Reflecting on 1UP Studios
It’s November 2015; the Team Liquid content team was comprised of Seth “Achilios” King and myself. We had just come off a successful first season of Rebirth where the team’s journey unfortunately ended early in playoffs. With an open schedule, HTC (a sponsor at the time) reached out about developing a Smash series following Leffen, HBox, and Mang0. Considering it gave us a great avenue to tell our player’s story along with building out a series for the Smash community we jumped at the opportunity. We were deep into editing on the first episode when another project came around! Jack of Cloud9 had reached out to Steve to see if our team was available to shoot content with Cloud9 at Worlds. It was surely a strange concept but after a few internal discussions, a quick phone call, and some paperwork we were gearing up to fly Seth to Korea and subsequently hire a new video editor (Michael Artress, now manager of Team Liquid’s LCS team) to help with the existing workload.
This is one of many stories of how our content team expanded overnight.
After the first few projects started to complete, the opportunities we had were massive and somewhat never ending. It was truly a dream come true. Not only were we creating stories about our own teams and players, but we were also working with external companies to tell their stories as well. This opened up a whole new avenue of creativity and an interesting business opportunity.
At the time I personally was not very business minded. I simply wanted to make cool art that made myself and the fans experience something they would not get anywhere else. Steve and Victor, on the other hand, realized the opportunity in the space. If we could grow a production company alongside Team Liquid that could service both TL and external clients, we could develop a whole new business unit. It was a brand new concept to me, but the idea of building an entirely new entity, something that I was a part of from the beginning, inspired and motivated me.
Luckily for 1UP, Team Liquid was just about to hire one of my best friends in Mike Milanov. Bringing Mike on opened up a crazy collection of potential projects. He would focus on the business side while the creatives handled creative. Luckily he also understood what the community wanted to see from esports content. It allowed us to work in somewhat of a harmony with sales and creative. Something that is normally very difficult to find at most companies.
We started to develop 1UP Studios, and the projects kept rolling in. Week after week our inboxes filled with new clients and new opportunities. Friends from the industry were excited to work with the team that made Rebirth, the team that was part of the production value movement that began in the LCS and spread across multiple esports titles.
We were part of something bigger than ourselves and in a way became a representation of that notion. The notion that esports was ready for something more potent, more quality. Now don’t get me wrong! Valve and Riot were killing us in production value, but we were nimble, hard-working, and for hire! Through our services, anybody could step up their content game in one package. It was a crazy time.
The industry was evolving. Teams hired single video producers and tried to recreate the lightning in a bottle that only a few were able to capture. Everyone was playing catch-up but we continued to innovate. We produced content for ESL, MLG, Twitch, and many more. It was fantastic.
We started to expand the staff as we brought on new clients and developed new projects. We searched for dedicated and committed individuals, something that was very difficult to find at the time, and still difficult to find today. We found a diamond in the rough with Ian Sansavera. He joined the team as Director of Post-Production, a title that would come attached with many late nights and long hours. As 2016 continued we saw faces come and go. 1UP Studios was starting to develop into a business, not just a side project. It was insane, the growth we saw—far beyond my expectations when we started just a year before.
2017 turned to 2018 and by that time things started to feel a little different. We refocused most of our efforts into building the Team Liquid brand. This was super exciting to me. Every time we had a new project that focused on the who we were as a team it felt like a new opportunity to showcase our skills.
2018 became a huge platform for us to bring on new staff and develop higher quality content than previous years. 1UP was becoming super-charged with huge creative talent. This became super apparent during our second episode of SQUAD. The second episode of SQUAD Season 2 was a true show of our potential as a team. The narrative was strong and the visuals were even stronger. It was such an amazing moment in time for us.
As we got deeper into the year I started to notice that the team we had put together was producing and developing content on a new level. It was amazing to see pieces come to life and get to experience them as fan and not as a creator.
I started to have an important conversation with myself. I knew I loved Team Liquid and 1UP Studios but the work was not as fulfilling as it once had been. I wanted so much for the Liquid brand but it felt so far out of reach. The only aspect I could truly help with was video. For everything else, I was watching from afar. I wanted that to change and I wanted it to change badly!
I began searching for ways that I could do more. I gave feedback in merchandise and commerce, I worked with our graphics lead as we attempted to unify our design direction. I loved these opportunities but it still was not enough.
It’s now 2018 and I knew it was time to jump. I reached out to Mike Milanov about my future and what we could see myself leaning towards. There were opportunities in new and exciting avenues at 1UP Studios, things that many creators would love to lead, but they were not genuine to who I am. I was a Team Liquid fan through and through. I had been with them since the Curse and Team Liquid merger. I was one of the longest standing employees and knew so much about who we were at our core.
I spent some more time brainstorming my role and eventually narrowed it down to three goals:
1. Lead the conversation to unify our brand and voice. Who are we and what do we stand for?
2. Build out our merchandise department.
3. Be the best TL fanboy I could be.
I was nervous heading into my meeting with Victor. I had my documents prepared and my hopes high! My presentation was not fancy but it involved me pitching a ton of my ideas and goals for the future. Victor stayed silent through most of them, only asking a few questions here and there. I thought I was doomed. I had just pitched myself as creative director for one of the largest esports companies in the world and was feeling light on feedback. Our meeting time was coming close to an end and he said simply, “This sounds good. I don’t see why you can’t do this”.
I was stunned. He could not give me a yes or no at the time as he had to run it back to Steve and Mike for further thoughts.
A few weeks later I had my second call. Still a bit nervous but excited for the future. I quickly realized that my transition from 1UP Studios to Team Liquid Creative Director was going to take some time. I could not just leave the company overnight. It would not be fair to the team and to the business. We created a plan of attack and started the process.
Today I am proud to announce that I am the Creative Director of Team Liquid. It has taken a few years and many days and nights of grinding, but I am excited to apply everything that I have learned and all that I will learn in and to my new role. Ian will be taking lead as Director of 1UP Studios and leading that team to great new heights. There are some crazy things coming and I am super excited for everyone at Team Liquid and 1UP Studios.