Rocking our latest Silicon Valley Insights was Wim Stocks, the CEO of WorldGaming and Collegiate Starleague. During his sitdown with STRV CEO Lubo Smid, Wim discussed how his own past intertwines with the evolution of esports, the role Richard Branson played in the creation of WorldGaming - and why everyone suddenly wants to sponsor esports tournaments.
With the STRV event space packed, the evening was a success. As was the afterparty at Scrollbar, where everyone got the chance to have a face-to-face with our guest; Wim ended up staying later than most!
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“Twitch is three times the size of HBO, Netflix and ESPN combined. All online. 150 million people, per month, spending at least an hour and a half a day consuming content. You can’t say that isn’t mainstream,” Wim told the crowd in the middle of his lively talk.
“If anything, it’s larger than traditional mainstream.”
Twitch - the ESPN of gaming - is just one showcase of the industry’s huge scope. Esports is booming. And Wim should know. He was on the front lines of making all this happen.
Wim entered the industry by working for GT Interaction, which cornered the market on first-person shooters and launched franchises like Doom, Quake and Duke Nukeem. But in 2007, he left the company to pursue a vision.
“I embarked on a mission to build a company around digital distribution and online play,” Wim recalled. “I thought it was the future. Turns out, I was right.”
His first company had a strong start, but couldn’t quite make it and was purchased by California-based THQ.
“I grew a little disillusioned. I said, ‘This is not for me. I don’t want to be a part of this big entity that’s taken my company in a different direction,’ and I left to start what is now, essentially, WorldGaming.”
At the time, esports didn’t exist, and competitive gaming was just beginning to emerge.
“We started seeing all these kids taking their Xboxes, unplugging them, putting them in their cars, driving 200 miles to a hotel, then putting their Xboxes together to play Madden in a competitive environment,” reminisced Wim.
“We looked at one another and said, ‘We can do this online.’”
And they did.
“It was a little rough initially, but we built the technology that enabled people to play one another in tournament settings.”
Partnerships with the likes of Microsoft and Sony - along with having their tech integrated into FIFA and Madden - all enabled people to play their games with a validation mechanism.
“You could determine who won and who lost, the timing in certain settings…all that was the foundation of our technology. And it also became the nucleus for competitive gaming."
Wim’s project was meant to be called WorldGaming from the get-go. This changed after a friend heard Wim’s ideas and asked, ‘Does Richard know about this?’
The man in question was Richard Branson, and ten days later, he wanted to buy the company. But it wasn’t for sale. It was, however, ready to accept Richard’s offer of investment.
That’s how WorldGaming ended up going to market as Virgin Gaming, which gave a lot of credibility to a model that hadn’t existed before. However, because the Virgin brand was viewed as an airline, not as a gaming powerhouse, some sponsors were wary of working together.
“We ended up giving the brand back to Virgin, and went back on the market as WorldGaming. That was 2014, and we’ve kept the WorldGaming brand since then.”
As for the future, Wim believes it’s nothing but bright.
“2018 was a really important year for esports,” he said, explaining that by taking on the structure of traditional sports, esports tournaments now feel familiar - even to gaming newbies.
“There’s been so much confusion, and people not getting what it is. This structure has really helped clarify what esports is all about.”
Speaking from WorldGaming’s point of view, he added, “We’re on the amateur side of things. And every time the pro side of esports gets clarified, it really helps define what the amateur space is. We’re about the developmental side, the grassroots side.”
By making their events “friendlier, more accessible, more available,” and by shining a light on the pros, WorldGaming helps the 99% of players that aren’t professionals see how far they can go by utilizing “discipline, skills, and practice, practice, practice.” Like joining a strong team, winning an amateur game and getting a seat in one of the pro majors. Or becoming the next Ninja.
“They realize, ‘Wow, I can have a career as a player if I’m good. I can make a lot of money,’” said Wim. “And that all just happened in 2018.”
So, how will esports become a $1.5 billion industry within the next couple of years?
According to Wim, it’s mainly about sponsorships. Huge players like McDonald’s, Coca-Cola and insurance companies are figuring out that reaching this huge esports audience means reaching millennials and Gen Zs - the “notoriously difficult audience to reach.”
“They don’t watch television. They’ve never owned a cable subscription. They’re digital natives. They’re not only cord-cutters; they’re cord-neverers.”
But when they’re online, Wim said, they’re often playing video games - making esports one of the few ways they can be reached.
Cashflow also stems from ticket sales and media rights. ESPN recently paid a whole lot of money to broadcast Overwatch League.
In fact, another brand run by Wim that’s getting a lot of traction right now is Collegiate Starleague. Just recently, their Street Fighter League was also covered by ESPN - for the first time ever.
Combining this more traditional form of exposure with the Twitch audience means there’s a huge change happening.
“These mainstreams are intersecting. And that’s a great inflection because it starts to bring even more understanding, more awareness for esports on a global basis,” said Wim. “It’s a really important moment in time.”
In fact, Goldman Sachs just published a report saying that the developmental side of esports is one of the biggest investment opportunities out there. Great news for Wim, great news for the companies he leads - and great news for all fans out there.
The gaming world is about to get even bigger. Get ready.
If you enjoyed seeing or reading about this event, check out what's coming up. And look out for news about our next Silicon Valley Insights - later this year!
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