Gaming peripheral giant SteelSeries has partnered with North, Denmark’s top CS:GO esports team, for both sponsorship and collaboration.

SteelSeries esports manager Tony Trubridge joined AListDaily to discuss the partnership and why North’s traditional sporting roots set it apart from other teams.

Having separately founded esports team Immunity, Trubridge is in a unique position to oversee the competitive aspects of SteelSeries’ operations. He recalled starting “when esports wasn’t esports,” and everyone assumed competitive gaming meant casino gambling.

“I got to see it go from playing video games and everyone would look at you funny . . . to today, where a lot of people understand what esports is,” Trubridge said.

He says this grassroots upbringing, paired with rapid growth, is why you still see a lack of structure and oversight in the competitive gaming arena today.

North was founded by football club FC Copenhagen and Nordisk Film—two non-endemic brands from industries with strict oversight—and Trubridge felt these companies were approaching esports from a unique but respectful perspective.

“The thing that really appealed to us was their ability to tie the existing heritage of esports and bring traditional sports into it, and not the other way around,” explained Trubridge. “They were bringing the presence, the awareness, [and] the knowledge that these guys have from many years of working with sporting super stars and athletes into the realm of esports. [They’re] not pushing it from, ‘this is how you have to work and this is the only way it works.’

“[FC Copenhagen] put together a team of staff that obviously have vast experience in traditional sports as well as in esports. That, to me, meant that they really understood the growth of esports and what they needed to do with the players. They were bringing traditional sports to esports, not the other way around. That means they’re going to give the players and teams all the facilities [and] support that they need and apply all the dietary, psychology, etc.—all the different facets to what can really make a great sporting person to esports. That was the real catalyst for me,” Trubridge said, using an example of North players eating a banana during games as opposed to sugary energy drinks.

Treating pro gamers like traditional athletes seems to be paying off. This past weekend, North took home first place at DreamHack Montreal and is now headed to ELeague in Austin with eyes on the $1 million prize purse.

One other aspect of North appealed to the very heart of SteelSeries as well—where they come from.

“SteelSeries is a Danish company. Esports is in our DNA and it was very important that we reconnected with our roots,” he said.

The team lives and practices close to the SteelSeries headquarters in Copenhagen, making it easy for them to visit and play-test new products created just for them.

“We’re going to be working very closely with the North guys,” said Trubridge. “The trick is going to be taking their feedback and turning it into something bigger.”

SteelSeries has a long history of collaborating with professional gamers to integrate features into their products. The Sensei mouse, for example, utilized feedback from over 20 esports players before hitting the retail market.

“We tailor our products for the pros,” Trubridge said, “then we also look at the commercial aspect. We need to make products that really work for all these different usage models. The cool thing we can do as a company is we can separate that into a pro line and more of a mainstream line.”

Creating custom products that are made to last and appeal to a wide range of players is important to the company.

“It’s really important that we connect with our users. It’s always a challenge to make sure we stay on top in terms of the connectivity that we have with our consumers, fans and players. Every facet of the product [is focused] on that message of ‘hey, we’re gamers and we’re here to support your hobby, your passion and we want you to have a great time doing it.’”

When it comes to sponsoring an esports team, Trubridge says that he focuses on the players themselves as opposed to followers on social media or performance alone.

“You don’t always have to look at the team that has the biggest social media following,” he advised. “I know how much a team’s image can grow in a short period of time if you do the right things. When there’s a really good synergy and see the players connect professionally, you can really see it in some players and in others, you see them thinking, ‘this is still a game to me.’ I could see the difference that these players had—the determination they had. There’s no point getting a star player if he doesn’t get along with everyone and doesn’t take everything seriously.”