too focused on a single AC/DC song.
Do you have any shoutouts?
I have to thank our sponsors: Clutch Chairz, Leet, Metathreads. To our fans, thanks for all of the support. I know it is hard to support a new organization, especially when so many fold so quickly. We are in this for the long haul; Aoki has given us the funds necessary to continue into the Overwatch League and beyond. We are very ready for what is next.
Thank you so much for giving this interview. We definitely hope to see more from you and Rogue in the near future.
You can follow Frank on Twitter @Rogue_Frank
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