We’ve had big events in Brooklyn at
Barclays Center, Oracle Arena in Oakland— we just had the Verizon Theatre in
Dallas. Those big events are still a con-sumer-first experience. We try to go to
markets that are going to stack the chips
for success. The idea of paying anywhere
from $50 to $200 to attend an e-sports
event is still a new value proposition, so
we’re working to educate consumers. We
ourselves are learning what’s the right
format. Is it four hours? Is it two hours?
Is it eight hours? How do we create ancillary programming like you set at music
festivals? That’s become a key strategy so
you’re not just coming for one e-sports
match, you’re coming for a weekend.
ESL and AEG signed a long-term
partnership last year to create
new events at their venues. What
was ESL’s interest in the deal?
First and foremost, it was the idea
that we’re creating this experience.
There are other industries we can draw
best practices and inspiration from,
like the music festival world or sports
events. We thought AEG had a really
exciting blend to add some learning.
That could be marketing, ticket sales,
promotion, event experience. Also having a partner that could give us access
to world-class venues was critical. Last
but not least was being able to expand
and grow out our geographic footprint
of events more aggressively.
What are the key differences from
organizing e-sports vs. traditional
sports events? Is it more than having the right tech infrastructure?
It’s definitely more than that. When
we go to venues, we’re able to bring in
an incredible amount of tech. A rock
concert comes in and it’s often profes-
sional-grade gear that’s interfacing in
a pretty standard way, from screens to
sound system to rigging and lighting.
We’re building this stage, these massive
screens, big AV systems and the sce-
nic behind it, but also interfacing with
the competitors’ hardware: comput-
ers, monitors and audio voice mixing.
There’s an incredible amount of nuance
and detail that goes into our events.
How we program our events is import-
ant, recognizing that there’s a dynamic
nature to matches. It’s like tennis, where
competition could go to best of three
or best of five. So it will start to become
unpredictable. As we go to venues, it
could be an eight- to 14-hour day, and
that isn’t something that they’re typical-
ly prepared to do. And, by the way, our
audience needs to have re-access to the
venue, something they typically don’t
do. Oftentimes, the first time at a ven-
ue there’s a lot of everyone learning each
Are you surprised how traditional
sports leagues like the NBA have
been investing in e-sports?
Right now there’s a little bit of a fear
of missing out. There’s so much noise
and fervor around e-sports that a lot of
people are just trying to plant a flag in
there. That being said, I think there are
clear reasons why the sports leagues and
teams are paying attention. Our average
fan is skewing younger and theirs are
starting to get older. Also, sports allegiances are typically passed down from
generations. For the first time now there
are people who grew up playing games,
that became fans of these games, and
are now passing that allegiance and enjoying that with their children. When
you see where it’s going and can go, it
becomes very disruptive.
Do you view professional sports
leagues as competition?
I see them as potential partners, to
be honest. Certainly it can develop any
which way. The same way they are experts in their field, we’re experts in ours.
Depending on their goals and ambitions, it sounds like there should be an
opportunity to work together.
How can e-sports take advantage
of the growing trend of virtual reality experiences at sports events?
VR has the opportunity to disrupt
event-viewing experiences. What’s
unique about e-sports is our whole
world is natively digital. So it should
pose a huge competitive advantage as we
look to find ways to leverage it, whether that’s creating access in the game or
a more individualized experience in an
arena. There’s a lot that can be done.
Looking ahead, are there any
factors that might slow the pace
of growth in e-sports?
A big part of it—since it’s still so nascent, so malleable—is ensuring that the
right influences are there. We have to be
confident as a company at ESL—or as
an industry in e-sports—that we have a
vision to stay that course and don’t get
distracted by other people pushing and
pulling e-sports as they chase “it” without even knowing what “it” is. E-sports
are young and impressionable, which
makes it so much fun but, to your point,
risky getting it all together.
Do you still play games in whatever free time you have?
I do. My gaming experience has
shifted. It used to be hard-core games
on PC and Xbox. Now it’s a little more
mobile. But I’m playing a ton of Clash
Royale now. There are some other cool
mobile games on the horizon. I’m
playing Quake Champions on PC. So
there’s a lot of good stuff. n
“THERE’S AN INCREDIBLE
AMOUNT OF NUANCE AND
DETAIL THAT GOES INTO