Interview with Robert Haxton of Team Dignitas on UK eSports scene, future of PC gaming

Team Dignitas reveal that they consider 'mainstream sport' to be their prime competitor - 'fundamentally believe eSports is capable of achieving the same broad appeal'

Team Dignitas UK eSports

We spoke to Robert Haxton, part of the management at the UK professional gaming organisation ‘Team Dignitas‘, which describes itself as one of the ‘best and most professional gaming teams in the world’. Among other things – we spoke about how the team was founded, where it has come from, their successes and any set backs, what it takes to become a pro-gamer, women in pro gaming, the UK eSports scene, the future of PC gaming – and the aspirations of the team itself.

Here is the interview – in it’s entirety.

How was Team Dignitas founded?

[Robert Haxton] Team Dignitas was founded on the 9th of September 2003 as a fusion of the Battlefield 1942 clans Legion Condor and Sweden Kompanix. By July 2004 Team Dignitas had become a formally registered company and we began expanding into other games, a tradition we continue to adhere to today.

What is the background of the founders?

[Robert Haxton] Michael ‘Odee’ O’Dell is the Managing Director of Team Dignitas and it is his unremitting energy and dedication that continues to play the central role in the development of the team. Odee’s life could have been very different had it not been for a serious injury that cut short his promising professional American football career. He seized upon the challenge of leading Team Dignitas after an 18-year career working as a Marketing Manager for a postage stamp company.

Odee Team Dignitas UK eSports

Michael ‘Odee’ O’Dell is the Managing Director of Team Dignitas

Odee deserves enormous credit, not only for building Team Dignitas into a premier global eSports team, but also for his efforts in supporting the wider development of eSports.

What did you do before Team Dignitas – and how did you get involved?

[Robert Haxton] During the mid 1990s, I, like many others, seized upon the emergence of multiplayer gaming and by the year 2000 I was entering professional competitions and travelling the globe. I began working after completing my studies in 2004, but continued to remain involved in competitive gaming.

In 2008 I applied to join Team Dignitas, determined to enlist their support to enter a major championship for a newly released game (World in Conflict). Twelve months later we emerged victorious and I decided to step away from being a professional gamer so that I could concentrate on supporting the development of Team Dignitas – one of the finest teams in eSports!

Robert Haxton Team Dignitas who tells us how Team Dignitas consider 'mainstream sport' to be their prime competitor

Robert Haxton, manager at Team Dignitas who considers mainstream sport to be their prime competitor

As a team what has your biggest success been?

[Robert Haxton] Our greatest success is simply to reflect upon what we have become. Gamers across the world consider us to be one of the finest and most professional teams around. A hard earned reputation, which we are very proud to have.

What would you say the biggest failure as a team is which you have had to overcome?

[Robert Haxton] We would honestly struggle to name any serious setback. It hasn’t always been easy, but we have always been pushing forwards and developing. Arguably, the greatest challenge we face on a day to day basis is managing a large group of youthful gamers, many of whom are full of passionate exuberance, which can see nerves frayed and tempers rise at times, especially during major championships. However, since our entire staff consists of ex-professional gamers (Odee included remember), we understand how to defuse these situations.

Team Dignitas UK eSports

As a team – who is your main competition?

[Robert Haxton] The foundations and reputation of Team Dignitas are now so secure now that we don’t feel threatened by any of the other gaming teams within eSports. It might surprise you to hear that we actually consider mainstream sport to be our prime competitor. There is a huge disparity between the commercial support we each receive, but we fundamentally believe eSports is capable of achieving the same broad appeal and our mission is to get on that equal footing as soon as possible.

What are Team Dignitas’ revenue streams, and how important are sponsors?

[Robert Haxton] One of the reasons we have had such great support from our sponsors over the years is our commitment to developing enhanced partnerships. For us, it isn’t just about simply applying an Intel, SCAN, iiyama, etc, logo to our website and clothing. We endeavour to continually explore new ways of supporting each other’s work so that we become ever more beneficial to one another. Within this spirit we encourage all our players to speak with our sponsors whenever possible, especially when at events. From top to bottom we want everyone within Team Dignitas to develop a genuine appreciation of those companies that provide us with their fantastic support.

What has the key been to the success of Team Dignitas?

[Robert Haxton] The ethos of the team underpins our success – we strive to support as many professional gamers as possible to realise their dream of becoming eSports champions.

How exactly does Team Dignitas recruit it’s players, and how are they employed?

[Robert Haxton] Everyone who plays for Team Dignitas signs a contract. It helps people realise they are joining a professional organisation and sets out what they can expect from us and in turn what we expect from them. We regularly have individuals and teams write to us, asking if we’d like to recruit them, but more often than not we’ll be the ones making the approach.

What would you say to a gamer who aspires to be in a team like Team Dignitas – what does it take to be a pro gamer?

[Robert Haxton] To be successful in any profession requires hard work and that certainly holds true for professional gaming. Anyone who has reached the elite top level within gaming has had to combine his or her talent and personal qualities with an immense amount of training. Getting to this level however is just the start. Only a select few have the stamina to maintain a long-term dominant position within their game.

Team Dignitas UK eSports

What is your opinion on all female gamers and female gaming clans/teams.

