Canada's SetToDestroyX e-sports team on the rise
Team owner and founder Charlie Watson has 32 gamers under contract
Charlie Watson has been riding the unpredictable wave of e-sports for seven years now.
While others have fallen by the wayside in the ever-changing world of competitive video gaming, the founder and owner of Canada's SetToDestroyX team keeps on keeping on.
Like the gamers he employs, the 33-year-old Watson survives by identifying possible advantages before others and then making the most of them.
It's not easy.
"It changes so rapidly in front of you because the growth (of e-sports) is just on this huge incline," Watson said in an interview. "You're just trying to keep up all the time because it's so quick.
Watson, who is based out of Kitchener, Ont., has 32 gamers under contract and 45 Twitch streamers — personalities who broadcast on the popular Twitch.tv video platform and community for gamers. He has 11 staff that help him run the business.
Playing for big prize money
STDx gamers compete in 11 titles.
Watson had two players in the elite 32-man field for the $500,000 US Madden Championship recently.
Americans Kyle (Drag) Riederer and Lionel (ImWild) Roberts failed to get out of the group stage but remain in the top echelon of Madden gamers.
"These guys are definitely All-Pro in their own right," said Watson.
EA Sports, which develops the Madden NFL game, offered $1 million US in prize money over four major events culminating in the Madden Championship in May. Michael (Skimbo) Skimbo defeated the legendary Eric (Problem) Wright 24-20 in the final to claim the first prize of $150,000 US at the California tournament.
Roberts made it to the semifinals of the Madden NFL 16 Championship finals, losing to Wright.
In March, a scratch STDx team won the Cineplex WorldGaming Canadian Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare tournament final in Toronto. Watson's gamers then won the UMG Gaming Sault Ste. Marie 10K pro-am Call of Duty Championships.
STDx lovingly documents its gamers' exploits to showcase on social media.
Watson gets a percentage of the prize money won by each gamer. There is also money to be made from player appearances and sponsorships.
'Canada is our bread and butter'
The other main Canadian pro-gaming team is Toronto-based Luminosity, but Watson says STDx "has literally pioneered and cultivated the market" in Canada.
"One of our claims to fame is, as much as we're an international brand and we travel all around the world, Canada is our bread and butter and we're extremely proud of it."
E-sports is the latest chapter in Watson's life. He worked as an employment recruiter and sold insurance before moving into e-sports.
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For Watson, the key is to get in the right games with the right gamers.
"It's a highly volatile market. So if you're not structuring it well and organizing it and surrounding yourself with good people, you'll live and die in a matter of months."
He has avoided top titles like League of Legends, Dota (Defense of the Ancients), and Overwatch because of the expense in getting involved with their circuits. But he was quick to compete in H1Z1: King of the Kill because he saw room for growth.
His gamers are diversified across all platforms.
Like the NFL teams in the Madden game, Watson is constantly adjusting his playing roster.
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Roberts, 31, is a New Orleans native who spent two years playing minor-league baseball after being drafted by the Detroit Tigers. A father of four, he plans to game full time after finishing his studies at Alcorn State.
The 27-year-old Riederer, who calls Green Bay home, works for a health insurance company while finishing up studies at Southern New Hampshire University. He somehow manages to fit in three or four hours of gaming a day.
Watson may be looking for a third Madden ace.
"We've done very well in making money with it, and the return on investment," he said of the game.
E-sports going mainstream
The e-sports world, while still evolving, is quickly bleeding into the mainstream with major businesses looking to get involved.
The NBA is launching its own virtual basketball league next year. Super Channel launched GINX Esports TV Canada, which it calls "North America's first 24-hour channel for esports fans."
Cineplex invested $15 million US in setting up gaming leagues featuring everyone from pros to college students.
For all concerned, work means playing hard.
Watson and his crew should get plenty of that this October at Gamer Gauntlet 2017, which bills itself as the first video game cruise. STDx will be one of the featured teams on the three-night, four-day trip from Florida to the Bahamas and back aboard Royal Caribbean's Majesty of the Seas.
"It's going to be fun," said Watson.