In-depth interview with Grant Rousseau, the man pulling the strings behind Guild’s esports operations: “I’m not the coach, I’m not the performance manager who is working on the psychological side or the in-game side, I’m the guy behind the scenes asking things like: What do we want to create and how do we want to put it together?”

Guild Esports have generated many headlines over the past year. From Fortnite tournament wins to sustainable esports tournaments, dividing opinion over the Guild jersey and their esports academy launch, the UK-based organisation that is famous for partnering with David Beckham have been turning heads in more ways than one.
Guild’s director of esports, Grant Rousseau, is well known in UK esports from his time starting his own LoL team as well as managerial stints at big orgs Splyce and Excel Esports. He’s overseen projects such as the Guild Academy and is focused on helping their teams and players to achieve big things. Megalodontus asks Grant about Guild’s plans and his journey through esports in this in-depth interview.

Thank you for accepting this interview with Esports News UK, it’s lovely to have you back! First things first, tell us about your journey with Guild so far and your background in esports.

I’m League of Legends born and bred, right? That’s definitely the best thing to say! It’s always been the game I’ve loved. I got into esports through some friends in the classic way who showed me what the EU LCS was at the time, and I became your classic Fnatic fanboy during the Huni/Reignover days five or six years ago. 

I’ve been in the UK scene for for a little while, I started my own amateur esports team back in the summer of 2015. I really, really enjoyed the experience. So when I went away and started actual work post-university, that kind of stuck in my head and I just went: “You know what? I want to do something in esports full-time. That’s my calling.”

So from there just started reaching out to a few teams and I got very lucky with Counter Logic Gaming over in America. That was in 2016.

I’ve been bouncing around since then. I was in team management in LoL for a year, then I joined Splyce [which later rebranded to Mad Lions] where I went from managing their LoL team all the way up to director of operations, and then I transitioned to Overactive Media. After that it was Excel Esports, where I was head of operations. So I’ve been very much on the operations/team management side, not direct performance, but I’ve certainly been a part of helping build teams within LoL and coming to understand what performance means and how that works, as well as finding those right connections.

The Guild opportunity came to me around nine months ago now. Flipping heck, that’s gone fast! It was at a point where I’d say Guild was somewhat in its infancy, so the teams had kind of been created and signed, and they had players on board. They were starting to build up the staff as well, so it was more a case of the brand had launched, but there was no creation around those long-term performance aspects around how the teams will actually perform.

For me, Guild was a blank slate and that was the most exciting part. Over the months, as per my job, I’ve been trying to make sure those teams perform and win some trophies and do well. Well, I mean all four of our teams have done well at some point and three of our teams currently are now top four in Europe so… it’s going okay so far! 

My personal goal is to see the development of UK esports across the board, such that the UK is producing top tier esports talent. I want esports to be an industry in the UK that is providing jobs and opportunities, and ultimately making people smile.”

You mentioned that you worked a lot on the managerial side and now that you’re on the performance side with Guild. I’d like to ask you how it differs and what values or lessons have you taken along the way that’s helped you in Guild, despite the slightly different role?

I think coming into esports, I was able to bring a sort of engineering mindset from my background, where things need to be black and white, where you need to be operationally excellent. That’s where I felt comfortable and ready. What I needed to learn was very much the empathy and the emotional aspects towards performance like in all sports, and understanding what makes a player tick. Coming in as a rookie, I’m was always thinking: “Well, why aren’t you winning? I’m giving everything you need, you know?”

When actually, there’s more to it than that. Finding that emotional and empathetic connection with them, that’s been the biggest learning for me. 

In operational roles, that obviously isn’t the most applicable. My job is to be operationally excellent and to perform the best while saving as much money as possible. I’m not the coach, I’m not the performance manager who is working on the psychological side or the in-game side, I’m the guy behind the scenes who’s trying to manage the budgets of the teams and asking things like: “What do we want to create? How do we want to put it together?”

Just very money-focused. I think biggest learning I brought into Guild is not just look at creating a team but also looking at how that team blends together on an emotional standpoint, how a performance manager is able to get the most out player from a sports psychology point of view, etc. I don’t have the skills to repeat that, but I understand how and why they work now.

Coming to Guild’s performance side, I now felt I had the operational excellence to manage and run these teams for a public company, but also understand what you need to put together to make a team tick and click, and whether that is something I can affect or to bring expertise in. I think that’s the biggest thing I’ve brought to Guild from my experience.

