When the pandemic led to mass sports cancellations early in 2020, esports found its time to shine. Mike Rufail leads the Dallas-based Envy Gaming team, which was able to pivot in ways that other sports can’t.
“Esports was born online, so while the cancellation of our live arena events was a significant shift, innovating in how we deliver online competition wasn’t,” says Envy’s founder and Chief Gaming Officer.
The team can pull a crowd: When Envy’s Dallas Fuel team hosted Bud Light Homestand Weekend in Allen in 2019, it ended up selling out with over 4,500 tickets on both days of the esports event.
Now, with safety precautions continuing to limit social gatherings, Rufail says, “We’re giving people more ways to engage with our players and teams than ever before—at an affordable price—with plenty of great incentives and in ways that traditional sports and entertainers don’t offer.”
Envy has a new membership program that comes with exclusive content and direct Team Envy access to fans. With Envy among the major esports organizations in Dallas-Fort Worth alongside Jerry Jones-owned CompLexity Gaming and Mark Cuban-owned Mavs Gaming, the esports team looks to be on a major growth track, even amidst a pandemic.
The team also has a brand new headquarters and training center in Victory Park, complete with production studios and communal spaces Rufail looks forward to sharing with fans.
“The potential that esports has—not just in business, but in entertainment, hobbies, fandom, and more—is enormous and growing,” Rufail says. “We continue to see more and more North Texans want to be a part of that experience.”
Meet the founder
Team owner Mike Rufail, who leads Envy Gaming with CEO Adam Rymer, was featured in Dallas Innovates’ Future 50 in Dallas-Fort Worth in the 2021 edition of our annual magazine. We talk with the founder about Envy Gaming’s new HQ, the pandemic’s impact on esports, efforts to “get out the gamer” vote, and what’s next for the Dallas esports innovator. Here’s what he had to say.
On Envy’s new digs in Victory Plaza:
We built out and moved into a brand new headquarters and training center in 20,000 square feet of space in Victory Plaza in Downtown Dallas.
Obviously, moving into a new office space during the middle of social distancing provided its own set of challenges, but I’m really proud to see how our team responded and the energy they continue to bring to work every day. Everyone at Envy wants us to be the best esports organization in Texas and worldwide.
The headquarters has truly become a new heartbeat for our organization: we have dedicated practice facilities for each of our teams and our players from all around the world have moved to Dallas; workspaces for our 40-plus (and growing) front office staff; our own production studios; and even communal spaces for events that we can’t wait to invite fans to in the future.
On bringing esports into the mainstream:
Over the past few years, we’ve focused on bringing esports out of the niche corners of the internet and delivering an entertaining product to mainstream audiences.
2020 was really an opportunity for esports to shine with most traditional sports on hiatus. We were able to push the industry forward this year and create more ways than ever before for fans to digitally interact with their favorite teams, players, brands, and personalities.
On responding to COVID-19:
Esports was born online, so while the cancellation of our live arena events was a significant shift, innovating in how we deliver online competition wasn’t. We continue to allow anyone in our organization to work from home or the office, and take whatever precautions they feel necessary to stay safe and comfortable.
On diversity and community support:
In terms of the larger conversations of equality happening in society today, we were determined to lend our voice to support the community. Envy is a diverse organization with an equally diverse fanbase — we bring together people from a vast array of backgrounds, and we know how important it is that every voice is heard.
One recent and tangible example is our partnership with Gamers.Vote, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization focused on getting video game and esports enthusiasts more involved in recent elections. Our goal in the partnership was to use the megaphone we have through our audience channels to encourage voter turnout and education.
On building teamwork in difficult times:
We’re a small company, and we all work very closely through big wins and heartbreaking losses. That nature of our business has made it easier to stick together (or six feet apart) and stay safe, and to also have difficult conversations with one another about what is happening in society. We’ve all stayed in touch, held events to appreciate our teams when it’s safe to do so, and continued focusing on the jobs we love to do.
On what’s next for Envy Gaming:
We’ve launched a brand new membership program that we’re beyond excited about. For a long time, we wanted to build something to show our appreciation to our fans for their support and give them more opportunities to get involved with our organization: this is it. We’re giving people more ways to engage with our players and teams than ever before—at an affordable price—with plenty of great incentives and in ways that traditional sports and entertainers don’t offer. It’s still in the early development stages and will expand in the coming months with feedback from our founding members, so right now we’re keeping an ear out to our fans to hear what they love and how we can make it better.
We’ve got the best fanbase in esports, and we’re going to do what we can to give back.
The Q&A has been edited for brevity and clarity. A version of this story was originally published in Dallas Innovates 2021: The Resilience Issue.
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Our fourth annual magazine, Dallas Innovates 2021: The Resilience Issue, highlights Dallas-Fort Worth as a hub for innovation. The collective strength of the innovation ecosystem and intellectual capital in Dallas-Fort Worth is a force to be reckoned with.
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