Verimatrix is a proud sponsor of Team 7AM, a European professional esports organization founded in January 2019 by John ‘wunda’ Smith-Howell & Jody ‘yoni’ Bruggeman.
Recently, Verimatrix’s CMO, Jon Samsel, sat down with John Smith-Howell to discuss his team, the esports community, and some of the challenges (and opportunities) the industry faces.
John, tell us about your background and how you got into esports.
I got into esports early on from the age of 13, which sounds old in our current day and age! I walked into an internet café and was interested in what was going on. I got introduced to Counter-Strike and fell in love with the game, the strategy and the concept of playing competitively. The best local teams used to gather and play at this café, so when I started playing, I was learning from by best around. I won my first tournament at 14. Played pro for a number of years, then moved on to coaching and managing teams. I am also a big World of Warcraft fan, a game that I play for pure enjoyment.
What are your primary duties for Team 7AM today?
For me, it is keeping a general overview of the business, our teams, and their respective managers. I keep in very close contact with the senior team and continue to plan how we are going to push our business forward. A key component to my role is marketing – to continue to develop monetization opportunities for the business.
Tell us about your corporate sponsors and why they are critical to your business.
We currently hold five corporate sponsorships which are: SectorSix, Qpad, Fiverr, Verimatrix & Obsesh – All play a vital role in ensuring that we operate as a business and continue to push our business forward. Sponsorships make up about 90% of income for an esports business of our size, so ensuring we get the right partners is one of the most important aspects of it all.
We’d love to learn more about your team. Who’s on the team, how did they join, what tournaments do you play in and how are you doing?
We have multiple teams that spread across four game titles: Counter-Strike, League of Legends, Rainbow Six Siege & Valorant. Some teams came into 7AM as full teams and others (like League & Valorant) were built from scratch in-house. Currently we are playing in the Belgian League for LoL, Benelux League for Rainbow and our CS team were recently promoted to the Premiership in the Icelandic Vodafone League. This upcoming season will see their games being streamed live on National TV in Iceland.
Tell me a story about an exciting Team 7AM win.
Tell you? I’d rather show you. Here’s a clip from the summer Belgium league last year against Sector One, the biggest esports organization in Belgium managing some of the top esports teams. We beat them within milliseconds to go!
Used by permission of Team 7AM.
I’ve heard people say esports players are not real athletes. Response?
They absolutely are athletes. Traditional athletes are physically fit and there is a traditional sport that they are a part of. To me all sports are about training the mind and skills to become a professional. Esports is no different. Training, practice, following a regiment, living a healthy lifestyle – these are all critical to success in sports. It’s the same theory. Instead of a morning run, you practice your gameplay.
Does Team 7AM stream as well as play competitively? How does your team balance time between streaming versus participating in esports?
Yes, a few of our players stream and play competitively. Its actually quite easy to integrate your solo practice team into streaming. Can be difficult to keep up with chat and engage with your audience but most people would know and understand you’re a competitive player and are happy to watch someone of that skill level play.
How important is streaming to your team’s success? Where is streaming heading?
I think that is quite a tough question, I would not say that streaming is important for your success, but you can make it into a day job if you can get enough subscribers and donations from, your fans. In general, am not a great fan of how the streaming platforms work and how the revenue is shared. It is very much tilted towards the platform which leaves the actual content creators having to fight for additional income. I hope that as other platforms including traditional TV pick up streaming that this will change and that the actual content creators will have an equal opportunity to generate a decent income from their hard work. Currently only a very small percentage make a good living out of streaming.
A recent report showed teens are tuning out of traditional sports and flocking to esports, gaming instead and social media experience instead. Can traditional sports leagues win back teen fans? Or should they partner and extend sports into new channels?
I think they can win back fans and extending sports into new channels will certainly help that. I do not believe teens are sitting in front of the TV anymore. They are on mobile devices or on a PC. A lot of people will watch esports with friends whilst connected in a voice chat. This gives the same sense of watching with your friends at home. Watch parties over voice are very common and sports could make great use of that by engaging with those parties whilst the sport is being shown.
Explain your team’s relationship with streaming platforms and technologies like Twitch, Discord and Streamcord. Which are you using and why?
Discord will be by far the most used platform by any of our team members. It is the heart of our business and all of our business communications go through Discord. When our teams are playing, talking or just relaxing most of that will be on Discord. It is great to see a platform like this and it’s clear that Discord took some inspiration from mIRC and of course just brought that into todays world. From a streaming perspective, I think Twitch is the go-to platform if you want to watch others play or engage with someone you like. This platform is used by all of our members in some shape, way or form.
Can you help us better understand how esports teams makes money – what are the primary sources of esports revenue today?
Unfortunately, the primary source of revenue in esports is Sponsorships and whilst this is a fantastic revenue stream, it means that if you don’t have sponsorships unless you have an investor or willing and able to invest you are going to struggle. Merchandise is another revenue stream but unless your selling hundreds of shirts a month it is unlikely this is a source you can rely on and create a budget from.
How concerned are you about maintaining the integrity and security of esports?
Who should be held responsible for ensuring integrity and security within esports? (select all that apply):
It’s been said that protecting the integrity of esports is critical to the industries long-term success. Which of the following security-related challenges are most important to esports today? (Choose your top 5):
Why is esports growing so fast in popularity? Where will esports be in 10 years?
I think one word sums up esports for me and why it is so vastly growing in popularity and that is Engagement. In 10 years, I think esports will just be much more of a ‘normal’ industry to get into. It will be classified as such and will be an open option to chose from when looking at your career as a child. I think esports will be much easier to access from both traditional TV and hand held devices than it is now.
Traditional sports really should ‘bring their game’ to esports. Today’s fans no longer just sit in front of their TV watching sports. We participate on Discord as a group. We crave interactivity and data. Groups also do other activities together, like watching a video, on platforms we can join together.
Data and interactivity are todays web hooks – we’d love to see traditional movies web-hooked into Discord. Maybe it’s a special subscription service or a low-cost pay-per-view event so that everyone can be participate. The revenue possibilities are endless. Sharing is key. Watch parties are today’s norm.
What advice do you have for others hoping to follow in your footsteps and break into esports?
The biggest tip I can give is to create yourself a routine and keep to it. Take regular breaks whilst practicing and ALWAYS review your own games and think how you could do better. You cannot control the opposition, but you can control your actions. When you feel you are in a slump, that is your brain telling you it’s time for a break. Come away from the PC and do something different and depending on how long you have been needing this break it could be a few days before you will get your touch back.