John Yao (CEO of Team Secret eSports)
ESports are a massive dynamic industry that continues to grow and develop into many sub niches’, thus opening up new opportunities for players of all walks of life. With that We are pleased to be able to sit down with Team Secret CEO: John Yao, and discuss how the industry is evolving, how his team is growing with it and how newcomers to the industry need to look at before they dive head first into it. As well as talk about what may be coming on the horizon for Team Secret as a whole.
Vector Burst: It is truly a pleasure to have you with us today John, could you give are readers a little background about yourself?
John Yao: Sure, my name is John Yao and I am the CEO of Team Secret. I have always been an avid gamer, even in high school where I used to have Lan parties in my basement and play counter strike, the original StarCraft and other games. But I never really thought about getting into the business of gaming on the eSports.
I went to school, had a career where I worked in strategy consulting for about twelve years. During this time, I was working with Executives and Fortune 100 companies and advised them on how to plan out their business strategy and manage crisis. Toward the end of that, I got connected with some folks in eSports, and witnessed the speed in which the industry moves. In that instance I decided that I would like to go into business for myself and use the tools I gained from my career for my own company. I partnered with a couple people and developed a business around a Dota team. In 2017, we started our team and about 2.5 years ago we formed a full company with a globalized business model. From then on, we have grown from having one team to seven teams across fifteen countries with over forty people. So, I personally feel that we are on a pretty good path.
Vector Burst: With being on the Fortnite World Championship, how do you feel your team has progressed with the industry.
John Yao: I think our team is doing really well in the industry. I think the way you need to look at it, is that you need to be in the games that have stood the test of time. And for the me, there are only three games that have done that, which include Dota2, league of legends and Counter Strike. There are other games that have been around, but from a tier one perspective. Only those three games have lasted. So, If I am looking at the business side of eSports and looking at what would be around in the next five years, I would go with those three games as they have had a consistent growth throughout their respective history. But if we look at Fortnite and the trends within the industry. We can see how trends are constantly changing. For instance, in the past when games such as PUBG came out, everyone thought that it would be the game that will last. But then Fortnite came out and is now the biggest game in the western market. What this represents is that the trends change all of the time, so in order to be a successful eSports company, we have to have a presence in the eSports games that have withstood the test of time and also jump into the rising wave of games that are supper popular but have not been proven over a long period of time. As they could very well develop into those 10-12 year games.
Vector Burst: When you have games such as Apex Legends, which just came out, do you see that game as possibly being a rival to Fortnite?
John Yao: Yes I do, because everyone that I talk to says that it is really fun to play and the fact that it is a team game, the viewership experience allows for a more focal point. Where Fortnite can be more difficult from a viewership perspective because it is left up to the producer and director to figure what screens the viewers would see out of the 100 players that are dropping in. So you miss some of the action that is going on all over the map. There are some things that need to solved, but it definitely has some potential and promise in becoming a player in the industry.
Vector Burst: I noticed that trends are a very important part of the industry which is similar to industries such as the engineering and science fields, where there is so much technology coming out. With that, what are some of the skills that are most important in the eSports field?
John Yao: What we look for is more than just skill. Skill is very important, but if we base our selection solely on a player’s skill, then we would just look at the leaderboard and pick a player. In actuality, we look at skill as the minimum. So a player has to have tier one skill to be able to hang with everyone. But I personally talk to everyone that we sign, just to make sure that they are qualified. Not unlike a company in other fields, you want to get people that represent the brand well, are decently well spoken, nice people, easy to work with, have good ethics and are people that you can easily call your teammates, as you are going to be spending a lot of time with them. All of these qualities are important to be a professional player and not just a really good player.
Vector Burst: You need to be able to represent the brand and not just yourself?
John Yao: Yes, exactly.
Vector Burst: I think that is good advice for a lot of people coming into the industry as eSports are a team sport and not just one person. From a business perspective, do you have any words of encouragement or warning, from your experiences, for someone coming into the industry who may want to create a team?
