Ryan “OpTicJ” Musselman, co-founder and chief operating officer of OpTic Gaming, is featured in a new paperback book from Harper Collins, OpTic Gaming: The Making of eSports Champions. Musselman, along with co-founder Hector Rodriguez, have been around since the infancy of eSports.
Activision Blizzard has taken control of Call of Duty‘s destiny through the acquisition of Major League Gaming, and console eSports are getting a push from Sony, so things are looking up for OpTic Gaming and other pro teams. With Infinity Ward readying Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare and a new Call of Duty XP event planned for this fall, Musselman talks about the past, present and future of eSports in this exclusive interview with [a]listdaily.
When did you see the potential for Call of Duty as a sport?
We had an inkling in 2007 when Hector (Rodriguez) and I competed in OpTic’s first LAN event (and finished in third place) during Call of Duty 4, but the content, streaming and the overall embrace from the developer’s end were still in [their] infancy. Similar to the rise of eSports with other titles, the intensity and engagement of the community from players, event organizers, fans, publishers and developers provided a good indicator that something special was on the rise, even with the absence of large prize pool commitments at the time.
What was the eSports scene like back in the early days?
It was raw, but nonetheless exciting. The scene was certainly more niche and you wouldn’t hear the word “eSports.” Seeing teammates in person on a very irregular basis made for some great memories and a growing passion to see the industry evolve into what it looks like today, especially knowing that we’ve only just begun. It was common to see overcrowded living rooms, LAN centers and small hotel conference rooms as the main stage for competition. You can get a good feel for it in the Smash Bros. documentary that was released on YouTube back in 2013. Experiencing competitive gaming at an early time was such a golden experience that we will appreciate forever.
How did OpTic work with Activision and its developers in fine-tuning Call of Duty for eSports?
A strong line of communication was opened with Treyarch, primarily through David Vonderhaar, their studio design director. We first met David during a Black Ops livestream as he jokingly teased us about OpTic’s infatuation with the sniper rifle. He and his team have been amazing advocates of community feedback, pro feedback and eSports growth overall. That simple line of communication led to additional involvement from other organizations, which further paved the way for more growth, shoutcasting and competitive development.
What impact have you seen the relationship between pro gamers and Call of Duty developers have on the quality of eSports?
Better in-game mechanics as it relates to competitive play, not to mention the overall institution of the Call of Duty World League. Collaboration and communication continue to be key as eSports grows.
What are the challenges of having to learn a new game every season with Call of Duty?
Overall, it’s adjustment to spawn points on new maps, weapon and perk combinations, callouts and playing styles that vary based on the game mode within the map. A lot of it comes down to communication and decision-making, but players are getting very seasoned with this annual change, so solving the challenge may become less burdensome.
What’s it been like looking back at the 10-year history of OpTic Gaming through this book?
Hector and I had a moment of reflection on this the other day, and coupled with the amazing and tremendous progress came a deep sense of appreciation for our Green Wall followers—the dedicated fans who teamed with us to realize our dream and see the organization become what it is today. We’ve seen pictures of OpTic tattoos, fan art and more. A fan once cut the OpTic logo into the grass of his yard. We can’t help but look back and see our roots: friends sitting in their bedrooms while playing video games on the internet.
What do you feel has been the secret to the success OpTic Gaming has had with Call of Duty over the years?
Consistent adaptation during competition and unrelenting motivation to improve, coupled with good relationships from some of the greatest CoD players of our generation.
From a long distance view, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and Call of Duty seem similar. What is it about CS:GO that has catapulted that game to such a high trajectory?
It’s important to look at Counter-Strike as a whole versus CS:GO alone because the gameplay is just so timeless and still so addicting. The tactical brilliance and skill required to play at the highest level of competition makes for great entertainment.
What impact do you feel Activision’s acquisition of MLG will have on eSports moving forward?
We anticipate a continued positive impact. MLG is very experienced at running leagues and tournaments and both organizations have always been supportive of OpTic. We’re excited to be in the same pool of industry professionals who are passionately and strategically invested in the growth of the Call of Duty eSports scene.
What are your thoughts on taking Call of Duty to outer space with Infinite Warfare?
Name the playing field and we will be there.
We’re seeing more prize money in eSports across the board and new ownership opportunities for teams and players. Do you wish you were younger and able to compete in this environment?
My competitive nature will always say yes, however I’m very happy to be in my role, including my previous roles that have given me an opportunity to contribute large and small to the environment.
A lot of pros stay within the industry. Why did you decide to leave?
Pro is a strong word for my skill level. I always knew I would be more involved on the business end, compared to my teammates who compete at the highest level of competition. Simply put, the most skilled players with the best chemistry should take the reins in competitive play. My transition was ultimately driven by new opportunities in the gaming space, on top of a desire to see players and organizations work hand-in-hand to cultivate an astounding eSports industry.
How did your eSports experience, and those of many of your teammates, pave the way to corporate gaming jobs?
You learn the business in its rawest form while simultaneously building critical relationships that bring new opportunities to the table. My affiliation with OpTic is largely responsible for my career in gaming and content (alumni of Machinima and the Google/YouTube gaming team). It’s been a pleasure to meet and work with other passionate and experienced professionals from various industries who all have something unique to bring to the eSports industry.