We tell the story of how a young NBA fan turned law student embarked on a quest to create his own esports organisation… and succeeded.
XTRA Gaming is now an established name in the Fortnite space and increasing in popularity exponentially. The organisation houses some of the most exciting new players such as ReeT and Alliege, and its social media following is growing at a rate of knots. An exceptional achievement in just two years.
The mastermind behind its inception and approach is Manny "Sly" Vieites, the founder and owner of XTRA Gaming. We caught up with the young entrepreneur to understand his journey and the struggles he overcame to get the organisation to where it is today. From using his student loan to pay players to ultimately finding funding from a major media group, this is the creation story of XTRA Gaming.
The birth of XTRA Gaming
When Sly created XTRA it was simply a name and tag for his close friend group on Xbox. Fortnite was "the popping game at the time", and Sly and his friends would tag up in-game and share clips with each other.
For the first six months they had no socials, but the crew soon began to garner a following keen to party up. To make it easier for people to get involved, Sly created an Instagram account for the XTRA crew. An Instagram account that would mark the beginning of what would become a booming esports org.
At the time Sly had just been accepted into a top 10 law school in Miami on a scholarship. During his first semester in September 2018, Sly focused on class and did gaming on the side. However, by the second semester as the XTRA Gaming community continued to grow the idea of diverting his attention to it became increasingly appealing.
“I really started to think if I want to make XTRA into a career I would need to choose between school and gaming, or to find a middle ground," said Sly.
It was a risk at the time. XTRA was still just a close-knit group of friends, a small community. But Sly had bigger plans.
“It reached a point where I sucked it all in and was like okay, I believe in myself, I believe in gaming, I’m just going to go all out. I’m going to make XTRA into an actual team and start to market it as one.”
Taking a leap of faith on XTRA Gaming despite the risks
Sly’s goal for attending law school was to go on to be a sports agent for the NFL or the NBA, but XTRA Gaming saw him redirect this focus to becoming an esports agent instead.
With the first year of law school over, Sly took the summer to pursue his dream of turning XTRA into a professional esports team. “During that summer I went to multiple conferences, including E3 in LA. That summer was a huge eye-opener for me. I was still on the fence at that point in 2019, debating whether I should dive into esports, but after that summer I was certain this was what I wanted to do .”
By the time he returned for his second year of law school in the fall of 2019, he had already built the foundation for his org. He created a Discord, a Twitter and had begun mapping out and planning content for XTRA’s socials. However, if XTRA was going to grow, it would need the funding and networking that would become crucial to its success.
A life changing trip to TwitchCon 2019
“TwitchCon 2019 was the biggest turning point. I knew I wanted to create an org but when I saw the massive Fortnite tournament there I took a step back and was like ‘I need players capable of playing on a stage like this, competing against the 100 Thieves or FaZe guys. I need that and I want my brand on that stage’.”
“That motivated me so much. I knew what I had to do,” said Sly. “I knew I either needed to get money or spend my own. In terms of staff we already had the foundation with the old school XTRA boys, but I wanted to find undiscovered talent and kind of blow them up. I know how to market super well and I knew I could blow people up anyways.”
"I knew I wanted to create an org but when I saw the massive Fortnite tournament there (TwitchCon 2019) I took a step back and was like ‘I need players capable of playing on a stage like this (...) I want my brand on that stage'."
“After TwitchCon, I ended up making XTRA Gaming an official business and got to work finding players,” said Sly. “In the fall of 2019, I signed our first player Middi, who is still on the team today. After that we ended up picking up Rich Homie Quinn, and we were set. “
Thanks to these two recruits, by early 2020 XTRA Gaming started gaining traction.
“We had started to grow on social media, because people began to realise we were signing players and they connected with our brand and liked the design," said Sly.
At Dreamhack Anaheim at the start of 2020 the XTRA Gaming crew “rolled deep” - kitting out XTRA Gaming OG’s and players in XTRA Gaming merch. Aside from giving the org a chance to meet in person at Dreamhack Anaheim Sly was also on a mission, a mission to find and secure upcoming talent.
