When the world goes digital, it helps to have a foot in the door of the digital world. Right now, GFA alumnus John Brock ’97 is experiencing that first-hand.
For years, Brock had been keeping an eye on the esports industry before deciding in 2016 to leave his job at a venture capital firm and follow his passion and instinct into the esports business. It was a risky decision: while there was a strong community building itself through online forums, financial backing at the time was scant.
“The numbers were there, but the industry wasn’t,” Brock explained. “The demographics were spectacular — 18 to 34 years old, which is a very difficult demographic to hit. But sponsors were paying pennies on the dollar.”
Brock instinctively knew that if they could continue to engage this demographic — both as players and as spectators, there was a bright future in esports. He got in to the business through the team side, linking up with Call of Duty (COD) legend Mike “Hastr0” Rufail who was shepherding a successful — but not yet profitable — Call of Duty team.
Brock said, “[Rufail] started as a gamer and his COD team eventually grew up and turned into a company almost without him realizing what was happening.”
The team, originally called EnVyUs, became an LLC — Team Envy — with a formal business plan and “real accounting,” Brock joked. He took it upon himself to find large-scale investors into what he knew could become a burgeoning business.
“There was a lot that was ahead of us on the horizon,” he said.
It turns out that his instincts were right. Esports leagues were fast becoming an exclusive endeavor, requiring a $25 million franchise fee in order to be seen as a premiere team. As a Director for Team Envy, Brock’s job was to secure those investments. He discovered a secret: potential investors who had kids between the ages of 8–15 “got it.” They saw their own children eagerly engaging in collaborative and/or community-competitive video games, and could foresee the great potential in an investment in esports.
After securing investors, Team Envy moved their COD team to Dallas and rebranded as Envy Gaming, where it has grown to include eight professional teams: Counter-Strike, Overwatch Contenders, Smash Bros., Fortnite, Magic, Overwatch (the Dallas Fuel), Call of Duty (the Dallas Empire), and Rocket League. Brock has also seen the league go from online spectators to filling local arenas like the Staples Center and the Barclays Center. Team Envy can also be found on ESPN, Disney, Twitch, YouTube, Playstation, X-Box, or anywhere esports are played. They’ve also secured high-profile sponsors like Jack in the Box, Predator, Corsair, Jack Links and Team Infographics.
Team Envy has enjoyed many successes, including “the most grand finals appearances from a single organization in Call of Duty Championship history,” according to gamepedia.com. It was also the “first North American esports organization to win an Overwatch championship on Korean soil and owns the Guinness World Record for the longest winning streak in Overwatch by any team. Envy is also recognized as one of the most-winning franchises of all time in Call of Duty and Counter-Strike esports competition,” according to its own website, envy.gg.
“This experience has probably defined my career and life more than anything else that I’ve done. It’s been a lot of fun,” Brock reflected.
In the last few months, with professional athletic leagues on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic, esports have only increased in popularity and viewership. “As a digital sport, it’s easy to transmit it anywhere, and we were already set up for that,” Brock explained. “We can keep it moving forward and keep going.”
Always Creating, Always Collaborating
“I always have a few jobs at any point in time,” Brock laughed.
His other job these days is owner and CEO of Tabbris, a co-working center focused on innovative start-ups. Based in Charlotte, N.C. — where Brock lives with his wife and four children — Tabbris was designed to “foster relationships in a productive workplace, where you access the help you need to grow,” according to Tabbris.com. They work with individuals and their start-ups on aspects like equity, accounting, and banking.
Brock pointed out, “Very few of them possess all the skills they need or the money to hire experts. They need education to do that, and that’s some of the incubation model that we hope to provide going forward.”
Tabbris opened in October 2019 and was growing strong by January 2020. Of course, they couldn’t have predicted the pandemic, but Brock said they’re well set up to incorporate social distancing at their office space, and of course he has experience in hosting virtual events. He’s currently working on ways to do meet-and-greets, lunch-and-learns, and other events by merging live and virtual experiences.
“That way, anyone watching online can still feel like they’re part of that service and conversation,” he said.
The Making of a Venture Capitalist
From an early age, Brock said he loved observing transactions and deals. His father worked for Cadbury-Schweppes, and he always enjoyed listening in on the new projects and deals they were working on. Conversely, he also knew that basic operations weren’t as interesting to him, and so he never saw himself as “a regular corporate guy with a regular corporate job.”
“I like variety and discovery. I like to twist things around and make them more interesting, more valuable, more efficient,” he said.
In the quest for variety and discovery, of course he’s encountered failure, but he learned to accept that as an important part of doing business. It’s also an important measurement of investing effort and innovation into your work.
He clarified, “Of course, you don’t want to fail spectacularly and have everything come crashing down, but you want to ask yourself what is working, what is not working, and learn from that.”
Success, on the other hand, he attributes to interest, communication, and teamwork.
“You need to be doing what you like: esports, exotic cars, innovative companies, these are all things I like, and I do business with people I like, working with a team I trust. It’s so important,” he said. “Maybe it comes from my time at GFA, but I love having a very quirky assortment of coworkers, peers, and advisors — everyone’s got their own thing that they’re good at.”
Brock spent eight years at GFA, and said that he loved that every year was completely different.
“We change so much from fifth grade to senior year, and in many ways you’re a different person,” he said. “Everyone at GFA always encouraged me to be myself, to be better.”
One teacher in particular, math teacher Charlie Dietrich, had a tremendous impact on Brock’s work ethic. At the time, he spent much of his time vacillating between liking and not liking his math teacher. Dietrich was tough, and even though Brock did well on tests and homework, Dietrich refused to hand out exemplary grades for effort.
“He kept telling me, ‘You could have done better if you tried harder.’ He was right. I could have tried harder,” Brock reflected. “I always liked people who held me accountable.”
Dave Perry — long-time GFA Athletic Director, sailing coach, soccer coach, and creator of The Beachers — had a different impact on Brock. Perry inspired him to be true to himself, and to try new things. As a result, Brock threw himself into many of the activities and opportunities GFA had to offer, and found that not only did he connect with his own classmates, he also formed life-long bonds with both older and younger students as well.
“At a school like GFA, where you’ve got strong athletes, singers, academics, and actors, everyone comes together and everyone can be friends and support each other. It’s such an amazing inclusive world,” he remembered.
While he may not know what the future holds, Brock is confident that his school, life, and business experiences have positioned him well to accept success, learn from failure, and continue to search for new and exciting opportunities.