The tweet garnered over 4,000 retweets and drew responses from quite a few notable esports-related individuals. By the end of 2014 YouPorn was in the esports business, having taken on Spanish Dota 2 team Play2Win, who officially rebranded itself Team YP.
Do we have any competitive LoL, DOTA2, or HeartStone players following us? What do you think about YouPorn sponsoring a team?
— YouPorn Katie (@YouPorn) July 10, 2014
That’s where Claire Fisher came in. Though she’s no longer with YouPorn, the team’s former manager sat down with Yahoo Esports to discuss the org’s controversial ride through esports sponsorship.
Welcome to Team YP
In 2015, Fisher left a job at an ad agency to become the marketing coordinator at Team YP in Montreal. She figured it was a great opportunity to work in esports, which first piqued her interest after watching a League of Legends tournament in a friend’s basement.
In Fisher, Team YP got far more than they imagined. She grew up on video games, was fascinated with esports, and had professional management experience from her former gig. YouPorn considered her the best person to manage its players, so they gave her that job instead.
“I was really surprised. It was a happy accident,” Fisher told Yahoo Esports. “I didn’t anticipate my career going in that direction. I don’t think they realized at first I was meant for this. When they gave it to me, I was honored. Connecting with players was a big responsibility. I was starstruck.”
Around the time Fisher came aboard, Team YP struck deals with two talented Ultra Street Fighter IV players: Valentin “Valmaster” Petit, the best Chun-Li player in Europe, and Anton “Filipinoman” Herrera, the most notable Rose in North America. Despite her initial interest in League of Legends, Fisher grew up on fighting games and she was enamored with the FGC.
“When I was turned onto the FGC, I fell in love with it,” Fisher said. “There’s something different about watching a fighting game. It’s esports with a weird wrestling entertainment vibe with the pop-offs and unique personalities. I’m really into that.”
Valmaster and Filipinoman flourished under Team YP. Valmaster earned enough points on the Capcom Pro Tour in 2015 to qualify for Capcom Cup, where he finished in 17th place. Filipinoman finished out his USFIV career by placing top 4 at SCR 2015 and NEC 16, and he’s been one of the better Chun-Li players in SFV in North America. He recently finished 13th at Evo 2016, playing his way through the loser’s bracket after a first round loss.
“Claire really looks out for her players,” Filipinoman told us. “She was really invested in the fighting game community.”
Fisher saw her players as more than people wearing Team YP jerseys on live streams. She checked up on them, making sure they got what they needed to succeed. But she was also aware of helping these players mature and grow their own brands.
“I never took the players for granted,” Fisher said. “I learned to listen to what they wanted. Some players have extreme conditions with their sponsors. It adds to their stress. They don’t for me. I work for them. I’m there to advise them and push their careers in a certain direction.”
Team YP’s esports presence slowly grew, but while that was good for the org, it also brought unwanted attention…and eventually, controversy.
Beginning with ESL, event organizers began forcing Team YP out of its events, leaving a mess for Fisher to unravel. In late November 2015, ESL approached Team YP with the idea of selling its jerseys in ESL’s stores. Team YP leapt at the chance — working with one of the world’s biggest event organizers to sell merchandise was a big deal for the small sponsor.
Then communication ceased. Months went by, and Fisher heard nothing.
“I emailed the person I was dealing with and they informed me ESL wouldn’t be able to sell our merchandise because of the nature of our adult sponsor,” Fisher said. “I took it in stride. I understood the decision. No hard feelings.”
Nearly four months later, ESL took an even harder stance by no longer allowing Team YP’s Evolve team to compete unless they rid themselves of the YouPorn name, tag, and logo. None of this came about during the Evolve team’s first place finish at the ESL Evolve Major. It was only after the fact that it became an issue.
“I got in touch with an admin,” Fisher said, “and was told it wasn’t their decision but someone above them. I just wanted my players to play. I’m here to support them and the scene. We offered to alter the logo or come to a compromise so Team YP could still be represented and not create a difficult position with ESL.”
None of that mattered, however, and ESL soon took it a step further by completely banning Team YP from any of its events in April. Team YP could no longer compete in Evolve, CS:GO, Mortal Kombat X, or Street Fighter V ESL tournaments. Fisher was told it didn’t matter how Team YP handled its branding. The issue was where its funding came from.
“That’s when we decided to go public with ESL’s decision,” Fisher said. “It made sense at the time because our fear was the community might think we would drop our players. It wasn’t fair to our players because it impacted their income.”