The other role you’ve played is an actor – Grant ‘Good Game’ Gold – in some content for Guild. Is this the start of a lucrative acting career for you?

(laughs) God… it was the – now former – head of creative Danny Lopez’s idea! I’ve come to learn whenever you get a message from him that says, “I’ve had an idea”, you need to say “no” immediately!

He told me that he had an idea involving me in a hot tub for Fortnite, and I just went: “What???

I was still quite new to the company, so I’m not gonna say no, am I? Before I knew it, there I was, Guild Geezer in a hot tub! 

Yeah… I don’t know if the acting career is going to take off? You know, it’d be cool to see a sequel of Guild Geezer. That’d be something! It’s fair to say, I’ll be sticking to the performance roles instead of the acting roles, but it was a lot of fun!

An Oscar-worthy performance from Grant

Speaking of other roles, I know that you’ve done some casting on the side. Do you have any plans to resume that or are you too busy at the moment? 

Honestly, it’s so sad. I love casting! I cast a lot with Jon Ellis, who’s now the head coach of Solary. I think at one point we wanted to really push it. We ended up casting for the UKEL and thought it was the first step, we’ve seen Jamada and Hiprain and how they advanced so fast, Jamada especially, and all of this could be exciting. And then we just got bogged down by real life. 

John is coaching full-time at Solary and I don’t have time to even turn on a game in my evenings, at the moment. I would love to say yes because I absolutely adore it. But realistically, there is just too much to do right now. Sometimes a hobby has to go on the back burner to make other things work. But here’s hoping one day I get that call from Quickshot to say: “Hey, we’d love you down for a cast!”

Let’s dive on into the Guild esports side. [ENUK editor] Dom really wants to know this because he likes football, what is Guild’s relationship like with David Beckham at the moment and does David Beckham like to play games? 

I’ve not personally spoken to him yet and that’s purely unfortunate due to COVID more than anything else. What I do know is David’s a massive supporter of what we do and he’s extremely involved in our creation. The Academy is the biggest aspect he’s involved with, because that’s something where his experience from his football background is appropriate to what we do.

You’ve seen him in some of the content we’ve done, that’s where his passion is with us, especially, giving the opportunity to those youngsters to turn what they do into something professional. 

With that, he is very curious about watching the esports we’re in and he keeps track of our results. I meet up with his team, as do many of our staff every week. We are in regular contact, non-stop sharing ideas and thoughts on how we can improve things. He is very, very involved on a weekly basis. Hopefully, as things move to being more events based again, and COVID hopefully starts to move in a better direction, he can become even more involved in person. We’ll have to see how the world changes.

As for games, I’ll say… I don’t think he is the biggest gamer. His sons, though, as you can imagine, are all over it! FIFA is obviously something he knows through and through. Hell, he’s in the game now! So if he does play a game, I’m pretty sure that’s his go-to. 

The Guild Academy was announced somewhat recently and there was a lot of fanfare about it. I believe in your interview with The Loadout, you mentioned that it could very well be the biggest or next big thing to happen in UK esports. Could you elaborate a little bit why this is?

Sure. The biggest reason why I joined Guild was around this academy plan. What we’re trying to create, it’s the first time – certainly for the UK and in my opinion arguably even Europe – that there’s going to be a very defined and clear system for people who play video games to have a path to becoming a professional player through our platform. Right now as you imagine, it’s still in somewhat infancy stages. 

If you were to log onto the Guild Academy platform right now, you’re going to get access to a year’s content for a few games that we’re in, weekly schedules of in-game mechanical practice, access to one-on-one coaches etc. Each of our games has a dedicated academy coach and as more people join, it will probably get bigger. There’s bespoke video analysis within the platform you get to have access to. You’re able to upload a clip, the coach can come in, draw and make comments on it at certain times, and send it back to you. You’re getting very direct feedback as a player, as well as other helpful content to help you improve. 

Even more importantly, it’s tailored to how good you are. We have levels. If a casual person wants to improve, fantastic! Let’s help you improve. But if there is someone out there wants to be a top, top player, we also have the content to allow that. Now, this is early days, this is still what we’ve got created. There are future plans of course. If you think about it a bit like football, having actual, under-18 teams and under-16 teams where there are dedicated coaches and dedicated staff, and creating that process where if you were to come into this platform, you can see that path to pro through this academy site.

Whilst it’s still in early stages now, it will start to convert to recognition of the top talent and how that can come into Guild. With our head of player development and our new head of performance, we are creating the philosophies around what Guild wants as a pro and we’re starting to define what makes a top player. That’s the first step, and the second step is then to put that into the academy and start to put it through our coaches and our systems. 

