We got the chance to sit down with the Team Liquid COO, in an exclusive interview to break down what’s going on with the esports space.
What does it take to be an avid gamer, former pro to the next level? Being COO according to Mike is being a risk-taker, like in any game, decision making is key alongside managing the risk factor in every decision you take.
Breaking down what 10K80 means to us and how we seek out that week by week play, Mike gives us the breakdown about what it’s like being in his shoes and what goes through his mind day-to-day.
KH: How has your life changed since you’ve started to sponsor professional esports athletes, from the beginning of your career starting at Azubu to presently being on Team Liquid and being at the current position as Team Liquid COO?
Mike: I think for me personally, I’m always labeled the risk-taker at Team Liquid. So, it’s funny that that’s the Kulture Hub mission statement.
My fashion sense, [some would say] “Ooh, I wouldn’t wear that. That’s too risky for me, but Mike would probably rock that thing.” [Maybe] because the patterns are weird or it’s a Hong Kong couture Off White piece. So I definitely believe in taking risks, especially in fashion and especially in life, right?
But in business, obviously, you have to make super-smart business decisions and adhere to the correct methodologies. In gaming, as you said, I started as a professional World of Warcraft player, and that’s before there was Reddit or Twitch, or Twitter. Yeah, I think I made my Twitter in 2005.
Back then it was all about it being a social platform, and playing with others, and connecting and communicating. And that was back when WoW was 18 million unique people playing per month. So it was kind of one of the biggest games back then.
Going from the media platform side to the team side it has had a lot of similarities, but also a lot of differences.
So at the platform, I did a lot of partnerships. I did about 175 different partnership agreements across the globe.
— Team Liquid (@TeamLiquid) November 22, 2019
Whether it was a Brazil broadcaster that we wanted to bring to the platform, or if we wanted to sign Fnatic in Europe or Curse in North America, or CLG right?
As you said, the whole Kespa licensing deal that included all 10 or 12. teams, SKT and MVP back then. But the partnership side of things is super fun because you can be creative.
“You get to know people in the industry. You have to be tough sometimes with business terms. Everything moves super fast,”
We chop it up more to feel the vibe seeing this is an emerging world that many people are just finding out about, back when video games just started becoming a thing ranging from Counter-Strike to early stages of Pro World of Warcraft.
You’ll notice things are starting to gain traction and now League of Legends which was the most-watched sport world-wide in 2019.
Now everyone’s wondering, he’s COO no way he has time to play this…matter fact he definitely does and he has to!
KH: I know you might not have time, but if you were to play again, do you play pretty competitively? Do you care about your rank? Solo Queue? Or do you play casually like any MMORPGs?
Mike: First of all, absolutely, Bryan, I am not a boomer, and I am not a casual (for sure a sweat). I’m a diamond in Overwatch. I’m a gold plat AD carry in League of Legends. (Plays AD Carries Lucian, Vayne, Caitlin, and Ezreal (High mechanical difficulty based champions).
I like to play Destiny, but not your Counter Strikes, your PUBGs. It’s not my thing, but yeah, I always queue ranked. And I only care about ranked, and I don’t play normals.
I’m not casual. I care about my rank. I try to be the highest rank possible. I also play a lot of auto chess genre Chinese mobile games. So, I play a Tencent title called Chess Rush whenever I have time. When I’m in an Uber it’s still kind of competitive and I only play ranked. So same theme right?
Right now with Riot’s new emerging FPS title Valorant, if they don’t think it’s fun while they’re evaluating the overall title, then they don’t know how they can see if they can operate a team successfully within the title.
“Playing these new games or these new patch updates are not necessarily a good portion of the strategic decision making of these games, but all executives have to play.”
My mom sent me this picture from 2004 of me raiding in @Warcraft on my Dell XPS…
Imagine if Twitch was around then! pic.twitter.com/keg2ufC5pu
— Mike Milanov (@ThixNation) May 2, 2020
KH: Let’s break down the vibrations… Is there a go-to playlist for you that you listen to on your way to a partnership meeting? What are you listening to right now? Are you Spotify, Apple Music, like what’s the vibes?
Mike: I am on Spotify, Apple Music, and Tidal because I love Jay Z, so I have to have Tidal, right? So my Gamertag is THIX and when Snapchat came out many years ago I started going in selfie mode and I started saying THIX Nation to the people that were following me.
So I actually have a THIX Nation playlist on Spotify. It’s under my Twitch stream.
A lot of people follow it, and I think it has over 300 songs chronologically that I’ve added over the last three years. But yeah, there’s a lot of R&B, chillstep, hip-hop.
I also have a playlist called THIX Patek which is not like a Patek on my wrist. That is not public at all. And that is my kill off. That’s my grind, in the car, in LA.
“That’s my grind playlist when I’m trying to get to work at 7:00 AM., or trying to prepare for my day, but it’s THIX Nation pretty much all the time.”
