Torte De Lini

A Sociocultural Analysis of Gaming and eSports
Torte De Lini

Torte De Lini

Dota 2 Majors are not guaranteed profitable events

The most important aspect in esports is the pro-players. Without the players, there would be no competitions, teams, sponsors, industry, etc. The second most important entity in esports are the tournament brands.

Around since the late 90s, tournaments have been a public stage to display the popularity, growth, interests and brands in esports. Tournaments are how an esports game showcases their value and opportunity. Tournaments provide a/an:

  • physical gathering for fans
  • public stage to market teams
  • direct reach to consumers for sponsors
  • majority of livable income for commentators & talent
  • display of popularity for a game developer’s product
  • platform for players to compete for major prizes
  • entertainment for viewers at home

With that said, the public discussion about tournament brands earning a profit on their events has been troubling in recent years. This article seeks to reveal the range of costs and revenue for tournament brands as well as the challenges they face.

How much it costs to run a Dota Tournament

Regarding cost, there are a lot of factors to consider. In this piece, we take on the assumption that this tournament is a Valve-sponsored Major (which means that Valve only provides you with half the prize-pool)

Depending on the region, a Dota Tournament can cost approximately 2 to 3 million U.S dollars including the prize-pool of $500,000 (Valve provides the other $500,000). The largest costs being technical production and accommodations which is about 50+% of a tournament’s costs.

Split may vary depending on the organization, where the event is hosted and negotiation. The range can be severe so take this with a lot of consideration.

As you can see, the largest costs are not paying for talent or even the prize-money but rather producing the entire event and hosting the players/talents coming in (travel & accommodations). For Dota tournaments especially, this cost is harrowing as Valve forces 16 teams to attend which is approximately 112 people who need flights, rooms, training facilities, shuttles, visas, three meals a day for 12-13 days (teams need to arrive before group-stages begin).

To take an example, MDL DisneyLand hosted players at the Newport Bay Club Hotel which is about $325 to $450 a night (before group discount/negotiations): ~$580,000. An alternative example is 2018 ESL Katowice, which had talent and players staying at the Atlus Prestige for $150 a night (some players/teams may have been at other hotels due to lack of rooms): ~$218,000. This doesn’t include talent, cheaper hotels for working staff or all other costs needed to accommodate.

The cost to run an event is incredibly high because of the number of players attending as well as the forced number of days an event must be held for.

How do tournaments make their money back

Before we talk about revenue, we should note that some tournament organizations have long-standing deals with small towns like Katowice and ESL where the venue may be discounted (or free) as these events drive a lot of tourism to a city that most people would likely never visit.

The revenue streams for event organizer’s is relatively straight-forward, it’s just the values that shift depending on the event: please note that each event is different and these are only approximations to help give you a sense of ratios between costs and returns.

  • Sponsorships/Advertising
    • The largest revenue stream for a Dota tournament is sponsorship/advertising sales.
    • Depending on your largest (title) sponsorship, it can be approximately equal to your consumer ticket sales.
    • Sponsorships have decreased over the years from $700 to $800,000 to now more $400 to $600,000 (maximum).
      1. Some events like to load up on a lot of sponsors at lower prices while others like to sell minimum packaging for high-prices but cover a lot of areas (branding, advertising, on-site booth, etc.).
    • Depending on how you package your sponsorship deals (per-event level packages, annual multi-event agreements, etc.), this number heavily fluctuates.
  • Media Rights Sales
    • Media Rights are a tricky business and the numbers range depending on the region you are selling rights to.
    • China is the most valuable region and sales go at approximately $200,000 (maximum). Other regions can earn up to $100,000 but it’s rare.
    • Some broadcasting sales are fixed fees or performance-base
    • I’ve opted to not talk about the Facebook deal amount, Twitch negotiations and more because it’s a much larger subject.
Huomao, IMBATV, Douyu and Huya are among the many competing Chinese brands who negotiate broadcasting rights for international tournaments for Chinese audiences and platforms.
  • Consumer Ticket Sales
    • Consumer ticket sales heavily fluctuate depending on the region and experience of the organizer to advertise and push sales.
    • Typically Majors are announced a few months in advance, very little time for many attendants to afford and make travel plans to attend. This affects # of tickets sold.
      1. Additionally, this is why many tournament organizers apply for next-year event dates: to ensure proper leeway to plan and advertise their event.
    • At the MDL Disneyland Major, a lot of factors were stacked against them that made their event challenging (and thus even more impressive they pulled it off):
      1. They began selling tickets much later than the usual, meaning promotion/advertising to get people aware and interested in the major is much harder (flights/hotel costs go up, closer to the event’s launch)
      2. They launched an event in a country that is not known for its Dota player-base. League has been hosting major events in Paris for almost 5 years.
      3. They chose a venue location very far from Paris at a much higher cost than other events. This can turn many people off who are not financially comfortable spending that much money for a Dota event (yet they are your target demographic)
  • Merchandise and misc.