[Robert Haxton] Within the traditional sporting arena it makes sense to split men and women apart – you simply can’t ignore the impact of biology on physical performance. However, within eSports a persons’ physical strength is essentially irrelevant to the outcome and, justifiably, some people are sceptical about female only professional gaming competitions. However, female orientated competitions do succeed in securing additional media attention and the additional exposure helps the whole of eSports develop – to the mutual benefit of male and female gamers.

Like many other leading eSports organisations – why is it that despite your size there are no female team members – and do you feel this is an issue?

[Robert Haxton] We have always been ready to recruit a female team or individual, but they would need to be on a par with their top male rivals and, thus far, few have reached this level. This comment isn’t meant to be a reflection on the capacity of female gamers, if anything it testifies to the great thronging mass of male gamers that stand in their way.

What would you say the best ways to follow the eSports scene are?

[Robert Haxton] The eSports landscape is constantly changing, but the amount of coverage being streamed across the web is at a record level, with Euro Sport supplying additional mainstream coverage with a highlights package that covers the Intel Extreme Masters.
Another central viewing platform for live competitive action at the moment is the MLG Pro Circuit. It consists of six live events across the US where the world’s best videogame players compete for big cash prizes. Also, the World Cyber Games might only take place for 1 brief week every year, but it remains one of the most prestigious events in eSports because of its Olympic themed competitive format.

What are the key UK gaming tournaments, and what is the current status of the UK eSports scene?

[Robert Haxton] Multiplay runs the biggest and most important tournaments in the UK with their ‘I’ series events. They regularly draw anything up to 2,000 participants to their events, with many more visitors and exhibitors in attendance. These events act as a barometer to the health of eSports as a whole within the UK and there has never been a moment where anything other than multiple tournaments have been available across a range of gaming genres over the last few years.

What exactly was the United Kingdom eSports Association – which Team Dignitas was involved in?

[Robert Haxton] It was an attempt to bring some much needed structure and governance to the growing world of eSports. Unfortunately, the ambition of this body outstripped its capacity to deliver and, regrettably, the initiative failed, but the mantle remains to be picked up again at some future point.

Team Dignitas UK eSports

What is the future of eSports – especially in the UK? Why do you feel it hasn’t taken off in the way it has in other countries?

[Robert Haxton] eSports has gone from strength to strength since its emergence in the mid 90s. The global recession hindered the speed of its development, but I can’t think of anyone involved in competitive gaming today who is in any doubt that in another 10 years the eSports scene will be bigger than ever. The UK scene might not be the most developed within eSports, but we do have a vast pool of enthusiastic gamers in this country. Our challenge is the same as that faced by countries, to seize upon the enormous passion for gaming and deliver a media rich spectacle that entertains and captivates the public.

What will it take for eSports to be taken seriously, and for competitive gaming to grow – and become mainstream?

[Robert Haxton] Plenty of ‘hearts and minds’ remain to be won over to the concept of viewing gaming as a professional and respectable activity. I believe the real key is to get more gamers around the world earning respectable incomes. When so many of the competitors within eSports are unable to support themselves financially, how can we be surprised when people perceive eSports to simply be a quirky novelty?

Yes, there are some fantastically well-rewarded gamers around the world, but the unfortunate truth is the majority struggle to show any real reward for the considerable time and effort they invest. It is the duty of these same individuals however to still make a concerted effort to showcase competitive gaming to the media, to help bring about the changes they wish to see.

Where in the UK where would you say the ‘gaming hotspots’ are?

[Robert Haxton] Various big cities in the UK and in Europe regularly host major eSports events, but the beating heart of gaming doesn’t belong to one spot. eSports is a global entity, it belongs to no one, and it is simply ‘there’ to be shared by one and all, no matter where they reside or how they choose to play. The allure of eSports is that it is universally accessible and presents a completely level playing field. People love the sense of accomplishment that comes from emerging victorious against a world pitted against them!

“We have absolutely no idea why some people wish to pen an obituary for PC gaming”

What is the future of PC gaming – is PC gaming ‘dead’?

[Robert Haxton] We have absolutely no idea why some people wish to pen an obituary for PC gaming. If you are a PC owner you have at your disposal a platform to not just play games, but a means by which you can ‘take up residence’ within your favoured set of communities. Voice communication programs, instant messaging, live video streams, developer chats, forum surfing, etc, these all complement a gamers’ experience and can only be performed seamlessly on a PC.

It seems as though for ‘consoles’ as we know them to catch up with this somewhat immersive community experience is still some time away.

What do you think of Counter-Strike: GO and what do you anticipate the reception to be amongst pro gamers?

[Robert Haxton] As of yet we haven’t had any hands on time with this game. As a team however we have always welcomed new games and we are excited about the reinvention of this iconic title. Professional gamers will however be the first to be highly critical, should the game be flawed upon release.

What game are you most looking forward to right now?

[Robert Haxton] I’m currently scratching around to find a new strategy title to fall in love with. Total War and the Civilization series of games have done it for me in the past, but nothing is ticking all the boxes at the moment. I have however pre-ordered Battlefield 3, to provide some light hearted amusement in the coming months, especially against my housemate, whose FPS ego needs taking down a notch or two!

Finally – what are the aspirations of Team Dignities?

[Robert Haxton] We shall continue to work hard and grow as a team, whilst helping to support the wider development of eSports. We have never operated purely by commercial considerations, we see ourselves as custodians to a new dawn, helping to usher in an exciting new form of entertainment for the 21st century.