I can’t stress enough that I think that this is one of the biggest things for UK esports and one of the biggest for Europe to allow anyone and everyone access to become a pro, and give infrastructure that the UK scene so desperately needs.

What are the challenges that come with the Guild Academy? Being the first is always very ambitious, but that’s tough and there tends to be a lot of unique challenges that are associated with it.

Absolutely. When you have no one to follow, the challenges can come out of nowhere. We’re creating a bespoke platform from scratch, anyone who’s been in development knows how much of a nightmare that is in itself. You get all the challenges around how the platform actually works, together with making sure we get it right around the content that is included on the platform, the direction we want to give to these players, how we show that path to pro.

We’re doing what we believe is correct and from our experiences we’ve pooled all together. But I know more challenges are going to appear as we actually start to put things in place. Its trial by fire, the whole way through.

With the academy announcement, and many of Guild’s teams performing well in their own esports divisions, Guild has solid backing, but you haven’t just simply thrown money around. What do you think of Guild’s progress so far? 

Firstly, thank you for asking that, it’s really nice! It was my goal coming in Guild that that’d be the case. What we’re not here to do is to throw money at everything and be stupid, that doesn’t work and we all know that. We need to make the most of what we have and the resources available, and that’s part of my job. 

What I think we’ve shown is that we’re not rushing. Yes, we want to get things out there and like the academy stuff, but we’re not rushing. We need to identify the right talent, we need to make sure we have the right ability to translate that talent into actual performance. We’re really thinking about how we build these teams, etc. The fact that we have haven’t rushed things, what you’ve seen in the past six/seven months is we’ve made very few roster changes. We have the same FIFA player, we made one change to our Valorant team in January and Rocket League was unchanged since December.

Instead, we’re really focusing on giving them the support they need, such as coaches and regimes they need to get the most out of them. I think you’ve just seen the fruition of that. Our main teams have their head coaches now, we have a full-time nutritionist, a sports psychologist, a fitness expert, and physio and also safeguarding person for our Fortnite players. These things I think other teams talk about, but we make sure we’re actually doing them on a daily basis. 

Our former head of creative told me that he had an idea involving me in a hot tub for Fortnite, and I just went, “What??? I was still quite new to the company, so I’m not gonna say no, am I? Before I knew it, there I was, acting as ‘Guild Geezer’ in a hot tub!”

What are your personal goals with Guild? I’m guessing it’s to be number one in the world?

Funnily enough, it’s not! Now that’s obviously a bonus, right? My personal goals remain unchanged and the big reason I joined Guild… my personal goal is I would like to see the development of UK esports across the board, such that the UK is producing top tier esports talent. I want esports to be an industry in the UK that is providing jobs and opportunities, and ultimately making people smile. That remains unchanged. 

Right now with Guild, the best way I can do that is to combine the results of our teams to get our name out there and to showcase what we’re doing and make sure we get it right, combined with the academy work. Creating that next generation of esports talent, that is my personal goal and that has been the case for five or six years now since I started.

Regarding Guild and the collaboration with David Beckham, in recent times there’s been a lot of collaboration between esports and sports. Some orgs are announcing football ambassadors, other footballers are starting their own orgs, what are your thoughts on this crossover and do you think you’re expected to keep growing? 

Oh, I definitely think it’s gonna keep growing. I think the reason it comes out in a few areas, on the sports side towards esports, they are recognising that esports is the future. Our followers and our fans are this new generation, so you’re hitting a really new age group that perhaps hasn’t connected as well with traditional sports. They’re seeing opportunities to come in and see how they can work with esports to provide them with something awesome. 

From our side, I think we gain knowledge of the sports industry. They’ve been doing it for years, they know what they’re doing, and some of them are actually making money! It’d be silly not to use that experience and knowledge. We want to produce all this esports talent and David Beckham knows that inside out, that’s what he’s done for years. Using that experience and knowledge from our side towards traditional sports, and traditional sports gets access a new market to keep their brands growing. It’s a win-win for both. What I do know is that this means that esports is not slowing down in the slightest.

Speaking of the future, it’s no secret that Guild has been exploring CSGO ideas with Thorin. And since you have a Valorant team, talk to me about Guild’s decision to enter Valorant first as opposed to CS and even LoL, since that’s another title from Riot Games.

