Team Secret on independence and why they’re seeking sponsorship

After taking their fourth major Dota 2 title in a row at ESL One Frankfurt last weekend, Team Secret are ready to finally take on sponsorship.

Team manager Matt "CyborgMatt" Bailey explained the core ideals of Team Secret to eSports Pro at the ESL event, and their unique approach to sponsorship.

The team, formed in the shuffle following last year’s The International 4, was initially set up by long-standing members of the Dota 2 professional circuitKuro "KuroKy" Salehi Takhasomi, Clement "Puppey" Ivanov andJohan"BigDaddy"Sundstein.

Bailey says the main reason the team was set up was as an alternative to the team-organisation dynamic which involves heavy administrative fees taken from prize winnings and other hidden obligations.

"Players like Kuro and Clement, they’re getting pretty old now," Bailey said. "And they realised if you sit down and do the maths, this is how much an organisation is paying me, this is how much we want and this is how much we’ve given them and as soon as they look at the maths they see that it wasn’t working."

This much was made clear yesterday in a post by eSports veteran and consultantAndrew "Xeo" Yatsenko for the Russian site Virtus.Pro, in which he broke down the net annual profits of three world-class teams in the CIS region.

By using total winnings between June 2014 and 2015, without accounting for sponsorship, and estimating costs of travel, accomodation, player wages and organisation cut, Yatsenko found all three were making a net loss.

Even Na`Vi, who made $738,047 this year in tournament winnings, ended the year $5,176 in debt in a best-case scenario where they pay their players just $1,500 a month and take a 20% cut of all winnings.

"There’s possibility that some clubs don’t take prize money fee at all or it applies only for major tournaments," Yatsenko wrote. "But I would be very surprised if I knew any club in CIS having it more than 20%."

In Yatsenko’s opinion, it is simply impossible to run a team from the money they make off tournaments alone, at which point sponsorship becomes a primary income source.

"Of course tournament fees are not and can never be a main source of income for an esportorganization," he wrote. "All expenses are generally covered by sponsorships, merchandise sales, YouTube and Twitch revenue, royalties and so on. Otherwise clubs wouldn’t successfully survive for many years."

Matt Bailey agrees with this assertion, and thinks that the success of Secret could inspire changes within the scene.

"Teams should be funded by the organisation and sponsorship, it shouldn’t be from their own prize money," he told eSports Pro. "I guess it’s just something from the old days of eSports that’s not left us yet, but I do think that with the success of Secret we’ll see changes.

"Puppey is very adamant about changing the scene and improving the scene, making it better for the players. And I feel like our success as an independent team is probably scaring some of the organisations because they’re worried that if other players start doing this, when it comes to negotiations they might think why can’t we do what they did."

Secret’s ongoing financial security does not just rely on them avoiding a 20% stipend to their organisation, however. In April, the team announced a new ‘Team Director’ in the form of Kemal Sadiko?lu, the #1 ranked Clash of Clans player in the world and – more pertinently – son of Turkish petroleum magnateKahraman Sad?ko?lu.

On top of personal investment, Kemal also functions as an operations advisor to the team, according to Bailey.

"In terms of team director, it’s more a case that he helps with our overall operations, in a sense of dealing with sponsors," Bailey said. "So in the past six weeks or so I’ve been travelling and it’s very hard for me to work with sponsors during that time, which is where kemal can step in, he can handle sponsorship talks."

Bailey was quick to confirm that sponsorship would not change the team, and that they would not be adopted under a new name or organisation, however this is a big step for a team held as the antithesis of standard eSports practice.

"I don’t want to announce anything yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we announced some kind of sponsorship before TI," he said. "So we are going into the next stage, we’re independent, we’re doing pretty well, and now we’re bringing sponsors on board and kind of building up an organisation. And that’s where Kemal plays into it, he has a lot of business background and he’s going to help us build that up."

When asked about what form the sponsorship would take, and how it fits in with the founding ideals of Secret, Bailey was confident that the move is in line with their team ethos.

"For us, it’s more of a case of taking time, making the right decision and finding a sponsor that works well with us," he said. "In terms of what kind of obligations they require, I can’t name teams but I know that some teams’ event attendance is dictated by sponsors, we would never want to put ourselves in that position. I feel like that is something that damages the scene. So it’s a case that we take time, look at a whole range of sponsors and a lot who are new to eSports and want to get into it. But it’s a work in progress and we’ll see what happens, but we’re pretty confident about our future."

Photos courtesy of Patrick Strack / ESL via Flickr

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