The organisation was born out of a conversation in a pub between two brothers in a small town in the northwest of England: Lancaster. Kieran was just 19 years old at the time, studying at university when his older brother, Joel, came up to visit.
“I had already been thinking about creating a team for five months and even at that point, I knew I wanted to call it exceL but I didn't have time to do it while I was at uni,” explains Kieran in an interview this week.
“Normally I'm the bull in a china shop and Joel’s the calm head but this time he said ‘Let's just do it’, he had some savings and I knew about a university grant I could get for entrepreneurship. We basically went home that night, created a Twitter page, I started drawing logos, which were hilariously bad, and that was how exceL started."
That was back in November 2014 and by February 2015 exceL were attending their first event: Call of Duty tournament AM2Pro which was hosted in the stadium of Rugby Union team Leicester Tigers.
By the end of 2015, exceL were fairly established in console esports and took their first step into PC gaming by picking up a League of Legends team. The captain and leader of that team was none other than LEC caster Andy ‘Vedius’ Day. Vedius isn’t the only star to come through exceL’s ranks either as Spencer ‘Gorilla’ Ealing, one of the biggest FIFA stars in the world today, represented the organisation in 2015 as well.
Those two success stories are perfect examples of exceL’s ethos: developing individuals and helping them flourish. As Holmes-Darby explains, player and staff development are crucial to exceL’s plan:
“We focus on talented people who buy into our values and we make them stars. We want to continue to do that with people both on and off Summoner’s Rift. We want to make everyone in the organisation realise their full potential and we want fans to enjoy watching them go on that journey.”
“Our focus was always more infrastructure and development based than it ever was in materialistic gain and titles. We believe our ethos does breed titles in the long run but we're not going to go buy the best talent and win a title straight off the bat.”
"We're not going to go buy the best talent and win a title straight off the bat."
That background in nurturing undiscovered talent is one that is rooted deeply within exceL’s history. The organisation won the ESL Premiership playoffs before finishing 5-8th in the inaugural European Masters – the highest finish ever of a British team.
However, for exceL, this has never been about dominating their local region. They don’t want to rule Britannia; exceL wants Britannia to rule the waves. Holmes-Darby says the organisation plans to use their new platform to enhance and nurture the British esports scene.
“The comments we've seen on Reddit with people saying things like ‘I'm a huge fan of LoL, I watch the EU LCS, I'm from the UK but I've never heard of exceL.’
“Not only does that mean they don't watch UK LoL, it also shows how disconnected the UK region has been to what is going on in its own backyard. Now, we have the ability to not only build our own brand but also generate fans for the UK as a region.”
The roster exceL are building will play a huge role in attracting the UK fan-base with a core of British players announced so far: support Raymond ‘KaSing’ Tsang and jungler Marc ‘Caedrel’ Robert Lamont.
And while the UK fans will be a large part of exceL’s focus over the coming seasons, Holmes-Darby hopes his players will be able to attract fans from across Europe. “There's a lot more to our organisation than just: 'we're British’. Our focus is on storytelling across our team, not all of our players are from the UK which means not all of our stories will revolve around there.
“In terms of what we can offer everyone else, it's those stories and celebrating what our brand stands for. Take the UK culture out of it and you still have that heavy focus on player development, you still have that transparency and you still have that honest approach which hopefully leads to excellence – pardon the pun.”
Going into the inaugural LEC season, Holmes-Darby has full faith in the roster exceL are building: “We don't necessarily believe we're underdogs but that is how we are going in.
“It makes our job really easy that everyone is going to underestimate us, we're looking forward to proving some people wrong. Nobody expects us to, say, beat Fnatic in the first game of the season but if we do defeat them what a great story that will be.”
“It makes our job really easy that everyone is going to underestimate us."
When Leicester City famously won the Premier League a couple of years ago at 5,000/1 odds, football fans across England began to dream of what had once seemed impossible. exceL will look to channel that same energy and bring hope to the UK scene during their LEC journey.
Whether you’re British or not, it’s always fun to cheer on the underdogs. exceL Esports will be looking to cause an upset and eventually, remove the underdog moniker altogether.