Can FaZe Clan Build a Billion-Dollar Business?

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LOS ANGELES — FaZe Clan could be called a media company, or an esports team, or an influencer marketing agency, or all of the above.

“Something like who we are has never existed before,” said Lee Trink, the organization’s chief executive. He comes from the entertainment world (he helped discover Kid Rock) and his best attempt is to describe FaZe Clan is the Dallas Cowboys meets Supreme meets MTV.

But it’s more than that: a direct-to-consumer e-commerce business, releasing merchandise and apparel; an in-house content production studio; a talent-management business; a sales team acting as a mini advertising agency negotiating brand deals; and a technology arm that develops software to meet the demands of talent.

Teenagers find this corporate conglomerate incredibly cool. FaZe Clan fans get FaZe tattoos, doodle FaZe logos on their notebooks at school and show up outside the group’s Hollywood Hills house begging for pictures. When a group of members visited SoHo in New York City this summer, multiple city blocks were closed after thousands of fans flooded the streets. This weekend, they’ll open their first storefront, on Melrose Ave. in Los Angeles, and it threatens to be a “legendary moment,” as a FaZe member put it.

FaZe Clan consists of 34 content creators and 15 professional esports players, and 11 hybrid creators who are both pro players and entertainers. All of them excel at creating social media clips; together they have brought 214 million viewers into the fold.

Members are easy to recognize online. They refer to themselves using their gamer tags, which always start with “FaZe.” There’s FaZe Banks, 27; FaZe Temperrr, 24; FaZe Rain, 23; and FaZe Apex, 23, four early members considered the backbone of the organization. FaZe Kay, a 23-year-old British Twitch star and gamer with 3.2 million subscribers on YouTube, joined in 2014. His younger brother, FaZe Jarvis, is the resident baby brother of the FaZe house and often the butt of pranks. (He once won a Fortnite game with a boa constrictor coiled around his neck.)

Jarvis also might be the first great casualty of the organization. He recently received a lifetime ban from Fortnite. That game has been his ticket to top tier employment and his source of fame. He is now deciding what’s next. “I’ve just been taking a lot of time to reflect on everything,” he told his subscribers a few days ago. He is 17.

At the FaZe House

FaZe Clan moved to Los Angeles in 2016, first to Newport, then to Calabasas and, in 2018, into dual 12,500-square-foot mansions in the Hollywood Hills. One house is full of strictly FaZe members. The other contains a roving cast of FaZe-adjacent influencers, like RiceGum (a model and rapper) and Sommer Ray (a fitness model).

The houses act as live-in dorms for influencers. During the day, they work.

One day in October, Vera Salamone, FaZe Clan’s director of talent, conducted a 10 a.m. stand-up meeting. She asked the boys what they planned to accomplish during the day. “I have meetings, then I’m making a video with Jarvis. Getting ready for the weekend. I just want a day off,” said FaZe Kay. Everyone laughed.

After the meeting, the gamers slumped off into their rooms to begin the daily grind. Most FaZe Clan members spend the majority of their time in their bedrooms, posted up in front of their gaming stations.

“I spent 90 percent of my time here in my room,” said FaZe Kay.

“There’s not much you can really do,” he continued. “All I do is play Fortnite anyway. I sit in my set up and play, so I’m not really too bothered. I don’t even really go outside too much.”

Many members played varsity sports in high school. They are obsessed with fitness and nutrition. The third-floor common area of the current FaZe house is dedicated to a gym. “We aren’t shy, antisocial quote unquote weird kids that are out of shape, don’t play sports, don’t mess with girls and don’t eat well,” said Banks. “We do all that stuff.”

FaZe Clan members make things for their channels, the collective FaZe channels, or for brands. This year FaZe has done advertising deals with Fortune 500 brands including Nissan and Burger King. (For Burger King, some of them ate burgers blindfolded for a video and appeared surprised to find out that they were not made of meat. “That’s lit,” said FaZe Cizzorz.)

The FaZe Clan house proper is sprawling, with white marble floors and metallic silver railings. It is also empty, devoid of personal belongings. A neon FaZe logo hangs by the TV above the fireplace. There’s a pool table that remains untouched. TV screens around the house display live counts and rankings of members’ YouTube, Twitch and Instagram followings. Gamers flop around on oversized bean bag chairs that litter the top floor, the default common area.

