Danan Flander scoffs at the notion of downtime.
“I don’t get days off,” he said. “That’s not how that works.”
Flander, the general manager of Cloud9, says that not looking for sympathy or as a way to complain, but simply as a matter of fact that comes with being the main behind-the-scenes presence for one of the biggest organizations in esports.
Fans seldom get to talk to the people who make esports teams run, much less get to know them. The pros are the ones who get the spotlight, but there is more than just players and computers that keep a team together. Founder and CEO Jack Etienne is the public face of Cloud9, but behind him is Flander, the team’s tireless general manager.
Sitting on one of many gym balls in the living room of the Cloud9 house, Flander sighed as he counted daily responsibilities on his fingers.
“It depends on the day,” he said. “Right now, Cloud9 has a League of Legends team, Counter-Strike team, Hearthstone team, Vainglory team, two Smash teams, depending on how you look at it. We have Ally (Elliot Bastien Carroza-Oyarce) and Mango (Joseph Marquez), a Dota 2 team, and an Overwatch team. Right now, we have eight off the top of my head, but again it fluctuates based on time of year, depending on the upcoming events, obviously, as esports will allow.”
It’s not just one team, player or commitment Flander manages; he oversees them all. His job is thankless, but that’s just fine for Flander, somebody who prefers to be the person behind the esports stage — and not on it. And here he is, one of the most important people for one of the biggest brands in esports.
Etienne has made a concerted effort to assemble a useful staff, and Flander is at the forefront of it.
“The key to doing well in this industry is having good staff with you,” Etienne told Slingshot. “The players depend on it. My sponsors depend on it. I depend on it. Our partners like Riot depend on it. So I’ve spent a lot of time over the last couple of years trying to hire really strong staff to make sure that we’re well equipped to handle the needs of our players.”
In a sea of work, Flander consistently manages to stay afloat, and his work ethic is something borne of practice. Even before his foray into esports, his schedule was hectic by design as he immersed himself with almost every possible traditional sport he could — and gamed on top of that.
“I played tennis. I played soccer. I played baseball…for pretty much every other sport you can imagine, that I could encounter, I was heavily involved,” Flander said. “My days typically included wake up, practice for something like cross country in the morning depending on the time of the year. After school it would be either robotics, or tennis, or baseball, or soccer, and then my evening would be gaming, with a disproportionate amount at one point being World of Warcraft.”
Flander initially had aspirations to become a professional League of Legends player, but after a failure with one of his teams, he elected to give up that hope and go to college.
As the first member of his family to have that chance, a sense of purpose kept Flander enrolled. Other examples of pros electing to forego their college educations only cemented his concerns.
“I’m first generation college so no one else in my family got into college, and it was really important to me,” Flander said. “When I got there, that’s when players started dropping, a lot of them dropped college. The entire first Cloud9 roster is a good example. Four out of five of them dropped out of college to then backdoor and fail to qualify for the LCS. I didn’t feel comfortable doing that because I was first generation, because I was penning my own way through college.”
Flander’s journey into esports wasn’t over; he simply transitioned from player to team manager. He organized schedules, signed up for tournaments, and created the groundwork of what he would eventually become his current occupation. The early days of managing esports teams were tough, though, with Flander having to fight for the right to even be with the team at times.
Although the advent of managers is still not 100 percent across the board with organizations, the position was barely even conceived a few years ago.
“I had to argue back then to be brought along,” Flander said. “Teams a lot of the times had to pay for that person, who would be me, to come along to an event.”
Flander said that as he managed a team in college, it would be a worthwhile investment of time to learn how to handle players, as they were inherently incapable of doing everything themselves on top of being competitive players. Starting as the manager for C9’s League team, he soon found himself seeking more responsibilities and opportunities beyond League — a sort of insurance policy in case League ever stopped being as popular as it is today.
Now as a main force in C9 management behind Etienne, Flander is entrusted with maintaining the health of each of Cloud9’s teams through conversations with managers to then reach a conclusion on which teams need the most amount of support and when. The general manager’s work is around the clock and across multiple time zones.
Flander travels constantly, whether to follow C9’s CS:GO team or doing some hands-on work with one of his team’s many talents, giving him little time to recover before he’s moving onto the next item on the list. He likened his job as an on-call doctor, and there wasn’t really a moment where he could just have it all stop.
“I have to fully assess each of our teams, how they’re doing, why I feel like they’re doing the way they’re doing,” he said. “You get the idea, doing a full analysis of each and every team, their rosters, then I cross compare, cross reference with Jack and his analysis of the same thing. Then we also merge that data with our other managers and our other staff that are on site and giving their feedback to understand the health of a team. Then, depending on which team is least healthy, that’s the team that I’ll probably look to give priority to.”
The landscape of esports has shifted, with every team requiring a manager to some degree. Managing an esports team is tiring work, with very little time for them to be able to bask in the fruits of their work before moving to the next project or event. Flander said the mark of a great manager is just that, someone who works behind the scenes to improve the organization while not concerning themselves with the limelight.
“(Managers) are not the talent. They’re not marketable. That’s not what they do,” he said. “They should not have the time or the energy to be or sustain or build a personality. If they do, then I think they’re kinda doing it wrong. Realistically, any energy that you put into that, you could reallocate towards your players and your coaches, to building them bigger, better, stronger, and that’s infinitely more efficient than building or working on your own.”
Without a doubt, many people want to be involved with esports teams as a manager, which has now turned into a native position of major organizations. Flander’s advice? Don’t do what he did.
“The normal staple thing I hear from other managers is just like, ‘Do what I did,'” he said. “That’s what they say. They say to grind it out. I don’t honestly think that’s the most optimal strategy now…Don’t do what I did. Don’t grind it out. Talk to the right people, network appropriately, and for the most part events run themselves. Your job is to make sure when there are cracks you seal them. That’s realistically the role you fill now, and then once you get back to a position where people trust you with things, that’s when you can start to shape things in a way that you think makes sense.”