INTERVIEW: Team Liquid co-owner Steve Arhancet discusses the rise of eSports – and what’s next for the sector

After 12 years in the financial industry, Steve Arhancet made a leap into the then nascent world of professional gaming.Now he’s the co-owner of one of the world’s best-known eSports sides – Team Liquid.

He tells MCV about his entry into the sector – and what’s next

How did you get personally get involved in competitive gaming?

I started participating in competitive play back during Tribes 1 and StarCraft when computer games first went multiplayer.

They looked nothing like they do today, tournaments and competitions were run on game forums and game developers didn’t take an interest in developing the eSports scene of their games.

It was always a hobby, something I enjoyed after work and on weekends.

I started my own competitive League of Legends team back in 2009.

Things were casual at first, then more tournaments were introduced online, followed suit by LAN tournaments around the world hosted by WCG, ESL and Riot Games.

eSports sponsorship fell into place and then an industry I loved so much became lucrative.

How has eSports as a sector transformed over the last five years?

Simply put, the viewership is just insane now.

It trumps that of the average baseball or hockey game, it’s with an audience that many people do not understand – male millennials.

The tournaments and structure has become more professional, the players take it more seriously as a real eSports athletic career and larger non-endemic companies are investing through sponsorship and endorsements.

How can games firms better support eSports players and teams – both amateur and professional?

Game developers can find value by doing endorsements and marketing activations through gaming influencers and athletes to drive engagement and awareness for their new game titles.

Developers and retailers can develop and build their own eSport platforms or outsource them to third party tournament organisers.

There’s an on-going debate over whether eSports can be classified as ‘sports’ to the same level as activities such as football. What’s your take on the matter?

There’s a percentage of the population that will just never accept eSports as what they would consider a legitimate sport, and frankly, I don’t really care if they ever do.

It doesn’t matter – their opinions or approval aren’t going to stop this enormous movement to digital, spectator, on-demand eSports.

The numbers don’t lie. Whether or not they think it’s a sport, it is.

It kind of reminds me of all the people that thought cell phones wouldn’t take off, or that computers were not useful. Wake up and look at the numbers – they don’t lie.

What are the biggest titles in eSports right now?

The most popular eSport titles currently, or what I think will be in 2015, will be League of Legends, Counter-Strike, Dota, Hearthstone, StarCraft and then a number of other games.

I think in the next five to ten years, a lot will depend on the developers and how they build their games, the investments and planning they make into making eSport friendly titles and how popular their releases are. The right mix, and you have new eSport titles in the nex five to ten years that will spring up.

What part has technology such as live streaming played in the birth of eSports – and what technology do you expect to shape the market over the next five years or so?

Technology played a big part. I mean, it wasn’t too long ago we couldn’t even play multiplayer games – and the ones we did play constantly lagged and disconnected.

Ladders and ranking systems didn’t come out until much later.

I think the reduction of HD bandwith costs and the ease of personal streaming through Twitch, Google Live, Azubu and Hitbox converged with the investments from key developers, leading to the emergence of eSports.

Over the next five to ten years, you won’t just see players streaming in front of their webcams; viewers will demand a much richer experience.

I think the early adopters that use better technology – sound, recording, video, overlays and graphics – and stream in creative, interactive environments will lead the charge.

Personal streaming will continue, but I see it slowly taken over by episode and schedule-based content.

You’ll see investors coming into the space, empowering streamers and content creators and setting a barrier to entry in the market.

What’s next for Team Liquid?

We have a number of plans.

We have just announced our merger, the acquisition of our new CS:GO team, the signed sponsorship with HTC and launch of our family ofteamliquidpro.netsites.

We have many more plans in the works that I can’t wait to share with our fans.

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