Building a NA LCS franchise: EnVyUS and Phoenix1

Shin "Seraph" Woo-yeong Provided by Riot Games

On June 3, the summer split of the North American League Championship Series begins. This year is the most competitive by far, and the start of the summer split pits a myriad of industry titans against each other. Fan favorites Cloud9 and Team SoloMid will compete alongside Mid-Season Invitational finalist Counter Logic Gaming, with giants Team Liquid and Immortals eager to demonstrate what they've learned from last season's failures. With all eyes on the Goliaths in the top five, it's easy to dismiss the younger teams entering the fray.

For Phoenix1 and Team EnVyUs, the effort required to close the gap between themselves and their competitors is tremendous. After purchasing Team Impulse and Renegades' slots respectively, the newcomers are tasked with accomplishing in weeks what other teams have had months to achieve. Mike "Hastr0" Rufail, the owner of Team EnVyUs, has had a long and successful career managing rosters in other esports, and he readily acknowledges the challenges his team will face in the NA LCS. But the opportunity to enter was too good to pass up, and the organization focused on making a deal with Renegades because, according to Hastr0, the management and roster had a much stronger inherent structure.

"We're really at a disadvantage," Hastr0 said. "But with the way our organization has worked in other games, we've been able to pick up things pretty quickly. We've already been trying to get into the LCS for a while. We just wanted the right opportunity. Before the teams were banned, we were negotiating with them. The cost of entering the LCS is only going to go up. It's going to be harder and harder to get in. We wanted to enter as fast as we could, when we could."

Both teams have placed a lot of faith behind their coaches, doing their best to equip them with the tools they need to successfully lead. Fortunately, the organizations scavenged much of their staff and rosters from Renegades and Impulse. It's a common move in the esports world, one that lessens the growing pains that come with navigating a new team. Since the owners are new to the scene, Phoenix1 entrusted former Cloud9 coach Charlie Lipsie and former Team 8 manager Eric Ma with a lion's share of the decision-making. According to Phoenix1's manager Michael Moore, much of its hopes for success will hinge on Charlie's leadership.

"Charlie and Eric have a really good knowledge and know-how of the scene," said Moore. "Our goal was to support our head coach, and when he tells us he believes in a player, we wanted to give him the control to do that."

"The cost of entering the LCS is only going to go up. It's going to be harder and harder to get in. We wanted to enter as fast as we could, when we could."

Team EnVyUs built itself around the former Renegades top laner Shin "Seraph" Woo-yeong and mid laner Noh "Ninja" Geon-woo. When the duo expressed a desire to work with jungler Kim "Procxin" Seyoung, Hastr0 reached out to the former Impulse player to negotiate a contract. The team later honed in on two AD carry picks, and management has been pleased with the cooperation between Benjamin "LOD" DeMunck and former Renegades support Nickolas "Hakuho" Surgent.

"Our biggest hole was [our] AD carry. We kind of knew it was going to be tougher to find someone to play there," Hastr0 said. "Our priority was top, mid and jungle. But we were able to pick up Nien, who wasn't on any active roster and we were about to reach an agreement with NRG to get LOD. We thought LOD had a lot of potential, so we set up LOD with Hakuho, our support. We've had them duo-queue a lot together and Hakuho likes LOD, so it worked out."

In addition to the roster and coaching staff, Hastr0 also brought on Renegades' former chef to help boost team morale. Moore has also made team culture a focus, and outside of scrims and practice, the team's most important objective is to promote a healthy environment for its players to thrive in.

"When Mash and Pirean were on Impulse, they had next to no support," Moore said. "Obviously, that was demoralizing. We gave them bonuses for the back pay they were missing and we moved them into a new house. We just provided the guys with support so that they can be successful."

Moore and his team are longtime fans of League of Legends, and the management intends to use their prior experience in Hollywood cinema to promote widespread awareness of esports, hopefully earning Phoenix1 (and the NA LCS) some new fans along the way. For EnVyUs, content and attention isn't a big part of the team's focus.

"We're a competition-first organization. Most organizations try to please their sponsors with content. A lot of them care about that," Hastr0 said. "But for us, that's really a secondary concern."

EnVyUs did take some time for a media day recently, one of the few bonding opportunities the team has had in between its strict practice schedule. Here, the boys put on their new Envy jerseys for the first time, a moment that solidified the start of a new beginning for the players, and hopefully, their fans.

"It's going to be a very cool experience for old Envy fans, and we certainly want to bring in new ones to cheer for our team," Hastr0 said. "It would be amazing to see a lot of support from fans, especially since we're kind of the new guys in town and the underdog."

Moore echoed Hastr0's enthusiasm. Despite facing a huge incline on the way to the top, he expressed excitement about being a part of what's looking to be one of North America's most competitive performances to date. "Watching these guys play esports has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life," Moore said. "It's awesome. It's been great."