FRISCO, Tex. – Hector Rodriguez has just pulled Alec Sanderson (Arcitys) into an elevator with several members of his content crew. The goal, as it is every day, is to give fans a chance to experience his Call of Duty team – the Chicago Huntsmen – out of their headquarters (or the Heczquarters, as Rodriguez has dubbed it) just down the street from the Cowboys practice facility at The Star.
Sanderson is tasked with playing “Elevator Cash Madness,” a pseudo gameshow Rodriguez has just invented where for the length of an elevator ride contestants answer trivia questions for $100 bills. Rodriguez is giddy over the idea and starts whistling a mock theme song. Sanderson rolls with the punches. It’s just another day on the team, which goes far beyond simply practicing and streaming while members Sanderson, Seth Abner (Scump), Dylan Hannon (Envoy), Peirce Hillman (Gunless), Matthew Piper (FormaL), and substitutes Jordan General (General), and Marcus Blanks (MBoZe) prepare for the inaugural season of the Call of Duty League.
One day, Rodriguez might be showing off his Boring Co. flamethrower. Another might include an impromptu sneaker shopping excursion where every player gets to pick out a pair under $500 — some of the guys have already decided their pair is going to be what they wear the first week of the season. It’s a multi-faceted approach Rodriguez has taken that harkens back to his come-up in Call of Duty in the early days.
H3CZ, as he is known, streamed and put videos on YouTube very early on in the gaming/esports revolution, and was able to eventually parlay that into leaving his desk job to do this full time. Fast forward to 2020, and he’s already successfully built and sold an esports team (OpTic), and has the Huntsmen playing out of what is basically an entire floor of an office building that includes conferences rooms, the training area, and his other business ventures that range from coffee to footwear.
Rodriguez wholeheartedly embraces the content revolution, and believes if you aren’t showcasing who you are as a person – and a player – then fans (and viewers) will move on. That’s why he encourages his team to break down their day into more than just gaming and finds gaps to make his players comfortable with being uncomfortable, a motivational tactic that is good for camaraderie and helps his team become more confident, social, and improvisational in their day-to-day lives.
Our birthday gift to @DylanEnvoy, a trip to Elevator Cash Madness.
-Team Huntsmen pic.twitter.com/i3nmDb5I2L
— Chicago Huntsmen (@Huntsmen) January 20, 2020
“He’s pulling me to be more open, I guess,” Hannon (Envoy) says. “Sometimes, obviously a couple of times, when you get the camera right in your face, it’s not, like, natural. It’s not at all, actually. For him to keep doing it repetitively, I think, obviously, he knows people are going to be awkward or not natural to it, but he knows if you do become natural and you start just learning, experience after experience, to get better, he knows you can turn into something much bigger than you already are.”
Envoy is one of the younger players on the team and hasn’t had the Championship pedigree that others like Scump have possessed. He grew up watching Scump and FormaL stream, and still can’t believe he’s on a team with the two of them and the other powerhouses that the Huntsmen have pulled together. He admits he’s naturally shy, but wants to prove Rodriguez was right for placing a bet on him.
“A thing I like about our space is that introverted kids who are excellent at video games get an opportunity to be popular and get to enjoy the fact that they can be social once they’re online,” Rodriguez says. “But then that sort of training of being social and being comfortable in yourself only translates when you meet somebody in person. To be in the limelight with thousands of people being your fan, it just adds on to something that you will never ever get anywhere else. So the beauty of video games is the fact that people get to sort of become who they want, not only online, but also in real life.”
The varied personalities and the driving force that is H3CZ is why Activision chose the Huntsmen to be the subject of their ongoing series The Campaign, which features Hard Knocks-style interviews and a behind-the-scenes look at the team on a day-to-day basis. Episodes filmed range from following the team to the league’s Media Day in Los Angeles to training at the Heczquarters, and give a candid look at what each of the players are facing in their personal lives.
“I think their success makes them aspirational to all of the youth,” Whiz Bang productions co-founder Roberto Cardenas says. “And I think they want to understand how these guys, in this case the Huntsmen, how they got to be so awesome even when they were OpTic. What makes them tick? What do they do to be great? And I think a lot of that, aside from practicing and grinding and doing the things, doing your homework so to speak, I think it’s understanding in their character what level of discipline they apply to their process. And I think when you hear them talk about that, you finally understand how they are as an individual and what they’re willing to sacrifice in order to be great. And then the cool part in this world is they really like what they’re doing, it’s not a grind for them.”
Whiz Bang co-founder Brian Skope agrees.
“In these interviews, we were really just wanting these guys to reveal parts of themselves that maybe they want to reveal to their audience,” Skope says. “And so, as Arcitys talks about his weight or Peirce talks about his depression, those things came from them. We actually were very unaware of those until they said, ‘We work out together,’ I’m like, ‘Great, let’s go film it.’ And then they started peeling back those layers. So, I think, as a documentary team, our goal was to make sure that if things jived with them, they know what jives with their audience. We wouldn’t skew it away from things that the Call of Duty fan would like.”
Both Whiz Bang and the Huntsmen, in general, seem almost obsessive about the idea of authenticity, and avoiding what’s known as “cringe.” The second something seems inauthentic, fans bolt in the other direction. In the creation of a new league, it only made sense to be as thoughtful about that as possible, which is why the Huntsmen were the perfect fit with Rodriguez’s vision, Scump’s legacy, and the rest of the team’s willingness to put themselves out there through a consistent wave of content.
“Other teams will do it for a little bit and they’ll start to see some traction and then boom,” Scump says, “they’ll stop streaming scrims or they’ll stop uploading YouTube videos and they’ll go straight for competitive. Which is good because you want to win, but who cares if you’re winning if nobody’s seeing that you’re winning. It’s so true. I’ve always just tried to balance the two, which is very difficult sometimes. But Hector said it best, he said esports never sleeps, and if you want to be at the top you can’t take breaks. You can’t take time off. You always have to be on. And it’s so true because if you’re not, someone else will, because a lot of people want this opportunity to be able to do this for a living. So it’s a lot of work and people don’t realize that. It’s a lot of work mentally, a lot of work. Not so much physically, it’s more of a mental job.”
Hector had a chain he had made for the OpTic team by his personal jeweler. When the new team was being built, he took it back and had the diamonds removed and asked to make one that represented the Huntsmen, in color, logo, and attitude. The result was what he called a “monstrosity of a gawky thing,” with champagne and black diamonds but over time, it’s grown on him, and it has become an unofficial symbol for the group and for his approach to team-building.
As Hector puts it, esports, and Call of Duty specifically, has so many musicians and athletes playing that it’s okay to showcase swag. The “look good, play good” mantra doesn’t stop on the court. And the way he sees it, he has a chance to build a team very similar to his favorite hip hop group, the Wu-Tang Clan.
“Wu-Tang is the reason that OpTic was the way OpTic was structured,” Rodriguez says. “I’m the RZA, NaDeSHoT was Method Man. Seth is Iron Man. It’s all about a cohort of people working for a brand at the top. When we all can do our individual albums, in a sense, with our YouTube channels on social media, somebody will pick up the slack where somebody is not having that much success, but it all feeds into this one bigger family. That’s what OpTic was. OpTic was that sort of emblematic goal that everybody wanted to work towards. Towards the fact that we’re all building this massive thing together because we have an opportunity to become part of something and that attracted all the talent in the world, and that led us to be the most popular esport team in the world. That’s what’s going to allow The Huntsmen to be that 10 times bigger.”
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