If you think gamers already have avenues to find one another, the existence of TEAMS.gg might cause you to reconsider. Richie Shoemaker talks to its co-founder James Duffield on what might just be the LFG solution the industry didn’t know it needed.
It might not seem like it when the number of people playing online games seems to be ever increasing, but finding kindred spirits to duel against isn’t always as simple as many might assume. In ye olden times of course, the only option was to blindly charge into an online game and keep playing until you got to know people. Sure, social networks and platform-specific community features have made the process easier over the last 20 years and playing with friends once you’ve made them is easier still, but initiating first contact is still for many a fraught and potentially toxic process.
For James Duffield it was while idling through comments to one of his old YouTube videos that the idea for what would become TEAMS.gg struck him and his future co-founders, Tom Russell and Stuart Crouchman. The trio, a designer, backend and frontend developer respectively, had met in 2012 via a call-to-arms forum post when Duffield was looking for teammates to take part in a Call of Duty tournament. After some years attending esports events and making videos (which helped Duffield secure a job at Twitch), the three were increasingly keen to work together, but it wasn’t until discovering why one of their old videos had been a success that any future collaboration seemed likely. The video, a 2014 guide to finding a Counter-Strike team, had slowly amassed 100,000 views, but what Duffield found fascinating were the hundreds of comments from gamers posting their age, experience and availability in the hope of receiving a response.
“That’s when I spoke to Tom and Stuart, that this is it. That this is what we should look at building together. That’s when we got our heads down” says Duffield. “We analysed everything that existed and asked, ‘why is this not working for people? Why are people still resorting to things like forums like I did ten years ago? How can we fix that?’ And that’s how we came up with this almost dating site-style, data-driven questionnaire approach.”
FIELD OF TEAMS
Essentially, what Duffield and his team recognised was that gamers had different relationships with different games at different times. What they wanted out of Fortnite, say, might be entirely different to what they wanted from Counter-Strike, and their existing network of contacts might be entirely separate from one game to the next. So, instead of one profile for all games, players could expect one for each that TEAMS.gg supports.
“When a player comes to TEAMS, they answer questions about themselves. Questions about what they’re looking for in their ideal teammates. Questions like, when are you available to play? What’s your previous experience? What’s your future ambitions? When you’re playing with friends, how do you want to spend that time? These are all from talking to players within the communities that we support. We built an algorithm that takes all that information on board, and shows to them the most suitable players for them on our platform.
We’ve also made it very easy. Once people have found the right people, once they’ve connected, we tried to make it as seamless as possible for them to get into the game, to organise time to play together, and to actually play together for hopefully for a long time in the future.”
It’s important to note that TEAMS is not intended to replace Discord communities or Steam groups, but rather compliment them. “All of these platforms that exist are really good at helping you jump into a game quickly with people you already know” says Duffield. “Our biggest USP is that you can meet people that you don’t know yet. Whether that’s because you’re playing a new game that your existing friends don’t play yet, or have chosen not to play., or players who have risen up the ranks and have overtaken their friends and they want to keep driving forward and competing at higher levels, so they’re looking for teammates to do that. There’s a number of situations where finding a new set of friends or an additional set of friends for a game is really useful for players.”
TEAMS.gg currently exists as a browser-based platform and supports just four games, albeit rather big ones – Fortnite, CS:GO, Valorant and, just recently, Apex Legends. Clearly the strategy has been to support the biggest games and drill down from there, which makes sense when the approach to each game has to be bespoke, and requires some degree of familiarity with it and its community. However, Duffield and the team is painfully aware that it needs to find a way to pick up the pace if it wants to support more than a handful of shooters, even if they do attract many millions of players between them.
“What we are doing, and what we spent a lot of effort on, is speeding up the rate at which we can launch in new games. We’ve spent a significant amount of time creating what we call the multigame platform. It means we are able to plug in questions and take out questions. We’re adding these new questions so that we can expand to more types of genre and more types of game. The more that we do that, the quicker we can do it for other games. Once we’ve done a MOBA we’ll be able to do any MOBA really quickly.”
In addition to expanding support to include new genres and games (League of Legends and DOTA2 seem the most likely), the aim is to develop a mobile app, to allow for notifications for things like friend requests, as well as ‘play now’ functionality, which is a feature that would obviously play to the strengths of the platform’s team-finding capabilities. Also likely to be expanded is a recently added Events feature, which allows players to search for allies to join them in tackling live and upcoming competitions and seasonal events.
“We want to keep supporting players, once they’ve connected with the right people” says Duffield, when asked if TEAM.gg will ever expand to include tools for team (or clan or guild – insert your genre-specific collective noun of choice here) management. “We want to keep solving problems for them – things that don’t exist yet. We want TEAMS.gg to be almost the first place someone goes when they sit down to play. It’s the place they go to figure out who’s around right now, who they should be playing with, what they should be doing. It’s not how we refer to it to players, but to the industry it’s like the dream CRM for a game. That’s how we’re thinking of it right now. It’s a relationship manager, something that will continue with them even after the point where you connected with someone.”
TEAM OF THE CROP
Having only been launched two years ago and worked on full time for barely a year, It’s obviously early days for TEAMS.gg, but with a growing number of users and recent developments – including recently being made the “official team-finder for Valorant in Northern Europe” – things are obviously going in the right direction. With investors sniffing around, however, it begs the questions as to how TEAMS.gg hopes to recoup its costs and start turning a profit. Duffield says his focus right now building up player numbers and improving the platform, but of course realises that TEAMS.gg has to become a sustainable business.
“Areas that are really interesting to us are integration with publishers, developers and esports platforms. Because the technology we’ve built now is connecting people together. And when those people play together, they enjoy their games more, they win more, they play for longer and more often. So we think that there are commercial opportunities there to integrate this tech into games, which is why it’s also so important to us that we can support any type of game so that if a game developer came to us and said, ‘we would love this technology in our game from launch’, that we’d be able to do that.”
Another aspect that could generate revenue might come from the responses users give to the questions they are asked when creating their profiles. “We ask some really unique things that even the game publishers don’t know. And these are things that can help those game publishers and developers improve game development, and can help businesses like tournament organisers reach gamers in the games that they support.”
LIVING THE TEAM
With longer-term aims to help reduce toxicity in gaming and support matchmaking on Meta’s increasingly popular platform, and even help virtual concert-goers get together before taking in a show, the TEAMS team is certainly not wanting for ambition. Whether it has the resources to match that ambition and the reach the scale it to service a vastly bigger audience that it currently commands is another matter entirely. One thing’s for sure, Duffield and his two Call of Duty teammates have come a long way since a forum post brought them together, and they’ve certainly given the Counter-Strike community a more effective way to team up than their old YouTube video ever will.
“Every time we hear someone tell us about a game that they’re playing where they wish they had friends to play it with, we instantly want to support that experience. For us, it’s just a matter of time. We will get there. We are essentially creating a framework for connecting people around a common love and we’re facilitating them to do more of that together. That’s the dream for us.”