Lessons from Esports Start-ups: Part 2

During my nine years in esports, I’ve worked for over 13 esports startups across six titles and alongside nine national work cultures. I’ve experienced a lot of personal successes, professional failures and lessons. Although the products and services we have put out had a varied probability of success, I often found that there were lingering issues or concerns that ended up deeply plaguing the company and the members involved.

Within this two-part series, I will draw upon my experiences to highlight common mis-steps startups approach esports, their businesses and some common pitfalls in their operations that ultimately lead to their downfall. This article will be more anecdotal and qualitative than quantitative. It goes without saying that what I may say is true for the businesses I worked with but may not be applicable to all current, past or future businesses. It’s recommended you take the lessons and advice listed here and critically think about how they apply (or not) to your work and experiences.

In Part 1, I drew upon three example companies I’ve worked with to highlight controlling investor expectations, key communication lines with your investor to manage expectations and sensible budgeting to ensure short and long-term viability within this volatile industry.

In part 2, I will talk about internal factors that can hurt a brand more so than how it projects itself, and its successes, to be.

Company Atmosphere & Infrastructure

Beyond the circumstances and communication you have with your investors, some common struggles I’ve experienced with start-ups range from creating a good company atmosphere to an understandable staff infrastructure. From 10 employees to more than 400, it is very common to see company communication lines dissolved or remain poorly enforced over time as leaders get focused too hard on their goals and not so much on maintaining the mood of their offices.

Company atmosphere is important, that goes without saying. In esports where salaries may be lower (depending on your region) and your staffing is much more tight-knit, that company atmosphere can help distinguish your company and compensate the difference in benefits or salary ranges that other companies are offering. However, company atmosphere doesn’t just mean group-activities or pizza lunches every month but rather more towards having leadership with the appropriate experience that managers and coordinators can learn a lot from.

I often ask in my interviews with companies on what a person working with them could learn from working in this company, with their leadership. Their first answer is experience but in reality, that experience is only valued if it has lessons the person can draw from, techniques or systems that can be introduced to the staff or contacts/relationships that a staff member would normally not be able to get. Simply put, your leaders must be able to grow their staff to become specialized individuals. I feel that in esports, people often highlight their experience as justification for their role when, in reality, that experience implies what mentoring, connections and education you can provide to newer members in the field. Leaders with appropriate experience and attitudes heavily affect the type of employees that surround them and ultimately compose your company’s environment. Here are some leader examples I have personally experienced:

  1. Executive staff were often not present in their own company offices. For example, the CEO did not live in the same country as the residing company or staff but was often flown in regularly.
  2. COO fired volunteer staff because some members’ other volunteer projects competed with a potential brand partnership.
  3. Executive leadership was not able to communicate with the majority of their staff due to a language barrier. They relied on translators to speak on their behalf. Connecting with the executive leadership was difficult, leading to many staff members have little faith in his words during harsh times.
  4. Multiple overlapping leaders gave conflicting orders and reasons, leading to staff members feeling deflated and unequipped. This created a frustrated atmosphere that disassembled the brand.
  5. Leader was not permitted a decent budget to hire expert staff members, relying on assistants to help on projects that were beyond their depth and ability. The leader often used a lot of their time to assist these assistant instead of fulfilling his intended hired responsibilities.

For leaders, having a staff team that can provide more than just ‘bodies’ to a task can mean reducing the amount of time for your product/service to come into fruition, ultimately lowering your operations cost and meeting client or internal expectations of delivery.

On the flip-side, having too many leaders with not enough specialized team members can lead to a lot of discussion and little action or little ability to fulfill actions without confrontation between involved leaders. An ideal infrastructure scales in accordance with the brand’s services or platform but also relies on specialized employees to help deliver an end-result.Too little expert infrastructure

For many esports brands that are receiving large rounds of investment and scale without appropriately looking at how to optimize their current staff may often find redundancies in their workmanship that can slow a task rather than hasten its completion.

Awareness versus Actual Success

Something I see a lot with recent brands, especially during the live-streaming competing brands and fantasy betting platforms is the PR cycles with actual very little results to display. You often see these sites tout around their CEOs, making large or redundant opinions without much news cycles regarding the actual success of their brand.

Despite numerous press releases and appearances by the CEO of Azubu. The actual performance, revenue generated or value of the live-streaming platform and brand was declining quickly. This is not a unique situation that many company will encounter.

Gathering a lot of awareness for a brand to compensate for its actual successes often has a reverse effect within some gossiping business circles. They can often perceive the projection you’re setting and if not, your staff members may undermine you by speaking honestly (yet with frustration) to colleagues within the industry about the decline of their brand.

Seeking PR Exposure for your brand without being able to actually deliver a desirable product is something so basic and yet so many brands try to continue marching on in their business cycles without actually executing their main goals and services.Critical of the current competitors to dismiss their success before you’ve even launched

Lastly, before launch of your company or brand, it’s heavily recommended not to talk down about the current company. Nor is it wise to use the failings of another company as a justification to start a competitor, especially if you are unable to match or mirror the qualities and value that the leading competitor has. I often found myself among circles of people criticizing other established brands before they, themselves, have launched. Be wary of the tone you are setting up internally and the perspective you are spreading within your team, you will find yourself often obsessive about how much better you are than another company, when in reality, they have achieved so much more than you can in the first few years after launch.

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