By: Zachary Lange
Making the change
After a disappointing, last place finish at CWL Fort Worth, Co-General Manager Matthew "Burns" Potthoff knew it was time for a change to the Call of Duty lineup.
Once the dust settled and another stressful roster transaction period was complete, it was Jordan “JKap” Kaplan that was removed from the eUnited starting lineup to a substitute role (and subsequently moved to Evil Geniuses) for rookie Chris “Simp” Lehr. Additionally, the team released coach Brian “Saintt” Baroska for a fresher voice behind the curtains in Brice “Faccento” Faccento.
The moves came to the chagrin of some on social media. Many online questioned the removal of a veteran presence and two-time Call of Duty World Champion in JKap for a young gun who had never played in a professional league setting before in Simp. Others were confused at why Saintt, a coach with a solid winning record in the CWL Pro League, would be removed for a coach with great playing experience, but no official coaching background in Faccento.
It all comes as an attempt to remain competitive instead of complacent. In esports, Potthoff said, the situations and attitudes of players towards one another can change in an instant. To make a change to the roster also comes with long hours of back-and-forth conversations between management, ownership and the players.
“Making changes for the better of the organization is not something that is made for the short term,” Potthoff said. “We evaluate every dynamic. We talk to the players. I’m talking to the owners. I’m trying to get as much information and feedback as I can to make the right call.”
So far, the call has worked out. Simp helped guide the team to a 3-1 record in cross-divisional play in the pro league in late March. eUnited will see what the new roster will bring in a tournament setting when they travel to London for CWL London on May 3-5.
Why he’s here, Matthew “Burns” Potthoff
Potthoff’s background as a player has fueled him to this point, aided by his education before his esports career took flight. The 27-year-old graduated with a degree in entertainment business in 2013 from Full Sail University, a postsecondary institution that specializes in digital media and entertainment.
After playing for various organizations, his final hoorah as a competitor came with newly formed eUnited at the MLG Orlando Open during the Black Ops 3 competitive cycle in 2016. When it came time for him to hang up the sticks, it was his now coworker and fellow Co-General Manager Daniel Clerke that suggested he join eUnited as a coach.
Even now with two-plus years of experience in the day-to-day operations, each day presents something unique according to Potthoff.
“Being a general manager in esports, the situations and the players change every month,” he said. “Even though I’ve learned a ton, I still feel like I’m learning every day.”
Potthoff credits his education as the main reason he’s able to adapt and learn on the fly as each course in his degree was condensed into a five-week period. As a general manager, he may only have days – or even several hours – to research and come to a conclusion on the best fit for a starting roster.
“My goal as a general manager is to make sure that every player gets the attention and the necessities that they need to succeed because I didn’t get that when I was a player from a few different organizations,” Potthoff said. “I want to make sure everyone feels that they’re valued at eUnited.”
Across social media, there are those who don’t believe in the structure in which eUnited goes about their business in conducting roster moves. The old guard contests that it is up to the players to formulate and construct a team that is the most conducive to success.
But with the upcoming franchise model of the CWL Pro League, coupled with massive, eight figure buy-ins, it is only a matter of time before Call of Duty esports reinvents itself across the board and has all player contracts controlled by corporate interests. In this way, Potthoff and other top teams’ general managers are merely staying above the learning curve, despite making difficult choices that are abrasive to a fan base.
“It’s really hard not giving in to negative feedback on a decision that’s made but, at the end of the day, all I can do is continue to move forward and prove people wrong,” Potthoff said.
Between working on sponsorship deals, managing player-brand relations and also the occasional Twitch stream, Potthoff’s abilities for eUnited have resulted in becoming a top-favored team in the Call of Duty pro league, something that was unforeseeable only a few years ago when the organization was grinding through the open bracket.
The only way to climb, Potthoff said, is up.
“You just have to move forward and know that there’s a plan in place to win and grow.”