DreamHack Austin was a busy yet probably satisfying weekend for Dan “Clerkie” Clerke.
He’s still the owner of Enemy, an organization with Smite, Dota 2 and Super Smash Bros teams (though they’ve also dabbled with League of Legends and Counter-Strike in the past). But Clerkie was watching as his other project, the esports club at Maryville University, finished off a 40-0 season by winning the League of Legends championship for the Collegiate StarLeague.
Clerkie took some time Saturday to talk with Slingshot’s Blake Bottrill about Maryville, Enemy and that time he turned down a $1 million offer for his team’s League of Legends Championship Series slot.
Blake Bottrill: A lot of people know who Clerkie the online personality is, but not a lot of people maybe know Dan. How did Dan get into esports?
Dan “Clerkie” Clerke: From the very beginning?
BB: Yeah, go for it.
DC: When I was like 4 or 5 years old, my dad had an NES, and the first game I ever played was Megaman 2. At a very young age, I started speed running that game like very hardcore. I was learning the clips and stuff. You could clip up into the ceiling and glitch through levels and stuff. I would time myself playing that game and beating it before turning 8 years old. That’s when I got really competitive about it. I had a GameCube, and I didn’t really play any games on it, and then I got an Xbox 360 and I got Call of Duty 4. I was on CoD 4 all day, I got really good at the game. Back then it wasn’t like it is nowadays. Back then I would play for like $1,500 and a bunch of Mountain Dew. Now they play for hundreds of thousands. Moving forward, I got into the business side and I guess my CoD personality kind of stuck through that, and that is what people see online so that is why people think I’m unprofessional and stuff like that.
BB: Enemy started for you four years ago as sort of a passion project.
DC: So the actual foray into real esports was just like a year ago though.
BB: How did you end up putting together everything in 2012? How did everything come together at that point?
DC: In 2012, I was still going to engineering school in St. Louis at a different school. It’s not in St. Louis, actually. It’s in the center of Missouri. It’s called Rolla. I hated my life; so much math, I was terrible at it and I went to school to follow my friends, not for my passion. One day I decided I was done with it. What I was doing to pay my bills was I would make Call of Duty logos for teams, and I made the Enemy logo one night and I was like, “I really like this,” and I went to Chachi, who lived in the same hall as me and said, “Yo, I got an idea. Let’s make an esports org.” And we had no plan. We had no idea what we were doing. I moved home and started working at Dierbergs Deli, which is like a grocery store, and I put every cent of every paycheck towards sending my first teams to tournaments, and they were winning the first tournaments we sent them to, beating pro teams. I was like, “we are actually kind of OK at this.” Then we kind of went into hiatus until we figured out how we could get some money to serious mode, and 2014 is where we got the League of Legends team and made LCS off $60,000.
BB: You were offered over a million dollars for your LCS spot (Dan laughing). I’ve got to ask this question because everybody wants to know the answer to this question, but many people including myself thought you were pretty crazy at the time for not taking that offer. Walk me through the decision making process there.
DC: I mean you’re not wrong. My parents think I’m crazy too. Everybody around me thinks I’m crazy. Looking back, I might even think I was crazy. The reason why I did not sell the League of Legends team when we made LCS was because I had just gotten into esports and I wanted to ride with the team that I started with. I wanted to see where they got, and I wanted to learn from LCS. I didn’t want to sell and be out. I actually moved to California. I learned so much in the eight months I was in California that I would have never had the chance to learn had I taken that money. That’s basically it.
BB: You’ve held teams across five or six different titles now and you’ve backed out and now only have your Smite team, who is doing well, and Smash still.
DC: And Dota!
BB: What was the main influence for downscaling? Or was it just a timing thing?
DC: Once we got into LCS we had to find an investor because we were still pocket funded and we’re like college students so it’s not like we’re businessmen with big big bank accounts. We are working on a college budget, so we had to find investment. My goal for last year was to find investment and move all the operations to California because me and Chachi were still in St. Louis. It was difficult because I had to have other staff members in the house while I went to school. Over the last year or so I kind of realized that I don’t want to do that, what I want to do is I want to set up something big in St. Louis. So now I’m fundraising in St. Louis, we’ve put all the other teams on hiatus, and we are sitting on Smite while I sign these deals that I’m working on. I started (esports at) Maryville University in St. Louis as well, and that is going to serve as a talent pipeline into the organization that we are going to base in St. Louis.
BB: I know you’ve been quite hands off with the organization for a while now because, like you said, they are in California and you are in St. Louis. Are you looking to divest your interests and focus somewhere else? Or are you just putting things on hold until you get a better idea of what you want to do moving forward.
