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Faze Clan CEO talks growing pains, global expansion, and lawsuits

In this week’s interview on The Vergecast, editor-in-chief of The Verge Nilay Patel and Verge reporter Julia Alexander sit down with CEO / co-owner of Faze Clan, Lee Trink.

Founded by e-sports players, Faze is an all-in-one e-sports / merchandising / influencer marketing agency and cultural phenomenon. Lee speaks about how he runs a multifaceted company, from growing pains while working with talent to the dependence on platforms and selling apparel.

Below is a lightly edited excerpt of the conversation.

Nilay Patel: Alright, let’s start at the start. What is Faze Clan?

Lee Trink: What is Faze Clan? Faze Clan is a gaming organization that’s really split up into two parts. There’s the part that is kind of the buzzword of 2019, of e-sports, which is the competitive side where we compete in six different games. We’ve got six teams that make up about half of the Faze Clan members, about 35 or so of our members. And then there’s the second part, which is content creators. We’re making YouTube videos, we’re streaming on platforms like Twitch and Mixer, we’re on Snapchat. We’re doing IG stories where we create content that is about gaming or it’s gaming adjacent, things that relate to kids that are into gaming or people that are into gaming and just their interests. I spent several years trying to explain to people outside of gaming that they should pay attention to gaming and they should pay attention to what’s going on.

And I utilized sort of e-sports as the tip of that spear because it was a hot topic. But now what I start to reposition it for people is, talking about gaming as entertainment and gaming as lifestyle, which is even a harder concept to grasp, right? I think there was a “what the F” moment of, “Wait a second. People are being paid to compete in video games? People make money on that? That’s a thing, right?” So, okay, now everybody knows that’s a thing. Now the thing that I’m explaining is, “No, this is actually a culture.” This is like the lifestyle that surrounds skateboarding culture, except bigger.

I compare it to hip-hop and I’m not the only one. I’ve had conversations with really significant people from the music business who’ve also made that same comparison because in the same way, hip-hop was a genre of music, and when it started, that’s all people thought it was. But it was actually much, much more. And people identified that with that lifestyle and culture, and they built their lives around what that means. And that’s what’s happening with gaming now. Gaming is… I say it often that gaming is going to drive culture and lifestyle for this next decade for sure, probably beyond. But that’s a concept that I think most people don’t really understand.

Julia Alexander: Well, and I think to break it down a little bit further, you have a really interesting way of explaining Faze. You have a three-pronged approach, which is that Faze is like the Lakers, it’s like MTV, and it’s like Supreme. So break that down a little bit for people listening who are still like, “I get that people get paid to play video games. What is Faze?”

Right. So that’s sort of the Lakers part, right? [The] Lakers are a competitive basketball team. We are a competitive e-sports organization. We have teams that go and they train and they show up to tournaments and they compete for trophies and for money. So that’s the comparison. That’s the through line there. The comparison to Supreme is that we are also an apparel brand, and we’re going to be branching out into other consumer goods. But— and Supreme is specific in that Supreme is the definition of that hypebeast model. And we behave like that. Our apparel behaves like that. We’ve had individual clothing drops where we’ve sold nearly $2 million worth of apparel in one day.

JA: You guys closed down part of Soho [New York City] a few weeks ago.

Yeah, we did. That was around Fortnite World Cup. We had a pop-up in Soho, and I mean honestly, we were floored by that reaction. There were thousands and thousands of kids that showed up. We were begging the cops to just let us stay open for an hour so that the kids could come in and meet the guys. And it was incredible. And so we command that type of excitement around our apparel. And then there’s the MTV comparison, and there’s two components to it. So we make content on essentially a daily basis that reach a lot of fans. Our collective social media footprint is well over 200 million. And the consumption around the content is somewhere around 500 million views a month.

It’s like a cable network. And the other part of that comparison is not about MTV now necessarily, but MTV in its heyday really spoke for that generation. And they really defined what that — it was really Gen X at the time — what they were into. They were their voice. And that’s how I view Faze Clan. We are the voice of this current gaming generation. We uniquely understand them. We create content specifically for them. And at the moment it is on the platforms like YouTube and Twitch and Snap and Instagram, but that’s the beginning. We’re not limited to the platforms. We can make content of any different length as long as it’s authentic to who we are, and as long as it’s something that appeals to our audience.

NP: So I want to dive into platforms. There’s nothing I like talking about with media executives more than how we will defeat the platforms together as a united front. But you actually were in the music business. You were the president of Capitol Records, you’ve worked with some of the biggest artists in the world. How did you end up as a CEO of a bunch of video game players?

So about four and a half years ago, somebody that worked for me brought me the idea and actually showed me an article. The article was mainly about the viewership of the League of Legends finals, and he made the suggestion and said, “What do you think about us going into manage a team or teams?,” he said at the time. We sort of showed how little we even understood back then, because we said, “Oh yeah, teams. We’ll manage teams.” And that really set us on the path, and I started calling people that I knew within. It was really WME who was involved in ELeague, and because of the music business I had some great context there. And I said, “Hey, I’m interested in this space. Can you connect me to your guys?” And they eventually connect me to Faze Clan.

I really started as an advisor and then I had people that worked for me full time that were working on Faze. And then as the industry exploded, as I started to really understand the breadth and the depth of what Faze Clan both was and what it could be, I made the decision to close my music management company, because that’s what I did after Capitol. I had my own management company. I decided to walk away from that business and go do this full time.

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