CPT ban hammer
Unfortunately, Team YP’s problems didn’t end there. During the 2015 Capcom Pro Tour, Capcom wouldn’t allow Valmaster or Filipinoman to wear their jerseys or use their tags on live streams. They were still allowed to compete, but no official statement about the issue had been released by Capcom.
“I took it upon myself to reach out to Capcom and ask them, ‘if Valmaster qualified for Capcom Cup, would wearing our jersey pose a problem?’” Fisher said.
Capcom’s response? A definitive “yes.”
In hindsight, if she hadn’t reached out, maybe it wouldn’t have been an issue. Team YP’s response was to come up with a pixelated version of their logo on a t-shirt for Valmaster to wear at Capcom Cup. His “YP” tag was still not displayed on the live stream.
It proved to be a temporary solution to an even larger problem.
In May 2016, a few months into the Street Fighter V Capcom Pro Tour, Capcom altered its ruleset, banning players sponsored by adult content sponsors. The ruling may have been in the works for some time, but it seemingly came out of nowhere.
Strangely, the updated ruleset specifically pointed out that alcoholic beverage, cigarette, and vaping sponsors were okay. That didn’t sit well with Team YP, its players, or many other SFV competitors, who voiced their displeasure online.
“Why ban one and not the other? It’s perfectly acceptable for alcohol companies to be part of mainstream sports,” Fisher said. “Why can’t esports be the kind of industry that’s innovative enough to have a discussion about it? Either all of it is okay or none of it is.”
The saga didn’t end there. After the reaction to its new update, Capcom updated its ruleset again, this time banning adult content, alcoholic beverage, cigarette, and vaping related sponsors. However, it would allow players sponsored by organizations like Team YP to continue to play. They just couldn’t wear jerseys or have their tags shown on live streams. In essence, little had changed other than Capcom officially posting the rules on the CPT website.
Fisher tried her best to come to a reasonable compromise with both ESL and Capcom. Her efforts fell on deaf ears.
“We never heard back from ESL or Capcom. We were more than willing to find a middle ground. I wish we had,” she said.
As one can imagine, the bans had an immediate impact on Team YP’s operations.
“The minute the bans happened, it hit the brakes on how fast we could grow,” Fisher said. “Then we started questioning how many players we could sponsor and what kind of presence we could have in scenes while still being represented. We still wanted to represent our players.”
Adapting to the game
In spite of the controversy and challenges, Team YP soldiered on and eventually signed an all women’s League of Legends team. Women are severely underrepresented in the esports industry, so it was a bold acquisition, especially given its current competitive predicament.
“We wanted to form a strong female team,” Fisher said. “In terms of esports – it’s not just a gender thing – women are as strong as men. We wanted to give women an opportunity to shine because there are fewer opportunities for them to do that.”
Since Team YP needed another way to support esports competition, Fisher felt it made sense to go in a direction that might broaden the appeal for women, as well as entice more women to get active in esports.
“Women have to stand out against a huge pool of competition,” she said. “As much as I’d like to see things change right away, I know it’s an uphill battle. I want the community to be more welcoming to women. Invite them into your scenes to play. The industry should sponsor more women to push them into the spotlight. That will encourage more women to get into the industry.”
Fisher wouldn’t stick around to see this flourish, however. On July 29, she announced she was leaving Team YP for another opportunity:
Today is my last day.
Thank you @TeamYPOfficial.
Thanks to you, I now have the certainty I was made to work in this industry. <3 love you.
— Claire Fisher (@Claire_F1sher) July 29, 2016
Fisher carved out a lasting impression in her time with Team YP. She managed and nurtured players from across the esports spectrum. She treated them as if they were her own family, fighting for them when she felt they were being bullied or treated unfairly. Her presence will be missed, especially within the FGC.
“It means the world to me when Valmaster and Filipinoman tell me they had a great experience working with me,” Fisher said. “That’s all I wanted to give them. I wish I could have seen both of our players at Capcom Cup. I wish I was able to help Team YP grow more.”
“I want to thank Team YP. I want to thank the people who gave me the opportunity to discover this business. It’s been incredible. I was in the right place at the right time,” she said.
“I feel sad that she left,” Filipinoman said, “but I’m happy for her. She’s the best. I would want to work with her again in the future, if the opportunity presents itself.”
As Fisher moves on to new esports adventures, she left a few pieces of advice for anyone aspiring to work in the esports industry.
“Respect your players. Cherish the relationships you’re building, but remain professional. Be more than a fan of the industry: be able to see where it’s going and make decisions based on that.”
Michael Martin covers Street Fighter V and the Capcom Pro Tour. Follow him on Twitter @Bizarro_Mike.