You’ve been involved in the gaming scene for some time now. First with Kabam and now with KSV. Can you walk us through what got you started into gaming, about your involvement with Kabam and how it evolved into KSV?
Since I was young, I’ve always loved gaming. From playing Space Invaders on my first Atari 2600 through all stages of consoles, to PC, to most recently mobile.
I started working with Kevin Chou, the co-founder and CEO of Kabam, almost a decade ago — in January of 2009. At the time, the company was around 25 people in a small office above a Dim Sum restaurant, but the potential was obvious. At the time, Facebook was growing at an incredibly fast rate and we saw the opportunity to bring free to play “core” games to this rapidly growing platform. The results were fantastic and our first major game called “Kingdoms of Camelot” took off to gross over $200M. Then we saw the next big wave of opportunity — mobile. Smartphones were dominating mobile phone sales and the computing power on mobile devices was going up every year. We saw mobile as the major market for gaming and pivoted the entire business away from Facebook to mobile. Since making that move, Kabam developed multiple major hit mobile games including The Hobbit: Kingdoms of Middle Earth and Marvel Contest of Champions and grossed over $1B in revenue. We sold Kabam in a series of transactions last year to Netmarble and then the remaining studios to 20th Century Fox.
While we were still at Kabam, we saw another growth wave emerge — eSports. The viewership numbers and engagement with major esports games was incredible. We saw the potential opportunity and wanted to go all-in. So we did.
We started KSV with the vision of creating a truly global esports team ownership group, bringing the best professional esports athletes to a global stage. I am really proud of how much we’ve accomplished at KSV since launching the business.
In 2017, KSV acquired some of the best esports teams the world has ever seen including 2017 League of Legend Champions, Samsung White and back-to-back Apex Champions, Lunatic-Hai. What does KSV look for when acquiring a new team and what games are you looking to enter in 2018 and beyond?
There are a combination of factors that are important when looking at teams.
- Individual talent is an important gating factor, but not a deciding factor.
- When looking at a number of great teams with players having great individual talent, we spend a lot of time looking at teamwork. How does this team work together. How do they overcome adversity and challenge. How are they under pressure. How well do they communicate. We believe teamwork is a key element for long term success.
- We will also spend a lot of time with the coaching staff to understand their strategies, training regimens, and overall philosophies toward coaching. We believe a great coaching is staff is another key ingredient for long term success.
We have seen more brands get involved into esports with the formation of LCS franchise system and Overwatch League and recently KSV announced a partnership with Netgear. Are there any companies you are wanting to work with or see enter the space and why?
Esports is becoming a “must have” channel for major brand marketers targeting the millennial audience. This demographic is one of the more difficult to connect with since many millennials don’t watch linear TV, many use ad blockers, their media consumption is fragmented across multiple social and mobile platforms. Esports provides one of the best avenues for brands to connect with this audience.
I believe we will see many of the largest brands in the world jump into esports this year.
There has been a lot of talk between the parallels between esports and traditional sports. Have you seen any other parallels from some of your past working experience?
Running an esports team is very similar to running a traditional sports team — recruiting and training players, hiring great coaching staff, sponsorship sales, merchandise, event ticket sales, etc. But there is a twist — that is the “e” in esports — the digital aspect. Esports is an inherently digital experience with a much closer relationship between fan and player than you see in traditional sports. Esports athletes often stream regularly and chat directly with fans. This is creates a unique opportunity for esports teams and players to build an authentic and lasting fan base.
Over the last few years we have seen a lot of successes in the esports world as it receives more mainstream attention. What do you feel, if anything, is holding esports back from achieving full mainstream notoriety?
In 2018 we will see a lot more mainstream attention for esports. There are couple areas of innovation happening right now that will broaden the esports audience and make it more mainstream:
- Broadcast Viewing — we are already seeing innovation in the viewing experience of esports from both the broadcasting / streaming platforms as well as the leagues. One example is the recent innovations from OWL with top down view of the game and instant replays. These innovations will help make the games more accessible to the casual and enhance the excitement of the “wow” moments in the games.
- Live Game Experiences — live esports experiences are becoming more and more exciting, from last year’s League of Legends championship game to the Overwatch League games happening now. I also believe that with the involvement of traditional sports teams in esports, we will start to see the next wave of innovation in live events. Traditional sports teams understand how to create great live experiences, and we should start to see new approaches to creative live experiences that spread through the industry.
The traditional sports scene is laced with long standing rivalries. Does KSV have any “rivals” yet, in any game, and who are they?
Our teams definitely have emerging rivalries.
KSV’s League of Legends team won the World Championship last year, defeating SK Telecom T1 and our star player named “Ambition” was named ESPN’s 2017 Player of the Year over SKT1’s Faker. This has created an exciting rivalry between both the teams as well as two of the very best players in League of Legends — it will be exciting to watch Ambition vs. Faker rivalry as they play against each other.
In the Overwatch League, there is an emerging rivalry between Seoul Dynasty and London Spitfire. Two amazing teams with incredible players — so much fun to watch.
What are you most excited for in the 2018 esports season?
I’m most exciting to watch our teams play … and, win!