KH: Now we wanna see what you do with your time, by looking at your 10K80. What do you do with the rest of the week to do your other passions? And within the 10,080 minutes that you have within a week?
Mike: For me, my passion is work. So I always joke around when people meet me for the first time, and they ask, “Mike, are you married? Do you have a boyfriend or girlfriend? What’s going on?”
“I always reply, ‘Well, I’m married to Team Liquid.’ But apart from that, I’m into work right now, and so you won’t really find me doing much else. But I do love to travel.”
Did about a million airline miles last year in 2019 alone, which is a lot, right? So I’m definitely Diamond for life with Delta and KLM, and I like to shop a lot.
My Instagram is full of outfits, so I’m really passionate about sneakers. I have 250 hats, 100 shoes, a big wardrobe. So that’s kind of what I spend time on. Just like culture. I’m kind of a foodie. Going out to eat. Going on a drive on Pacific Coast Highway, but also just gaming and working.
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KH: What are some of your go-to brands right now? What are you liking?
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Compared to just kind of the usual Adidas Originals brand. But for me, I really like niche brands like Tokyo couture. I like Rhude out of Malibu. Yeah..let’s see what else. I’m trying to think… Philip Plein’s pants are my thing.
I like ACW, especially belts and shoes. They’re pretty nice answers that I’m giving here. Obviously I could say I love Off-White.
I love Y3. I’m wearing Y3 shoes right now, but that’s kind of a pretty standard answer. Obviously the big ones like Yeezy, Y3, Off-White, Alexander Wang are all great. Prada, Nike’s great. I love Daily Paper.
Oh, Kith is one of my favorite brands. I respect Ronnie Fieg a lot, and what he’s done with Kith. Palace out of the UK is one of my favorite brands. We know those guys, Greg and them, and they’re amazing out in the UK.
Mike is dripped out for sure. He ain’t playing with no Fashion Nova.
Sticking with the main culture of gaming, we wanna know what it takes to become an e-sports pro, a pro streamer, or a pro athlete and what it takes to compete at the highest level (besides being a top rank challenger in LoL etc.)
KH: Do you have any advice for up and coming esports athletes? Let’s say I’m a pro streamer. I ended up hitting Grandmaster. I’m trying to hit Challenger. What advice you have for me to get a better partnership deal, maybe get into the Academy? Even at an older age, like let’s say 25?
Mike: Yeah, the path to pro is really important. People of all shapes and sizes can go pro. It’s a real career nowadays. The number one thing you have to realize is that it is a business.
This is no longer something that people don’t know about, or where only 20 people in the world have contracts. So please realize that if you’re looking to work with a sponsor on the brand side, or you’re looking to work with the team, and you’re looking to go pro, it’s a business.
So you need to watch what you say, you need to think about your image, your brand. Even if you have 50 viewers on Twitch, for all you know, one of them is one of my analysts right in League of Legends, or one of my analysts in Valorant, and they’re checking out how you interact and how you communicate on voice comms with other people when you get put into a group and ranked fives for example.
“Just be super self-aware. Perception is reality, right? So, an athlete is much more than just skill, and I would definitely say try to play with our players.”
So if you’re let’s say, League of Legends, you’re top 50 Challenger, and you’re constantly playing with our players. Develop those relationships, right.
Don’t be toxic, try to add them as friends, try duo queue, show your skill, get on Discord with them. And also cut downs. Like live streaming on Twitch is one thing, but the virility of a 10-hour stream lies in those, let’s say, six 30-second cut downs that you can kind of rework.
Post on your Twitter, post on your YouTube, and get noticed. One Reddit thread can make all the difference. As you mentioned, Gosu. I mean, even though he never really played professionally on a team I’ve known Gosu for many, many years, and he made his brand by those viral Vayne highlight clips and videos.
KH: Amid all the drama in the world at the moment, we wanna hear from you what the POV is for a COO of one of the largest e-sports organizations. How do you think eSports as a whole is starting to compete with worldwide traditional sports?
Mike: I think we have a lot of sports investors in our ownership group. We’re owned by a company called Axiomatic and some of the chairman own LAFC, and the Dodgers, and the Golden State Warriors, and the Wizards, and the Capitals, and Tampa Bay Lightning.
“So we get to have a lot of conversation on this topic especially with them, right? What’s the difference? What are the similarities? How is this different but good? How is it different but bad?”
And so, I think definitely the revenue is catching up. The industry spend on video gaming in the US alone is $10.8 billion for the first quarter of this year, So I think if you kind of compare the size of the arenas that we’re playing in, in terms of economy, it’s pretty big.
With more to come, in developing Team Liquid and keeping it at the top, they’re slated for a lot of apparel drops, different media deals, and a variety of partnerships. They’re looking to expand to from being an e-sports team to being known WORLDWIDE as a brand.