Alienware on McLaren, Team Liquid, and the future of esports

Alienware Team Liquid McLaren esports future

We caught up with Alienware at PAX Aus to get their thoughts on the esports industry.

Alienware is a company that’s been around for a long time. They started in 1996 and have been part of the esports industry since its inception. VentureBeat recently wrote an article on what Alienware has learned from 10 years in the esports industry. The article centered around Frank Azor, the cofounder and current VP & GM of Alienware, Gaming, and XPS at Dell. Along those lines, we thought it’d be cool to find out what they think is going to happen in the next 10 years.

We caught up with Frank Azor at PAX Aus to get his thoughts on this growing industry.

Esports will be the next big thing

Azor was really adamant from the beginning: “From my perspective, I think esports will be the most popular sport in the world in 10 years. It’s already pretty high-ranking.” He went on to say that some sports like the World Cup and Olympics have higher viewership. But they only compete once every four years. Azor further commented on the Olympics:

I think we’re going to see, in our lifetime, esports become an Olympic sport. It’s hard; it’s complicated. But the popularity is undeniable. We see lesser popular sports in the Olympics, and it’s an international sport really. It’s not really concentrated in any one or two regions around the world. Every major country — whether it be developing, emerging, or already developed — has a huge esports following, and it’s really a phenomenon. We’re already seeing lots of traditional sports teams and leagues come into the sport and start experimenting with different initiatives.

Azor went on to talk about NBA 2K. Alienware has a partnership with NBA, playing the NBA 2K game. Alienware also has a partnership with McLaren. McLaren is part of the Formula 1 Esports Pro Series. Furthermore, one of Alienware’s partners — Team Liquid — has received investment in their parent company from Michael Jordan. There are lots of traditional sports teams taking notice of esports. Azor believes it’s not going to stop anytime soon. The Olympic committee is paying attention to these movements too. One thing is clear: The future is bright for esports.

Esports skills and talent

The Olympics are all about showcasing the best talent in a given sport. Azor believes this is also true of esports. People want to watch esports to see others execute skills and techniques to the best of human ability. That’s another reason why he believes esports will be in the Olympics in our lifetime. It’s a showcase of talent that others want to tune into.

It’s the same with motorsport esports teams. Azor talked about the McLaren esports competition. Similar to what’s happening in Supercars or Formula 1, McLaren have:

… created an esports competition, a platform, for anyone to come and compete in, and then for them to take their champion Rudy putting people in hot laps and helping drivers in the simulator to train and practice. He said it himself best. A year ago he was selling appliances at his house, and now look how it’s transformed his life entirely. I think that’s phenomenal; it’s a really exciting and genuine way of doing something between the real world and the virtual world of esports that transforms people’s lives. It’s genuine excitement. It’s not superficial. It’s just really, really cool.

Azor further talked about the opportunities between esports and motorsport, the possibilities drivers have and how they’ve become more involved in the organisation. It’s just the tip of the iceberg. Azor is excited about the potential of someone making a transformation from “esports racing to true professional racing. That’s happening already, and it’s going to continue.” It’s beyond everyone’s expectations and Azor puts it beautifully. With a chuckle he had this to say about esports:

We started as a bunch of nerds in our garages, and in our basements. And now we’re slowly taking over the world. It’s pretty amazing.

Esports and motorsport

Due to their partnership with McLaren, Azor spoke a lot about the esports motorsport sector. There are lots of exciting things happening in this area. We know that there’s a strong connection between esports and motorsport. There are a number of esports racing competitions currently on the move. As well as the ones mentioned above, there’s the GT Sport Cup and many others. Azor said what’s really exciting about the motorsport world is that anyone can race in esports. Unlike the physical world of motorsport, esports has a much lower cost barrier to entry. It’s far more accessible and provides a pathway to motorsport:

For esports to become a funnel for [motorsport] — I don’t want to say it’s a shortcut necessarily — but it does transform things from being an extremely expensive and decades long investment that has to start from a very very young age. And honestly with a lot of risk factors, to allowing someone like Rudy to race… I think it’s revolutionary. It’s highly disruptive.

He says we want to cheer for those esports athletes. To celebrate the possibility they could be a physical-world driver. It’s an experience. One can also measure oneself against these drivers. Players can easily jump in their own sims and measure themselves against racers.

Pro training facilities

Alienware currently has one pro training facility. Two more are on their way. There’s one with Team Liquid in Los Angeles. Another one is currently being built in the Netherlands. And there’s one coming in China alongside the new Alienware flagship store. Ninety percent of the space within the new Chinese store will be dedicated to the esports center. The Chinese store will be available to the public where organizers can hire it to run their own events. Cafes, computers, spectator space, network connectivity, and more will be available in the new store.

Azor believes there’s a huge importance with pro training facilities. When Alienware started working with Team Liquid, they wanted to change the game. At the time, Azor explained that there was a certain formula to being an esports athlete:

You live, you play, you practice, you train, and you compete all in the same space for the most part. You have gaming houses…

He says that athletes would play until the early hours of the morning, eat whatever they could find, sleep for a few hours, and then continue to play. This is really bad, explained Azor, as they’d be sitting there for 16 hours or more and not living healthy lifestyles. He said, “More importantly, there was no separation of work and life. No work-life balance.” This is something Alienware and Team Liquid wanted to change.

Team Liquid wanted to take best practices from traditional sports teams and apply those to esports. At the time, they’d recently been acquired by a parent company that owns some traditional sports teams.

Alienware to create pro esports format

After Team Liquid came to Alienware, Alienware created a format for the teams. The first thing they did was separate work and play. No longer did players live in the training facilities. Their training facilities are for work. In a similar way that corporate workers wouldn’t live and work in the same place, neither should esports players. Now, Azor explained, the players had set hours. They had a much better work-life balance and were able to socialize. The second thing the partnership implemented was exercise. Routines are very important:

Healthy body, healthy mind. Healthy mind, healthy body. So they go through exercise routines every day, and they condition and train everyday. They aren’t strength training, but they are training for their health, and they are training for their mental clarity.

Working with Team Liquid

The third thing they implemented was nutrition. Creating a nutrition plan was key to a healthy mind and body. Alienware and Team Liquid built a kitchen within the facility and employed a chef to cater all the meals while players are there. They are consuming the same types of food that traditional sports athletes would eat. Azor said it’s made a huge difference:

it’s made a radical difference in how they’ve trained, and how they’ve practiced, and how they’ve played. They have been top ranked – first or second – in every competition they’ve had. And they were a creative team before, but they’ve really been able to elevate their game even further. The other major benefit they’ve seen is all the esports teams are now competing for the best talent. They’re finding that the talent is attracted to Team Liquid now more so than any of the other organizations, because they have work-life balance… because their meals are catered and well thought of, because they are communicating well together, and jogging together, and have these activities together.

Athletes are now coming to Team Liquid to try and be part of this culture.

Changing the game

Alienware hasn’t developed the same hardware for the last 10 years. They’ve learned a lot about being in the industry. Azor says Alienware is the best hardware one can possibly play on. Team Liquid also attracts players for this reason. Furthermore, Azor talks about how esports has forced Alienware to “recalibrate” their thinking around how they design and develop their products. Whilst Alienware does produce many products for consumers and corporates, they have a real focus on esports players. Over the years the company has changed their mantra to serve more esports athletes:

For years, our primary focus was performance at all costs. Win at all costs. We lead in the industry in many ways with performance technologies and performance platforms. We did some really disruptive things… but reliability, quality, stability — these factors were important to us, but they always took a back seat… When games were all fun and games, that was okay because nobody really cared if their machine rebooted or restarted… When money started coming into the equation, winning and losing started becoming the difference between hundreds and thousands and millions of dollars, [so] we had to take a different approach to our design. What we started to do was prioritize reliability, stability, and quality in a much better balance along with our performance, our innovation, and our design, and our service. Those aspects of our systems are best in class!

The best of the best

The company works to attract and retain the best engineers in the industry. The team really values the reliability and quality they can produce. Azor says esports athletes value this in turn. According to Azor, athletes who play on Alienware are able to perform at their best. They are able to focus on practicing instead of dealing with hardware issues. This is vital in an industry where time is everything.

One other key thing Alienware has learned is what esports athletes want. They don’t necessarily like all the “frills and thrills and features” of many products. RGB lights, loud keyboards, backlit keyboards, and flashy monitors are distracting to players. It seems that streamers and casual gamers prefer these features. Alienware says they will continue innovating in this space and developing products that esports athletes really want.

All things considered, esports has definitely grown immensely over the last 10 years and will continue to grow over the next 10. One of Azor’s final comments was on the excitement of being a gamer:

This is an exceptional time to be in the gaming industry… but also to be a gamer. It’s really a great time. Like, we’re at PAX Australia. This didn’t exist seven years ago. Now, as a gamer, you have events almost everywhere around the world, whether large, medium, or small, that you can participate in and find like-minded people. Seeing the cosplay is so cool, and the confidence, and the amount of options you have available now… It’s great for gamers; it’s an awesome time to be a gamer!

Michelle is a Content Producer in the realms of innovation and technology. Known as the “Hackathon Queen” you’ll often find her on stage MC’ing or speaking on a range of topics from artificial intelligence, to business, community engagement, the future of work, and esports. With a background in both science and arts, Michelle writes extensively on a range of topics including innovation, startups, corporate culture, esports, business development, and more. She has a passion for gaming and combines this with her experience in a range of industries. Michelle brings a unique insight into esports innovation and draws many parallels between the physical world of sport, and the digital world of esports.