Two months after the end of Counter Logic Gaming and its Red women's esports branch, its former women's Counter-Strike: Global Offensive team was picked up by FlyQuest for the ESL Impact League Season 3 Finals.
Now known as FlyQuest RED, the team is competing in the highest level of women's CS once again as one of two North American hometown representatives.
During FlyQuest RED's series against 9 Pandas Fearless, BLIX talked to FlyQuest President and Chief Gaming Officer Christopher "PapaSmithy" Smith about what the process was like in signing the ex-CLG Red team prior to the Season 3 Finals.
Entering CS with FlyQuest
Pedro Romero, BLIX: What's your experience like in the ESL Impact Finals event? Is this your first foray into competitive CS, be it men's or women's?
Christopher "PapaSmithy" Smith: When it comes to actually attending an ESL event, it's been a really long time for me. The last time was when League of Legends was still in the IEM circuit, so Katowice 2017 and 2018. I'm a boomer now, so I forgot which one it was. I've been around IEM Open when a CS event was happening, and I met the CS talent, but now that FlyQuest has picked up the Red CS:GO girls, it's new for me. It's also nostalgic to be around these multi-game esports events because I'm used to Riot events, where it's just League of Legends all the time.
BLIX: This event marks FlyQuest's first appearance in CS with the signing of the former CLG Red squad. When diving into this scene within this region, why did you contact this squad before this event?
PapaSmithy: So 2023 has been a really challenging year for esports. In North America and around the world, a lot of teams, content creators, and notable people within the space have lost their jobs, which is obviously troubling to see from whatever seat you're in. Given that FlyQuest has new ownership and we're in a position to bring on new teams, it felt like every week we were circling and being like, 'Okay, this happened. What does that mean for FlyQuest?' So we definitely looked at all games like men's and women's CS:GO, Valorant, Rocket League---all the esports out there.
I think what we were looking for was to take a patient approach and know it when we saw it, and I think it's such a unique opportunity to bring on the Red program in both the Valorant and CS:GO girls. They're the forerunner of women's esports in a lot of ways. Stephanie "missharvey" Harvey started SK Ladies 17 years ago, and this program is largely the culmination of her hard work in scraping through an ecosystem that wasn't ready at that time and is only recently warming up to its potential in it. For us, it was the Red program versus any other esports opportunity, and for us, the Red program was a no-brainer pick-up.
BLIX: I want to know the timeline for contacting the team with the interest of them representing the org for this event. When did those conversations begin?
PapaSmithy: Obviously, it was a very public availability, given that NRG took on the CLG League of Legends team. It was obviously not clear at the start, but it was pretty unclear if any of the other CLG people would be moving along, so at the moment that went public, we kind of triaged what was likely to be left behind and reached out to missharvey, who's obviously a wonderful spokesperson for our program. From there, the conversations started, but it's never just a quick decision. We obviously have an ownership group, and we have a lot of things to consider.
As I mentioned, we were comparing it to different opportunities, and we just wanted to make sense of it and understand how to do it right. We don't make hasty decisions at FlyQuest. If we're gonna come in, we're gonna come in and invest, so [us] hoping that the announcement video, the social coverage and, even from the girls' perspective, the support they're getting and the support they'll get in the future is an indication that if we were going to come in, we were going to do it right and that's why it took weeks rather than days.
Looking at the rest of NA women's CS
BLIX: Looking into the recent history of North American women's CS, it's largely consisted of one org (CLG Red) and the rest of the teams being orgless (save for Evil Geniuses Gold). I talked to a few players in this region, and they view a lack of support from the orgs when dipping their toes into women's CS. So why do you think the orgs in NA hesitate to get into the Impact circuit?
PapaSmithy: Well, obviously, this is a new scene for me, so I have to kind of zoom out a little bit to give a macro perspective because I'm not out there talking to the teams. I will say that, right now, the opportunity cost has never been a bigger thing in esports. Teams that used to have 13 or 14 different titles are consolidating, and I think a lot of teams will compare the developer's support and mainstream interest of something like Game Changers Valorant to CS and say, 'Well, we can't have both, so we'll go with Valorant because we've seen more of what Riot's plan is."
And obviously, it's great to be up close and see the "GG for all" and ESL support on the CS side, but between Valorant being the new game and the interest of the developer, I think that's why people are orienting their resources in that direction.
With CS2 coming out and we've obviously not had any conversations there. The hope is that, in addition to ESL's support, it's just going to be a natural rallying cry because CS is a game I played 20 to 25 years ago. My CS experience started with 1.4 and ended in 1.6. I played a little bit of Source but then kind of fell away. Given that, it is refreshing to come in, and some of it is still the same as it was 25 years ago. A lot of the strategies have changed, but CS is a very pure esport, so we can only hope that the other teams will come in because any more competition in NA is only going to be helpful for our squad.
BLIX: You mentioned how the move was like a "rallying cry" for the rest of the other orgs in NA to dip into the Impact League? Do you feel this move will be the catalyst for more orgs to join alongside FlyQuest RED and EG Gold?
PapaSmithy: That would be the hope, right? At the end of the day, we're stepping in, understanding the landscape, and understanding that we're taking a shot that we believe in but not one that necessarily the market has a consensus on. For that, all we can do is do things, right? Do things our way and really support and invest in the girls while, at the same time, I'm already getting DMs and messages from other CEOs and owners who are saying, "Hey, love what you're doing there. What can you tell us about it? Can you give us any ideas about the business decisions behind it" and et cetera. The most we can do is represent the great opportunity that we've been able to pick up and hope that other people see the same things that we do.
BLIX: The Impact League is in conjunction with the women's Valorant scene. Comparatively, the women's Valorant scene is much more popular and engaging than the Impact League. Do you feel the Impact League has the potential to grow to the level which Game Changers has had so far?
PapaSmithy: Honestly, I think a lot of it depends on CS2 being able to really get the interest level up. Obviously, everyone knows that Valorant is a newer game. North America is usually defined by sequels and new releases. I think if we're just one-hand clapping, then no, but the optimism is that we'll do the hardest clap that we can on our side, and if more people and parties like ESL step up, that's where the opportunity is.