Las Vegas esports team practices at least 10 hours a day

Updated January 23, 2018 - 10:57 am

The Mustache Club has gathered on a Tuesday afternoon to watch its hero blow stuff up.

Thousands strong, they’re here to cheer on a thick-whiskered young Swede with his own line of clothing — and, yes, coffee mugs — all adorned with his distinctive facial hair.

“Poop on a stick, dude,” Ludvig “Stormen” Storm sighs, bemoaning a bad move during an eight-hour streaming session of “Fortnite,” a survival video game where he guides a mace-wielding combatant through a pastoral landscape, swatting at anything that moves.

In addition to offering his own, F-bomb-laden commentary of his performance, Storm talks privately with fans who’ve paid $4.99 a month to subscribe to his page on the Twitch streaming site, gaining special access to converse with him via headset as he plays.

He also continually fields questions posted in his page’s chat room, sounding kind of like a Scandinavian version of Keanu Reeves back in his “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” days as he answers into his webcam.

“Stormen, does your wrist ever hurt?” one viewer asks.

“Would you ever consider a career in music, like singing or something?” another wonders.

Storm’s following is substantial: He boasts 146,000 subscribers to his YouTube page, where his gaming videos have been viewed nearly 12 million times.

He’s been streaming for close to three years, but his audience really blew up after a successful showing at TwitchCon 2016, a convention for gaming streamers that drew 35,000 fans to the San Diego Convention Center.

In the increasingly crowded and competitive world of professional esports, this is how you get discovered: Build name recognition, showcase your skills and establish a fan base through online streaming; consistently top gaming leaderboards; then — if you’re good enough — a pro team just might come calling.

It worked for Storm.

Last January, he was recruited by the Vegas-based Rogue esports organization to join its “H1Z1” team.

Now, he’s a professional gamer living in America.

“It’s crazy, just the fact that gaming can take you across the world right now,” he says from the Rogue support staff’s house on the city’s southwest side, a rose tattoo brightening one of his forearms. “That it can take me to Vegas is insane.”

As little as five years ago, none of this would have been possible.

Back then, there was little money to be made in competitive video gaming.

But the rise of Twitch has created a platform for a whole new world of esports opportunities.

Now, business is booming — from Vegas to Beijing.

“Everything has happened so fast,” Storm says. “Everything is kind of like … surreal.”

Want to play a game — for a living?

Look, you don’t get your ’stache emblazoned on a $24.99 camouflage T-shirt for nothing.

To get popular enough to sell your own fan gear, like Storm, requires years and years of immersing yourself in something akin to video game boot camp.

“You gotta practice a lot. Ten hours a day, for sure, to become a pro,” says Storm, who started gaming when he was 8. “And even if you do that, there’s so much competition, 10 hours a day might not be enough.”

Upon signing with a team, the demands become even more intense.

A typical day for Storm as part of his Rogue regimen: Start practicing at noon. Take an hourlong break at 4 p.m. Resume practice from 5 to 7 p.m. Switch games and play until 10 or 11 p.m.

And then there are all the tournaments.

Most esports games follow a general schedule: There’s a spring and summer season, fall is for playoffs and world championships with winter passing for a brief offseason.

It’s a grind: Some players travel up to 150 days a year.

What’s more, competing live in a team context in arenas full of screaming fans is a wholly different experience than playing online from your bedroom against friends. Plenty of talented gamers fail to make the transition (they’re derisively referred to as “onliners”).

Competitive gaming requires a unique skill set.

In addition to the obvious physical traits required (incredible hand-eye coordination, swift reaction times) there are numerous intangibles, chief among them, the ability stay calm under pressure, to think on your feet and adapt quickly, to focus for long periods of time without pause.

“It’s insane,” says Rogue CEO and co-founder Derek Nelson. “Some of these games will go on for hours without a break.”

One of Rogue’s “Counter-Strike: Global Offensive” players, Casper “cadiaN” Møller, recalls a tournament in Germany where a match lasted from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. — this after starting the day with a game at 9 a.m.

Players have specific roles in esports in the same way that, say, an NBA squad, has established positions, each with its own demands and responsibilities.

There’s near-constant practicing, scrimmaging and plenty of homework involved.

Each team has a coach — and some of them an analyst, as well — who breaks down game film of the opposition, attempting to identify weaknesses and patterns while developing winning strategies.

Most games are “patched” numerous times a year, meaning changes are made — characters might be added, game maps might be altered — to keep them fresh by providing new twists and challenges.

A pro has to keep on top of all of this.

Even if a given player can check all these boxes, becoming a professional gamer is still a long shot: There are more than 200 million regular gamers in America alone, and the competition is fierce.

