Matthew “Nadeshot” Haag made his name in Call of Duty. He started his career as a professional player before shifting to become a YouTube star and, eventually, co-owner of gaming lifestyle brand 100 Thieves. But when the new Call of Duty League launched earlier this year, 100 Thieves didn’t field a team, despite much success in the now-defunct CWL. In a heartfelt video posted last year, Haag cited the high costs associated with the franchised league as one reason. But that’s going to change in 2021: the CDL’s latest team is the Los Angeles Thieves.
“For the last year, we’ve just felt a gap, or a hole, at the core of our community,” Haag tells The Verge. “It didn’t feel right, after winning two major championships, to be not a part of Call of Duty in some way. We had to get back. The opportunity was right. LA is the market we want to be in.”
Haag gives a few reasons for the change of heart. To start, there’s the 100 Thieves name. While it’s not clear what the issue was originally, Haag says the league is now “a little more laid back” when it comes to team branding. “That was definitely a big hurdle for us when we found out that we couldn’t associate our potential franchise spot with 100 Thieves,” he says. “As they rolled out Los Angeles Optic Gaming, and then Atlanta Faze, that for us stung a little bit.”
He also cites the increased prominence of Call of Duty as a game, thanks in large part to the breakout success of the battle royale spinoff Warzone. Add in the mobile iteration, and the franchise is arguably more popular than it has ever been, with the latest entry, Black Ops Cold War, due to launch next week alongside next-gen consoles.
2020 has been rough on esports in general, but the CDL was impacted more than most. One of the league’s key selling points is an NBA-like structure, with teams based in cities across the world, hosting matches in front of hometown fans.
The league started well on opening weekend in Minnesota but eventually was forced to shift to an online format. After a few hiccups, it ended surprisingly well: Activision says the championship between Dallas and Atlanta was the most-watched match in Call of Duty history. “I was just a really big fan of how they turned a really unique situation into a great situation,” says Haag.
That city-based structure and being able to represent Los Angeles are also a big part of the appeal for Haag and 100 Thieves. At the beginning of the year, the company opened a sprawling complex in Culver City in order to house its esports teams, content creators, apparel business, and more. This month, it was even used as a voting center. While it’s not clear when home matches with fans will be possible again, to start the new LA Thieves team will play out of the 100 Thieves HQ.
“LA has embraced another chapter in my career, and that’s something I’ve always been really appreciative of,” Haag says of representing the city in COD. “It’s something that means a lot to me, to have another iteration of, hopefully, LA greatness. This is a big year for the Dodgers, a big year for the Lakers. This is an iconic sports city, and we want to add on to that prestige and that success.”
In addition to the new Call of Duty team, 100 Thieves also has squads in Valorant, Fortnite, and League of Legends, and it previously fielded a Counter-Strike team as well. But the company is arguably as well-known for its big-name streaming personalities — like Jack “Courage” Dunlop and Rachell “Valkyrae” Hofstetter — and its Supreme-like apparel business as it is for its competitive teams.
Haag believes this kind of diversified business is a strength, one that could potentially make 100 Thieves a more attractive place when it comes to recruiting professional players. His own career is a great example, starting as a competitor before becoming a popular personality on Twitch and YouTube. The careers of esports stars can be incredibly short, and an organization like 100 Thieves has the potential to create a future for after you’re done playing at the highest level.
“The path that I went down is something that we want to make sure that everyone who comes through this organization has eyes on,” says Haag. “We can help you create a brand that can withstand the test of time. If your goal is to be part of gaming for the rest of your life, this is a place where that can start and we can foster that mindset. Our goal is to make sure there is longevity.”