From selling out arenas normally reserved for the Rolling Stones, to amassing nearly 226 million users worldwide, it’s safe to say we’re in the midst of a gaming revolution; eSports is slowly taking over the world one smartphone at a time.
But what are eSports, and why is a market that generated over $325m last year still lacking the mainstream attention it deserves? In an effort to lift the lid on this world we met Benoit Pagotto, director of leading eSports organisation FNATIC, to find out how it all started and why mobile gaming is the next big thing for electronic sports.
Great to meet you – let’s start simple, what is FNATIC?
FNATIC is a leading global eSports organisation with teams across all major eSports gaming titles such as League of Legends, Dota 2 and Overwatch. We also create our own apparel and eSports gaming hardware with FNATICGEAR, a venture we launched at the end of 2015. We’re one of eSports biggest native brands, and have been around since 2004. You might have never heard of us, but eSports wise, we’re pretty legit.
eSports is getting a bigger profile every year, what’s driving that?
We’re all playing a role in that growth, we’re continuing to build on features and infrastructure for both the pro players and the audience experience. We constantly aim to create compelling content for our growing fan base and recently opened a pop-up store in the middle of Shoreditch, London for everyone to enjoy. Every initiative and every player counts, its driving the industry forward, and fast.
But all of this is powered by one simple factor: the people. Once you get into eSports, you don’t stop. You continue to watch and engage, and as the industry innovates, it just gets bigger and better. It’s the future of competitive entertainment for the digital generation.
When will we see eSports in the Olympics?
Within the next 10 years I’d say. eSports is already global, a League of legends Olympic final would receive great viewership even if aired tomorrow, but eSports and the world still need a bit more time to get ready for the Olympics’ mass appeal.
How do you go from living room gamer to becoming a pro, can anyone get involved?
Anyone with the right dedication and talent can get involved. Picking a competitive game and excelling at it can get you spotted to enter in a pro team. But just like in sports, it’s a lot of work, a lot of training and a LOT of hours.
How does mobile gaming feature in the world of eSports or FNATIC?
We’ve just announced our Vainglory team, a great MOBA (Multiplayer online battle arena) game so we’re pretty new but pretty confident on mobile eSports.
From a platform perspective, we think mobile will definitely grow in eSports in the years to come, simply because mobile is becoming the most popular route into gaming. It will take some time for mobile to become the main platform, but when the right components for eSports, mobile, GPU, mixed reality and VR come together we’ll get there.
What makes FNATIC stand out, are there others out there like you?
FNATIC is a part of eSports, with more than a decade of accomplishments and an already strong legacy, but more than that, we always think bigger, we always strive to push the industry and our expectations further. Whether it’s by hiring a mental coach for our team, deck out a gaming house, launch FNATICGEAR, or a concept store in London’s coolest street, we are never afraid to try new ideas to grow our brand.
Yes, your concept store – BUNKR – what’s the thinking behind that?
We wanted to put eSports in the streets and create a physical venue for new and existing gamers to come and discover what eSports is about. We wanted to see if it would work, so we did it, it’s as simple as that.
Do “virtual” sports and “brick and mortar” spaces work together?
It always has, gaming cafes still exist but we wanted to bring this to the next level and use the location as a way to discover our brand and eSports as a whole.
All our events to date have been very successful and we’re inundated with demands from fans to open BUNKR in their cities. The response from non-eSports audiences has also been great, many curious bodies pop in but we’re seeing plenty of regulars return with their friends. Being able to physically experience the eSports enthusiasm is a key factor to make you realise how cool and how real this is.
What’s next for FNATIC?
Plenty. We just partnered with the legendary AS Roma football club to launch our FIFA 17 adventure. We are now on all gaming platforms, consoles, mobile and PC. We’re going to continue to compete at the highest levels and lead our brand and fans into new territories. There’s plans for new BUNKR pop ups, new products and new experiences all around the world. Stay tuned.
Do you have any tips for budding gamers out there hoping to break the industry?
Work hard, play hard. Literally.
Finally, what Android games would you recommend to our readers?
eSports wise, Vainglory is great on Android, and it’s the best MOBA eSports experience you can get on the go. But for a totally non-eSports related recommendation, Swords & Sorcery, which is still today one of the best games ever made.