We should also consider B2B convention sales such as what ESL achieves with Katowice (conventions), however this is not common for most Dota tournament organizers and heavily affects the variable venue rental costs, resources and human resources to manage this aspect. For the sake of brevity, I’ve excluded ESL events (though anyone could write a whole lot about ESL and its business history and relationships).

Image result for katowice
As lovely as Katowice is, it as not a worthwhile city to visit for many of its years. Only recently has it developed a modern town center and area that makes it more attractive for tourists to regularly visit. That said, ESL Katowice has been a strong promoter for the city for many years and continues to be each year to this day.


Beyond the obvious challenge of keeping costs low versus improving your revenue streams, the involvement of a Valve’s “rules” to run a Major have become increasing leaning towards the player & viewer experience. This is not to say it is right or wrong, but depending on the perspectives – this heavily affects a TO’s costs and revenue. Some of these “rules” include:

  1. Nearly a two-week long LAN event
    • as mentioned before, this multiplies several costs to run an event.
  2. Must have all 16 attending teams go through qualifiers
    • Tournament organizer’s can no longer invite popular teams to their events, reducing viewership and increasing administration costs, time and human resources to manage these qualifiers.
  3. Non-exclusive viewing options
    • Non-tournament affiliated user brands can re-stream the event – re-streams do not help the event organizer in any way and heavily affects its bottom-line by reducing its future market-value for sponsors and media right broadcast sales.
    • Fans can view matches in-game
      • previously, digital tickets provided a valuable alternative revenue streams for tournaments (since their Twitch agreement may exclude any possibility of channel-subscription sales).
  4. Uncertainty of a Major status (this affects sponsorship sales) Major status approved 3 to 6 months before your event.
    • This affects venue rental options
    • Some tournament organizers pay to hold a venue on the dates they proposed to Valve, uncertain if they will be approved for those dates until a much later point in time (in which they are paying for that waiting period)
  5. No gambling or betting sponsors
    • Side-note: betting sponsors are approx. 30 to 50% greater than current sponsor sales depending on the size of the event.

Many of these factors are for the benefit of the viewer but disempower the tournament’s business and ability to stay in the black.

It’s not ever mentioned but it goes without saying that event attendance and viewership is heavily affected by which teams are competing. Na’Vi may not be performing very well but their brand power influences up to 10-15% of CIS viewership.


At the moment, there are many flaws and concerns about the Dota Major system for all parties:

  • Tournament brands are facing increasing costs with diminished potential returns.
    • The more Majors per year, the less value each Major is as sponsors now have more choice.
  • Players are feeling mentally and physically exhausted from too many events
    • May lead to a new Major tournament system, perhaps at the expense of tournament opportunity.
  • Talent are being negotiated down their previous rates as tournament businesses seek to cut costs to accommodate increasing expectations
  • Valve permitting re-streams provides more eyes on their product/game;
    • however this reduces the tournament’s viewership and marketable value for tournament brands.
    • Tournament brands must then re-invent their event to provide more than just games, but is challenged by the cost to do it.
    • Additionally, re-streams hurt a tournament’s revenue stream as it means less viewers, thus less value for sponsors as well as media rights sales to other broadcast companies.

In short, tournaments are a business above all but they are a source of human resources to market a product for a developer, income for many talents and commentators as well as a platform for teams and pro-gamers. As of right now, profits to run Dota events is tightening with each Major system iteration. Over the course of Dota 2, the cost to run events has increased but the actual returns have decreased over time. Once a developer becomes involved in an esports eco-system, there is no turning back, the environment is forever changed and that involvement must be kept and maintained. Valve’s involvement has created a consistency and opportunity at the benefit for the players and spectators, but it may be time to consider balancing the other end of this industry: ensuring the longevity of tournament organizer’s involvement with Dota 2.

