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XLIVE Interview Series
XLIVE Interview Series - Sean Charles - ESL.jpg

XLIVE Interview Series - Sean Charles - ESL

This week on the XLIVE Interview Series, we sat down with Sean Charles, SVP Publisher & Developer Relations at ESL. Founded in 1996, ESL is one of the largest and oldest esports organizations, holding events for esports brands such as the Intel Extreme Masters, ESL One and National Championships. We spoke to Sean about a number of topics from how he got into the esports space, what it’s like licensing other organizations' IP to hold tournaments, what’s next for the company, and how fandom has evolved in the space. Read the full interview below!

Thanks for taking the time to sit down with us today, Sean. For those who may not be aware, can you give us a brief overview of ESL and your role at the organization.

ESL is the world’s largest esports company. ESL has nearly 20 years of experience in developing and promoting esports competitions at all levels from amateur to professional across a variety of platforms, geographies, and game types.

As the SVP of Publisher and Developer Relations at ESL, I help to connect new gaming properties with esports enthusiasts through ESL’s leagues, authentic stories, and unique branded content. I also lead all VR initiatives for ESL. 

How did you find your way into the esports space professionally?

I had been working in video games for several years publishing titles like Lego Star Wars and Wolfenstein. In 2006, through the trade event circuit, I was lucky enough to meet the ESL team at CEBIT in Hannover, and I was immediately fascinated. Friendships were forged, and we worked together on creating competitive formats for some of the titles that I was responsible for. Then at NYCC in 2010, Ralf (our global CEO) and I agreed that it was time for me to join the movement, and I've never looked back.

Esports as a whole has really great viewership and loyal fans, but has been struggling to figure out sustainable revenue models in some parts of the space.  How has monetization evolved and changed over time, and what are some other areas or strategies which companies can use for future monetization opportunities?

The esports industry is still in its relative infancy and has many different avenues that are driving revenue. From ESL’s perspective, some of those current and future opportunities include sponsorships with both endemic and non-endemic brands, ticket sales, media rights, and publisher contribution. Depending on where a game and the ecosystem of players and viewers are, you’ll see different revenue models as a result.

In contrast to traditional sports, esports began online, and this is where the industry garnered its first fans and audience. Now physical esports events are gaining more and more traction every day.  What have you and ESL seen over the years with regards to this shift, how has it impacted fandom, and what’s next for esports live events?

Over the years, we have seen continued growth at our esports events. Esports has gone from friends playing together in the basement to packing some of the world’s most renowned arenas. In 2018 alone, ESL reached over 60 percent of the global esports audience and had over 250,000 people in attendance at our events around the world. Additionally, as the industry has progressed, we’ve seen more diversification in the space both on the player side and the fan side. As such, we’ve made a conscious effort to make our content and tournaments more accessible to everyone. For example, we always make sure to have a healthy amount of activities taking place our tournaments outside of the mainstage gameplay, especially since esports events last many hours over the course of multiple days. And we will continue to offer these additional experiences to engage an increasingly growing audience.  

What’s it like working with other companies' IP and licensing games for ESL tournaments?  What are the opportunities and challenges?

We have and continue to work with dozens of publishers to heighten their visibility and advance the world of esports through both live global events and online gameplay. Having an open ecosystem model and working with other companies’ IP and licensing games for ESL tournaments, gives ESL a competitive advantage in the space. Since we’re independent and agnostic across platforms, we’re able to work with a variety of game publishers and can be flexible to capitalize on current trends. Additionally, we are also able to help publishers develop their esports strategies for new and existing games as well as consult on production, fan experiences, and communication strategies. 

A topic we’re starting to hear more about is games as a service.  How has this changed esports for the fans, the players, and ultimately the organizations involved?

Games as a service has allowed for game titles to have a much longer shelf life and, in turn, has made it easier and quicker for gamers to access the latest versions through downloadable content, loot boxes and more. Games as a service have begun to make single game purchases more obsolete and have challenged game developers to continually add new features to keep titles relevant and keep players coming back for more. Plus, consistent game updates make for more compelling esports titles. 

What’s next for ESL as we move into 2020?

We just announced ESL Pro Tour a few weeks back. ESL Pro Tour links over 20 of ESL and DreamHack’s CS:GO tournaments and leagues and will feature a prize purse of over $5 million for 2020 from competitions on five different continents, which makes it the largest and most lucrative circuit in Counter-Strike’s 20 year history. This cohesive structure will create a more defined path to professional for aspiring players, a compelling story for existing CS:GO fans, and an easy-to-follow format for new esports fans. 

Thanks for taking the time to sit down with us today Sean!  How can people get in touch with you and ESL to learn more?

You can follow me @withsean as well as @ESL on Twitter to stay up to date and visit the ESL website to learn more.

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