Since joining the organisation in 2007, Hector “Hecz” Rodriguez has led OpTic Gaming to become a household name in esports and gaming. From uploading “Top 5 Killcams” on YouTube to competing at the Call of Duty World Championship, the Green Wall has stood the test of time, in an often volatile esports industry. What started out as a casual clan soon evolved into a gaming entertainment powerhouse.
Despite the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2019 Beta being in full swing and the excitement of the CDL 2020 esports season approaching, which is currently rife with rostermania rumours, this may be the end of the road for one of gaming's most recognised brands. So how did one man build such a juggernaut?
OpTic Gaming was founded in 2006 by OpTic Krew, who had the intention of entering the popular competitive sniping scene in Call of Duty. Rodriguez joined in 2007 and ran the organisation for two years before uploading the first YouTube video to the OpTic Gaming channel; which now boasts nearly 1.5 million subscribers.
OpTic Gaming offered something unique at the time, their focus revolved around great Call of Duty snipers and giving them a home to display their talents and ability to quick-scope. This trend initially started in Call of Duty 2, but it wasn't until the release of Call of Duty 4 that it really took off; mostly due to the growing number of content creators on YouTube. The first video was uploaded to the OpTic Nation channel back in 2009 and many viewers were infatuated by the concept of quick-scoping with a sniper - the weapon was traditionally seen as slow and passive used to pick off enemies at at distance. Now, the weapon had been transformed into a fast and aggressive one. It wasn't common to see and was no easy trick to master, at the time it was almost seen as the pinnacle of one's Call of Duty skill.
Many wanted to be a part of OpTic, it was an exclusive and elite club that few got to be a part of, making it all the more appealing as it grew in popularity. By recruiting and associating themselves with established content creators, such as Shaun "Hutch" Hutchinson, they further extended their reach to a new audience. The focus of the channel soon evolved to be more inclusive as the community now had the opportunity to showcase their Call of Duty clips with the introduction of the “Top 5 Killcams” series; it began to gain notoriety and spark competition from others such as FaZe Clan. People were given their opportunity to be a part of OpTic Gaming at long last.
Now with a strong online presence through YouTube, OpTic Gaming entered the Call of Duty esports scene in 2010 with the roster of Nerve, Eaton, Di3sel and Gundeezy. This new direction may not have been an instant hit, but the OpTic Gaming name was one that had developed a cult following and with it brought support for any venture that the brand associated with. Many of those that were first introduced to Call of Duty esports discovered it through OpTic Gaming and that is why they have been the most popular team ever since; you didn't need to understand what you were seeing, you simply needed to know when OpTic were playing.
Many now saw that the era of quick-scoping was succeeded by a whole new level of skill and ways to show your ability, as some of the best competed against what fans associated as "their team". Many competed to be the best, that was the black and white nature of being in a Call of Duty team in its early stages, OpTic diverisfied themselves and stayed true to their roots by turning their players into personalities. By including their esports team in their content and encouraging them to create their own, they merged two very segregated worlds together. People were no longer supporting a team, they supported the players too (Matthew "Nadeshot" Haag being a shining example of this).
This slow burning growth of interest in Call of Duty esports had a massive impact on the entire ecosystem and helped mould it into the most lucrative console esport today. The organisation saw varying degrees of success throughout the decade, winning X Games Gold in 2014 and eventually winning the Call of Duty World Championship in 2017 after two years of disappointment at the largest tournament of the year. One thing that remained was the love that was felt by their fans 'The Green Wall'.
2011: Turning Point
Prior to the release of Modern Warfare 3, Activision and Xbox revealed Call of Duty XP, a fan event which allowed players to get hands on with the new title before it hit the shelves. Not only that, it boasted a $1 million tournament for 32 teams from around the world that qualified via various stipulations. At the time, this was the biggest console esports tournament in history and with the developers behind the game, the competitive scene was hopeful for another successful year filled with events.
Fielding a roster of Matt “Nadeshot” Haag, Joey” MerK” DeLuca, Will “BigTymer” Johnson and Blake “Vengeance” Campbell, the team took home the $400,000 first prize in front of a capacity crowd and gained unprecedented exposure from the mainstream media that were in attendance. OpTic Gaming were Call of Duty.
2011 saw the competitive Call of Duty scene embark on some turbulent times, after a prosperous Black Ops season. Due to the lack of LAN functionality on Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, MLG decided against hosting any Call of Duty tournaments, making the majority of top North American teams travel to Europe to compete.
The European community, although small in comparison, were very dedicated and extremely talented. This was one of the rare times in the esport's history that the two regions clashed, due to the costs attached to travelling to tournaments at the time, however for the North Americans it was less of an obstacle; they were frequently winning their share of the prize money. Although it seemed like a set-back, not having any major NA tournaments during the MW3 season, it did wonders to unite two parts of the world and grow the Call of Duty esports scene; especially with OpTic Gaming in attendance.
2011-2019: A Fanatical Fanbase
Prior to the sale of OpTic Gaming to the Immortals Gaming Club, the Green Wall did, and to an extent, still does have one of the most vocal and passionate fan bases in esports. Displaying unrivalled levels of support on social media, during live streams and in the crowd at events, the fans got behind the Green Wall in ways that only few have managed to replicate.
"OpTic was a part of my being, it was a lifestyle," Hecz said in a recent interview with ESPN, “I never saw it as a brand, it was who I was.” This ethos was something many fans could resonate with and probably why so many rallied behind the team. It was more than just a name, in many respects it was a family and one that accepted everyone that was looking for a home.