*update: consider reading some corrections and clarifications on this piece in my subsequent article

How I managed to sell my esports career failures as personal successes

For the past few months, I have been between employment in esports. I have been unemployed 5 times since 2013 and it’s simply the nature of working in risky start-up esports endeavours. However, with each new search for new roles and opportunities, I’ve come to understand better on how to sell my candidacy and abilities. With each year, my esports experience, range of projects and roles has widened. This makes the search for new work easier but not without its challenges and constant shaping of my profession and character.

Within this article, I will highlight some personal thoughts I’ve learned over the years in search for new work and moving on from past ones. This is not to say that my approach will work for everyone, but rather someone can make a career going bust with six different companies, yet still find work.

My Background

If you haven’t visited my LinkedIn Profile, you can receive a basic summary of my roles, work and projects over the years. In short, my 9 years of esports can be summarized as the following:

  • 9 years of esports experience working with companies representing in major regions including North America, Europe, Russia & CIS and Korea
  • During my university years: (2010-2012)
    • General Manager for over 5 professional StarCraft teams and 50 internationally achieving players.
    • Helped organized over 10 community and competitive event projects.
    • Writer for a variety of esports and mainstream gaming outlets.
  • Professional Experience: (2013-2019)
    • Launched one of the first esports major studios, digital magazines and live-streaming platforms.
    • Managing Director of an esports press company, reaching 1.5 million monthly readers and among the top 10 most read esports media sites.
    • Head of Int. Strategy & Development for an esports Holding company, acquired by Group and provided expansionary strategies for its current holding’s brands.
  • Personal Projects (2010-2019)
    • Launched three different esports clubs and many community events across Montreal, helping establish its esports presence.
    • Created the Dota 2 Hero Builds Project, accumulating over 350 Million subscriptions, 83% of the playing population and collaborating with the developers to create an in-client UI for user-generated in-game guides.

From an initial glance, it reads impressively but it becomes easy to immediately scrutinize and find holes in my experience. For example, all this was done in 9 years, 6 of which are full-time positions. That would mean that I have been at a job for maximum a year (my previous position being two for the first time) and none of the companies are currently still standing (something any hiring team should do a background check on).

This is your first challenge and during your earlier years, when you are working for companies that no one will never heard of (which is most of the start-ups I’ve worked for), you need to shape your CV (resume) to highlight your personal achievements, especially in the face of professional failure.

Curriculum Vitae

To the left is a Curriculum Vitae from a professional resume company I hired for $500. To the right is my personal version I’ve been refining over the years. Different CVs for different companies and who you are speaking to.

For many people, a CV is something that is very easy for them to create and keep it professional. For others, the basics are lost and don’t quite grasp what they should be highlighting and what information they should omit. In short, always highlight your achievements, actions and consequences and results. In both CV versions, you see not only the range of my roles but the results that were due to my involvement.

Only one out of the many companies I’ve worked with have generated a return worth mentioning. This is the nature of start-ups, especially in an industry where even leading companies are earning a loss of 30 million or more a year. But there are other KPIs that matter, that show your strength and ability: viewership, readership, reach, engagement and interest are quantitative traits you can display on your CV.

Customize your CV. This is something I fail to do but you should always be adjusting your CV according to your target role. Between the two CVs, I use the one I had professional made for corporations that use filters to get rid of certain CVs or lack certain keywords. For my personal CV, I often share this one within my network as it is more readable and concise for the average company who typically don’t have a human resources team.

Lastly, avoid why a company failed as a whole and focus more on the reasons you got it to where it is. Seems obvious to not put why a company failed on your CV but at the same time, a lot of people don’t put certain achievements or work on their resume simply because the company didn’t work out (rendering the actual work useless for the company). Just because it wasn’t as useful for the now-defunct company, doesn’t mean it wasn’t useful for you. The skills you’ve accrued will be valuable for future companies.

Exposing Yourself

The primary reason I created this site over 6 years ago (2013) was to better expose myself and abilities. Everything I do is in search of what I can do and expose what I feel I have to offer. In fact, my first three full-time positions came from professionals reading my thoughts and opinions. With each professional failure, you’ll come away with a lot of lessons, opinions, knowledge and blame. While you should always share the first three in whatever space or capacity you can, try and avoid blame. Blaming only distinguishes you as someone bitter and resentful, rather than hopeful and accepting of elements outside your control. Start-ups will come and go, dwelling on part work serves no purpose when you are trying to seek your new role and with new people.

