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Esports is going to be a global phenomenon, but most of the attention has focused on North America and Asia. Turns out the rest of the world is in love with multiplayer gaming competitions as well.
To get a feel for the regional markets, I spoke with Juan Carlos Cortizo, the CEO of Pro Play Esports (it’s based in Mexico City). He believes that mobile gaming will be the primary platform for esports in Latin America, and that 5G will be a game-changer when it arrives.
But Cortizo said that his company isn’t focused only on creating tournaments in Latin America. Rather, he’s seeking to create a global company as well. Pro Play Esports runs its events in Spanish and English, helping it capture Spanish-speaking and English-speaking audiences on multiple continents. In the coming months, Pro Play Esports will launch is streaming network, broadcasting everything across mobile networks.
Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.
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GamesBeat: How and when did you get the company started?
Juan Carlos Cortizo: The company was the evolution of the business we used to run in past years. It’s marketing agencies in Latin America. We’ve been working with developers like Rockstar, like Activision, like Electronic Arts, all of them, for the past years. We’ve worked with almost every major developer.
Since we’re gamers and we love gaming and we love competitive gaming, it was a natural process. Brands were asking us to run local tournaments and do these types of marketing initiative around esports. It was a natural evolution to say, “This is the moment, so let’s give it a go.” That process started almost two years ago, around 2017.
GamesBeat: What was the first thing you focused on at that point?
Cortizo: We wanted to develop the business model. You know how business models run. You have an idea. The first thing we did was approach developers, the licensers of esports games, to see what they thought about our ideas. Sure, they liked it, so we decided to give it a go. “Start working on it, and when you’re ready let us know.”
It was about a year and a half that we spent developing the business model, the marketing, the communications, everything around what we are today. By May of this year we started doing closed tournaments on our platform and seeing what the community thought, what we could improve. After that we had another flash round, three months of working and making improvements. By the end of July we announced our first season and what we’ll be doing with that.
A global focus
GamesBeat: And the focus is on esports in Latin America, then?
Cortizo: No, actually, we went all the way. Right now we’re running tournaments in Europe and North America as well as Latin America.
GamesBeat: I see you have different kinds of competitions. Can you describe some of those?
Cortizo: It’s run in two ways, because the business model is a bit more robust than just doing tournaments. The first thing we do is divide — first, you have the base of the pyramid. Ninety percent of the people who play esports games do it for fun. Maybe they’re on the edge of going competitive, or maybe they’re just part of the community. Competitive gaming has been around for a lot of years, but people pursuing it as a career is relatively new. In the U.S. and parts of Europe we’re seeing development centers and colleges trying to professionalize and educate around competitive gaming. But for us, that part of the market, the first–let’s call it the first pillar that we’re running. That’s what we call arenas.
Arenas covers 18 titles right now that are running in these three regions every week. We’re running around 37 weekly tournaments. It’s about educating and empowering that market. We have a good plan for people who join the platform, to start giving them a lot of education, a lot of insights around competitive gaming. If you want to just do it for fun, it’s fun. But if you want to pursue it as a career, we want to empower you. Arenas is that part, where we look at players and what they’re doing, and we help them. It’s like the training element of the platform.
The other part is the major leagues. These major leagues are running for this first season, from 2019 in 2020. That’s going to have just five titles. It will have higher prize pools. We’ll have an opening season and a closing season. We’ll have tournaments for qualification and then playoffs by region, and the champions and runners-up for each region will travel to a different location for the finals. At the end of that road is what we’ll call the Grand Champions, where we’ll have the champion of the opening season versus the champion of the closing season for each title.
GamesBeat: How many players do you think you’re already serving or touching in some way?
Cortizo: Right now we’re reaching 25,000 users. We’re trying to get to the goal of 100,000 users in all three regions by December of this year.
GamesBeat: Are these events run in different languages?
Cortizo: We’re running it in Spanish and English right now. The more we grow, we’ll be having more localized events that are going to be in local languages. With North America and Latin America, it’s easy. You have English and Spanish and that’s it. When you go to Europe it gets more interesting. [Laughs] And then other parts of the world, Africa and Asia, you have a lot more languages. Right now most of our userbase knows English or Spanish, so we’re focusing there.
GamesBeat: Is there a local element or a regional focus to your events, or are they all online, where people can compete against anybody anywhere?