John Yao: I think that there is a lot of big money that’s coming in. This has both positive attributes and negative attributes; as big money may not be the best informed. For traditional media or sports teams coming in, those business models are rooted in traditional sports and feel that they can run it just like another team. But those set of assumptions don’t always translate over, as eSports and the fans are different than any other industry and while there are some similarities, there are many differences. Now, for someone who is not big money or from a traditional franchise, I would say that you should find a mid-tier eSports company and just work for them or with them and create value. As mid-size companies would appreciate an entrepreneur’s perspective, and for someone coming in, you can get a lot of value in what you should and should not do when entering the industry. Which will save you a lot of money and headaches in the long run. This is just like any industry, you don’t just want to jump right in and figure it out, but instead want to get some experience first, and then do things on your own.
Vector Burst: That makes a lot of sense. So what is a typical day like for you.
John Yao: Haha, I wake up in the morning around 7am, and I will already have around 300 messages on my phone because Secret is a global brand with a lot of staff and teams in different regions. So I wake up and the first hour is me getting ready, and responding to everything that happened overnight. Then it is going through meetings and emails and making sure the players and teams are all good. When I run a company I feel that it is a people business and the players, managers, coaches and staff are all amazing talents. So we want to be an organization that is very approachable and not be a faceless corporate organization. While I don’t get to speak to everyone every day, I will make a point to speak to everyone to listen to anything that they have on their mind that they may want to talk about. Overall, we want to make sure that the senior management is approachable. The rest of the day is very variable but for the most part I am working with potential partners, collaboration or sponsors. Than it is about managing the tournament participation and making sure the intricate operations are running smoothly so the players can go and do what they do best, Compete…
Vector Burst: It’s funny that you mentioned collaboration, I noticed on your twitter account that there was a sneak peek with Champion Sportswear. Are you guys going to be collaborating with them?
John Yao: Yes, they’re a great brand. We are doing a very limited drop of two types of hoodies; a black one and a white one which will be dropped for The International World Tournament. Which is a crowdfunded tournament, with a projected prize pool of $34-35 million. Which will make it one of the biggest eSports tournament of all time. And with us being the number one seated team in Dota 2 we are in a prime position for the event. So with the location of the tournament being in Shanghai (which holds one of the largest eSports communities in the world). We are doing a limited edition collaboration for that event. With that, the hoodies will only be sold in China and only 500 pieces will be available worldwide, making it supper limited edition.
Vector Burst: That’s Amazing, will there be any possible future collaborations?
John Yao: It is very possible that this may lead to more collaborations in other markets. What I mean is that even though this is a limited drop, we are looking at future collaborations to be based around significant events. For example, if we play the World Championship in Rainbow Six, we could potentially have a limited edition drop. This is because we want the collaborations to have a meaningful milestone or event behind them.
Vector Burst: You mentioned about the different markets, have you seen any trend changes in those markets such as eSports growing in the U.S. market?
John Yao: Yes, I think it is growing in every market, it is just growing differently in each market as the people within them have different preferences. For example; mobile eSports is huge in the Asian market, and you can fill up stadiums with mobile gaming. But it hasn’t been as big in the U.S. and the E.U. which simply comes down to the demographic; there are many different variables that influence that. It really comes down to accessibility and in the Asian market. The accessibility of mobile games has allowed for it to grow at an exponential rate. While Fortnite, is a massive game in the U.S. and E.U. It doesn’t have as big of a following in Asia, where PUBG is more prominent. With that, we invest and adapt to the changing markets. Overall however, we want all games to be successful.
Vector Burst: I want to thank you for taking the time to be interviewed by us today, do you have anything else you would like to add in regards to yourself, or your brand?
John Yao: Yes, we want to be the number 1 brand in eSports, so we have adopted a global strategy that makes it so we are not solely located in one location, but instead allows us to be located across 15 countries, thereby opening the door for us to be everyone’s team. We want to be relatable to every demographic, in all regions of the world, because gaming transcends borders and we want to celebrate the connection with the community. The overall, beauty of the ability to bring people from all walks of life and all regions together to focus on one goal as a team is what sets gaming apart from all other industries. That’s why we want to be a global brand and why we want to be the number 1 brand.
On Behalf of Everyone at Vector Burst, we want to thank you John Yao and everyone at Team Secret for taking part of our spotlight interview series.
Be sure to follow Team Secret on their social media feeds (See below), and watch out for them in the upcoming eSports tournaments.