Though some of my opinions back in the day may have not held up, they were of sound logic (for the most part) enough for companies to consider my candidacy when my own CV had no prior full-time professional experience. Whether they were right or wrong to hire me I leave to them to determine in retrospect, but to have been able to convince someone of more experience and leadership than I, to consider hiring me, I consider an achievement at the time.

In short, always be doing something. Be proactive in creating awareness about yourself in a way that promotes what you have to offer. In my spare time, I update a project called the Standard Hero Builds and for its first 6 years, I did not earn a single dollar from its strenuous work. However, through this passion, it has allowed me to meet and get acquainted with so many great people and expanded my network into a competitive scene I’ve personally loved but had yet to be involved in professionally.

Your Network

Your network is not about how many people you know and can reach out to but rather that you are surrounded by the right people who you know you can rely on. If you have a network of acquaintances of whom you can refer to as a friend but cannot privately ask for assistance, then your network is just posturing. I often found that having a network of pro-players or talent proved to be less valuable (beyond a good discussion and some great games of Dota, CS, League, etc.) than making friends on those who work behind-the-scenes. That is not to say that a network is a group of people you can use but rather a collective of professionals of where you can comfortably help them and vice-versa. A streak of connections where an exchange of knowledge, advice, friends of friends can be handy. Lastly, I often found that sticking with people who love to work in esports rather than the people who love to say they’re in esports is a good indicator if you are surrounded by genuine people.

In recent years, a lot of previous work opportunities, consulting roles and friendships have come from people who I met at my first jobs. They’ve continued to succeed and we’ve continued to build on each other’s successes to get where we are now. Professional relationships are gardens, they need constant tending to and care for their growth and life. Give the attention you seek to those who aren’t as vocal about their struggles or search for help. To quote an old motivational speaker, Zig Ziglar: “You can have everything in life you want, if you just help enough other people get what they want.”

You Don’t Have to Work in Esports

After every job, I always consider leaving esports. That my professional failure may be a sign to move on to more traditional industries where I’ll earn a good wage and find stability in exchange for a job that may be less exciting. I think this personal honesty is good rather than trying to force one’s self back into esports. You may end up taking a low salary and a role beneath your actual expertise. Esports is a small industry. There’s a lot of turnover at the lower levels and even nepotism in certain parts of this industry. Giving up in esports doesn’t mean you failed, it means you want something else in life and esports doesn’t quite fit that expectation: that’s completely fine and understandable.


I am not a particularly unique candidate when it comes to finding new work. In fact, for a variety of jobs, I’ve been passed over for candidates more recognized, especially during my earlier years. That said, over time, I’ve become particularly interesting to companies because of my range of experience in esports both in terms of sectors of this industry (sponsors, tournaments, teams, publishing platforms and start-ups) and in esports regions (having worked with or in CIS, North America, Europe, Korea and China)

However, before all of that: the simple fact that I was willing to move to Europe, did not need a visa (since I am a Swiss citizen) and could read/write in English was all it took to start my esports career. To this day, my flexibility to move and comfort working in start-ups has built me a foundation of experience that I can now sell as a personal success. Yet most of all, this foundation has also taught me how to accept professional failures and seek new endeavours each and every time.

Why I don’t play competitive games any more

This post is more of a personal one and contains a brief insight into my relationship with gaming and perhaps even perspective on why I enjoy esports more so than engaging in esports activities (competitive games).

The short-answer to my title’s question is because I realized I put too much emphasis and self-value on my achievements in games that ultimately hurt my day-to-day emotions and productivity. In other words, instead of seeking healthy routines to balance my gaming hobby, I often equated my pro-activity with my rank and gains in Dota 2,AutoChess, Overwatch, etc.

If I didn’t gain any new ranks or often found myself losing many games, I would feel my day was lost/wasted and get frustrated with myself, rage and attack my teammates for not meeting my expectations. Additionally, I found that when I was not playing, I was often obsessing about my rank and grew insecure about my public placement even though it has no real-world value, attachment or consequence. Lastly, I often felt that my desire to play games was not for the enjoyment of the gameplay but rather for the psychological feeling of succeeding in my quest to play stronger teammates and earn a ranking that I would be proud of.

