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XLIVE Interview Series
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XLIVE Interview Series - Nikki Shum-Harden & Andy Babb - Super League Gaming

This week on the XLIVE Interview Series we sat down with Nikki Shum-Harden, VP Partnerships & Strategic Marketing, and Andy Babb, Executive Vice President, of Super League Gaming.

SLG is a platform for amateur gamers to “experience their sport like the pros”. With their 16 City Clubs organized into four regions throughout the country, gamers of all ages and skill levels play on teams in both local and national competitions. We spoke to Nikki and Andy about what makes a successful brand sponsorship in esports, the esports opportunity for live event venues, amateur esports, inclusivity in esports and more.  Read the double interview below!

Thanks for taking the time to sit down with us today, Nikki and Andy. For those who don’t know, can you both give us a brief overview of Super League Gaming, how SLG fits into the esports ecosystem, and talk about your respective positions at the company?

Andy: Thanks back-at-you for having us. Typically esports is all about elite players and viewership. Super League Gaming, on the other hand, is all about everyday players and participation. SLG is a place where gamers of all skill levels can play, watch and belong. Super League runs all kinds of experiences for amateur gamers, including leagues and social events. Much of what we do has an IRL component, meaning we get gamers playing together in great venues such as movie theaters, gaming centers and restaurants. All of that translates into how we're building local gamer communities that are super social and tons of fun. My role is managing our partnerships with game publishers and gaming centers. I have the best job in the company!

Nikki: My role is two-fold: one, partnership development and management across our brand sponsors, venue suppliers, and strategic alliances; and two, corporate marketing and communications.

How did each of your careers take you into esports?  Is this an industry in which you’ve always been interested?

Andy: I've been in the video games business for 22 years at great places such as Sega and 2K Games. At Sega in the late 1990's we ran a multiplayer online gaming network called Heat.net. While not quite esports as we know it today, Heat.net was all about the fun of competing in video games, so it was very much a precursor to esports. When I learned about Super League Gaming four years ago, I thought it was brilliant and jumped right on in.

Nikki: I come from a digital agency background, in which my brand clients were always asking for what their place should be in the latest trends, which were often technology-related. Esports started becoming an area of interest for them, and therefore an area of interest for me. As a partnership strategist, I was drawn to the potential of esports for reaching a highly elusive yet very valuable consumer segment. It seemed like a challenge that if solved, would yield great benefits for brands and consumers alike.

Nikki, with regards to brand partnerships in the space, how do you define a ‘successful brand partnership’, and what components are typically required for a partnership to be ‘successful’?

Nikki: A successful brand integration is one in which the brand provides real value to our community, and a successful partnership is one in which there is collaboration and mutual effort toward the goals. Logitech G has long been a partner of Super League’s. Beyond integrating their brand in our experiences, Logitech G provides peripherals to our players and enables them to experience what it feels like to “play like a pro.” Our community is grateful for Logitech G’s support and recognition. Further, Logitech G is both a Super League sponsor and investor, demonstrating their commitment to Super League on multiple levels, and their belief in our mission and values.

Amateur esports are becoming bigger and bigger, and are gaining more notoriety and recognition in the industry.  Why is the development of amateur esports important, and how does SLG help amateur players and help the amateur esports space?

Andy: I think amateur esports are important for two reasons: First, professional esports has a never-ending need for a bigger pipeline of talent. While pros teams can and do find great players today, highly developed amateur esports will only increase the skills and sheer number of great players for tomorrow. Second, amateur esports fills a great social need for the vast majority of gamers who will never be good enough to be pros. It's like rec basketball leagues. I am never going to make the NBA, but my friends and I have tons of fun just playing the sport together in organized leagues. Amateur esports is no different.

At XLIVE, we’re all about live events, and revolutionizing live experience. We’ve seen a handful of deals signed for esports venues this past year.  What’s the biggest opportunity for venues with regards to hosting an esports event? Do esports events need esports specific venues to be successful?

Nikki: Esports provides venues with an opportunity to reach gamers and provide a reason for them to patronize their facilities. With venue partners, Super League has all the elements to successfully provide gamers with local, in-person esports experiences, regardless of whether the venue is “esports specific” or not. As one example, we are successfully running ongoing events at Topgolf currently, and have found that our players enjoy spending time socializing and playing golf at Topgolf along with the competitive gameplay experience.

For Andy: let’s touch on esports inclusivity. What is the biggest challenge in the space today with regards to inclusivity, and how can we all, as esports professionals, promote inclusion in the space?  How does SLG address these issues and concerns?

Andy: Thank you for asking as inclusivity is my favorite part of Super League. I think the biggest challenge with regards to inclusivity in esports today is how toxic online esports can be, especially towards women. Immature people online hide behind their anonymity and often can be complete a-holes, which is hugely demotivating for the targets of their attacks. I am proud to say that Super League sees virtually none of that. While we have strict rules of conduct, the great thing is that we rarely have to enforce them, for two reasons. First when people are playing IRL, they behave much better than you might see online because they have to face the consequences of their actions from the local community. Second, Super League competitions have an incredibly social atmosphere. While it's competitive, it's really all about having fun and people get caught up in that.

What’s top of mind for SLG and for your respective departments within the organization, as we enter the second half of 2019?

Andy: My top of mind for Super League in the second half of 2019 is to increase our number of esports offered while continuing to provide great experiences to our communities for our current esports.

Nikki: Identifying and partnering with brands who want to enhance our players’ experience, increasing our venue footprint to provide esports experiences near more players, and continuing to develop the Super League brand into a recognizable entity for players and partners alike.

Now the most important question: what’s your favorite video game to play? How about to watch?

Andy: Ha you are trying to get me in trouble with all but one of Super League's game partners! I could tell you but then I would have to kill you.

Nikki: Little Big Planet to play - I love outfitting Sackboy and decorating the Omniverse. And, SuperLeagueTV broadcasts to watch, of course!

Thanks again for joining us, Nikki Shum-Harden & Andy Babb! How can people get in touch with you guys and with SLG to learn more?

Email works! Andy.babb@superleague.com. And everyone is welcome to join "Andy Nation" (which, unfortunately, is quite an exclusive community at the moment) on Twitter at @AndyBabb.

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