The unofficial uniform is FaZe Clan merch paired with designer sportswear and brand-name slides. “These are Louis Vuitton sliders,” FaZe Jarvis said when asked about his footwear. “I have three pairs of sliders: Off-White, Louis and Givenchy ones.” His older brother was decked out in Gucci. They aren’t particularly into fashion, the brothers said. They just buy nice things because they can.

FaZe Clan members block out the neighborhood’s breathtaking views with thick blinds to prevent glare. The rooms feel like packed caves. Beds are generally unmade and in various states of disarray. FaZe Temperrr has the largest room in the house. Larger than a small New York City apartment, it’s crammed with piles of personal items: a box of Travis Scott limited-edition Reese’s Puffs, a Gucci wallet, a plush Mario doll. His mantle is covered with anime figurines and childhood photos. FaZe Barry, Temperrr’s Bengal cat, roams his huge marble bathroom.

FaZe Kay keeps a Boring company fire extinguisher on his bedside table, propped up against his gold YouTube play button plaque, awarded when he reached 1 million followers. Empty Arrowhead water bottles are clustered around the plaque like prayer candles. FaZe Jarvis’s room is the one notable exception. It’s spotless and completely empty aside from a Dyson fan, his own YouTube play button plaque, also on his bedside table.

Outside FaZe Jarvis’s room is the entrance to the house’s private movie theater, compete with a bar and a stripper pole on an elevated platform. Several members said one big misconception of life in the house is how monotonous some days can be. “People think it’s a lot crazier than it is because people see nothing but highlights,” said FaZe Teeqo.

FaZe Clan members have a specific type of fame, an experience similar to teen stars and YouTubers. To anyone under the age of 20, they’re almost immediately recognizable. To adults they look like average kids. Most can get around L.A. without much hassle. “If you go to a mall on a Saturday, it’s not going to be too good,” said FaZe Teeqo. “But if I got to Trader Joe’s 10 a.m. on a Tuesday, it’s fine.”

The Call of Duty

FaZe Clan made a name for itself by embracing influencer culture and taking a social media content-first approach to gaming. Back in 2010, Call of Duty (COD), a first-person shooter game, was wildly popular. While many top COD players focused on winning tournaments and accolades, FaZe Banks, FaZe Temperrr and other early FaZe members became famous for trickshotting. That’s when a player invents creative stunts in a game, sometimes to the detriment of their performance. It’s jumping off a building while spinning around 360 degrees and shooting someone on your way down. Sure, you died, but it looked cool.

FaZe players would put these outrageous highlights on YouTube and promptly go viral. FaZe Banks, a former lacrosse player who began playing COD in 2009, mastered YouTube early. His first video, a tutorial on how to hack your Xbox score, generated $800 in ad revenue. “It was my moment where I was like, wait a second, there’s a lot of money to be made on the internet,” Banks said, “and my internet hustle was video games.”

Just a handful of YouTubers had reached a million followers by then. “We were the first gamers really showing our faces on the internet,” said FaZe Temperrr. They inserted small reaction shots and narration over gameplay. Members also began vlogging, showcasing their daily nongaming lives.

“People loved it,” Banks said. “People had something to follow outside the gameplay. They play COD every day, but now they get to see the lifestyle we live and that we’re cool kids.” In 2012, they began a traditional esports team, pairing panache and trickshotting and social media prowess with top gameplay talent. They quickly began racking up trophies.

Building an Actual Business

For most of FaZe Clan’s existence it had no corporate structure. “As soon as I met these guys, I was like, this is an incredible business, but there’s no infrastructure,” said Greg Selkoe, the organization’s president. The members of FaZe had fostered a fandom of millions online, but they weren’t effectively converting their audience numbers into cash.

Last year, Mr. Selkoe and Mr. Trink signed on full time. Now, about 70 people work for FaZe Clan on the business side. It took on a round of outside investment a year ago, and has welcomed celebrity members like Lil Yachty and Offset, who also invested. In September, the company announced a partnership with Manchester City, an elite soccer team. Their job is to create content around the sports franchise and to partner on merchandise.

