This week we got to sit down with Ann Hand, Chairman & CEO of Super League Gaming one of the leaders of amateur esports organizers, hosting over 1,000 competitions in 16 cities across the US. We discussed what drew her to esports, plans for the future, and how SLG is providing opportunities for both the amateur and professional gamers and enthusiasts.
Can you share with me a little bit about Super League Gaming? What is it, what games/leagues to you offer and how does is benefit the overall esports ecosystem?
Super League was launched in 2015 with the aspiration to be the premier esports platform for amateur gamers. With our City Champs league format, we allow gamers to unite under the banners of their City teams and engage in city v. city battles around the games they love. Out of the gate, we started with a “little league” youth product built around Minecraft and launched into our more heightened, older demographic competitions with League of Legends in 2017. We are launching two exciting top tier game titles this year along with introducing an all-star league to allow our very best players to take a greater spotlight in the ladder to the pros.
For a long time there has been a somewhat negative stigma tied to playing video games. What is SLG doing to educate parents and onlookers about gaming and how would you say SLG is breaking the stereotype?
This is really at the core of what our brand stands for. We have run close to 2,000 events since our launch and what we see is that our gamers are a diverse, highly successful audience that debunks the old stereotype of gamers. And when you play with Super League you are part of something bigger than yourself – your city – and with that you get an added sense of belonging, glory of pursuit and personal growth that comes from being part of a team.
You did not start in the gaming industry, correct? Walk me through what brought you here and what parallels have you seen with esports and some of your past work experience?
While I was an avid gamer growing up as well as enjoying other sports, I presumed that being an outside would put me at a disadvantage in taking this role. However the more that I went to the company’s earliest test events and the more I talked to the gamers and the parents, I got hooked. There is such a massive unmet demand for this sort of competitive gaming league for amateurs – and so much good we can do with this offering. As well, I realized that a lot of the experience I did bring – building long term strategic partnerships and memorable customer experiences – was right up my alley.
As esports continues to receive mainstream recognition, what do you feel has been the key factor in the growth of esports here in the US and globally?
I think there is so much still being understood and defined as this is such a huge, highly engaged global gaming audience, but I can tell you that the core insights we see at our events – how much gaming is a real lifestyle decision and no longer the thing you age out of, and the trend in families gaming together – tell us that current projections on the size of the industry in 2020 and beyond are grossly undervalued.
In January we saw a lot of endemic and non-endemic brands enter the esports space through Overwatch League, NALCS and professional teams. Has there been any entries that have surprised you and why? What brand(s) would you like to see enter the space and why?
We sit in a different position at the amateur level and as well serve such a wide diverse demo both in the age range and skill level of our various products. What has me surprised me at Super League the most is how many non-endemics want to talk to us about our youth product. It validates that so may brands want to get on esports and talk to mainstream gamers, but don’t have a lot of positive access points to reach them. Super League’s super accessible wrapper around gaming and gamers provides that marketing channel in a way that is low risk for a brand.
There has been plenty of discussion on having more female representation in esports. Are their opportunities within Super League Gaming to encourage more female participation? If so what are they and is there anything in the pipeline for more inclusion in the future?
This is very top of mind for us in 2018 and increasingly a big part of our conversations with the publishers. When you bring gamers together to join teams and play “in real life”, a ton of the toxicity comes out of gaming and with that makes a more inclusive atmosphere for female gamers. And you can see it in our attendance numbers and the gender split. We aspire to be a path to the pros for all gamers, and we think the “in real life” offer not only allows for faster skill progression, but also a legitimate launch pad for the next wave of great female gamers.
I’m sure with such a successful inaugural year, there are big plans for 2018. Would you be able to give us a sneak peek into what’s in store for 2018?
City club expansion, more top tier game titles and more ways for all competitive gamers to join Super League regardless of where you live and what game titles you play.
Now that you are fully immersed in the gaming culture, do you have a favorite game to play or watch?
Well I watch a lot of League of Legends because we are constantly testing and running events, but I am terrified to attempt to play it. Rocket League is so fun, fast and visually appealing so that might be the top right now.
What are you most excited about for esports in 2018?
Watching the pro ecosystem take this next important step with franchising and the ways the wider ecosystem begins to attract new brands and play into fresh, new content. And of course holding out hope, even if it likely happens beyond 2018, that a gamer emerges out of Super League and gets a bid to the pros. We only need one!
By: Kye Browning