'Scars, tears and sleepless nights' worth it for Lake

Jason Lake, the owner of compLexity Gaming, watches his Counter-Strike: Global Offensive team compete at the FACEIT Major on Thursday at SSE Arena in London. Sean Do/compLexity Gaming

LONDON -- The most important moment of Jason Lake's 15-year esports career stared him in the face this week.

As friends at his table enjoyed beers and took in the scene at the FACEIT Major, Lake sat sober and quiet. He chewed on a toothpick while his foot tapped relentlessly. The compLexity Gaming owner was nervous and jittery, and with good reason.

Fifty feet away, compLexity's Counter-Strike: Global Offensive team -- a ragtag bunch of players from the United States, Canada and, to the crowd's excitement, the United Kingdom -- warmed up behind a glass booth for its first match at the FACEIT Major in the SSE Arena. The group's journey up to this point has included wins against some of the best teams in the world: BIG, Fnatic and G2 Esports.

As his squad pushed further and further in the group stage and earned a top seed going into the playoffs, Lake, 47, sat in his home and offices in Frisco, Texas, nearly 5,000 miles away. His reactions, which were recorded and posted to Twitter, included lots of screaming at the TV. Fifteen years ago, the then-newly minted esports team owner showed similar passion as he stood behind his players in hotel lobbies. It's a mentality that's stuck throughout what is now a hall of fame career: Esports Insider, a British media company, inducted Lake and two others into its hall of fame over the weekend.

"It's pretty difficult to find the words for how much I appreciate this," Lake said in his acceptance speech. "I'd be remiss if I didn't thank my wife, Danielle, and my family, who let me pursue this dream for 15 years now. Their support has been invaluable.

"The reality of an award like this is that it comes down to dozens and dozens of people working very long hours for very little money who have always stood beside me and always had my back.

"It's hard to find the words to say thank you for something like that."

A lot has changed since 2003. Since 2015, North American Counter-Strike teams have spent millions of dollars building lineups that, for years, have been inconsistent and littered with roster turnover. Lake, among other old-school esports teams and brands, has struggled to keep up.

Then, in the summer of 2017, Lake sold a majority stake in his organization to the Jones family, the owners of the Dallas Cowboys, and Goff Capital, a real estate company in Dallas-Fort Worth. CompLexity subsequently moved to the Dallas-Fort Worth area and began constructing a training facility across from the Ford Center at The Star, the Cowboys-owned, open-air shopping center in Frisco. The question from there was what Lake should do with his newfound financial support.

He chose Counter-Strike, the game that made compLexity famous, as the starting point.

As some of Lake's long-tenured endemic esports peers have been relegated from executive roles to those akin to brand ambassadors by new investors, the Joneses and the Goffs have doubled down, in part because of how dedicated Lake is to all of his teams.

Travis Goff saw an example of that well-known passion in May.

"He called me and said, 'Hey, Travis, I want to give you a heads-up. Our Rocket League team made the world championships. It's in London in June. I want to go and support our team and create some content. But what I wanted to make sure you're OK first, because the plane ticket is $9,000.'" Goff, 33, said. "I said, 'Jason, I really appreciate the call. You should absolutely be there for our team.'

"That's the kind of person Jason is. That's a lot of money, no question …"

"But it's definitely showing your partners that you respect their capital," John Goff, 62, added.

"In the grand scheme of things, it's not going to make or break the team," Travis Goff said. "It shows his character."

And Lake was there for one of his teams this weekend, too. It wasn't the first time compLexity has earned a Legends spot in a Counter-Strike major, but it was the first time Lake got to experience this moment -- the electric crowd of thousands, the tense in-game situations and the glory of those winning moments -- in-person.

"I wasn't able to travel back then," Lake said. "I was busy trying to pay the bills, so I watched from home. It was really special for me to be here." In late 2007 and early 2008, just months before the Great Recession hit one of its lowest points, Lake sold his ownership stake in Atlanta-based law firm Lake & Shafritz and moved his family from the Southeast U.S. to Los Angeles to make esports his full-time gig. He sold compLexity, which he has since reacquired, to News Corp., the media company that owned DirecTV, the founder of the Championship Gaming Series.

In just more than a year, that league folded and left Lake, his wife and their then 4-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son's livelihoods in jeopardy.

"We've gone from one socioeconomic status to one that was vastly different," Lake said. "And quite frankly, struggling because of this esports dream of mine. As you can imagine, being a husband and provider to a wife and two young kids, this was an incredibly difficult time of my life. Many, many sleepless nights and gut checks, like, 'What the hell have I done to my life?' and not only that, but, 'What I have done to my family's life?'

"There are times in your life where you have to look yourself in the mirror and ask, 'Is my personal dream achievable?' and 'Is it achievable in a way where I can still put my family first?' Hindsight being 20/20, it was achievable. ... We continued to chase the compLexity dream. There are many scars, tears and sleepless nights that paved compLexity's past."

And although compLexity's run came to an end at the FACEIT Major on Thursday in a brutal loss to MiBR, those tough moments seemed worth it to Lake from his seat in London.