Making it in Esports: Third Impact Founder, Ken “sp0rk” McGaffey On Owning an Esports Team
This article is part of Gamer One’s new Making it in Esports series which interviews top industry team owners to learn more about their journey and to share the lessons they’ve learned along the way.
The following is a recent interview we had with Ken “sp0rk” McGaffey, founder of Third Impact.
1. What was your journey like that eventually led to owning your own team?
KM: I never thought I would call myself a team owner, much less the founder of an organization. I have always been a competitive player with passion for whatever game I was playing at the time. I had a dream of being a professional but always prioritized school and work. I graduated from the US Military Academy at West Point with a degree in computer science and a strong foundation of ethics and leadership, but I was still a hardcore gamer. I continued to be involved with Esports and began volunteering with a small organization as a team manager. I learned about how teams functioned and what the organizational business model was. Unfortunately, the organization had some unscrupulous attitudes towards its players and treated them poorly. Having heard many stories of predatory organizations, I worked with the Overwatch Contenders team I grew close with to create a new identity, Third Impact. I focused on creating each team to be as self-sufficient as possible which allowed me to work on building new teams and running the business side of things.
2. What’s an average workday look like for you?
KM: I am a full-time software developer in the US Army. I wake up at 0550 and exercise until about 0730. I eat breakfast and shower and am at work by 0900. I take about an hour for lunch and am home by 1800 at the latest. I catch up on emails and our socials, eat dinner, and am usually in bed by 2300. Throughout the day I stay connected to my teams and staff via Discord and every now and then I have meetings with our partners. The most important thing we do every week is hold our content meetings, where the staff and I discuss what our community wants to see and work to bring the raw content from our players to our community. Showing fans what our day to day looks like in an interesting and novel way is our top priority. I am responsible for our merchandise, partner relations, legal obligations, and finances, but I believe our success is defined by the work our content team does, which is why I am personally involved.
3. What’s the most challenging part about owning your own team?
KM: The most challenging part of owning a team is by far balancing growth with the resources the organization has available. Every day we get emails from teams asking to play for us, and sometimes they are fairly promising. Every time I learn more about new players and the ecosystem around a particular title, the feeling of opportunity is at odds with the bandwidth of our staff and resources. I’ve learned that maximizing the chances of success for a particular title is almost always a better return than touching the surface of many games.
4. What advice would you have for aspiring professional gamers?
KM: If you are an aspiring gamer, the biggest thing you can do is a document and present your success well. What sets players apart is being able to communicate your advantages and how you are valuable. I personally look for players that take the initiative to communicate updates about themselves and their team.
5. What excites you most about the future of the esports industry?
KM: I am excited to imagine a world where Esports is just as or more prevalent than meat sports. Being able to identify and resonate with new people over our favorite title or esports team is not a reasonable expectation. As Esports grows, it will continue to become more accessible and bring people together. We have gotten a taste with OWL on ESPN and viewing parties at Buffalo Wild Wings and it is a great feeling.