Similar to football, there are coaches, players, managers, owners, sponsors and they are all striving to be the best in competition that they love; and none more want this than Ally eSports, based in East London.
Ally’s player-manager is John ‘Shepstar Shepherd. His team compete in Overwatch, a 6-man First Person Shooter, and Shepard is known as the Professor for his tactical thinking, and player management – almost like that of Arsenal’s Arsene Wenger.
Shepherd is the portrait of the up-and-coming future star and has created a fan base for Ally as they look to secure a place in the 2017 Overwatch Pro League. He invited me to join one of his training sessions to see just how hard the team is pushing for this spot.
It was a small house in Dagenham, no bigger than a dolls house. However, inside was a revelation. There were six people inside all playing the same game on a row of computers, with a whiteboard in the corner detailing the times of their next games and training sessions with targets for each person. On the end of the tables were half drunken energy drinks and a box full of beers.
In the room next door was their own personal gym, in which they had to train in for an hour a day to keep mentally fit. It was otherworldly.
They all had jobs. They all went to Uni. They all gamed. But Ally eSports isn’t a team, it’s a family. The team would wake up at 9am train for six hours, go to work or Uni and come back and train some more. The dedication is astounding.
I sat down with Shepherd to ask him about managing the team. He told me that its “very stressful managing individuals as well as reporting to the owners; you can lose a lot of money depending on if we are successful or not.
“I’ve spent a lot of time on this instead of focusing on my work, I have had to sacrifice a lot of my life just to get this far.”
The players in the team are very competitive with each other and this pushes Shepherd on. “If you get a team full of promising players it’s very easy to make it work, and once the team got into its rhythm, as a manager it makes me feel very happy. I see my team win games, tournaments and I get to see the progression and it makes me feel really good. And they deserve it after all the practice the put in.”
However being a strong team doesn’t come without its challenges. “There is a difficulty getting the players to games, and keeping them in the motion; due to their own work.”
The team has had to sacrifice its social life just to get to where it is today as they have to practice as much as possible just to keep up with the competition and to keep progressing. Then, for Shepard there is the personal challenge of being a manager.
“Dealing with players egos. . . it’s very hard to keep this under control, and helping this will help the team as some players can’t deal with the pressure of someone always on them. So you have to keep people’s mindsets in check and promoting a healthy environment.”
As a manager he has to make the difficult decisions, like who to bring onto the team, who to drop and when to play what line up against a team. I asked him about the conflict he has faced in the past about this.
“It’s very hard as a manager because if you want to get rid of a player who is doing extremely well, but he’s always breathing down other people’s necks it’s very hard to make that big decision with the fact that the team might do awful if you didn’t have that player playing, but if you can replace him with a similar level player without an ego, you have to do this.”
In a world where football stadiums are filled with gaming fans, multi-million pound rewards and the chance to become a celerity, its hard to see why this isn’t appealing to the team. They are driven by this goal and one day they believe they can achieve this.
Listen to the full interview here: