Cloud9 Could Become First Billion-Dollar Esports Team
Jack Etienne, the owner of the Cloud9 (C9) eSports team, is being touted as the executive most likely to build a $1 billion business in the professional video game circuit. Jack Etienne is the man behind Zachary Scuderi’s, aka Sneaky’s, ascent in the electronic sports world.
In a time when Epic Games is investing $100 million in a Fortnite eSports circuit and US sports betting laws might allow betting real money on pro-level video game competitions, the eSports industry is poised to become a multi-billion dollar business. If so, then Cloud9 could become the first billion-dollar eSports team.
Five years after he founded Cloud9, Jack Etienne continues to collect huge investments and fine-tune his roster of 70 eSports competitors. The two biggest Silicon Valley investors in C9 are Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund, as well as David O. Sacks’ and Bill Lee’s Craft Ventures.
Peter Thiel and the owners of Craft Ventures are not the only believers in Jack Etienne’s brainchild. So are Alexis Ohania, the co-founder of Reddit, and Chamath Palihapitiya, a former Facebook executive.
Cloud9’s appeal is obvious. According to Nielsen Esports, a market research group, C9 is the most popular American eSports team. Winning is the key, but marketable stars and team continuity help build a brand name that investors will like.
Why Cloud9 Is America’s Top eSports Team
That’s why a young Esports star named Sneaky is so important. Sneaky led the team to a League of Legends world title in 2013. He’s been the core player in the five years since – even if Jack Etienne had to bench his top player for a while at the start of this season. After C9 went 1-4 early on, Etienne reversed the decision.
Jack Etienne worked most of his adult life for other companies: first Xerox, then Curse, a gamer tip site, and finally Crunchyroll, an anime streaming site. Through it all, Jack Etienne maintained a brisk video game habit and a passion for the eSports world.
Brian Singerman, who had a key role in the Founders Fund’s investment in Cloud9, said of C9’s CEO, “There is no founder like Jack in all of esports. He’s the type of person people like to work for and play for. And he just works like crazy and loves what he does.”
Jack Etienne: World of Warcraft
Jack Etienne’s video game obsession reached a peak in the 2000s when he worked for Xerox Inc. After a long day selling copiers, Etienne would go home to play World of Warcraft all night.
Even then, before eSports was a marketable phenomenon, Etienne was looking to build video game teams. He said, “I was always out there looking at current talent. There was no money involved. It was competitive, and it mattered a lot to me.”
It was not until five years ago that Jack Etienne’s obsession with competitive video gaming paid off. That’s when he put together Cloud9 around a phenomenal 19-year old eSports competitor named Sneaky.
Jack Etienne and Andy Dihn
Sneaky was not the first talent Jack Etienne partnered with to achieve success. In 2011, at a time when Etienne was still working a day job, he began to help 17-year old Andy Dihn build his website, SoloMid, from a $3000-a-month site to an $80,000-a-month business.
The partnership, Team SoloMid, proved successful. Then Jack Etienne’s boss gave him an ultimatum to stop pursuing his hobby on the side, so Etienne parted ways with Andy Dihn’s team. It was a fateful decision, because Team SoloMid is a top rival to Cloud9 – even beating then-defending champion C9 in a 2014 world championship.
Despite the rivalry, Andy Dihn had good things to say about Jack Etienne. Dihn of said, “Jack helped sign some of our very first partners. Jack listens, he’s smart, he’s emotionally intelligent and I learned a lot from him.”
The Origins of the Cloud9 ESports Team
In an interview with Bloomberg News, Jack Etienne said he instantly regretted the move. A few months later, Etienne quit his job and bought a new eSports team with a small following for $23,000. That group revolted because they wanted a friend to buy their group, so Etienne sold the team and recruited a new team of players.
His third team included Zachary Scuderi (Sneaky). When Sneaky led Cloud9 to the 2013 world championship, Jack Etienne began recruiting players around his newfound eSports superstar. The team has gone on a historical run in the years since, becoming the most popular American eSports team.
Sneaky’s Career in eSports
The benching of a star player like Zachary Scuderi could have had destructive implications for C9. At least publicly, Sneaky took the benching well, playing on C9’s second team until he was recalled to the big leagues again. Relationship building and emotional intelligence are why it works.
Especially for the younger members of the Santa Monica-based team, Jack Etienne took on a mentor role in 2013. When Sneaky — who is paid more than $100,000 by Cloud9 — approached Etienne about discontent with salaries, Etienne advised Sneaky to build a Twitch following. He did, and now Sneaky makes as much from Amazon’s live streaming platform as he does from his C9 salary.
C9 a Potential Billion-Dollar eSports Team?
As in any sport, managing star players is a key component to a team’s success in the eSports industry. Maybe a benching has long-term effects that don’t become apparent for a year or two. Maybe another team overspends to buy a top player and C9 decides to go in another direction. Like any sport, a franchise’s trajectory can change seemingly overnight.
Given Jack Etienne’s track record and the huge stack of cash he’s built up over the past number of months, the likelier outcome is Cloud9 will remain top of the class in the US eSports category.