What it takes to get a career in Esports: Interview with Matthew Walters

ESL One Cup

Even though competitive video games are becoming bigger day by day, getting a career in esports is not that easy and is way more than just having fun and playing video games. While in traditional sports there are hundreds of chances to find a team and become a pro, or to find sponsors for a team, in the pro gaming scene this chances are halved.
Today, Matthew Walters shared about his experiece as a tournament organizers, we talked about the struggles faced by professional esports players and TOs, and how far esports still have to go.

“Oftentimes people will be afraid to get started because they’re waiting for someone to tell them what to do. Usually, it is better to just try; even if you fail you can learn from it, and try again, and then fail, learn, try again, repeat over and over until you get better at it.”

Who is Matthew Jake Kelton Walters (part 2)?

Matthew Jake Kelton Walters is the Owner of XLNCesportsTV, an esports organization dedicated to providing competitive events & growing broadcasting talent in the NA amateur esport League of Legends esports scene.Their streams bring in hundreds of views, growing their social media presence day by day, and every month hundreds of players participate in their tournaments and decide to become part of XLNC Esports.

It’s 1 am. I can hear the rain ticking on my window, and I apologize for the noise caused by the thunder.

“Ah. Late-night thunderstorm, what atmosphere.”

We laugh and then we continue the interview.

Esports and Sponsors: a weird dichotomy

Sponsors have always been a fundamental part of the competitive gaming industry, and esports organizations have always struggled to survive without third-party money. What do you think about the prominence of sponsors in the industry? 

In the free market that is America, finding a sponsor is as difficult as calling up a friend and asking if he wants to give you money to run this event.
It is technically easy to talk to people and ask them for money for your event. The challenge is convincing people that what you do is worth sponsoring. Most times, sponsors want their product in front of people’s eyes, and when they look at the market of streamers and viewers, they see streamers that are streaming just by themselves, playing a game to 40,000, 50,000, 60,000 people at a time, and they see organizations like the LEC or the LCS streaming to 200,000 people at the same time. So, when they ask us how many viewers watch our streams and we say around a hundred, they go, there’s no value: “Why would I ever give you money when I can give that same money to another person, who’s going to put this product in front of a ton of other people?” It creates this weird dichotomy.
The challenge of convincing sponsors to give us money as an amateur organization that doesn’t have a ton of viewership is nearly impossible. (Check out the article: “How to find Esports Sponsors“)

We have worked with one person, a company called Vhetta, that is providing us some money per month to get their name out there and convince people to go and watch their YouTube videos. We’ve worked with them for about three months. Last year, we reworked our contract for this upcoming season and we’re trying something a little bit different.
Anyway, we are breaking into the sponsorship market.
What often times can happen is that getting that first sponsor is very hard. Getting a second sponsor is a little bit easier because they see that someone else is sponsoring, and they are like “If they trust this company, I can trust them a little bit more.” And then, when there’s two or three sponsors, then the next one goes “Look at all these people that are supporting them, they must be trustworthy, I can support them too.” And it becomes much easier over time.

Smurfing and account sharing: the plague of Esports and tournaments organizers

What about smurfing and account sharing? This is one of the most cumbersome aspects of esports. What are your thoughts, and how do they affect your tournaments?

