Roll20’s latest move shows that sometimes, it’s good to be the king. Or in this case, the boss.

The digital tabletop company announced today that it’s getting into esports, sponsoring Heroes of the Storm pro squad Team 8 in the Heroes Global Championship. This group will compete as “Roll20 esports” going forward. It’s easy to see why any company would want to get into esports — market researcher firm Newzoo predicts will grow to a $696 million business in 2017. And while Blizzard’s multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) isn’t as big as League of Legends or Dota 2, it does have a thriving scene, and it was the No. 8 game on livestreaming site Twitch in April, according to Newzoo.

But the founders of Roll20 have another reason to sponsor a Heroes of the Storm team: They love Blizzard’s MOBA.

“This is what happens when your cofounders are huge HotS fans!” a Roll20 representative said over email.
Team 8 will first compete under the Roll20 moniker at the Mid-Season Brawl at Dreamhack in Sweden. It’s an important event on the Heroes of the Storm calendar, being the first global competition of the year. It pits 12 teams and helps set the tone for the second half of the season.

The new partnership comes just in time for Roll20 esports, which can use the new resources to give itself an advantage — and acclimate to the time difference in Sweden.

“Roll20 is sponsoring a boot camp for us in Sweden from June 1-June 8. This is a huge deal when it comes to preparing for a global event. The boot camp will allow us to focus on the event, face any issues head on and it is just enough time to get over the jet lag!” manager Charles “Yitbaus” Smunt said.

Team 8 is a top-10 Heroes of the Storm squad, sitting at No. 7 on esports site GoSu Gamers‘ global standings for the year. It finished fourth in Blizzard’s first phase of the 2017 Heroes of the Storm Global Championship Western Clash. The squad’s roster is Chandler “Buds” Gavran, Kyle “Prismaticism” Belaiche, Mike “Glaurung’ Fisk, Justin “Justing” Gapp, and Orie “YoDa” Guo.

The team once competed as “Chu8 my Hotdoge” before Chu8 left. Blizzard later disqualified him for the rest of the 2017 season. But Roll20 isn’t worried about this — and knows that sometimes, such situations spring out of esports.

“We think this just shows the reality of esports — maintaining a top-tier team and balancing other life commitments is hard. We know there will be roster changes for Roll20 esports going forward as well,” cofounder Nolan T. Jones said over email. “Our goal is to facilitate an environment where everyone has similar expectations and commitments in order to best support each other.”

While Roll20 may be an unexpected partners for an esports team, Team 8’s Smunt pointed out how his squad’s circumstances are atypical, too.

“We decided to sign with Roll20 because it was not a traditional esports organization. Their foundation sits in the virtual tabletop gaming space, but gaming nonetheless. As you may know, our team was founded under unusual circumstances and have had unexpected results throughout the first HGC season,” Smunt said over emai. “This partnership may seem out of place or unusual, but that is the only method we know.”

Roll20 also noted that it’s been looking for a chance to jump into esports, and it felt Team 8 presented a good opportunity for the brand.

“Team 8 has had fans among the Roll20 team for quite a while!” Jones said. “Coming out of the Western Clash we really identified with the way they kept pushing themselves and growing. Even when they hit a rough skid, they never gave up, and that made us believe we could be a great fit for each other.”

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