It's all too appropriate that eSports' fastest-moving FPS also has the most frenzied professional scene in competitive gaming. Players trade jerseys with remarkable regularity, leaving team managers with the unenviable task of balancing numerous player needs with a revolving door of player skills and personalities.
Mike "Hastr0" Rufail is all to aware of that fact. With an impending roster change and another round of Rostermania looming, the long-time EnvyUs administrator is poised for yet another ride on the Call of Duty carousel. I spoke with him regarding team management, CoD's Twitter addiction, fraternising with the enemy, and beating the trolls.
I appreciate you taking the time to talk with me! As Managing Director of Team EnvyUs, what do your responsibilities entail?I think everyone's different in eSports. I think every team owner, every manager, everybody has a different style. Some people have more staff than others and some people like to be more hands on than others.
For me, I'm more hands on. These days I've changed to be less hands on and more tactical with the team, working behind the scenes, taking care of the business side of things; less about gameplay, strategy and things like that. In the past, I was more involved as a coach per se. Now, I don't do much coaching or work with the team on their strategy. I handle more of the business and watch the team, giving them my thoughts from time to time.
Now I focus on the business side of things, trying to grow the team as a business, trying to take care of my players, ensuring they have what they need to compete and things like that.
So you're now more focused on the big picture? I know, for example, there were rumblings of you picking up a Counter-Strike team.
(laughs) Yeah, there are a lot of rumors out there. Just because we're talking to a team doesn't mean we're signing a team. But we're in that market now, and we're pretty close to having one, so maybe you'll hear some news soon.
Is it hard to keep things like that under wraps, particularly in an eSport where communication can be so public, on Twitter for example?
You know, I think the players being vocal is completely different from team owners and managers putting up their views on there. But our fan base is on Twitter, we have large followings, its just easier to get the message out there than anything.
I just think Twitter is a very useful tool for getting your point across or make news available to a large number of people who may not be constantly following [the scene].
And yet it seems like a lot of your fan base is really centered there, probably more than any other eSport.
I think we made it that. Like I said, it's a very useful tool; it's a good place to give access to fans. I think everybody kinda collectively, subconsciously agreed on that without meaning to. (laughs)
Call of Duty has a rather charming reputation for players speaking candidly on social media. Is that a challenge that you've seen or experienced first-hand?
I mean, it varies from player to player. You have to take it for what it is. You're seeing the true personalities of players; a lot of them are young.
I've never told my players to change who they are. I've only ever given them advice on how to be responsible with their reputation. Some players take that to heart and work on it and they're still who they are, but they refrain from talking about sensitive issues so much. But some players just air it out, and you have to judge those players for what they are.
Though, I think that's part of the draw of some of these players is that they're pretty honest. (laughs)
Very honest, in some cases.
Yeah, I mean obviously there have been things I don't agree with. But at the same time, the player tweets out some sensitive information or says something and you're free to judge them how you want to judge them. (laughs)
People say, "don't judge people," but obviously people follow you for a reason.
They're going to editorialise, for sure.
Yeah, everyone's entitled to their opinion. But I will say, some of the more outspoken players...don't always give the full picture to things, so you have to take everything with a grain of salt. I mean, people are tweeting stuff out about the roster issues right now where there's a lot of ignorance from the players themselves and there's a lot of ignorance from the fans too. If you believe everything you hear from a pro player, then I feel pretty sorry for you because they don't have all the answers either. (laughs)
Do you think that's a product of a time when the community was a little more tight-knit, a little more friendly?
It's more of a fraternity at times than it is a business and that gets in the way because there are so many good friends that people have on other organizations. Then, if something goes wrong, you have kind of an out, and I think that's why you see a lot of player changes. There's a lot of intermingling on a day-to-day basis.
Players are kind of "fraternising with the enemy," so to speak.
It's different than traditional sports because you're online and, when you're looking to get practice in and your teammates aren't online, you play with other players. That differs completely from traditional, mainstream sports in that if you want to practice your basketball game and you're Kobe Bryant, you're not going to head over to the gym and play a pick up game with Kevin Garnett.