“I was at the event to scout new talent. And while I was there I noticed one kid that was going off, and it was ReeT,” said Sly. ReeT is now one of XTRA Gaming’s biggest stars, but at the time he was unsigned and unknown. “No one had heard of him before but I saw the potential.”
ReeT finished a modest top 50 at the Dreamhack Open in Anaheim in late February, earning himself $200 in prize money. A week later he became XTRA Gaming’s newest addition, alongside three other hopefuls: Jonny, Sake and Yagi.
Learning how to blow up players through the NBA Sacramento Kings
The skills that Sly would apply to elevate XTRA's new recruits were crafted during his college days. At 18, Sly went to school for journalism and public relations, and in his first year the hungry young student got an internship working with the Sacramento Kings in the NBA.
Sly seized the opportunity, writing stories about the players for the Cowbell Kingdom and hosting his own podcast, The Vietes Rundown. His work later attracted the attention of ESPN, who flew him out to cover matches across the country, for example the NBA All-star weekend.
“With XTRA I just applied everything that I knew from sports to gaming and it’s honestly the same thing. The only difference is you’re now working with nerds, and I’m a nerd at heart too,” said Sly with a chuckle.
“Yes, the athlete world is a little different to the gaming world but the business plans are the same. How to market, how to sell, and what the fans want to see.”
Sly’s background in traditional sports coverage would define XTRA’s approach, and has proved a key ingredient in the organisation’s impressive rise over the last two years.
“Take for example scorecards. In Fortnite, nobody was interested. We started doing actual graphics posts for our XTRA players after every single tournament. Cash Cups, Dreamhacks. All of them. We were one of the first teams to do it and then suddenly every team in the world had them,” said Sly.
“It’s those types of little things that I took from sports. Because in sports as soon as the team won you need that post on social media. Nobody wants to see the score three days later. They want the scorecards 20 seconds after the game.”
Building the foundations for greatness
Given his background Sly was confident in his ability to blow players up and ReeT was XTRA Gaming’s most promising undiscovered talent. “ReeT was apprehensive to create content at the beginning,” said Sly. “But I told him you’re insane, if you stream people will watch you. I had to push him but in the end he agreed. In the first two weeks ReeT had over 400 viewers. It blew up so fast.”
Within a month of joining XTRA Gaming, ReeT was partnered on Twitch.
By the end of March 2020, XTRA Gaming was making a thunderous impact in the Fortnite scene as ReeT secured first place at a coveted Cash Cup Solo, with team-mate Jonny the runner-up. Riding the momentum Sly swiftly recruited two unsigned top 8 finishers from the event: Caleb (3rd place) and Vert (8th place), both of whom are still with the org today.
“The roots of XTRA is finding undiscovered talent,” said Sly. “Finding people that have something of value, who have talent but don’t know how to execute it. That’s what I believe we really excel at, providing that support system, that foundation to take their careers to the next level.”
"XTRA is not a stepping stone to get to FaZe. We’re going to be the next FaZe. Once the players get their head around that, then we can get to work growing their brand together."
Sly was keen for XTRA to fill the void when it came to brand management, highlighting the huge wealth of players sitting on impressive follower bases but not making something of it.
“When you come to XTRA, we’re going to market you, we’re going to fly you out to take photos, shoot videos, this is the real deal,” said Sly. “XTRA is not a stepping stone to get to FaZe. We’re going to be the next FaZe. Once the players get their head around that, then we can get to work growing their brand together.”
In the beginning Sly used his $30,000 student loan to pay players and staff
On the topic of his vision for XTRA Gaming, Sly was adamant on one thing: he knew from the beginning he was in it for the long haul.
“There was no short term goal for XTRA, it was a long time goal. I wasn’t looking for a small reward because realistically esports teams don’t really make money right now. It’s about the end goal. If two years down the road Fortnite started franchising, you can bet XTRA is going to be included in that discussion,” said Sly.