That’s an excellent question and one that will plague any tournament organizer forever.
Our low-level events are free to enter and have no price pool, which means that there’s no value for a high skill player to play them. Why would they waste their time? Even if they smashed people and did super amazing, they would be caught for smurfing and their time would be wasted.
So, on the lowest of levels, our light tier, which is about gold average, there are free events. We avoid smurfs by making sure that there is no value for summoners to play in our mid-tier, which is roughly plat.
We have several people that are on staff, “Xeno,” “Dunzy,” me, that are very good at reading people’s accounts. We also have a program that I can’t go into the details on, but that we can put someone’s account in, and it gives a very comprehensive readout with indicators as to whether or not they might be a smurf.
What it doesn’t catch is what is called account sharing, where someone who was truly a platinum level player will allow a master tier player to play on their account. The problem is that the account is clean and has no problems, it looks exactly like a platinum player should be played, but the person who’s playing on the account is way too good for that level.
There are two different ways of dealing with that: one is that we just have to re-watch the games that they participate in. If the player is playing way too well, considering their elo, we have a conversation with them.
We have banned people from playing at XLNC events because they were found to be smurfing or account sharing. We’ve had to completely kick people out of our community. It’s not very often, but it is something that we’ve had to do.
One thing that I have done in the community that some people don’t like, but it has helped a lot, and I would say is my secret to success, I don’t allow any cussing on the server: no swear words.
Removing the use of swear words usually decreases the attitudes that come with that. When people type an angry sentence that has a bunch of swear words in it and it gets immediately deleted, it usually forces them to calm down and to write something a little bit nicer. When they do, it decreases that tension and that attitude of negativity.
When you create an environment that is toxic-free, it invites people that are good.
We have a lot of organizations that play an XLNC event that we trust, and they trust us because of that environment that we have created. They are well-founded organizations, for example Glaze Esports, Catalyst Esports, these organizations are dedicated to making sure that their players are of good quality and won’t do things like smurfing, and so we avoid a lot of issues with those smurfs.

‘How much did it cost?’ Getting a career into esports is not as easy as it seems

Faker ends up crying in the defeat of SKT T1 vs SSG in Worlds 2017 Finals

Getting a career in traditional sports vs esports

Do you think that it’s easy to become a pro player? In traditional sports you have so many chances to get noticed and get a career in esports…

The amount that you put in will reflect how much you get out.
The best players have a better shot at going pro, and the people that are running events regularly will be the best tournament organizers.
Oftentimes people will be afraid to get started because they’re waiting for someone to tell them what to do. Usually, it is better to just try; even if you fail you can learn from it, and try again, and then fail, learn, try again, repeat over and over until you get better at it.
To become a pro player is incredibly hard, whether in Europe or in America, due to the fact that the number of people that play in the pro arena is so small.
In traditional sports you have very large teams of 20, 30, 50, 60 players all involved in the same team, and then you have a ton of teams, which means that the chances to be able to get into play in that pro scene is much wider. There are so many places and so many teams that you can step into. Instead, for League of Legends or even Call of Duty or Overwatch, the number of players at the top is very small. In America, it’s a hundred players, 10 teams, five players each, including the Academy scene.
So because there are so few spots to get into pro, even if you are one of the best players in the world, you could still not get in because someone else is already there, and that team likes that player because they’ve been playing with the team for a while and are really good.

Collegiate esports as the missing piece

What do you think the esports environment is missing? I always say that esports are like a puzzle and we have built just half of the puzzle.

Middle tier. In America it would be the collegiate scene. It would be colleges or universities that expand their player base because the school has the funds to be able to give them the equipment that they need to be able to play at a high, but not pro, level.
It needs a middle ground because in every other sport and every other entertainment industry, you have the people at the bottom, who are not very good but enjoy watching the rest; you have the people that are in the middle that are pretty good; and then a few of those make it into the very top.
Well, right now, we have the bottom, which is the average player, and we have the top, which is the pros, and then a very small committee that are trying to be that middle ground between the two, but they’re very small and they’re very underfunded.
People just do not want to give them money. They would rather give money to the top because why not? And so, by building out that middle tier of events for the United States we’ll create a much healthier ecosystem for players to be able to not only experience participating in esports, but also be able to invest in watching esports.
There is a huge following for collegiate football. Arguably there are more people that watch college football here in America than watch pro because there’s more teams, there’s more schools, there’s more personal investment because I went to that school and so there’s a deeper connection.
In esports you only have the top and the bottom. You need some of that middle ground a lot more.

Esports are there for everyone

What do you think is the main difference between traditional sports and esports? Why are esports so powerful, why are they growing so much in such a short time?

The difference is that in traditional sports I cannot get on a football field and throw a football and do any of the crazy things that some football players can do. I don’t have the physical capabilities of achieving that.
However, with video games and esports, they are so accessible by everyone: you can be a bad player of video games, but still play and watch people that are professionals; you can be incredibly good and still play, and also watch professionals; and you could have never played yourself, but just enjoy the competitive nature of it and still watch professionals. Everyone can have something that they personally can connect with, everyone can connect to esports if they’ve ever played any video game and enjoy the passion and energy that surrounds it.

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