Cortizo: It depends on the game and it depends on the type of event, whether it’s arena or major league. For example, Fortnite has global events. Rocket League has local events online. League of Legends is impossible to play competitively between certain regions, because of the pings and all of that. So some games are local to a particular region and some of them are global.
With major leagues, you’ll have the chance to just go and face people from those tournaments. Timing is the other part of this. We’ll be launching our own streaming network in the coming months. We’ll be broadcasting everything, building shows around our games.
One of the things that’s happening today is that you have a lot of players trying to reach these goals, and there’s nothing to see around their stories and who they are. Right now, what esports needs is to give this ability to not only the sponsors and companies behind it, but the players that empower and all those companies and developers that are pushing their content. The network will help us give this ability to all of those thousands of players.
Right now one of the things we’re planning to do weekly is what we call challenger stories, doing the backgrounds on players. We’re working on players’ stories that they send to us — who they are, what they do, what they want to achieve. This network will help us in a lot of ways, to empower not only the storytelling we have around our tournaments, but their stories as well.
GamesBeat: Are there companies that you see in this space that you might admire, esports organizations in other parts of the world, and you’re bringing that example to Latin America? Or do you have a different kind of business in mind?
Cortizo: One of the things you do–the big companies, I admire them because they open up the pathways to what the industry is starting to become. We’re not trying to emulate. We’re going to be pushing a lot of what we do in this globalization of the sport. At the same time we’re going to be doing a lot of storytelling around all those players. We’re going to be pushing a lot of new technology that’s in development for our live events.
Esports is going to be the world’s game. Right now we’re seeing esports present itself as a sort of lookalike to traditional sports. You have an arena and you have guys in jerseys. But it’s video games. We love video games because they’re totally different from any other kind of thing that people play. One of the main things we’re going to be showing when our major leagues start launching is the aspiration that–a kind of entertainment that we want to deliver to people that goes into our live events. It’s a different experience from traditional esports, an amazing technological spectacle.
The Latin American market
GamesBeat: What’s your competition like in Latin America and the larger world?
Cortizo: In Latin America it’s just the presence of international companies. We’re the first company to do this in Latin America at this scale. The challenge is a big one. Latin America is an ecosystem where you have gamers and developers and platforms, private companies, that hold tournaments, and then sponsors. That whole ecosystem–a year and a half ago there was nothing. The esports market was really niche.
Latin America is going to grow big now. Not only for traditional console games, but mobile is going to be huge. It’s already huge right now. A lot of the free-to-play games are running tournaments, games like Free Fire. They have a really solid presence.
For Latin America it’s going to take a bit of time. We’ll be pushing what we’re doing right now in the region. But it will take a while. I’d say we’re seven or eight years behind the curve compared to what the rest of the world is doing in esports. When you go into meetings with brands and clients, a lot of people say things like, “Esports? I haven’t heard of that.” You have to educate a lot. In the other markets, we’re looking into the opportunities right now for brands, endemic and non-endemic, to jump into this kind of show business.
Latin America has a lot of players. Natively and digitally, players have a wider vision in how they consume digital media. But brands and companies don’t have the insight into what esports is yet.
GamesBeat: As far as the amount of money that’s appropriate to invest, if the market is going to take a long time to take off, maybe you should spend slow? If it’s going to expand quickly, you can raise a lot of money and spend fast. What’s your own view of the pace of market growth, and this larger question of whether there’s too much hype in the esports market right now?
Cortizo: For us as a company — this isn’t my first venture. I’ve done several other ventures where I’ve worked with international brands and clients. I believe in making a profit, always trying to run expenses the right way. Work with the personnel and what you have right now. I don’t believe in overexceeding what a company is valued based on perception. Perception is a feeling, not a number.
Right now the business model we’re running is profitable from day one. That way, every dollar that comes to us is well-spent. It’s not based on debt and some five-year cycle of when you’ll get your investment back. It’s more about creativity, finding the right partners and relationships to have on board from day one, keeping your promises with the investment that they put in. Later on you keep growing the company.
Right now I see there’s a lot of investment going on. We have a business model that’s profitable and that can run by itself. That’s why we’ve grown this over two years. It’s been with our own capital, our own money.
GamesBeat: Do you feel that the level of excitement around esports is as high in Latin America as it is anywhere else in the world?