From an early stage, Hector had heavily emphasised the importance of content creators to the organisation. The likes of Midnite, Pamaj, Spratt and BigTymer (after he retired) offered unique viewing experiences and content for a wide demographic. With such a diverse pool of personalities creating a variety of different content, they could hit a large audience of differing demographics.
Having such a diverse content team strengthened the already massive social media presence of OpTic Gaming. It wasn’t just a professional gaming team; it was a combination of gaming entertainment for everyone.
Thanks to Hector’s heavy focus on his players and members creating engaging and entertaining content through YouTube and live streaming, the fans rallied behind the players whether it was Call of Duty, Halo or Counter-Strike.
Photo via buho
2016: The Year of Expansion
After consolidating their position at the forefront of console esports, Hecz decided to expand the organisation into Counter-Strike for the first time. Having expressed interest in a top Danish team, that eventually became 4-time Major winners Astralis, Hecz opted to acquire a fledgling North American team.
The move was the next logical step for the organisation and its impact greatly benefitted the North American scene in particular, as they were often seen as the “meme region” for competitive CS. The huge social media following of the Green Wall were now getting involved in Counter-Strike, meaning even more eyes were on one of the longest-running esport titles.
In 2016, their expansion into Counter-Strike was well received by many and the entire scene benefitted from their involvement. Prior to their involvement, there was a lack of entertaining and engaging content being produced by any top CS team and in a matter of months, the majority of CS organisations were creating new content inspired by the OpTic Gaming model.
Their position at the top of console esports was consolidated after entering Gears of War at the beginning of Gears of War 4. The team accumulated countless tournament victories and are considered to be one of the most dominant esport teams in history
From a commercial perspective, the Green Wall partnered with PepsiCo drink Brisk Mate, car cleaning company Turtle Wax and gaming accessory company Turtle Beach. These deals lead to a host of new content all promoting products and introducing a new audience to competitive gaming.
Expansion continued into 2017, securing deals with Brisk, Twitch and DX Racer, giving the Green Wall a massive presence across both YouTube and Twitch.
In 2019, OpTic Gaming landed one of the largest non-endemic sponsorship deals for an organisation, signing a deal with Japanese car manufacturer Nissan. Not long after, long-time rivals FaZe also secured a Nissan sponsorship. This particular deal is one of many that have seen a large scale non-endemic company invest into an esports team, once again getting new eyes onto the ever-growing esports landscape.
Hecz and OpTic Gaming had ample opportunities to venture into other games, but stayed true to their roots by focusing on Call of Duty for so long. Strategically it made sense to wait before exploring other titles, with esports still considered to be in a young and inexperienced phase. By allowing those games to grow and establish a core foundation, it was then OpTic Gaming seized their opportunity to expand their brand and hit multiple audiences all at once. There were few that hadn't heard of OpTic Gaming and what it meant to represent the Green Wall; everyone wanted to be a part of it.
Photo via Dexerto
2017: A Dynasty Born
Winning the Call of Duty World Championship in 2017 was the only thing eluding Hecz and OpTic Gaming in Call of Duty esports. Having failed to win it in the previous two years, after being tipped as the heavy favourites, the roster of Seth “Scump” Abner, Matt “Formal” Piper, Damon “Karma” Barlow and Ian “Crimsix” Porter stuck together to give it one more go; no doubt due to a great bond that the management and the vision OpTic had created for them.
During the middle of the Infinite Warfare season, questions were raised about the roster, after they placed 8th at CWL Anaheim. With young talent Sam “Octane” Larew taking the competitive scene by storm, there were doubts whether the squad would ever take home the trophy that had eluded them for the past two seasons.
Despite the Anaheim result, the team bounced back with a vengeance, winning Stage Two of the CWL Global Pro League and beating arch rivals Team Envy to take home the world championship.
Photo via MLG
2019: Change Is Afoot
2019 marked the year of change to the Green Wall that fans had admired throughout the decade and rival organisations had tried to emulate. Parent company Infinite Esports & Entertainment had been acquired by Immortals Gaming Club, leaving the future of fan-favourite content creators and esports teams hanging in the balance.
The “new” OpTic Gaming had secured one of the two Los Angeles franchise spots for the 2020 Call of Duty League, that is changing to a city-based franchise model, ahead of the release of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare on October 25th.
The current Call of Duty team looks to be undergoing a roster overhaul ahead of the start of the 2020 season while the all-conquering Gears of War team left the organisation and joined North American organisation NRG.
What the future holds for the Green Wall is uncertain and whether the fans that supported Hector’s OpTic through all the highs and the lows will stand beside the new owners is another matter.
On September 15th, Rodriguez finally confirmed the inevitable and announced his departure from his beloved OpTic Gaming. He will now join the former Gears of War team at NRG as part of the staff running the Chicago CDL team.
Hector Rodriguez: An Esports Pioneer
Hecz and his creation of OpTic Gaming into what it has become is nothing short of inspirational on all levels. He has left a massive stamp on the history of professional gaming and online gaming entertainment. Whether it is creating innovative content on YouTube or seeing his logo on the biggest stages in esports, his vision of creating an esports empire has descended through the ranks and will always be an inspiration to many. The passion he has shown for OpTic Gaming and those under their care has been exemplary from day 1.
Hector is a pioneer and his vision has come to fruition over the past decade thanks to his hard work and dedication to the brand. His move to NRG doesn’t come as a surprise, after this past year, but it will certainly be exciting to see what one of the finest esports minds has in store now he has found a new place to call home.