100 Thieves: E-Sports, Culture and Beyond

By Thaveesha Jinadasa

How did an ex-Call of Duty player build an apparel and E-Sports empire from the ground-up?

Recently, E-Sports has turned into an extremely profitable venture for many corporations. With projects like the Global Overwatch league, the Call of Duty league and the Counter-Strike championship just coming into fruition, it is still difficult to gauge how successful professional E-Sport will be in the long run. There is a constantly shifting industrial climate; more E-Sports organizations are attempting to transcend from simply winning E-Sports championships to becoming omnipresent brands. No company in recent memory has done this better than 100 Thieves.

Origins

100 Thieves is the brainchild of Matthew ‘Nadeshot’ Haag who started his career as a teenage professional Call of Duty gamer. He won 2 ‘MLG X Games’ titles and E-Sports player of the year in 2014 which helped build his credibility within the gaming industry. In 2016, Nadeshot announced his retirement from Call of Duty E-sports after getting dropped by the Optic Gaming team at multiple points of the year.

After retirement, he transitioned into the YouTube space with Nadeshot Gaming where he gained a healthy reputation thanks to his vlogs, reviews and interviews surrounding the world of E-Sports. Leaving the Optic team was hard for Nadeshot, with him saying that he was in a dark mental space. However, “dark nights bring brighter days”. Fast forward a year and 100 Thieves is born.

The right personnel

To build a successful company, the owner is supposed to surround himself with the right people - this was exactly what Nadeshot did. The company acquired its human resources from the top-down. President and COO John Robinson had previously worked with EA and Nexon. What attracted him to 100 Thieves was the business model which the company used:

“It’s not just about winning; it’s about building a huge fanbase, people coming and visiting the content and social media channels and remembering the brand.” 

Next in line Jackson Dahl. The Universal Music alumni leads the entertainment and talent division within 100 Thieves. This meant that he led everything from YouTube and Twitch to podcasts and other emerging video based content. 

Nadeshot also managed to poach Doug Barber (VP of brand and apparel) from clothing brand Reigning Champ and Jacob Toft Anderson (VP of E-Sports) who was an ex-DOTA 2 professional player. 

The common theme with most of these acquisitions was that each individual had prior experience in the industry and role they were assigned.

Talent Acquisition 

The modern gaming industry, organizations employ two kinds of talents: The Players and Content Creators. 

From NRG to TSM to Team Liquid, every single one of these organisations have two kinds of personnel within their rosters: Pro Players and streamers. What 100 Thieves has done to stick out from the crowd, is to find creators from other media based industries such as TikTok and YouTube to expand upon the content creation based capabilities.  

The very first talent acquisition was filipino-born Valkyrae who as of 2021 has a net worth of 1.5 million, is the most followed female streamer in the world and has now become a co-owner of the company. 100 Thieves also employs a number of other streamers including Symfunny a Warzone player so good they think he is hacking, The MOB (4 guys who are extremely successful streamers and will go to any length to ruin Nadeshot’s day) and Yassuo (the most viewed League of Legends streamer). Since Call of Duty was their main E-Sport, it was no surprise that content creators from this space were key. Jack ‘CourageJD’ Dunlop is known to be one of the greatest ESports commentators of all time but soon became a fan favourite after joining 100 Thieves. From co-hosting a podcast with Nadeshot to doing his own streams and YouTube videos in collaboration with some of the internet's biggest stars including TimTheTatman and Nick Mercs. Courage is only getting started and 100 Thieves has been the platform for him to shine. Along with Valkyrae, he too became a co-owner of the company.

Lately, 100 Thieves has encroached into the TikTok and YouTube space and come up with diamonds in the rough. From Neekolul’s ‘OK Boomer’ meme going viral alongside her Spanglish streams to 2Hype and their YouTube supremacy within the basketball and E-basketball space. The versatility is endless within this portfolio of creators within the brand.

The core of the 100 Thieves content creator roster


Esports: all glamour, no gold?

Apart from the content creators, the company has a talented pool of pro-players. For what originally started as a gaming organization (and obviously still is), there were relatively low levels of success in their formative years. With Call of Duty being Nadeshot’s bread and butter, he has not been able to create a team which was able to sustain regular success after that one-off victory in Black Ops 4. However some of their other Esports such as Valorant, League of Legends and Fornite have been extremely profitable and successful.

100 Thieves win the Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 Championship

Merchandise, Sponsorships and Revenue Streams

Since their inception, 100 Thieves has been known for their sense of style. Their portfolio of streamers, pro players and corporate executives all wear a range of official apparel from hoodies to t-shirts. With Streetwear brands like Supreme and Bape having capsule drops at fixed periods of time, it was only time for more lifestyle, high fashion and E-Sports brands to follow. It was a major surprise to many when 100 Thieves gear was sold for extremely high prices on aftermarket sites like Stock X. The company said that its recent drop with $500,000 in sales was the biggest one to date. Several other gaming organizations including FAZE and Team Envy have followed suit in launching their own capsule drops. 

“Hypebeast culture is not dead!” - Nadeshot

Sponsorships is another aspect which makes up revenue for 100 Thieves. From Rocket Mortgage to Cash App to Chipotle, 100 Thieves has been a king to partner with. By doing this, these companies have had access to a broader spectrum of customers to target and access.

Rocket Mortgage sponsored 100 Thieves Fortnite and Valorant gaming facilities

“We have to be really, really smart and agile about the bets we make.” - John Robinson on the future of the company

In these pandemic-ridden times, most organizations are going bankrupt and this is no different for E-Sports brands like 100 Thieves. With gaming moving online, there will not be any revenue to be generated from physical venues and competitions. With investments and financial backing from giants like Drake and Scooter Braun and their strategy of diversification, these will be key in order to dilute the risks and expand their revenue streams. This is the age of the ‘Hoodie Organisation’ and companies like 100 Thieves will continue to rule the industry for years to come. 

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