Fnatic has risen to become one of the largest and most successful esports teams of all time, with multiple championships almost 3 million social media followers.
Since Sam Mathews founded Fnatic in 2004, its players have competed in over 600 tournaments globally across Dota 2, League of Legends, Counter Strike, and Overwatch for a collective $7,000,000. Between sponsors and partnerships, Fnatic is more than just a successful esports team — it’s a successful brand.
In talking with Mathews it’s apparent that he and his colleges see esports as more than just competitive video gaming. It’s way of life — an edgy culture if you will. Fnatic has spearheaded many esports initiatives to grow that culture, like Fnatic Academy, where they vet young up-and-coming Counter Strike players, or the launch of their AIAIAI partnered duel headset.
Most recently, they opened an innovative first-of-its kind esports concept store in London called Bunkr, where they hold events, shoot live streams, and of course sell merch. Mashable got a chance to talk to Mathews about Fnatic, Bunkr, and even the upcoming Overwatch League.
Mashable: What’s your involvement been like with Fnatic recently?
Sam Mathews: I’m full-time very much hands on working in the company and it’s obviously super fun. We’re doing a lot of cool stuff right now, trying to innovate in many different ways. It’s great when you’re on the wave of a new sport and it’s nice to be riding a wave that’s growing. We’ve acquired a hardware company, launched new gear, and have a fashion line.
Fnatic recently launched Bunkr. Can you tell us a little about that?
The main thing about the Bunkr is it’s not just a gaming thing. Gaming is a part of esports as much as sports is a part of skating or snowboarding. Esports is its own culture which has its own viewership; esports fans aren’t necessarily always gamers. For us we’re trying to showcase the best of esports. We carry our competitors team’s jersey here, we’ve got trophies, we’ve got all of our gear. We’re also going to be showing the culture. Our first major event is called Fnatic Live, where we broadcast via Facebook and Twitch the reveal of our League of Legends team who have been boot-camping in London. It’ll be the first time the press gets exposed to esports outside of a tournament environment. There’s a whole subculture we’re trying to display through Bunkr which is the more edgy lifestyle side of esports.
Fnatic had a pretty big shake-up in their Dota 2 roaster recently letting go Nico “eyyou” Barcelon, Marc Polo “Raven” Luis Fausto and Jimmy “DeMoN” Ho. Do you already have replacements in mind?
It’s a shame the way the Dota scene operates after The International, a lot of grudges come to bear and I think this is a kind of systematic issue across esports. Players are very close in proximity to the other players for a long period of time. They have to train with them every day and live in the same house. Any tiny issue boils to become a big issue. It’s different from a traditional sports team where you’ve got a 30-man squad, you can kind of bury that issue. It’s easy to not talk to them and work with other people, you live outside of where you train. Our team has had some turmoil and some of our players wanted to go home. We are looking at some very interesting people who are waiting for the Boston Major to be up and we’re very much committed to being the best athletes. We’re not backing out of Dota by any means.
We wanted to shift focus a bit and get your thoughts on the Overwatch League. Will Fnatic try to start a state-specific team?
We very strategically went for an American Overwatch team when we picked up our Overwatch players and we’re super excited for the team we’ve got. Blizzard has been amazing and really friendly but the devil’s in the details. We don’t have many, nor does any other team for things like dropping to how our players’ contracts would cross over into the Overwatch League’s. In general I’m super excited in Overwatch as a concept and game. They’ve put a lot into Overwatch league and it looks like Blizzard is very serious about gearing it towards sports people. I just hope they don’t forget their roots which is esports. They’re trying to bring in a lot of these traditional sports owners which I think is great for legitimacy and it’s needed to bolster some of the existing teams; but I think that we need to keep the essences of esports and have a good portion of the teams managed by the original esports people.
Where do you see the future of Fnatic?
I think the future has kind of shown it’s head with the launch of the duel headset, the launch of the Fnatic academy, and the launch of Bunkr. We’re not a company that stands still; we are always looking at ways we can up the ante and move faster for the whole space. We’re not going to wait for someone to do something, we think, “What else can we do?” That’s why we started selling other teams jerseys in our esports store. Why not do that, ultimately we’d hope they would do the same for us. We’re all together on this in esports. So for us, what’s next is just expanding and bringing esports to the masses as much as well can. Whether that’s through physical events, locations like Bunker, or with more academies in local markets; and helping to grow smaller communities like we’ve helped in Southeast Asia. Ultimately I’m not going to be happy until esports and Fnatic are two of the top global sports-recognized entertainment vehicles and think we’re well on the way to that being a reality.