“I’m looking for the top .00001 percent of players in the game,” says Rogue President and co-founder Franklin Villareal, who assembles Rogue’s many teams.

He’s also looking for players that people will actually want to watch.

In the same way that traditional sports have evolved into an entertainment business above all else, esports is becoming predicated on personalities capable of attracting viewers, their lives forming the backstory of the sport.

As such, today’s pro gamer tends to stand in stark contrast with any pasty-skinned, gamer nerd stereotypes.

Appearance matters.

Style counts.

“They care about how they look. They work out every day. They eat healthy,” Nelson says. “Everything to them affects their performance. That’s why they’re the best.”

A connection is made

OK, so maybe that pear-shaped pro bowler is an exception.

But for most professional athletes, the possession of otherworldly physical attributes is a given — even the towel waver at the end of the bench.

We don’t identify with them, we’re awed by them — the 275-pound defensive end capable of shedding blockers with arms thick as railroad ties; the 6-foot-11-inch forward with a ballerina’s grace and a Clydesdale’s power.

But esports turns the relationship between player and fan on its head — and this is where much of its appeal lies.

If there is a parallel between esports and traditional sports in terms of the connection between pro and spectator, golf might come closest.

“A lot of people who are fans of golf also play, and they recognize that professional players are much better than they will ever be, but on any given day, maybe they could have a round that’s as a good as a professional,” says Chris Grove, an adviser and investor in Rogue and a veteran analyst in the gaming industry. “I think there’s a similar thing happening with esports. It’s not that everyone who watches esports believes that they could be an elite-level player; it’s that the distance between them and an elite-level player is shrunken to the point that there’s more of an ability for empathy, a deep connection.”

This connection is key, and esports is uniquely suited to fostering it.

Think about how streaming reduces the distance between a guy like Storm and his following: You can interact with him in real time on an almost daily basis as he plays games that you probably play as well.

There are no intermediaries, no gatekeepers.

The back and forth is unfiltered and real.

“It’s kind of like if LeBron James wore a GoPro every time he practiced and just talked the fans through his practice,” Groves says. “That sort of intimate relationship is something that doesn’t have a great analog in traditional sports. That’s one of the things that really allows players to build incredibly large and incredibly loyal audiences.”

An increasing number of media powers have begun to realize as much, with Twitter streaming more than 1,500 hours of esports content in 2017 and television outlets such as The CW, TBS, NBC and DisneyXD getting in on the action.

But, like blood in shark-infested waters, the money flooding into esports has attracted plenty of predators.

Out come the wolves

Tom Brady’s boss is in.

As are the owners of the New York Mets, the L.A. Rams and the Philadelphia Flyers.

Those are but a few of the parties who’ve kicked in a reported $20 million to purchase a franchise in the new Overwatch League, which launched its inaugural season Jan. 10.

With 12 teams spread around the globe, from Houston to London to Shanghai, it’s the biggest, most well-financed esports endeavor yet.

But with billionaires such as New England Patriots owner Bob Kraft entering the fray, organizations such as Rogue are suddenly competing with teams buoyed by more money at their disposal than esports has ever seen.

“It’s an arms race,” Nelson says of professional sports franchises buying into esports. “They want to snatch up these franchises before anyone else does so that when it finally becomes organized, they’ve got the real estate. It’s a land grab.”

And they’re not being coy about it.

“Some of them have specifically told us face to face in meetings, ‘You’re never going to be able to compete with us because we have a marketing team of 50 people,’” Nelson says.

Already, the winnowing process has begun.

“There are less teams now than there were two years ago, because people are realizing you need so much money at this point,” says Villareal. “Two years ago, you could get in and maybe spend $10,000 a month and have a very nice organization. Now, you have to spend a lot more than that. It’s pricing out people who have spent their entire lives in esports.”

Rogue has garnered its share of interest from the corporate world — Nelson says he was on a call with an NBA franchise a few hours earlier, with Rogue being contacted by a number of professional sports franchises about possibly getting in business together.

And so when the initial Overwatch League roster was being assembled, Rogue took the plunge, secured financing and applied for a spot.

“It was a big, expensive, crazy process. But we pursued it,” Nelson says. “We went through the whole application process, we had the requirements, including the funding for the franchise.”

Ultimately, Rogue didn’t make the cut, disbanding its “Overwatch” team in October so that its players could sign elsewhere. (Nelson had to sign a nondisclosure agreement as part of the application process and can’t reveal why Rogue was denied a franchise.)

The Overwatch League plans to expand to 28 teams eventually, so Rogue could vie for entry as early as next season, though Nelson says he’s not sure they’ll go for it again.