Combined, I have 13,769 hours of total playtime – approximately 1.5 years of my life spent playing competitive games (more if we include other platforms/games outside Steam).


This is not to say I don’t play multiplayer or competitive games. I still enjoy Dota 2, Artifact, Dota AutoChess, Counter-Strike, Rainbow Six: Siege and more, but only unranked modes. I still heavily enjoy these games but my ability to detach from them at any point, with the understanding to realize that a loss or win does not persist into future experiences or outside the game alleviates me from a lot of stress, frustration and irritability that should not come from a leisure activity. I feel a lot of people also suffer from a similar obsession, where instead of seeking to expand their life, activities and day-to-day routines, they try to substitute it with progression a video-game that may lead them to getting frustrated and creating a unhealthy image about themselves. On the flip-side, there are people who do have healthy point-of-views of themselves and enjoy the challenge, additional emphasis in games due to persistent rankings and more – but not everyone. One areas I wish esports did better is educate its fans on the balanced lifestyle you should seek and maintaining a healthy environment.

As of recently, I’ve re-installed Team Fortress 2 and have ceased playing Dota AutoChess as I saw myself transform from someone who enjoys leisurely learning and playing a new game to waking up and immediately trying to gain ranks – ultimately deterring me from my actual work and responsibilities. With Team Fortress 2, I can casually stop and play whenever I want. And whenever I find myself getting bored, I make the active effort to do something pro-active with my day, such as writing this article or even exercising.

The truth of the matter is that I don’t actually need progression or ranked games to fulfill my enjoyment of playing video games. I just need to realize that I actually want to do more with my days than playing video games for an arbitrary rank that will never be good enough for me or the people who incessantly judge me because I do not meet their standards.

In my few years playing Dota 2, I’ve played ranked 3 times and reached several levels. But to others, it’ll never be enough and it’s a constant battle to realize that your pride is not dictated by the judgement or thoughts of others. Often times, the reasons they’re judging you is for their own reasons rather than an objective and honest opinion about your self-worth.

When I refer to judgemental others, it is often those who seek to tear down my personal projects like the Dota 2 Hero Builds. Who often label me as X rank (in a negative way) and not fit to publicly do something that no one else is pro-actively doing anyways (making popular hero builds for millions of users). It takes an active effort to forget about these people. That their active search to tear others down is more of a projection of their own insecurities. That someone who does (publicly) anything they love and enjoy, only reveals just how inactive or unaccomplished they are. This sounds like a ‘haters gon’ hate’ kind of rhetoric but it, too, is a projection of how I see my younger self. A time when I was full of anxiety (turned hate), concern of others, their work (instead of focusing my own lack of things to do/be passionate about). It was a time where I was in university, with a blank CV and the future scared me because I thought it was filled with endless uncertainty rather than opportunity to becoming anything.

From 2004 to now, I’ve been playing Dota 2 without really partaking in ranked and it hasn’t hindered my passion. In fact, my lack of a rank freely allows me to do as I please and at a rate I personally enjoy rather than indulging the idea that this is a job of which there is no full-time pay or support for. To summarize, as obvious as this may be, play the games you want at the pace you want. If you see yourself getting excessively violent, moody and angry playing a competitive game – it might be time to reconsider how you use your time and how you want to spend your life. No one really cares about your rank or your worth in a video-game except to remind you that you’re not worthy (and that is if you are doing anything remotely public that may affect them). I often think about exercising: the more you work out, the better you feel and appear (more or less) whereas when you play a ranked game in Dota 2 or Counter-Strike, you are not inherently guaranteed to go up in ranks. This is often a mistaken equivalency when in reality, working out and becoming more fit is equal to playing a ranked game and win or lose, you will have enjoyed the game or have learned from a mistake you made (which we sometimes forget to reflect on).

Esports is still searching for its identity

In 2013, I wrote how esports is not a sport but a competition with the make-up, values and even dedication of sports. My thesis was simple: “Overall, I feel that comparing eSports to professional mainstream sports can be a poor perspective that ultimately narrows potential and shapes it to be something it cannot feasibly become.

On the flipside, esports can be something more because it taps into two pools of consumers and markets: mainstream gaming consumerism and live sports spectating (which has sales ranging from merchandise, celebrity culture, brand activation, media rights sales and more).