Just as Supreme was birthed from skateboarding culture, FaZe Clan hopes to establish a gaming-adjacent apparel business. It recently collaborated with Champion, New Era and 24karats, a high-fashion Japanese clothing line.

Expansion efforts haven’t been without speed bumps. “If there’s multiple ways to do something, FaZe will do the craziest way,” said Mr. Trink. Last year, a now-defunct social media company and former officemate sued the company for an undisclosed amount in excess of $1 million for “intentional interference with prospective economic advantage and misappropriation of trade secrets.”

In May, Turner Tenney, one of the top Fortnite players in the world, sued FaZe Clan in a contract dispute. Mr. Tenney, known online as Tfue, said that FaZe had signed him into a predatory agreement in which the company could take up to 80 percent of his earnings in certain cases, and was violating California law by illegally operating as a talent agency. FaZe counter sued. Their litigation continues.

“We’ve spent most of the past year getting our stuff together,” Mr. Trink said.

“FaZe Clan was built by kids, the youngest being 14 at the time,” he added. “They didn’t think about potential lawsuits.” Among the cleanup: retroactively filing trademarks and revamping the way contracts are structured.

They are also focused on recruiting its next generation of talent. This year, FaZe Clan welcomed FaZe H1ghSky1, a 12-year-old gamer from Seattle, and FaZe Ew0k, a 13-year-old deaf Fortnite competitor and the first female member.

FaZe Clan’s membership has remained predominantly male. Banks says he is desperate to change the perception that gaming is primarily for teen boys. “Everyone is a gamer. You play games on your phone? You’re a gamer,” he said. “My mom who plays Farmville is gamer. Sports is a gaming mentality. If you’ve ever played a sport, you’re a gamer.” The company, also, has an opportunity to offer more women’s apparel.

The Bigger They Are

Traditional esports teams, like OpTic, have taken a page out of FaZe’s playbook. They too are attempting to make more content and more personalities, not just win games. 100 Thieves, another company seeking to merge gaming and lifestyle, raised $35 million this summer.

FaZe Clan’s relative scale, however, is staggering. FaZe Clan has more than 7.5 million followers on Instagram alone; 100 Thieves has 571,000. “As an organization they’ve got this incredible network effect,” said Sundance DiGiovanni, a co-founder of Major League Gaming. “When they bring someone in, that person sees an explosion on their social channels.”

Like any average college-aged kid, FaZe Clan members like to have a good time. Some hit the clubs on the weekends or attend parties hosted by young Hollywood talent and fellow YouTube stars. Events at the FaZe Clan house itself have become infamous. Last year, the crew hosted a 900-person party with 700 young women. “Marshmello” — he’s a big D.J. — “said it was the best party he’s ever been to,” Temperrr said. In October, Banks and some friends caused an estimated $30,000 worth of damage to a hotel room at the Encore at Wynn Las Vegas after a wild night.

The less fun side is that burnout is a major concern for online creators. Nearly all top FaZe Clan members have experienced it. “It’s really hard to stay consistent with this level of work,” said FaZe Adapt. “There was a couple moments when it got hard. If I wasn’t posting every day, I was filming all day, editing all night.”

In late October, FaZe Rain, one of the founding owner-members, posted a series of alarming messages on Twitter, and slammed fellow members of FaZe Clan for not being there for him. FaZe Rain had previously discussed struggling with depression, and revealed that he had suffered a “mental breakdown” that landed him in a psychiatric ward. “I’ve been doing this since I was 11 years old, man,” he said at the time, meaning making content for YouTube. Currently his social media output veers between “I feel like I lost myself” and, this week, “All you need is confidence then you can do anything.”

FaZe Adapt and others have taken months offline to recuperate, but many members still regularly push themselves to the limit. “We work nonstop,” said FaZe Temperrr. “We’re well aware of what can happen if you don’t work hard. We’re at such a great point that if we we’re going to start slowing down, people would catch up and we wouldn’t have this opportunity again.”

“If you don’t have your eyes on this, internet culture in general, esports, video games, if you still don’t take it seriously, you should. You need to wake up. Everyday we live more and more on the internet. If you can’t see where this is going you should pay more attention,” said Banks. “Eventually we will all live in the internet, and I want to exist in that world. That’s where I see us.”