Either way, the “Overwatch” team served its purpose, putting Rogue on the map and establishing it as an industry player with the ability to sign marquee talent for its other squads.

“Without that year of being at the top of the game in ‘Overwatch,’ we would not have grown the brand the way that we did,” Nelson says. “Teams traditionally come and go. It’s just part of the journey.”

Crucially, Rogue’s “Overwatch” success attracted the investors needed for long-term growth and a measure of stability: Just last week, Rogue was acquired by esports infrastructure services company ReKTGlobal, Inc. for an undisclosed sum.

No one’s crashing on anyone’s couch anymore.

Now, with a bigger profile, Rogue is poised to reap bigger dividends as esports continues to grow swiftly, especially in Vegas.

“It’s a new sport for a new medium,” says Seth Schorr, CEO of Fifth Street Gaming and the chairman of the Downtown Grand, who’s also a Rogue investor and adviser. “Rogue is the center to build a universe around.”

Contact Jason Bracelin at or 702-383-0476. Follow @JasonBracelin on Twitter.

Underground home was built as Cold War-era hideaway
The underground house at 3970 Spencer Street is one of the valley’s most unusual homes built 26 feet underground in 1978 by Girard “Jerry” B. Henderson, who, planned to survive the end of the world there.
Lip Smacking Foodie Tours takes you where the locals go
Donald Contursi talks about Lip Smacking Foodie Tours, which offers walking tours of restaurants on and off Las Vegas Boulevard with food samples and tidbits of history about the places they visit.
Bump stock manufacturers under fire
The Justice Department said last month that it had started the process to amend federal firearms regulations to clarify that federal law defines bump stocks as machine guns.
Art Bell’s Top 10 Shows
A selection of radio host Art Bell’s most popular shows.
Longtime Las Vegas attorney John Momot dies at age 74
Criminal defense attorney John Momot, who represented mob figures and even played himself in the movie “Casino,” has died.
David Copperfield in court after man injured during magic trick
The attorney for a British man who is suing illusionist David Copperfield said his client suffered serious injuries after being called on stage during Copperfield's show at MGM Grand.
5 things connecting Las Vegas and Marilyn Monroe
1. Marilyn Monroe, known then as Norma Jeane, obtained her first divorce in Las Vegas at the age of 20 on September 13, 1946. 2. According to some biographers, Monroe lived at 604 S. 3rd Street for four months during the summer of 1946. The house has since been torn down and is now the site of a parking lot. 3. In 1954, Monroe almost married Joe DiMaggio in Las Vegas but the wedding was called off last minute. The wedding was to be held at the Hotel El Rancho Vegas which was located on the southwest corner of Sahara Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard. 4. Las Vegas has at least one road dedicated to the star. Marilyn Monroe Avenue is located in east Las Vegas and intersects with Betty Davis Street and Cary Grant Court. 5. There are currently more than 20 Marilyn Monroe impersonators for hire in the Las Vegas Valley.
Sir Richard Branson announces purchase of Hard Rock Hotel
Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, has acquired the Hard Rock Hotel with partners and plans to turn it into a Virgin-branded property by the end of 2019.
3 Centennial High School students killed in Calif. crash (Full)
Three Centennial High School students were killed Thursday morning in Southern California when their vehicle was struck by a suspected drunken driver while they were enjoying their spring break, according to a family member of one of the victims.
Retail Restroom Sexual Assault Suspect
Las Vegas police are asking for help finding a man they said groped a woman in a south Las Vegas Valley restroom. (Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department)
Calvary Christian Learning Academy, “There was no fair warning.”
Samantha O’Brien, whose three-year-old daughter attended the Calvary Christian Learning Academy daycare, found out Monday night when her daughter’s teacher called about the school closing.
Mojave Max at Springs Preserve
File footage of Mojave Max at Springs Preserve. (Springs Preserve)
Bellagio's New Conservatory Brings Italian Summer To Las Vegas
Bellagio's New Conservatory Brings Italian Summer To Las Vegas (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Kari Curletto of Las Vegas put over 500 hours into making her toilet paper wedding dress. (Courtesy Kari Curletto)
Kari Curletto of Las Vegas put over 500 hours into making her toilet paper wedding dress. (Courtesy Kari Curletto)
The Real Crepe In Las Vegas Serves Authentic Crepes In The Style Of Brittany, France
The Real Crepe In Las Vegas Serves Authentic Crepes In The Style Of Brittany, France. (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-journal)
New Marilyn Musical Brings Screen Icons Life To Strip
