I got to talk with Justin Speak, ggLA's CEO and owner recently about the Challenger scene and a whole lot more. Check it out!
W: So, recently Gold Gaming LA swapped out their entire roster. What event occurred in order for a new roster to come into place?
JS: You know we got to a point in our relationship with the team where I don’t think it was mutually beneficial for us to work together anymore. There were some behind the scenes interviews that I’m not really wanting to talk about. But, we got to a point where it wasn’t really good for the team, and it wasn’t good for us ggLA and so we decided to go our separate ways.
W: Was it ggLA’s management that made that decision, or was it the players decision to step away? Was it a mutual decision?
JS: It was a ggLA management decision. We tried to make it as easy as possible for them (ggLA’s former roster, now The Walking Zed). Our intentions were not to put them in a rough situation. Nydus and Kez are still at the house; they have a place to stay, they have a computer, so on and so forth. We really didn’t want to put them out. So, although we are not together, we are still trying to help them as much as we can.
W: So where does the current roster stand, and what’s the teams outlook moving forward?
JS: Sadly, our current roster isn’t qualified for the relegation tournament. They’ve come to terms with that to some extent. It’s mostly just a substitute roster at this point in time as we are trying to build up a roster for the next qualification event.
Justin Speak - ggLA's CEO & Owner
W: So, you’re going to attempt to qualify for the second split of the LCS?
JS:That’s our goal currently. Produce a team for the Coke Zero league, and go from there.
W: How has the roster change personally affected you?
JS: It’s definitely exciting being able to watch a strong team compete for you at the highest levels. I don’t know if there’s anything that’s that exciting. So, it definitely hurts to not be able to do that. To some extent, I can still watch the games and say “That’s Nydus and Kez, they’re downstairs right now” and that’s fun. But, I personally feel that for ggLA, it’s definitely been a pretty serious blow.
W: With that in mind, is there a way to fix the roster instability in the Challenger scene? Or is that just going to be the nature of having an ametur team?
JS: I do think there is a way to fix it. I don’t think there is any one singular issue, and that’s why a lot of people see it as permanent and unfixable to begin with. I think that we have a lot of talent here in North America. I know there is a lot of people of the vein that would say that Korea just has more talent in general. I don’t think that’s true, I think we have the same level of talent here. We just don’t have the infrastructure to build it up to develop the talent in the same manner that they do.
I think that’s part of the problem in North America, especially in the Challenger scene--that we are inferior to everything else. So, we do everything poorly, in general. I think we’re okay with that. Thinking about conversations with other managers, the mindset that Korea is just going to be better no matter what and there’s no changing that is especially prevalent in the Challenger scene. I think that sort of mentality leads to instability to some extent. There’s no confidence that you can build up the talent. It’s all about finding the next player who’s good enough to fill the role. No one is willing to work with a team, build them up, and provide them with an analyst and a coach. It’s more about, we need a new person, we need a new person now.
The other thing that’s a problem for the ametur scene is that it’s really easy for LCS teams to purchase talent from the ametur scenes. A lot of players that play well as amateurs get picked up by a professional team, even when [the amateur team] is on the brink of some important event, like when WildTurtle left Cloud 9 for TSM or Quas moving to Team Curse. So the teams that are left in the amateur scene can’t compete financially with the teams in the LCS. It’s just not possible, there’s not enough money in the amateur scene. So, everyone views it as an opportunity to be recognized by an LCS team. If they viewed it as them working to qualify or to be as good as the LCS teams, I think you’d see a lot more stability within the amateur scene.
W: So do you think that the Challenger scene in North America will ever be able to get to that point? If so, would there be any specific thing that could take it to the level of something like Korea?
JS: Personally, I think that North America can get to that point. From my perspective, I think that the North American Challenger League is a big improvement for the Challenger scene. At the same time, I don’t really see the sort of mindset changes that are necessary for that to happen. On top of that, what allows Korea to invest in talent so much is that they have large organizations who are willing to take that risk, especially the KeSPA organizations, like CJ Entus, Samsung, and SKT1. Those teams are massive; they can take the risk to develop talent in the NLB because they already have the money from the team in OGN.
To some extent, the Challenger scene in North America needs to have the bigger organizations operate similarly. I think Curse is a really strong example of this. They are very consistent when it comes to their amateur teams. Think about the old Curse Academy. They made almost no changes for months and the new roster has yet to make any changes either. They get a team, they pour into them, and the team stays together until the end. There’s no changing people out or moving people around. The team in the LCS also has a team that competes in Challenger events in North America because they are the only one who can really make a serious financial investment. And, it certainly is a serious financial investment to have a good Challenger scene. Or at least, it should be. You have to get an analyst and a coach, you have to get the players into a gaming house and provide them with everything they need. If you are not doing those things, I don't think you are doing as much as you can to help develop the talent, and that’s the problem.
W: In that same vein, in your interview with HBO you said that you’ve invested almost $60,000 into this team. At what point do you say, this isn't working out and we need to end this? Have you given any thought to that?
JS: On my end, I think that we definitely had moments where it feels like a lot. The pressure can grow on you, especially concerning the most recent decisions we’ve made roster-wise. In the end, there is another split and another chance. I think we have what it takes to put a team in the LCS. We can still provide a house, we can still provide a coach, and an analyst. As long as I can do that, then I think I gotta keep going, I gotta keep trying. It’s not just about the money for me. It’s something I’m passionate about. To some extent, it’s something I’ve grown with. I watched the Season 1 finals, and seeing the Season 3 finals, it’s mindblowing. Being a part of that growth is something I want to do. It’s something that I want ggLA to do and we’re going to keep doing this as long as we can.
W: Thank you so much for the interview, Justin. Any shoutouts or plugs that you would like to make?
JS: I just wanna say, good luck to The Walking Zed. They are a phenomenal team and phenomenal guys. I hope they make it.
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- Written by William Turton - @williamturton
- Edited by Alex Magdaleno
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