DC: The current Enemy — the Smite team — they are going to be in the plans no matter what. So when I sign money that I am looking for they are going to come with me. We don’t know if it’s going to be called Enemy, we don’t know what is going to happen to the brand. Once you get investors it is kind of up to what they want. We are going to see what happens when the time comes but I’m definitely not going to leave the guys behind that I already have here at Enemy. I see the project as an extension of Enemy, I see Enemy as a learning experience for me. I never went into Enemy thinking I’m going to try and make a bunch of money off Enemy; I went into Enemy thinking I’m going to learn how to do things correctly and then I’m going to go to an investor and then I’m going to try and profit.
BB: What is one of the most difficult things that people overlook as an organization owner?
DC: Man, the whole thing is pretty difficult to be honest. It is just as much fun as it is difficult, but a lot of what people don’t see is what happens behind the scenes. Players are really needy — especially in North America. You have to learn how to say no at some point because I’m a yes man, I say yes to everybody. Ask me twice and I’ll give you it. Saying no is one of the hardest things I’ve had to learn. You also need to be able to deal with stuff online. I’m a young org owner. It’s a lot different going from having a personal Twitter or Facebook account to having an account that everybody is watching. I have to hold my tongue when I don’t want to, and that is really difficult for me personally. And seeing your teams fail sometimes. Watching our team get relegated was one of the hardest things I’ve ever watched. It was really difficult because I see my players as like almost children of mine; even though I’m only 22 I see them as like family and that is really hard to watch.
BB: We have been talking this weekend and you were very adamant at one point about the fact that you are really glad you didn’t end up permanently moving to LA. Talk to to me a little bit about how St. Louis happened and how you ended up getting in contact with the administration at Maryville.
DC: So I go to Maryville. I was never really involved at Maryville. I was just commuting to school being that kid that goes to class and then you never really see him again. When we made LCS, the administration heard about it they were like, “Hey, this is kinda cool. RMU is doing this too. Why don’t we try to do something? We have Clerkie here on campus so why don’t we do this?” We got in a meeting in March of last year, we put together the idea of the program and we launched it in the fall semester. Through Maryville is how I have been getting all the contacts I need to set up all this other stuff that I’m working on. While I was in LCS, I was looking at Maryville and said, “This is taking a lot of my time. Maybe I should be focusing on Enemy,” and now Maryville has proven to be a blessing in disguise. It has opened so many doors for me and it has opened so many doors for players that want to play games and work on their future.
BB: So your Maryville League of Legends team is 36-0 this season and they are playing in Collegiate StarLeague finals this weekend. Do you have any plans to expand the roster of games you are working with at Maryville?
DC: So Maryville gives us really good financial support, the best financial support in the world for collegiate esports. The way I am using that is, I’m not going to expand and bring in a bunch of kids. I’m going to bring in an A team for Counter-Strike and Heroes of the Storm or something like that, and those players need to be really high-level players. They need to be borderline professional players that want to do their studies at the same time because there are players that want to do that, but then they are stuck with a choice of do I go to school or do I go pro. This is kind of a healthy medium for those players. I’m looking for high level Counter-Strike players going into the fall as well as Heroes of the Storm players. I really want to win Heroes of the Dorm next year! We will see what happens.
BB: I have no doubt that collegiate esports is about to take off and we are going to see a lot more universities follow you and RMU. How long do you think it will be before the NCAA starts to recognize esports in even a tertiary sense?
DC: My personal opinion is just being in the scene, I don’t really want the NCAA touching it because with that comes a ton of regulations. Esports is a little different from normal sports. A collegiate athlete in basketball has like 15 years of pro ahead of him, whereas an esports athlete, their careers are much shorter. In collegiate esports you’ll see players go to a school like Adrian, who is now the support on Immortals, who went to RMU and then he went pro and then I think he is planning to go back to school once he stops that. Having the NCAA wouldn’t allow that. What I’m looking forward to is a third-party tournament host who will step up with financial backing and regulate it to where it fits esports. I want someone who understands esports. Maybe NCAA can hire somebody who understands esports to head that project, but I think we are about two or three years off that. I think we have about five more programs that are being announced this year that no one has heard of yet.
BB: So what is the ultimate career goal for you then? Where do you see yourself in five years? Do you want to own and org and just be winning everything? Is that the plan?
DC: My ultimate career goal is to have the thing set up in St. Louis with Maryville and be able to live comfortably off of it. I don’t pay myself as an owner. A lot of people really don’t know that but I don’t pay myself at all. I’m still a broke college kid driving a ’98. I want to be able to do it as a career. My ultimate goal in life, though, is to own an NHL franchise, I don’t know how realistic that is but we will see where that goes. I want to actually make St. Louis a hub for talent that wants to develop — I’ve never been one that buys talent — I have always developed my talent, so I want to make St. Louis a development hub for esports.
Photos courtesy of Riot Games.