Paris Las Vegas hosts musical bio featuring new, old tunes. (Carol Cling Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Vegas' hottest concerts of the summer
Vegas' hottest concerts of the summer
We Taste-tested The Best Doughnut Shops In Las Vegas
We Taste-tested The Best Doughnut Shops In Las Vegas. (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
5 must-see bands at Punk Rock Bowling 2018
5 must-see bands at Punk Rock Bowling 2018
Gabi Coffee & Bakery Is Like A Korean Speakeasy From The 1920s
Gabi Coffee & Bakery Is Like A Korean Speakeasy From The 1920s (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Five must-see acts at the Electric Daisy Carnival 2018
Five must-see acts at the Electric Daisy Carnival 2018
The "13 Reasons Why" mustang cruises down the Las Vegas Strip (Courtesy Netflix)
4 fun and fascinating museums in Las Vegas
U2 in Vegas through the years
U2 in Vegas through the years
Dirt Dog In Las Vegas Makes Crazy L.A. Street Food
Dirt Dog In Las Vegas Makes Crazy L.A. Street Food (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-journal)
Black Tap In Las Vegas Makes This Instagram-ready Golden Knights Shake (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-journal)
Nevada Ballet Theatre Premieres Until December
‘Until December’ debuts at ‘Ballet & Broadway’ season finale (Carol Cling Las Vegas
Celebrate The Golden Knights With Knights-inpired Latte Art (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Yodeling Boy Mason Ramsey Signs With Atlantic Records, Debuts First Single
Yodeling Boy Mason Ramsey Signs With Atlantic Records, Debuts First Single Ramsey, who shot to fame after a viral video of him yodeling at an Illinois Walmart surfaced, just debuted “Famous.” “If I'm gonna be famous for somethin'/I wanna be famous for lovin' you/If I'm gonna be known around the world/I wanna because of you, girl” Mason Ramsey, “Famous” It’s been quite the rush to stardom for the 11-year-old, who appeared on The Ellen Show and performed at Coachella earlier this month. “I’d been to Nashville a few times before, but never thought something like this would happen. It’s a dream to sign with Atlantic and Big Loud.” Mason Ramsey “I loved recording ‘Famous’ and can’t wait for everyone to hear it.”
Steve Aoki, Pitbull And Other Stars Make An Apperance At The "Keep Memory Alive" Gala
Steve Aoki, Pitbull And Other Stars Make An Apperance At The "Keep Memory Alive" Gala. (Janna Karel Las Vegas review-Journal)
"Hamilton" Fans Line Up Overnight At Smith Center To Get Tickets
"Hamilton" fans line up overnight at Smith Center to get tickets. (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
5 concerts to see in Las Vegas this week
You can visit the speakeasy in The Mob Museum's basement... if you know the password
6 new foods hitting movie theaters in 2018
Lip Smacking Foodie Tours takes you where the locals go
Donald Contursi talks about Lip Smacking Foodie Tours, which offers walking tours of restaurants on and off Las Vegas Boulevard with food samples and tidbits of history about the places they visit.
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson Welcomes New Baby Girl!
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson Welcomes New Baby Girl! The 45-year-old actor posted an adorable photo on Instagram, celebrating his newborn baby girl, Tiana Gia Johnson. Dwayne Johnson, via Instagram Dwayne Johnson, via Instagram Dwayne Johnson, via Instagram This is Johnson’s second daughter with his girlfriend, Lauren Hashian. His oldest daughter, Simone Garcia Johnson, came from his previous marriage. Johnson and Hashian first announced they were expecting another child back in January. Congratulations!!
Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekend Car Show celebrates 21st year
The Stray Cats, Jerry Lee Lewis, Duane Eddy, Elvira and Mitch Polzak make appearances the 21st Annual Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekend car show at the Orleans hotel and casino on Saturday, April 21, 2018.
This "Alice in Wonderland" cocktail changes colors and flavors while you sip
Take a tour of The Underground at The Mob Museum
Prince death investigation coming to an end
Prosecutors in Minnesota plan an announcement Thursday on the two-year investigation into Prince's death from a drug overdose Prince was 57 when he was found alone and unresponsive in an elevator at his Paisley Park estate on April 21, 2016. An autopsy found he died of an accidental overdose of fentanyl. Search warrants unsealed about a year after Prince died showed that authorities searched his home, cellphone records of associates and his email accounts to try to determine how he got the drug. The county attorney has scheduled a morning announcement at which time charges could be filed.
Art Bell’s Top 10 Shows
A selection of radio host Art Bell’s most popular shows.
Big Bounce America visits North Las Vegas
Billing itself as "the biggest bounce house in the world," Big Bounce America visits Craig Ranch Regional Park in Las Vegas.
News Headlines
Local Spotlight
Home Front Page Footer Listing
You May Like

You May Like