As someone who's grown up in that "fraternity," was it difficult transitioning to a role where you have to make decisions that occasionally make people unhappy?
That's part of this. You have to go into it and treat it like a business if you're a player. I think a lot of the players just don't realize that yet. You have to make an adult decision when you're signing with a team and understand that there's a lot of work that goes into being with that organization and being able to get you to the tournaments. For you to just expect everything, including the freedom to just leave whenever you want to leave or go have your organization drop a player that you don't want to play with...it's a bit daunting to think that some of these guys expect you to do that.
But most of the people that we've put on our team have understood that and we've been lucky that we've found the right players to represent us. Lately, over the past couple years we've made a few roster moves and we probably have another one coming soon. Every time a tournament ends, you have to expect some kind of unhappiness if you haven't finished in first place.
So, it's good to be that way, it's good to have that mentality if you're a player that you won't accept anything less than first place, but at the same time you have to work hard to get to that point instead of taking the easy way out and just changing up your roster and that's something I try to instill in my players.
Patrick "Aches" Price was very vocal about that fact, that players don't want to work. Is that an attitude that you see?
Yeah, but I don't know if Aches is one to really hold to that. (laughs) I think even Aches has made roster changes for that reason. I think it's true, yeah, that almost all the players in this scene don't put in the work to get better when they're struggling so they look for the easy way out and that's to make a roster change.
Do you think that's why roster changes happen so frequently Call of Duty? We obviously don't see this kind of movement in games like League of Legends and Dota 2.
I think there are formalities that prevent that from happening, but it does happen in other eSports.
But not with the same regularity.
But I think that things are spread out across multiple different leagues and tournaments where you have these kinds of gaps where players request to make changes and it's not regulated to the point where they're not allowed to.
So, MLG Season One is just one season out of this year and we're having three seasons this year--if I'm not mistaken. But if you look at the LCS, LPL, or OGN leagues they have two splits per year, so you basically have one gap to make a change. With MLG Call of Duty you have three, then you throw in CoD Champs and you have another gap. If there was one overarching league where you're dedicating a full year to that league and if you allow for one period for transactions, then yeah, you'd see things change.
But that's where tournament organisers and event organisers need to step up and establish rules and make teams adhere to them and make players adhere to them or else this isn't going to change.
So, from your perspective, it sounds like there are just so many more opportunities to change; that if things aren't working, it gets turned over faster.
I think that's the case, and I think the direction I'm going to head in--because I've put a lot of thought into it recently because of all the shuffling that's going on...when I sign a contract with a player from here on out, I'm just going to make them aware that we're going to hold them to that contract. If we're not willing to make a change and if they're not willing to put in the effort to keep playing on the team then I'm going to bench them.
I think a lot of team owners are scared to do that but at this point I think it's important to be able to do that. I mean, that's something that happens in sports; if a player has signed a contract and he's not performing and he's unhappy and wants to make a change, then yeah, there's a time to make that change. But if you're unwilling to perform at a time when a change isn't possible, then you should be held accountable for that and, you know what? You can sit on the bench and wait.
Somebody else can come in and take your spot and that's just the way it should be. And when you explain it that way, I don't think anyone would object to that concept.
So where does this sense of personal betrayal come from? Pure immaturity and ignorance?
(laughs) Obviously, with Call of Duty we have a young crowd and I don't think they've reached the age where they understand business and they don't have any experience. And I don't think they players have any experience either.
Then the question that nobody asks is, does that get to you?
I read a lot of them and they get to me for maybe a few seconds. Then I realize that the person saying that isn't as smart as me. (laughs)
They just don't get it. They don't understand and you can't blame them for not understanding, I guess. But what you can blame them for is having to voice their opinion in such a negative way. There are ways to express your disagreement without sounding like an angry twelve year-old and there's a block button for a reason.
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