“We’re waiting for ESPN Esports to come out with their brand rankings,” said Riley Jamison, creative director for the Los Angeles Gladiators.
It’s early on a Monday morning in November, and his voice is graveled with fatigue. “We’re pretty confident we’re going to be in the top three or four.” (As it happened, the Gladiators ended up in third place.)
“We were giving [Tyler Erzberger, writer for ESPN Esports] a bit of sugar on Twitter, trying to really improve our position,” Jamison continued, perking up. “This is a big deal! We’re not one of the super-major teams that was announced months beforehand. To come out with such a strong brand—people kept putting us in even the top five amongst, like, Outlaws, Dynasty, Spitfire. All that feels really good.”
“And we’re above Valiant, that’s the best part!” Riley added. “I just want to school them in every way possible. That’s my goal—I want people to forget there are two LA teams.”
The Gladiators are owned by Stan and Josh Kroenke, a family famous for their sports-team investments around the world, including the NFL’s LA Rams and the English Premier League’s Arsenal FC. To help them navigate the esports world, the Kroenkes enlisted the services of esports organization Pheonix1.
“We’ve been involved with them from the beginning in terms of picking the logo, finding the players, getting everything up and running,” said Rob Moore, owner of Phoenix1. Moore is incredibly proud to be bringing his team’s expertise to the people of Los Angeles.
“It’s been a really good partnership, working with the Kroenkes, who are very excited to be in this space,” he said. “This is going to be a big part of what they’re doing with the Rams and their big sports and entertainment complex they’re building in Inglewood—a massive state-of-the-art facility that the Gladiators will be a part of.”
The lion in the logo echoes that of team stablemates the LA Rams, while the colors purple and white reference the royal colors of the Roman emperors, to whom the gladiators dedicated their exploits.
During the preseason in December, the crowd at Blizzard Arena was tinted purple, with many locals already pledging their allegiance to the shield.
“I was surprised at how many people turned up [at Blizzard Arena Los Angeles] wearing purple! It’s not like many people wear purple casually,” Moore said. “If you’re wearing purple, you’ve made the decision to support the Gladiators. It felt like we definitely had the majority of the audience—don’t tell the Valiant that!”
It’s true that Angelenos have a tough decision to make between the purple and green, but the Gladiators staff will all tell you the same thing: “We want to be the Lakers, not the Clippers.”
The first step to achieving that, the Gladiators believe, is their color. “We have a much better color—I’m still trying to work out what shade of green [the Valiant] are wearing!” Moore laughs. “If you’re a [Los Angeles] fan, would you rather come to the arena in an unidentifiable shade of green, or purple?”
The next step is the roster. When asked what differentiates the Gladiators’ players from the rest of the league, coach David “dpei” Pei says it’s not only their systematic and disciplined play, but the personalities—he can’t pick a favorite, because “it’s like playing favorites with [his] children.”
“Everyone on our team has funny personalities—Hydration has weird dad jokes, Asher is goofy as hell,” Pei said. “Shaz is someone you should be expecting a lot from in terms of gameplay. He’s probably the best flex support in the West, I think, or at least could easily contend for that title.”
The Gladiators have assembled a diverse roster, with players hailing from South and North America, Europe, and Asia, all with immense potential that the support staff intends to nurture and grow.
“There are philosophical goals I want to reach as well as tangible goals,” Pei said. “As far as tangible goals, building a foundation for years to come. Building up support staff, making sure we have everything figured out is really important to us. As far as philosophical goals”—and here’s a place where the Gladiators and the Valiant can agree—“something important for me as a coach is, are we making our players better people? I think this is oftentimes overlooked. That’s what esports is all about, being able to hone your skills, become a better person, and being able to apply that in different contexts, whether that’s being a better family member or a better worker. Making sure they’re upstanding members of the community—the LA community and the Overwatch community—is really important.”
“[Our players] are exceptionally young,” Pei continued, “and I think it’s important that they understand that they are one piece of the puzzle, and that every little thing they do has a large impact on the world. The mantra of Overwatch is that everyone is a hero, in their own way. I think [our coaching perspective] aligns with that philosophy.”
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The Gladiators are happy with how their players are settling into Los Angeles, and believe they are a perfect fit for a city filled with people who are chasing their dreams.
“Surefour was talking about how one of his favorite things so far is going to the pier and the beach,” Moore said. “Part of the [roster announcement] video was him walking down the pier and a girl walks by with blue hair. This is a fun and interesting place, and the players are having fun.”