A brand in multiple titles, Team Liquid’s approach to expansion emphasizes their brand values and heritage. The org recently unveiled a brand new wing for the Team Liquid Alienware Training facility in Santa Monica, CA.
Few brands can boast accomplishments comparable to that of Team Liquid. In 22 years of operation – practically an eternity in esports time – TL have won countless tournaments across a plethora of esports titles. TL established itself as a premiere legacy esports brand throughout the organization's first 16 years of operation, but after selling their controlling interest to aXiomatic Gaming in September 2016, the organization began their transformation into a global juggernaut.
Team Liquid: From Brood War clan to esports empire
Team Liquid was founded as a Starcraft: Brood War clan, but began to build their rich history within the competitive Starcraft II scene following the game's beta launch in 2010. TL began to compete in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive at the beginning of 2015, just one week after acquiring Team Curse and their League of Legends, Super Smash Bros., and Street Fighter programs. Since joining forces with aXiomatic, however, things have been taken to a new level.
In 2016, Team Liquid employed 50 professional players across 10 different esports. As of August 26, 2022, Team Liquid is competing in 18 different esports ecosystems with a professional player count closing in on triple digits.
In the past, TL have also ran their own tournaments like the Team Liquid Starleague, which, in its two iterations, was the largest Starcraft: Brood War tournament outside of South Korea.
aXiomatic Gaming, which includes Golden State Warriors co-owner Peter Guber and Hall of Fame NBA player Magic Johnson, isn't the only major player in TL's investment portfolio. The organization also boasts Michael Jordan – considered almost universally to be the greatest basketball player of all time – and Disney.
However, Team Liquid isn’t just throwing their wealth of resources at the wall. The process in how the organization chooses to expand is meticulous and nuanced in an effort to foster the most optimal growth.
"We want to participate in as many healthy, franchised ecosystems or permanent leagues as possible as Team Liquid,” said the organization’s Chief Business Development officer Mike Milanov. “But it's quite unique compared to Real Madrid or the Dodgers because we get to be that brand in multiple sports.”
Building a sports heritage esports franchise
When Chief Business Development officer Mike Milanov first joined Team Liquid in 2014, he was the Chief Operating Officer and focused on expanding the basics: scale TL in terms of total employees and esports programs. In his current role, however, Milanov’s primary focus has expanded to the development of the Team Liquid brand on a global scale. “We want to be a true sports heritage esports franchise,” Milanov explained. “We want to truly be global and participate in all of the biggest and most relevant esports titles that exist.”
For the last five years, Team Liquid have established themselves as one of the premiere contenders in the League Championship Series – the top level of League of Legends esports competition in North America – after winning four domestic titles back-to-back throughout 2018 and 2019. That being said, any success the TL LCS team has is wholly celebrated, but it’s not the only focus of the organization.
We’re one of the first franchises that has gone multi-generational. We now have fans that are watching with their kids and telling them about Team Liquid.”
TL are one of the few North American teams to win a major in CS:GO, but took it a step further by completing the Intel Grand Slam -- a feat in which one team wins four tournaments -- in just 63 days. In addition to boasting the best NA CS:GO roster of all time, Super Smash Bros. Melee pro Juan "Hungrybox" Debiedma has enjoyed his best years as a competitor under the TL brand, establishing himself as one of the top three Melee players of all time alongside fellow 'Five Gods' members Joseph 'Mang0' Marquez and Adam 'Armada' Lindgren.
“Across League of Legends, and Counter Strike, and Rainbow Six in Brazil – we treat all of those as different opportunities for the brands and different kinds of places where we engage with audience and they all have kind of their own sports league ecosystem,” Milanov explained. “And so when you expand that, you have to make sure that the right resources are available for every move that you make, right? You can't just kind of wing everything besides League of Legends, and then only go big on League of Legends if you truly want to be global.”
There are steps in the process for Team Liquid when considering entering an ecosystem in esports. The game has to be fun to play and watch and have a nature of competition, for starters, but that doesn’t automatically qualify it as something that the TL might pursue.
“What makes something an esport is athletes that are paid and representing a franchise or a sports team. You need organized competition, whether it's a franchise like the LCS or not, you need something,” said Milanov. “There needs to be some sort of regular, organized tournament cadence.”
There are, of course, opportunities that Team Liquid will pass up if they feel their brand or organizational approach isn’t a good match for the ecosystem. Milanov describes the process of entering and exiting games as a worst-case scenario for the brand because it would confuse TL’s fanbase.
Team Liquid’s current status as a brand is rather unique in the esports space. They possess as much or more legacy than other ‘classic’ esports brands, but are also on the cutting edge of apparel drops and brand collaborations with other IPs similar to fellow LCS-franchised organization 100 Thieves.
TL has been choosy with their collaborations: to date, the organization has launched four collections in collaboration with Naruto: Shippuden, Marvel, Tokidoki and Fortnite. We don't want to be a collab house,” Milanov explained. “So we wouldn't want the core Team Liquid brand, colors, and sports heritage to get lost in doing a different collab every month."
Team Liquid’s is rooted in that long-time (in esports years) heritage, and Milanov sees that directly connected with being on the cutting edge and setting the organizational standard in the esports industry.
“We’re always known as OG because we’ve been around for 20 years, so we’re always kind of looked up to as the big brother or sister doing the right thing,” said Milanov. “We’re one of the first franchises that has gone multi-generational. We now have fans that are watching with their kids and telling them about Team Liquid.”
In August 2020, in an effort to reward long-term loyalty from their fans, Team Liquid launched the Liquid+ program, where regular fan interactions earn opportunities for elite rewards, fan experiences, and access to players. In addition, Team Liquid also collaborates with partners on community-based initiatives and often puts on some sort of fan-based activation at an event like TwitchCon or the upcoming Brazil Game Show, which takes place from October 6 - October 12 and has over 700,000 confirmed attendees.
“People can experience the brand and experience the people and not just a social media account or a horse logo.”
When it comes to connecting with fans as a whole, Milanov refers to the organization’s approach being centered around the term ‘heart share’. “What do they stand for as a franchise? And do I resonate with that? Do I want to follow that? Do I want to be part of that, regardless of if my favorite player retires or goes to another org? We call that heart share,” explained the CBDO.
A new and improved Team Liquid Alienware Training Facility
In an effort to continue evolving, Team Liquid recently unveiled their revamped headquarters, the Team Liquid Alienware Training Facility in Santa Monica, CA.
A brand new wing has been built into the main office and the new wing’s space is devoted entirely to the competitive teams of Team Liquid as well as content creators. The rest of the company will operate primarily from the main portion of the office and its previously established wings.
The reason for the separation comes primarily from ensuring an optimal practice environment without potential distractions from other operations under the Team Liquid brand, among other reasons. “We wanted to have the data analytics and software infrastructure in one place, but we also wanted players to have a certain sense of privacy,” said Milanov.
“Before, the way we're structured had the content department right up against the scrim room…maybe it wasn't the best for the players on the other side of the wall.”
Team Liquid have also used the space created in the main office to create a players' lounge with sectional couches and a large flat screen.
Despite a plethora of constant advancements and progression to the development of the Team Liquid brand, Milanov emphasises the importance of retaining the core values of the organization while continuing to scale, and regardless of the type of expansion, the TL goal remains the same.
“We want to create long-standing, victorious moments.”