Yeah so… what I will say is, I have had so many DMs about this. It’s great to see people pay such close attention and seeing what we’re doing behind the scenes, that’s a compliment itself. Specific to CSGO, I’m afraid we can’t comment on anything yet. We’re keeping close eyes on the scene. We worked with Thorin as you said, we have the knowledge of it, I think we just need to see how the scene continues to develop. It’s still early days, believe it or not, even though it’s been a few months now it’s still early days for us to look at CSGO, I think.

On Valorant and LoL, I wouldn’t say it’s one or the other. I think Valorant was viewed in its own format and yes, it’s a Riot game so it’s comparable to League of Legends but it’s also a completely different game. Accessibility was probably a big one, that can’t be denied. We could have a team tomorrow for Valorant, as an example. Seeing the directions of Valorant, everyone trusts Riot as they should in terms of creating a successful esport and we’ve seen that in six, seven months in Valorant. Its first big tournament was in December and it’s so easy to forget. 

We’re barely a year in and we’re already doing international competitions, so that trust in Riot, the accessibility, being a new organisation wanting to make a splash somewhere, and because it’s a new game, Valorant made complete sense. But I said it’s not one or the other, it’s just in its own form. We reviewed it further and it made sense.

guild esports logo

This is more of a personal question of mine. Since covering ERLs is my specialty, I’ve noticed that over time, LoL-focused organisations in the UK always tend to have trouble growing. In your opinion, do you think that if you’re starting out as an organisation in the UK, you should focus more on other games rather than LoL? 

I think that’s a tough one to answer. It’s a very, very good question. I think you just need to really review if you’re a new organisation coming in, what you gain out of entering that esport, how it fits your brand, and how you believe you can grow from it. LoL makes sense to a few orgs who’ve come in, it’s their passion and their focus. They know they can put content towards it and they can translate that into performance. 

With us coming in, we’ve had a lot of people from football backgrounds or FIFA, and even to an extent Rocket League. We got Gregan in Rocket League, our head coach, early on, who is the king of coaches in Rocket League. We said to ourselves that we’d first focus on Rocket League because with Gregan on board, that made sense. I think use the tools you have, combine that with your brand and what you want to create. 

I think League of Legends is something that’s very accessible for new teams because it’s a massive game. There’s a lot of people that play it, so there’s a lot of people who can provide the knowledge and experience on it, so it makes sense to them. For us at the time, there was no one in Guild who had a LoL background until I joined. Fortnite was handled by a Fortnite expert, we got Gregan for Rocket League, and FIFA was well, half our staff are from football so we had FIFA well covered. We had [Guild esports manager] George Hughes, who works for me and he’s an absolute expert in FIFA. That’s just who Guild got, so it made sense.

David Beckham is very curious about watching the esports we’re in and he keeps track of our results. I meet up with his team, as do many of our staff every week. He is very, very involved on a weekly basis. Hopefully, as things move to being more events based again, and COVID hopefully starts to move in a better direction, he can become even more involved in person.”

Before we end, you’ve had quite a long journey in esports so far. What are some of your fondest memories?

I just want to address this, everyone’s saying my journey is so long, which like in any other industry, five years is nothing. But in esports, everyone’s called to be old and a veteran… I resent this! Ok, I’m joking (laughs)! 

I think for me, my first standout moment was landing in America and walking into CLG for the first time, meeting Aphromoo and some of the team. I remember almost shaking as I met them, as these were my heroes. That was amazing. I think when we got Splyce to third, I remember in Copenhagen, spring 2017, where Splyce had failed to break into top four and finally they got third place. They ended up missing out on Worlds by one game in the gauntlet, losing 3-2 to G2 Esports. That was not a good memory, but that was probably my proudest moment, getting in Peter Dun, Mac and Duke who have all gone to do some amazing things. But it was the first step for Splyce converting into Mad Lions on their dominance, and we’ve seen how incredible Mac’s done with Mad Lions. I still talk to Mac regularly and he’s a good friend of mine.

Returning to the UK for Excel, that was a beautiful movement for me. Not only was I able to do esports full-time but I was able to do it at home. I’m able to create a life myself see my family again, see my friends, and commit to such a great organisation. It was incredible to be part of that. Now it’s all topped off with the fact that I get to work at Guild and it has David Beckham attached to it, who’s been a hero of mine my whole life since I’m a huge football fan.

To have worked with someone like Beckham alongside the creation of something positive for UK esports and its long-term development, that in itself is hopefully a true memory I can create. That one’s still in progress!

You can follow Grant Rousseau on Twitter here and Guild Esports on Twitter here.

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