FaZe Clan, an esports lifestyle conglomerate, helped turn gamers into a new class of social media influencers. Now, several top executives behind FaZe Clan are leaving to start a competing organization called XSET.
Since its founding in 2010, FaZe Clan has grown from a team of Call of Duty players to a multipronged media company, encompassing influencer marketing, content production, talent management and e-commerce. Lee Trink, its chief executive, has described FaZe as the Dallas Cowboys meets Supreme meets MTV.
“Something like who we are has never existed before,” he told The New York Times in November. The organization owes much of its success to embracing influencer culture and social media early on.
But Greg Selkoe, the club’s president, who has been with FaZe for its most recent two and a half years, believes that there is room for improvement, especially in the midst of record support for Black Lives Matter and a new wave of criticism for the gaming industry’s treatment of women.
So he’s leaving to start XSET, a gaming organization he hopes will become the first of its kind built on the principles of inclusivity and social good.
“We realized there was a huge void that needed to be filled in the gaming marketplace,” Mr. Selkoe said. “Gamers are from all walks of life and all backgrounds. But if you look at the current organizations, they sort of resemble a frat house. They’re not reflective of the racial and gender diversity in the gaming world.”
Most esports teams are overwhelmingly male; FaZe Clan welcomed its first female member just last year. Mr. Selkoe said he wants XSET to include more women gamers from the outset. He also hopes to recruit more L.G.B.T.Q. members and more people of color than most teams have so far.
Of their early recruits, the majority are men. XSET has only announced three female members.
“We have a responsibility to do something that pushes change,” Mr. Selkoe said. “We intend to have a very clear social mission of inclusion. We want to stand up for kids who have been bullied or feel like there’s not a gaming organization for them. We want our organization to look like the youth of America.” (To that end, the “x” in the name XSET is meant to represent a variable meaning “anyone,” paired with “set” as in team or group.)
Mr. Selkoe said XSET will support Black Lives Matter, environmental consciousness and mental health awareness. “This is a part of gaming culture that the people who game care about, but is totally missing in the professional gaming landscape,” he said.
“Greg was an asset to FaZe and we wish him the best in his next endeavor,” said Mr. Trink, the remaining chief executive of FaZe Clan. “When it comes to diversity in gaming there certainly hasn’t been enough progress in this crucial area, and we will encourage and support anyone who sets out to address this vital issue. FaZe has moved diversity and inclusion to the forefront of our priorities, specifically through the formation of a Diversity Council earlier this year, unconscious bias trainings for our gamers and employees and an ongoing commitment to diversifying the industry. We welcome anyone who will join us in working toward these incredibly important goals.”
To build XSET, Mr. Selkoe is bringing two other members of the FaZe Clan leadership team with him: Wil Eddins, FaZe’s president of apparel and special projects, and Clinton Sparks, FaZe’s director of business development, both of whom also emphasized the need for an esports team that prioritizes diversity and social justice.
“We’re not just going to take on somebody because they’re popular and have big numbers,” Mr. Sparks said.
The organization will include three professional esports teams that compete in Call of Duty, Valorant and Fortnite. Mr. Eddins and Mr. Sparks will also play roles in recruiting notable musical artists, brands and celebrities. Mr. Selkoe said he plans to launch an “elevated” apparel line, too.
“We want the XSET logo to be the Nike swoosh of gaming,” he said.
The organization has already recruited several high-profile gamers and content creators, including Thwifo, a Valorant player; Cory “Bartonologist” Barton, a Call of Duty player; the Miami Dolphins linebacker Kyle Van Noy; Minna Stess, a member of the U.S.A. Skateboarding National Team; and the Fortnite streamer AshleyBTW.
Another factor that is meant to set XSET apart is geography; the company will be headquartered in Boston, rather than Los Angeles, where many of its competitors, including OpTic Gaming and 100 Thieves, are building their own rosters of stars.
“I’ve worked in gaming for close to 12 years and in a lot of ways gaming and esports exist in this Southern California bubble both culturally and content wise,” said Marco Mereu, the chief operating officer of XSET. “We’re getting back to our East Coast roots. From Boston, New York, Philly, Atlanta, Miami, we’re working with kids in the places and spaces they know with the music they know, the fashion they know.”
The gaming world has changed considerably since FaZe first started. And with new platforms emerging constantly, XSET’s founding members believe that there’s space to dominate fresh territory online.
“Gaming is no longer about YouTube and Twitch,” Mr. Mereu said. “The Fortnite generation of gamers want their gaming content on TikTok, in memes, in Discord. You have to put content where they’re currently consuming it. We have a pretty robust content syndication model we’re rolling out with gameplay highlights, original content and partners in music.”
Younger gamers are also less likely to treat gaming as a competition and more as a social space to meet and connect with friends. XSET will take a broad approach to gaming, rather than focusing only on first-person shooter games.
“We can play Donkey Kong,” Mr. Selkoe said. “We can play Smash Brothers. We can have players in any game.”
Foremost among the founders’ values, though, is their belief that XSET can find a niche in championing diversity.
“It’s time for gaming to clean up its act,” Mr. Selkoe added. “It’s not really about FaZe. It’s about the whole industry.”