“Those are the types of things I think about that I don’t think a lot of owners think about. I’m looking at the bigger picture.”
But if the organisation was to reach the end game, they needed financing. “I knew what I needed to do, I knew how to do it. I just didn’t have the money,” said Sly.
His approach to compensate for lack of capital had been to sign players to smaller contracts, but even then by the second quarter of 2020, XTRA had half a dozen players on the books.
“It was basically a whole year of me using all my student loan money and investing it. Over $30,000 all into XTRA. All into the players’ salaries, the brand, the editing,” said Sly.
“It was a huge gamble but I believed in it. My family and friends had their doubts, they didn’t understand why I was in law school and doing this at the same time, it made no sense.. but here we are.”
Sly: "I’m so grateful that happened" - A player's father invests in the project
With players such as ReeT, Vert and Caleb blowing up, Sly knew his student loan would only go so far. “We had no funding; I was paying players but I knew it wasn’t sustainable. Our players were blowing up. ReeT, for example, had gone from a no-name to being a tier 1 player in just four months. I was like... How the hell am I going to be able to pay a tier 1 player’s salary?”
Acknowledging XTRA Gaming did not have the finances to support a raise, ReeT became a free agent in August 2020 and Sly stepped in to help find him a new team. Despite the pair joining calls with potential new suitors, ReeT was still keen to stay at XTRA. as it was more than just a team, it was a family. They just needed to find a solution.
Fortunately, the father of Conley - one of XTRA’s streamers at the time (Conley not his father lol) - believed in what XTRA Gaming was trying to achieve and put up $15,000 to help support the project. Through the deal his son Conley became an owner of XTRA Gaming, a position he still holds today.
“That’s how we funded XTRA for August to November 2020,” said Sly. “If it wasn't for Conley’s father coming in at that time a lot of things would have changed. I’m so grateful that happened because we had all the momentum and hype, and it let us just keep moving forward.”
The end of the struggle: Finding long-term support from Sub Nation
The meteoric rise from obscurity of XTRA Gaming's Fortnite roster, thanks to Sly's know-how, was a double edged sword. While it had expanded the reach and reputation of the organisation, it put a heavy financial burden on the fledgling business. However, the struggle to have the finances to match the vision and scale of the operation finally ended when Subnation Media acquired equity interest in the Fortnite squad in January 2021.
The partnership between XTRA Gaming and Subnation was initially supposed to be around sponsorship of a Fortnite tournament. "We were talking about the tournament, and then Subnation's CEO, who is called Seven, just said, 'We can organise this any time but what I really want to know is, what do you do, how does your whole project work?' I then proceeded to tell him what I've told you," said Sly.
"I told Seven and the rest of his team about funding the org with my student loan, Conley's dad investing, and how we kind of blew up faster than for our own good."
The conversation would prove pivotal and Sly and Subnation Media would, a month later, agree to a historic partnership. The deal would see Subnation Media bring XTRA Gaming in-house, cover all player and operational costs, and give Sly a salary to run the esports organisation."I was blown away. I started from nothing and to find someone that believed in me, in XTRA and the brand, that much to put big-time capital towards, was incredible," said Sly.
"I'm very fortunate. Subnation literally changed my life in the space of 3 months. I went from struggling to pay players and marketing costs to now, where we've gained like 100,000 followers on Instagram in just a month because we have that support.”
XTRA Gaming in 2021 and beyond
XTRA Gaming now houses some of the best Fortnite talent in North America and recently recruited FNCS runner-ups, Snacky and Kenshi. The organisation also continues to grow its foothold in the Hispanic community, supporting players and creators such as Mexican Fortnite player Alliege and Venezeluan streamer Pao.
“I’m Hispanic myself, I’m an Argentinian and I have my roots in the Hispanic community,” said Sly. “When I started XTRA I felt it was a community really underrepresented, especially in Fortnite. I’ve been consciously pushing to change that.”
2021 is set to be a massive year for XTRA Gaming, but given the struggle Sly and his team went through to get here, they more than deserve it.