“I hadn’t breathed in six years.”
On March 25, Marty Strenczewilk surprised esports fans when he announced his departure from OverActive Media (OAM). The decision started small, he tells The Esports Observer, as an “inkling in the back of his head.”
“It wasn’t really an ‘ah-ha’ moment but I realized there were so many other interesting things I could be doing,” Strenczewilk said. “I had been doing this for so long. I know six years doesn’t sound like a long time to most people, but I’m a guy on his fourth career now, so to me, six years is an eternity.”
A lot has happened in those six years. Strenczewilk co-founded Splyce in 2015, overseeing the brand as CEO from its inception through good times and bad. His Splyce brand and its staff were acquired by OverActive Media (OAM) in November of 2018 to manage OAM’s two flagship teams that played in the Overwatch League (Toronto Defiant) and Call of Duty League (Toronto Ultra), respectively. Strenczewilk took the title senior vice president of team operations.
He noted that Splyce co-founder Vincent Garguilo and Jonathan Strenczewilk (Marty’s brother) were laid off during the acquisition and moved on to other projects.
“They both had expressed to me this real joy during that month […] where they could breathe for the first time in many, many years and just recover from the fact that this was so intense for so long. I realized I hadn’t breathed in six years.”
As of January, he was the last OAM employee remaining in the U.S. who hadn’t relocated to Toronto. Realizing that he would eventually be called up North, Strenczewilk decided it was time to reassess his future, as well as that of his brand.
“I want to make sure that they’re a success,” he said, adding that “it was important for him to make sure the offseason goes smoothly.”
Strenczewilk will remain a large shareholder in the company, so he doesn’t see it as walking away forever.
“I will always be very intimately connected to the organization,” he said. “[OAM CEO Chris Overholt] and I were just talking about how we can’t imagine a world in which he doesn’t call me every once in a while to ask my thoughts on certain things. My goal is definitely to let them run the company.”
Looking back, Strenczewilk doesn’t think Splyce has changed considerably from how it first started in terms of its entrepreneurial spirit. Coming from the entertainment world, he likens esports to theater. It’s young, passionate, and the ultimate goal is to graduate to Broadway, which is a professional business.
“I knew that was coming and I wanted to be part of it,” he says of founding Splyce, marveling at the professionalism that teams are creating in the esports space today. “You can see it on the publisher side and in the great organizations who aren’t hiring just anyone who says ‘I heart esports’—they’re actually getting people who are really good at what they do to build revenue, brand, infrastructure, operations, etc. It’s necessary if you’re going to scale a business.”
Strenczewilk calls himself a student of the start-up space and that he always took the phrase, “surround yourself with people more talented than you” to heart. He looks back on his experiences with Splyce and OAM as a unique learning experience.
“The Toronto Ultra is one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen developed,” he says. “I’m not taking anything away from what we did with Splyce, but I got to watch a brand birthed by an absolute expert in his field [OAM Vice President, Global Head of Marketing Mike Armstrong] and you can see the reception from the fans.”
Another take away from his time with Splyce was the importance of creating a specific identity, Strenczewilk explains.
“If you look at any start-up, the challenge so many face is that they’re not specific—they’re too generic,” he said. “When we decided to pick up a European League of Legends team, and we had this kind of broad Western [brand], I’ll be quite honest—I didn’t realize the implications of that and how challenging that would be not to have an identity.
Strenczewilk noted the value of Spanish organization MAD Lions, which supplanted Splyce as OAM’s pro League of Legends brand this year. The organization is based in Madrid and was founded in Spain. “It creates a fan base that we couldn’t do with the Splyce brand.”
“I still love the Splyce brand, I’m still very proud of what we built. Along the way, each decision has made sense to me the way we’ve done it. I’m very happy with how it ended up.”
Looking to the future, Strenczewilk won’t be working directly with non-OAM teams in order to avoid a conflict of interest. However, he says he’s interested in the opportunities that exist in gaming and esports.
“I’m just open to working on something interesting and cool that has real possibilities. It doesn’t have to be in any specific space,” he said, adding that he is particularly interested in the “metaverse” social interaction between humans and computers.
Strenczewilk’s resignation comes during an interesting, yet turbulent time for esports—an industry that after years of build-up finds itself unable to hold live events; a consequence of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Looking to the future, however, he is optimistic about the foundations already laid.
While the Toronto Defiant and Ultra had to cancel their homestands, their respective leagues still held multiple sold-out events in North America and Europe. “This was our year to show how important and successful localization could be and we’ve seen these great events have awesome audiences, high attendance, and be successful,” he said. “It is important to continue to do that. It’s unfortunate that we won’t be able to continue but I think it’s great we got as far as we did—we showed that the model does matter.
“On the other side, there is an incredible opportunity right now. There were two Toronto Raptors [players] tweeting and looking for two more to play in our pro CoD tournament,” Strenczewilk says. “Let that sink in for a second. Even my least famous CoD players are streaming nightly with rappers, DJs, baseball players…it’s because gaming brings us all together.”
Strenczewilk called the fact that over 900K people watched a NASCAR esports event “mind-blowingly important.”
“People in the industry assume that everyone knows what esports is in 2020 and that’s bullshit. This is the opportunity for widespread knowledge—not necessarily an acceptance, but the knowledge that our industry exists.”
He says his nine-year-old daughter summed it up when she said, “Wow, the day this all ends, Dad, it’s going to be crazy outside.”
“I think she’s right—I don’t think we’re going to have any problems filling stadiums again. The opportunities that we’re creating right now are going to continue to exist in addition to new ones as we talk about content on new distribution channels or access to new fans.”
In the meantime, Strenczewilk is looking forward to taking a break, spending time with his family, and figuring out what’s next. “I’m talking to some cool people,” he teased.
This interview was conducted by Graham Ashton.
Editor’s note: This interview was conducted prior to layoffs at OverActive Media at the end of March.
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