You've been one of the longest standing individuals in esports. How have things changed since you entered the space as a player back in 2003 and where do you see the future of esports heading?
First and foremost, the size of the scene has changed dramatically. Back in my day there were only two or three games relevant to play with certain success and prize money. Starting about five or six years back, most game developers decided to shift focus to esports. You still see individual games but games like CS:GO, Dota, LoL and Overwatch, are solely designed to be played competitively. I think the passion within the space is the one thing that has remained the same. Now, people are more apt to come out to events and try to become the best at their game of choice.
Additionally, it's more accessible than back then and I think in the future it'll only become even more accessible. This is especially due to the rise of mobile gaming, better computers at home, better internet connections, etc. Virtual reality and similar advancements will begin to enhance the viewer experience, too. I don't necessarily think games need to be played in front of a physical crowd, so there is a big opportunity in VR to make the home experience way more immersive. It has the potential to be almost like you're with your friends but at the same time you're a part of the game-world.
Considering your experience as an in-game leader while being a player, was it just the natural progression to move from a top tier player on Fnatic to the Team Manager for all the teams within the organization?
Pretty much! I joined Fnatic two years after it was created and in 2012 I moved full-time into my current role. Since then, I have become one of the owners as well! In the future, I'm hoping to take on more responsibilities.
Regarding the transition from in-game to management, it was obviously an easy choice and I still compete on some level by helping my players. I help them as much as I can, but at the same time being on the server and being part of the team throughout the good times and the bad times — that's something I miss. When I gave up my career and retired, I knew that would be something I’d miss tremendously. Personally, I'm a very competitive person and in my current role I do get some opportunities to channel that, but at the same time it's a missing piece within my soul. At that point in my life, the move to management was reasonable and it still carries a lot of responsibilities.
At the same time, you look at players like f0rest and others that I started out with in 2003; they are still making some serious waves in competitive Counter-Strike. We're in a different title now (CS:GO), but there are definitely still those moments at tournaments where I feel like I want to be a part of it. After a while, you kind of wake up and realize afterwards that competing is so much hard work and dedication; you have to choose a certain lifestyle through sacrifice to be there. I admire those guys.
The players understandably get the most attention, so there are probably many that don’t know what your role is. What do you do exactly?
Well, my title is Chief Gaming Officer and I guess in a traditional sport organisation you have a person that is involved in all their sports endeavors, and in Fnatic that’s basically me with the difference that I work across all our titles. In my team we have coaches, analysts, managers, and mental coaches. What I try to accomplish with my colleagues is to create the best possible platform out there to nurture performance. We want to have our players graduate from our academy program into the world of professionals. My job also involves managing the egos of players that have achieved so much already and making sure they stay consistent. Many things can be done better and we can do so much more. I think we're still in the cradle of figuring out what type of infrastructure we should have as an organization. The reality with what we're doing is that everything is traceable and trackable given the digital nature of our industry, so there is basically no ceiling to how we can grow our supportive structure.
I foresee a future where we work more with data scientists and others; not so much to figure out a formula, but to aid our players far more than we do now. For example, having players discover their weaknesses and overcoming them while honing in on their strengths. You still need a personal touch to it but a lot of things can be done to analyze the vast, nearly infinite amount of data you have accessible in esports. It's a fun job to follow these players – watching them earn their first paycheck, following their careers, and witnessing them become more mature – all the while rewarding the fan base. You could say it's my job to get them ready and suited for this world.
Based on your experience as a player and manager of one of the largest and most successful esports organizations is there anything you would like to see change in the industry?
That’s a very good question. Other than increasing the level of professionalism and allowing more players and fans to experience esports, not really — but it’s hard to answer this because it's also very open-ended. I do love the new types of disciplines [games] because I think it opens up the entire world’s population to compete and interact with each other over digital sports. I grew up on my street playing hockey with my friends and, without becoming too philosophical, I think that's a great analogy a lot of people could use to open esports up to more players and fans. The concept of “sports” is hardwired into all of us. [Laughs] Maybe I need to write a book about it!
Honestly though, I think we should all be proud of what we've accomplished so far, but we should not rest. We still have much that we need to achieve such as governmental recognition across the world and sports status. I personally don't give a damn about esports being a part of the Olympics, or not, as I don't think esports needs to be a part of that. Esports is a beast in of itself and while I believe there are massive similarities between us and “traditional sports,” we should also see the differences. They all have their own job and their own charm; that's one of the fun parts about my role within Fnatic: figuring that out across the board of the many games and communities we operate in.
Fnatic has had a few hiccups over the past couple months. As a team manager, what do you feel was a contributing factor to the performance during group stage of The International?
It's easy to say we had a poor start, but if you look at last year’s TI we had an even worse start before we began to win games and wound up getting Top-4, securing the biggest prize check Fnatic has ever won. This year I feel, not from a Dota 2 expert perspective, but watching the team as a manager – how the players interact, how they deal with losses and going into the next match – I don't feel like we really found our balance or identity. We opened strong in many of our games but we didn't really figure out how to coordinate and turn that into a victory, and gradually I think we lost confidence. I believe we did prepare a lot in quantity but perhaps the quality side was lacking.
Would it have it made more sense to stay in in Southeast Asia and not have exposed ourselves to the Western teams instead of staying in our Los Angeles gaming houses for our boot camp? It's hard to say because last year we came in 4th and we boot camped here. We're going to see this as another learning experience even though it was very disappointing to the guys. The year behind us has been tough, but Fnatic being a Dota 2 team and part of the amazing SEA community — that's something we'll continue to be. We will hopefully be supporting even more players, more tiers of players, and more games down the road in the region.
Should we expect to see any changes in the Dota 2 team? Is it a wait and see period or can we expect to see this iteration of the team stick together?
Yes, statistically there will be changes if you look at all the teams who have ever been knocked out of or even winning a TI. I don't think we're immune to that, but we all need to sit down in a reasonable fashion to figure out what we have today, what we are lacking, and what we need in order to collaborate with each other.
The practice routine they have can be very difficult, especially for the players not from the region who are away from their families, friends, and girlfriends. Nothing is set in stone today. The defeat and falling out of TI is still fresh as it was only a few days ago, however, here is my promise. We are going to be back next year at the Key Arena and in the meantime, we're going to make Southeast Asia proud of our guys. We're not going to be happy with merely qualifying for TI. We want to go further and we want to get back into the spotlight of the SEA.
What would you like to say to the casual and die-hard Fnatic fans all over the globe?
Much love and a lot of respect to the fans who have followed us through the good times and bad times. As an organization with eight different disciplines and many players, you live in a world where you win some and you lose some. We always love our fans feedback! Interact with us! Thank you to Monster for the opportunity to talk to you guys and the support you're giving Fnatic and esports as a whole. For everyone who is aspiring to play professionally one day, try to find your passion and work with teammates that share your vision and motivation. Don't expect immediate success and don't focus on the the money or prestige, and success will eventually come.