Team Immunity manager Q&A: Everything you wanted to know about e-sports (but were afraid to ask)

We get the skinny on e-sports from Team Immunity manager Tony Trubridge
  • Chris Jager (GamePro Australia)
  • 05 November, 2009 17:06

How does somebody land a job on a professional e-sports team? What sort of training is involved? How much money can you make? Are all-girl teams the real deal, or are they just vacuous eye candy? These were some of the questions we posed to Team Immunity owner and manager Tony Trubridge at the eGames Expo 2009.

Team Immunity is Australia's leading e-sports team, with a string of wins in professional-level tournaments around the world. Now in its sixth year, the team is expecting big things for 2010, with major sponsor Intel allowing them to compete regularly on the international stage. We caught up with Trubridge in the lead-up to the expo's eGames Masters event — which the team went on to win after a series of grueling elimination rounds. Here's the interview in full:

GamePro: G’day Tony. Why don’t you start off by telling us about e-sports in general?

Tony Trubridge: Sure. E-sports stands for ‘electronic sports’. Essentially, it’s about video gaming at a highly competitive level. My guys train five hours a night, five days a week, which is more than some professional footballers manage. [pause] Maybe they don’t hit the gym as much, but it’s still a big commitment!

GP: What does your roll as manager involve?

TT: I’m actually the owner and manager. I look after everything from recruiting players to organising international trips, including flights and accommodation. When money needs to change hands, I’m the one that steps in to make it happen. We pay for our teams’ flights, accommodation, taxis, shirts and other gear. Our key players are also paid a monthly salary to play.

eGames Expo 2009

Tony Trubridge (far right) poses with some members of Team Immunity.

GP: What games does Team Immunity compete in?

TT: Our primary games at the moment are Counter Strike Source, Counter Strike 1.6 and Call of Duty 4. We also have an RTS division that plays pretty much every real time strategy game our there. Everything from DoTA, HON, Warcraft III, StarCraft; even World in Conflict. We also have an all-girls Counter Strike 1.6 team and some Quake Live players, but that game’s not as popular as we would have liked, unfortunately.

GP: How did the all-girls team come about?

TT: This is [Team Immunity’s] sixth year of running, and it’s something I had been thinking about for a while. I wanted to help promote female gaming in Australia by creating an all-girls team that plays in mixed competitions. Obviously, there are a lot of stereotypes out there — especially for girls who want to take it seriously. They often cop a bit of flak: “you’re a girl, you’re no good”, things like that. Our [all-girls] team helps to showcase that there are girls out there who take competitive gaming seriously and want to have a good time, just like everyone else.

GP: What does each team’s training involve?

TT: Well, e-sports is a very unique sport in the sense that we can literally do dry runs on the field and compete against other teams. This sets us apart from your AFLs or your NBAs which have a very firm fixture in place. They have to practice amongst themselves, whereas we can practice against other teams whenever we want. We also practice one-on-one skills — this includes trying to improve hand-eye coordination, perfecting aiming, and working out different strategies. We can then take these different skills onto the cyber battlefield and test them out immediately. So the work we put in is very practical and goes a long way.

GP: What do you think has been the most important ingredient to your teams' success?

TT: Hard work, dedication and even more hard work! I've got my guys here today and they're been here since the crack of dawn, helping to set everything up. This is basically just a community-based event but they're here making sure everything is working and everything is tested: there's a huge amount everybody does outside of [competitive gaming]. Our partners are also a very important ingredient to our success. Hopefully we can get some more partners to work with us so we can get overseas five or ten times a year, instead of three or four times a year.

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GP: How profitable is e-sports for its athletes?

TT: For our counterparts in America and Europe, it is certainly profitable, if you’re in a good team. Some of those guys earn up to two-and-a-half thousand Euros a month [not including prize money]. Flights, accommodation and other expenses are also all paid for. Most teams take around 60 per cent of their winnings on top of what they’re paid monthly. There’s a Warcraft player from South Korea who earns around 200,000 US dollars a year — and that’s just his salary, without prize money or endorsements. So you can do alright for yourself.

GP: So how does somebody get into Team Immunity? Do you have annual try outs?

TT: That’s a really good question! Obviously, our guys are practicing so much that we are generally aware of any rivals out there. I guess it’s like how an AFL team knows the good players from the other team and who to watch out for. That’s where the vast majority of our recruiting comes from. A couple of times, we have been approached by players and we’ve taken them up on their offer. But that’s very rare.

We do trial people. A [prospective] team member needs to show that they’re committed. They need to be sociable and not abuse people. Basically, they need to prove they have their head screwed on right. The people we trial tend not to do so well. You can’t just wake up one morning and say “I’m going to be a pro-gamer.” We point these people towards a team at the relevant playing ability. That way, they can work their way through the ranks and develop their skills.

GP: Are any of these e-sports athletes under contract, or can you basically poach anyone?

TT: In Australia, I can pretty much poach any player I want. Because we have signing fees, I can literally say “I will give your $5000 to sign with us.” So we’re quite lucky in that regard. Our major sponsor Intel Australia is a really big name in e-sports. We wouldn’t be here at the eGames Expo if it wasn’t for them. Naturally, we have a code of conduct that our top players have to agree to, as well as NDAs that relate to our partners.

GP: Do you have a personal favourite out of the games Team Immunity competes in?

TT: Definitely. When I used to play competitively, I was a big fan of all the Quake games. But the one that stands out for me for team-based gaming is Return to Castle Wolfenstein — not the old one, the one that was created on the Quake engine. It had all these different classes, like medic, engineer, soldier and so on. This added a huge layer of complexity to team-based games.

GP: What would you say is the biggest achievement of Team Immunity to date?

TT: Last year, our Call of Duty team flew over to Singapore for the Sling HD event, which is a cable TV pay-per-view channel. They filmed a 14-part series over the course of five days. We played all the best teams from across the entire Asian Pacific region and didn’t lose a single game. We came home with a trophy and a big cheque. The other big thing was our Counter-Strike 1.6 team. Last year in Cologne, we came ninth in the world. The best bit was when we knocked the United Kingdom out of the competition. They didn’t think we would be a challenge for them and we knocked ‘em out. It was brilliant!

GP: Beating the poms is always a plus. Thanks for your time Tony.

TT: No problem.

To find out more about Team Immunity, visit the official Team Immunity Web site.

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