What I am alluding to is the concern that we (as an industry) are using sports as an expectation to what we expect this crossing of two sectors to be. Instead, we should continue to use the ‘sports’ comparison as a selling tool to better summarize what esports envisions for non-endemic brands. This was as much of a concern back in 2013 as it is now.

We call competitive gaming “eSports” because it summarizes and eases outsiders into the idea of e-athletes. Even if someone had no idea what playing video-games at a competitive level was or what it entailed, these tournament events are gaming expositions that help show the appeal of watching someone do something better than you (better technique, strategy, approach, etc). The importance of the atmosphere mimicking that of Football stadiums or Hockey rinks is the ultimate goal and titling eSports as a sport helps push the idea further.

Once we can all agree and accept that esports can be like sports but is better suited to accommodate and tap into both consumer markets (stated above), the better it can be established as a viable market for investment without the disclaimer that investors may not see a return for the next 5 to 10 years. In addition, it can also provide more liberties for developers to be involved in esports without having to follow the current regiments and expectations esports companies, pundits and experts are pushing for. Some vocal pundits and experts are ready to dismiss certain forms of esports platforms, styles and approach because it does not fit an established tradition narrative that esports is

Esports does not return on investment

In general, esports does not return on investment. It is often a general public’s misinterpretation that large investments must mean the company is doing well and on-track to make a return but often times it is a doubling-down in hopes that these brands will become profitable and more importantly, an established brand for (if and) when the esports sector becomes an multi-billion dollar industry. That expectation stems from how esports is being sold to investors as a sports comparison as well as its heavy dependency on the gaming industry, which has been on the rise for the past decade and generating more revenue than most other entertainment industries (on par with the global box office)

NRG and other major brands have pulled in some great and amazing people to their brands for the hopeful future of a successful and established esports industry. Now everyone must manage their brands for the long-haul and continue to compete with other majorly-invested teams and organizations.

So in reality, nearly everyone agrees that esports has potential and that agreement is spreading to mainstream markets, members and brands. There is profit to be made but not enough to justify the massive amounts of investments being made. These investments are actually made to not only explore the reach and potential of esports for companies but also to help them expand into markets they would either be unable to reach within a reasonable time-frame. For instance, with ESL’s newly-found investment with MTG, they sought the value of media rights and sales while also creating events in regions they had only attempted once or twice before (Asia/Oceania). The results and profit margins have been mixed.

Esports can be just marketing & community engagement

Ultimately, my goal in this piece is to remind everyone the reality of the situation and to remove any sense of gate-keeping some pundits have in framing companies’ attempt at esports as being poor or unjustified when in reality, everyone is trying new things to justify their continued involvement in esports.

This goes for everyone, including game developers. Riot Games loses tens of millions of dollars running the LCS each year. In recent years, they have sought to cut down on a lot of extraneous costs to further justify running the circuit despite League of Legends, as a game, dipping in returns year-over-year. When the LCS was launched, it was just an exploratory idea no different than what Fortnite and Epic Games are attempting now and what Nintendo has in mind.

Nintendo always focuses more on its community and audience rather than setting the bar in terms of prize-money and thus, legitimacy of their scene. This is just one of the many ways developers are approaching competitions, penned as ‘esports’, as part of their marketing and community engagement.

All these developers are just exploring the value of esports to further emphasize, distinguish and invite traditional players to their product. A perfect example of this is the fact that a new Call of Duty is released each year despite these annual releases being a deterrent to the sustainability of their esports scene as a whole (instability). Another example is Fortnite and Nintendo hosting events that may not be the strictest form of esports by today’s expectations (items on in Super Smash or releasing a new weapon in Fortnite the same day as the tournament). Some of it is due to inexperience, other reasons also include that esports does not take precedence to the priority of mainstream gaming markets and consumers. Everyone knows this but we sometimes forget that esports is simply a subculture to mainstream gaming.

Conclusion: the goal should be justified sustainability

Esports’ identity is in flux because its viability and potential for all companies involved (tournament organizers, sponsors, investors, game developers, players and more) has not been definitively explored to its fullest potential. As esports goes through its growing pains to eventually settle on its marketplace, it’s important to avoid criticizing brands who take a risk and rather seek to better understand how to make that approach the most viable and most importantly, sustainable for the long-term. Esports may become this professionally-driven and international industry or it may become a localized affair of friendly competitions with part-time pro-gamers who are also finishing their degree. Esports may be a blend of both of those and I think it’s important to be realistic about its eventual path.

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.