Cortizo: Oh, it’s growing, a lot. We’re growing in viewership. People are getting more educated about esports and competitive gaming. It’s growing by the day. It’s fun, because when you’re behind the curve, it’s a tough place for companies. But when we talk about innovation and creativity–we can take what’s already been learned in the larger ecosystem of esports. We’re not a multi-billion-dollar company where process and implementation takes a long time. We can take advantage of that and create new ways to engage with people.
Latin America for us is going to be a fun playground to grow. People are starting to see what’s happening in other places. If you take your own variation on what they’re seeing and actually deliver it straight to them, they’ll be with you forever. That’s a big part of it. When you look at the big leagues and the big tournaments right now, for them to do a shift, it’s not going to be that easy. At this point we can create whatever we want and have a direct communication with the market to deliver what they want.
That’s the advantage we have right now as a company. Latin America is going to be a lot of fun for us.
GamesBeat: How many people work for you right now?
Cortizo: Almost 50 right now, mostly in Mexico City. We plan to keep our base of operations here in Mexico, but we’re opening offices in the coming months in Europe and the U.S.
GamesBeat: Have you raised money, or are you planning to raise money?
Cortizo: We don’t know exactly at what point, but we plan to, yes. We want to find the right partner to be with us. Someone that can help us open up our vision, our market. It’s not only the capital part. We want to get together with people who know this environment and love this environment. My current vision is for the next two or three years. From there, the market is going to tell us what will happen, and we’ll make decisions based on that. But we haven’t raised money yet. It’s all been our own.
GamesBeat: What sort of interaction or communication have you had with bigger companies, people like Activision Blizzard or the other game publishers and developers?
Cortizo: Yeah, we’re in touch with them. It’s not only what we think, it’s about their support and their knowledge and how we can keep growing with them. They’re the owners of these games. We stay in touch with them and get feedback on how we can improve the experience we’re creating for their base of users, and at the same time keep up on what will be their next steps so we can be ready for that. The whole team has to be in the loop about the big upcoming changes in esports.
They make the games, and we’re enablers of their games, you could say. We’re also a new channel of revenue. But they need to take care of their IP, and we’re respectful of that at all times.
Where the Latin American esports market is going
GamesBeat: As far as the particular regions that feel strongest to you, are there places in Latin America that stand out in esports? Where is it established, and where is it just getting started?
Cortizo: The top five countries, first of them all is Brazil, just because the size of the market is huge compared to any other country in Latin America. Then comes Mexico in second place, and then you have Argentina, Colombia, and Venezuela. Venezuela, with everything political aside, is a huge market for gaming, and so is Chile.
It’s been a journey. The developers have to believe in the region, but they don’t have the budgets. Their representative offices, they don’t give the big budgets to these markets. But we’re seeing some changes. Riot setting up their offices in Mexico is a huge move. Other companies have partnerships with Riot to work with them there. That’s going to be really interesting. They’re one of the biggest developers in esports, and they have the power to make a big difference. Garena, the developers of Free Fire, those guys have a huge base in Latin America, of course.
GamesBeat: Do you think the particular games that are successful in esports will be any different in Latin America?
Cortizo: One of the things about the region is accessibility. That’s why mobile marketing in Latin America is going to be huge. There was a study from Newzoo showing that by 2032, mobile is going to be the main platform for esports games. By then, some areas will have better 4G connections and others will have 5G. 5G is going to be a game-changer not only for esports, but for everything we do. That aspect of accessibility–paying maybe $300 and being able to play mobile games online is completely different from actually building a PC. Game streaming is going to go mobile.
In this part of the spectrum right now, though–the next generation of consoles is coming up. The capabilities of that are going to be huge. League of Legends has been running consistently with 8 million daily users, but at the same time, the technology is going to be pushing them forward to release a better version, a newer version.
We’ll have the traditional esports we see right now, whether it’s PC or console or mobile, the hardware we know. But we’ll also see bigger shows, with technology around augmented reality. Instead of going into a stadium and watching people play a game, you’ll have something like a projection of a football field with the actual game that’s running in the moment. It’ll be a whole new type of entertainment. Then we’ll have virtual reality. You can take the hardware and put yourself into a game that someone in another part of the world is playing. Esports going to become something like cinema, something with a lot of creativity around it, around all three of these technologies.
Right now we’re looking at the first category, traditional video games played on traditional hardware, and people watch other people play those games. But the next 20 years are going to be really interesting in how this evolves. The line between technology and reality is going to fade away. It’s going to become less about the capabilities of technology and more about creativity. That’s what will keep this medium going.
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