On March 15, the North American Valorant Challengers League featured a David vs. Goliath matchup. The favored team was affiliated with TeamSoloMid (TSM), which has been cited as the esports organization with the largest net worth. The underdog bore the logo of DSG (short for Disguised), a fledgling esports team led by popular streamer Disguised Toast (whose real name is Jeremy Wang).
When the dust settled, TSM emerged victorious. But despite the loss, DSG finished high enough in the Challengers League standings to qualify for the Mid-Season Face-Off, where the plucky upstarts earned a rematch with TSM.
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As DSG’s first season on the Valorant circuit rolls through its ups and downs, the team’s founder is working behind the scenes to create a new type of esports company. Wang told Tubefilter that his organization has “no sponsors” and “no investors,” but despite those drawbacks — or perhaps because of them — DSG is competing at a high level and establishing a profitable model in an industry that’s infamous for fiscal irresponsibility.
Toast puts his “reputation on the line”
If you’ve ever watched Wang play Among Us as the impostor, then you know he’s not afraid to take big risks. Running an esports organization is a little harder than winning a game of Among Us, but in order for DSG to succeed, Wang had to assume a heavy financial burden. He is the sole financial backer of his Valorant team.
The first DSG team came to be when Wang recognized that there were few opportunities for North American Valorant players, who are often overshadowed by gamers in Asia and Europe. To build a team that could compete on the continent’s biggest stage, Wang turned to Coach Ocean, who assembled a five-person roster.
Wang’s plan encountered two major roadblocks. With no sponsors behind him, he couldn’t afford to match the salaries offered by North America’s biggest esports teams. And while he is a skilled gamer in his own right, he’s more known for his collabs with other Offline TV members than his esports prowess.
In a sense, these two problems offer solutions for each other. Wang can’t offer the most competitive salaries, but he can help his team members grow their streams by leveraging the influence he’s built across his personal channels. “Part of my appeal is that you have a better chance of having a career,” Wang told Tubefilter. “The downside is that this is a very new org.”
Wang’s lack of experience may seem like a point against him, but he believes that his personal celebrity status provides an “assurance” for DSG players. If he dishes out the predatory contracts that are too common in the esports world, his name will be dragged through the mud. “I’m putting my reputation on the line because I think very commonly players get screwed over by these esports orgs,” Wang said.
At bigger esports firms, complicated contracts appease sponsors who ask for “equal if not greater returns down the line,” according to Wang. DSG isn’t beholden to financial backers, so Wang can offer fair, flexible terms to his Valorant players.
Surviving a “nerve-wracking” qualifier
Wang’s attempts to redefine esports would prove meaningless if the DSG team failed to perform in the Valorant arena. That put a lot of pressure on the team’s qualifying run, and Wang admitted that he was a “nervous wreck” during the first DSG matches. Though open qualifiers proved to be “nerve-wracking,” DSG has progressed far enough to provide credibility for its owner.
After the Challengers participants were determined, several other creator-owners popped up to sponsor unaffiliated qualifiers. Ludwig Ahgren and Charlie ‘Moist Cr1TiKaL’ White spent a cool half-million dollars to add a Valorant team to their Moist Mogul roster. The Moist Mogul team hasn’t played the DSG team yet, but Wang expects there will be plenty of friendly banter if the matchup ever occurs.
Wang wants to keep esports as DSG’s primary focus, but his high status in the streaming community will be key as his company chases profitability. Thanks to the presence of the teams owned by big-name creators, some Valorant Challengers matches have received 100,000 viewers. Wang noted that in other games, such as League of Legends, the same level of competition draws just a fraction of the viewers. Chalk it up to the Toast effect.
Valorant‘s developer, Riot Games, can now reward Wang, Ludwig, and Moist for bringing more star power to smaller tournaments. “Anything that’s good for Ludwig’s team is good for my team, because we want to show sponsors, investors, and Riot that this might be the new way to actually have a positive return,” Wang told Tubefilter. “Because I know they’ve been burned very heavily in the past.”
Wang explained that what Ludwig and Moist did is the more typical approach to esports ownership. Buying a team before it qualifies — as Wang did — is perilous, but ultimately more dramatic. That narrative explains why Wang added more risk to his already risky proposal. “I thought the storyline was better,” he said.
Is Toast here to break the esports meta?
Making a dangerous choice just because it’s a better story may seem pointlessly fraught, but this is Disguised Toast we’re talking about. He’s always been willing to buck trends, and his willingness to be different has produced extraordinary results.
For proof, let’s head back in time to 2015. At this point, Wang’s identity is still a public secret, because he streams with a toast mask on his head. After donning that ridiculous getup, Wang heads to a Hearthstone tournament to compete against some of the best players in his area. Even though he has no tournament experience, he’s able to anticipate popular strategies and react to them. That plan works like a charm, and Toast manages to win the event without ever taking off his mask.
That tale may be one of the strangest origin stories in streaming history, but it taught Wang a valuable lesson. “I think when there’s an established status quo, that is the best time to enter a space,” he told Tubefilter. “That’s when people just assume things are done a certain way.”
Nearly eight years later, Wang is out to break a much bigger metagame than Hearthstone. To disrupt esports, he must continue to upset the status quo, even if that requires him to make decisions that seem odd on the surface. By succeeding as a Valorant owner even though he seems to be “winging it,” Wang hopes to prove that his latest career move “is not this insanely complicated thing.” If Disguised Toast can do it, it’s possible for others.
That philosophy informs the latest additions to the DSG roster. Wang has put together a fivesome to compete in Valorant‘s all-female Game Changers league, and one of the players who will represent that team is Kyedae Shymko, who reaches millions with Valorant streams on her Kyedae channel.
The decision to build a team of popular streamers has encountered some criticism, since Kyedae and co. are unlikely to reach the level of top-tier North American esports pros. Even Wang admitted that his Game Changers squad is likely to perform poorly, but he contended that the team’s struggles are part of the point. “The goal of that one is to show what it’s like to be practicing for the pro leagues,” he told Tubefilter.
Intentionally building a bad team is another one of those perplexing DSG decisions, but like everything Wang does, his unusual Game Changers squad has low-key upside. By reimagining content streamers as esports stars, Wang is inspiring other amateurs to try their hand at professional gaming — just as he did in the Hearthstone scene all those years ago.
DSG’s arc will include some wins and plenty of losses, but no one will be able to argue that the man at the center of the org is repeating the mistakes that have doomed other esports firms. Will his prudent-yet-ambitious approach lead to profitability? The answer is still a few Valorant matches away.