Kevin Chou is a freshman among the owners of electronic sports equipment. But so far, so good for the CEO of KSV Esports, which owns the team of the Seoul Dynasty in the Overwatch League. The Seoul dynasty has won 4-0 in its games so far in Blizzard Entertainment's new electronic sports league, which attracted more than 10 million viewers in its debut week.
Chou, former CEO of mobile gaming company Kabam, acquired a franchise for an official Overwatch esports regional team in Seoul, South Korea, for an estimated $ 20 million. He believes the company is ready to take advantage of the start of a new sport that could one day be as important as the NBA or NFL teams. He entered into a sponsorship agreement with the Netgear network company in time for the league debut.
After a week in the league, Chou is optimistic. Market researcher Newzoo estimates that electronic sports will become a $ 1.5 billion business by 2020. We talk to Chou about his impressions of the first week of the new league.
Here is an edited transcript of our interview.
GamesBeat: Have you been to the Overwatch League in Los Angeles?
Kevin Chou: Yes, I just returned to San Francisco. I was in Los Angeles last night for our third game of the season.
GamesBeat: How was it?
Chou: Really good. I would say that right now, Overwatch League is above the expectations of all owners. We are all very excited. The audience numbers, the sponsorships that are coming, there is a lot of interest around them. On the side of the spectators, I think a lot of people expected us to get more than 50,000, and now we're flying that number.
GamesBeat: How has the experience been in person? the size of the crowd there?
Chou: I've only been in two games so far. As I understand it, Friday and Saturday games are usually sold out. When I was there yesterday there were probably about 400, with 50 to 70 seats open. Not bad for a Wednesday. It has been pretty good. In general, the size of the sand is not so big. What they did in Blizzcon, they had a capacity for 5,000 people, and that just felt amazing. Blizzard sand definitely feels a bit more like sand. But the energy is really good. The clashes, like today, was watching Dallas against Houston, and that's a good showdown. The crowd seems to be at capacity today.
GamesBeat: Your team is doing very well so far.
Chou: Yes, we won 4-0 last night. That was our third consecutive victory. We're 3-0 in the regular season and we were 3-0 in the preseason. We have been six games undefeated now.
GamesBeat: How did the experience of the experience feel, in person or broadcast?
Chou: As the owner, one of my responsibilities now is to get sponsoring partners for the table. I had a couple of sponsors that I took to the game last night, and I was almost always talking to them. I could not watch the game so closely. But the owners have access to a VIP box, and so on, and it's a great experience in terms of … I've never had a box in another sporting event, unless you count Kabam Stadium. It has a really premium feel. They have a waiter there, food service, wine and drinks. It is a really nice place to be able to bring partners and talk about business. That was my main goal yesterday.
In the preseason, when I went to those games, I really like to sit outdoors, because the energy is much better. The air box is soundproof, or almost. In the sand, you have a real idea of what energy is like. I've been reading a lot, dating Reddit and other communities, and with anyone visiting Blizzard, their reports have been really good.
GamesBeat: When you got Netgear, did that make you more optimistic about the sponsorship side?
Chou: Absolutely. We were hoping to announce something this week, and that's why I established the opportunity to give some interviews. But we are still in the final stages of splashing the Is and crossing the Ts. Hopefully we will announce other sponsors that we will bring to the table very soon. In addition, the league announced Toyota yesterday, and a couple more for the league are about to be announced soon. It has been good.
The ecosystem is growing around the Overwatch League very well, more than I've seen for any other country, because of how everything has been established as to what the teams are capable of doing, what league is capable of do. It is very clear, with what sponsors the teams can work and with which sponsors the league can work. That has been fantastic in terms of creating clear lanes for the league and the teams to operate.
GamesBeat: in the future, do you have audience expectations, how will it evolve?
Chou: I'm a little newer for electronic sports, so I have not tracked audience numbers over the years. But I'm following them this year very closely. We are in week two at this time, at the beginning of the second week, and we are seeing numbers on Twitch where, only for the English broadcast, there were around 180,000 fans. In general, Korea adds another 50,000, which is why we are among the less than 200,000 concurrent viewers. It's a really good number.
If you asked the owners, the opening week is always big, so for the opening week most of the owners, including me, thought that 100,000 would be pretty good. That would be a success. For the opening week only on Twitch, if you watched the transmission in English, it reached a maximum of 450,000. Blizzard just announced today that more than 10 million unique users watched the games and all the rest of the content during the first week. So 10 million unique viewers and 450,000 concur to the maximum.
The second week we're getting 220,000 to 225,000 concurrent, maybe half of that original peak. I'm not sure how the Chinese numbers will come out. But I think if you asked the owners who have more experience, a constant audience of 50,000 people in the regular season would be incredibly successful. That would put him at the League of Legends level. At this time, we are averaging well above that, and it is making all owners very excited at this time.
GamesBeat: Have you seen a lot of interest from South Korea in your particular team?
Chou: Yes, it's fantastic. The really good in the first season, being the only team in South Korea, we have many fans in South Korea who are tuning in and supporting our team. I feel very fortunate that we are doing as well as we are doing, giving all of South Korea a reason to cheer us up. That has been very fun.
GamesBeat: Have you completed your training?
Chou: We are still actively working on it. We are heading to the end of the summer to open it.
GamesBeat: Is that going to be quite complicated, then?
Chou: I do not know if I would call it elaborate. [laughs] It will definitely be world class, but it means first class: many of the best teams in the world will have a really nice team house, and maybe some offices. We are looking to build a 20,000 square foot training facility that is world class in terms of equipment and design, and so on. I'm excited about that. We have not seen the designs yet. We are still in the initial stages of finalizing the design. But I'm excited to see how the designs will look. I think it will be one of the largest training facilities in the world. I know that Team Liquid is building a 9,000 square foot facility.
GamesBeat: Team Liquid made Alienware cast a lot. Do you have something similar, where Netgear could help you establish the facilities?
Chou: The sponsorship of Netgear is a bit more specific. We will definitely have the Netgear network equipment, but the network equipment is only one piece. It's a fun conversation for our partners about the way we build a world-class facility and we bring our partners to that. We are in the middle of those discussions. Hopefully, we can also achieve what Team Liquid achieved. That would be a great success for us.