National Video Games Examiner chats with Evolve Labs Founder Adam Sellke, who discusses the impact of eSports on pop culture and what the future holds for the continually growing platform and its hopes to hit a more mainstream audience. The founder/ co-founder of several startups (Surtsey, Madoi, Ripshark, Tunebloom, Evolve Labs and more), and having served in individual contributor and management roles at Merck, BBDO, Carlson Companies, UnitedHealth Group and Best Buy, Sellke has more than enough experience in a variety of different corporate positions and understands what competitive gaming must do to reach another audience.
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Patrick Hickey Jr.: Why are eSports important?
Adam Sellke: There are over 188 million eSports fans worldwide, with an estimated 240 million by 2018. eSports viewership is predicted to surpass that of the NFL by 2020. In fact, according to ESPN, 27 million people tuned in to watch the 2014 finals of the League of Legends World Championship – that’s more than watched the final game of the World Series (23.5 million) or the NBA Finals (18 million). With big audiences, comes big sponsors and a whole cascade of opportunities.
Hickey Jr.: Is there that personality that can be charismatic enough to be the face of the eSports movement?
Sellke: There are a handful of traditional sports celebrities who have serious eSports backgrounds that come to mind. Athletes like Gordon Hayward, who is a standout forward for the NBA’s Utah Jazz. During the 2011 NBA lockout, Gordon actually went pro as a gamer. He continues to be an outspoken advocate for eSports and video gaming, in general. MMA/UFC fighter, Nik Lentz, is a former pro StarCraft2 player as well. Personalities like these obviously have strong crossover appeal.
There are also an amazingly creative and engaging cast of current professional eSports athletes. Some of them are quite the character. Pro League of Legends players like “Aphromoo,” aka Zaqueri Black, and former pro turned commentator/analyst “Day,” aka Sean Plott are hot prospects with breakout potential.
Hickey Jr.: Just to put this into perspective, how many hours does a professional gamer play a day?
Sellke: Most of their waking hours (and they sleep less than most people).
Hickey Jr.: What kind of games are primarily used in eSports?
Sellke: There is a pantheon of game titles that most professional eSports revolve around (League of Legends, StarCraft, Counter Strike: Global Offensive, Dota2, etc). However, any game that is designed for pure competition essentially is a candidate for eSportsdom.
Hickey Jr.: How do you get the average gamer to get involved?
Sellke: There are hundreds of millions of average gamers already enjoying eSports on a spectator-level. The key, however, is creating greater accessibility for those who want to experience the excitement of competing first-hand. Right now, it is impossible for the mid-core competitor to go up against dedicated professionals who scrimmage and play almost every waking hour. The Big Tournament system dooms millions of these passionate players to sit in front of their TVs and monitors and watch someone else play for glory and prizes.
What’s needed are services that remove the noise and friction of Big Tournament brackets. Services that enable the mid-core competitor to find fair matches with honest outcomes. Where competition is instant and head-to-head. Where entry fees are modest and the prizes are just enough to make things interesting. It’s kind of like your regular poker night with friends!
Hickey Jr.: Do you think there is any way to get eSports on a recognized TV network?
Sellke: There already is: ESPN and Turner Broadcasting both have programs in development.
Hickey Jr.: How do you think they’ll grow in the next ten years?
Sellke: Game makers and tournament organizers need to recognize the “non-pro,” as the next evolution of competitive gaming. We call these non-pro gamers, “mid-core competitors.” They have more talent and time than the average gamer, but have regular 9-5 jobs, families and commitments. They can’t move into a house with nine other pro gamers. They don’t have sponsors, or advertisers or team jerseys. The current Big Tournament system is where companies like Riot (makers of the hugely popular League of Legends game) have historically focused their attention.
Moving forward, new competitive formats for all players, not just the pros, will create an environment where players of all skill levels can play against their peers. This puts the mid-core competitor square on the playing field instead of on the sidelines.
As eSports and pro players gain popular attention, more and more gamers want to be like them. Golf took off when Tiger Woods became a media sensation. More people took interest and started playing. The same thing is happening with eSports. We are at the beginning of the next evolution and growth of eSports as a real sport, and by having opportunities for “regular” players to participate, it adds fuel to the fire for rapid growth, now and in the future.