Q&A with Sonny Waheed

Q&A with Sonny Waheed

22nd September 2019 0 By Jordan Heal

The eGaming Desk recently caught up with Sonny Waheed, chief marketing officer at Vexed Gaming – an eSports team which is ranked in the top 30 for the UK.

Sonny has spoken about how eSports could one day become the most watched sport in the world, as well as the lesser-known problems that face the embryonic eSports industry on a daily basis.

Being heavily invested in eSports, why do you think this industry has boomed so much in recent years?

I think it’s a combination of factors. I think underpinning the recent growth is the fact that the earliest participants and fans of eSports are now fully-fledged adults and are firmly established in the workplace. As such, they are bringing wider awareness, beyond the traditional community, to eSports, and just like us here at Vexed Gaming they are also helping drive professionalism in the industry, which attracts the attention of ‘traditional’ business and media.

The other key factor is the realisation that ‘traditional’ sports and entertainment industries are floundering. Football clubs are struggling to grow their fan base. Cinema numbers are dwindling. Music is making a fraction of its revenues from actual music sales. Broadcast media is a near-irrelevance. In the shadow of all this is eSports and it has something all of these other entertainment forms want: fans who are enthusiastic, passionate, engaged, vocal and loyal.

It is remarkable to see that by 2020 eSports is forecast to become the second most viewed sport in the US after the NFL; do you see eSports one day becoming the most viewed sport in the entire world?

It’s completely possible; we still have a long way to go, but there’s no reason we can’t get up there; though shifting football (soccer) is going to be a tough challenge.

That said, I think these types of statements put unnecessary pressure on eSports. I don’t think the success or failure of eSports should be based on its relationship to something else – eSports should (and can) stand on its own merits. Whether it becomes bigger than NFL or football is almost irrelevant. For its demographic, eSports is the entertainment medium of choice. On that basis, whether it’s the biggest sport in the world or not, doesn’t matter… for millennials and GenZ, it’s the ONLY sport that matters.

Many people often think of eSports as a dream job – playing video games for a living! But what are some of the lesser known issues that eSports players, teams and industry members contend with?

The first thing to say is that eSports is not a single entity, so playing the games is actually just small part of it – eSports is a fully-fledged industry and, as such, plays home to a multitude of jobs and opportunities. And, like any other industry it runs the gamut of activities and emotions from the mundane to the remarkable. And that’s wonderful, because you don’t have to be a super talented player or an engaging streamer to make a career out of gaming: you can be an accountant, lawyer, producer, marketer, project manager and a lot more besides, and have a flourishing and fulfilling career in eSports in those roles.

However, as with any job, in any industry, to be successful and to carve out a career, you need to develop your skills and build out your experiences. People outside the industry see the more glamorous stuff, like travelling the world and playing in high profile tournaments and think that’s it, but there’s a lot of hard work – solid grafting – that goes on behind the scenes to get there.

With regards to being a player, there’s a lot that people don’t see behind the scenes: the hours of practice behind closed doors with the teams, the strategising, the personal progression, the travel and the sacrifices you have to make to truly be the best. We’re not out here playing five-a-side football with some mates, we’re here filling out arenas and gaining thousands and hundreds of thousands of spectators on our matches.

I read an article that stated eSports is the best millennial marketing channel. Do you think it will take long for traditional marketeers to catch on to the advertising opportunities eSports presents?

Honestly, it’s already taken too long, way too long. If anyone came up with a magazine or a film or TV show that’s got a regular audience of over 500 million people (like eSports does!), brands would be throwing millions and millions of dollars at you to promote their products. Add to that, the fact that eSports has a hugely focused audience, and an audience that nearly every other form of marketing cannot reach, and you’d expect brands to offer you their firstborn.

But, for reasons that defy logic and basic best business practice, eSports is almost ignored right now. Of course, the penny will drop and eSports will be given the attention and credibility it deserves, but until then, those brands who jump in now can expect some serious ROI.

The biggest demographics for eSports lie in millennials and generation Zs, who are both notoriously fickle. Do you see eSports as a lasting craze for these target audiences, or will it fade out and begin to reach older audiences as time goes on?

I wouldn’t necessarily call these audiences fickle. They have something no other generation has had before: a near unending choice in almost everything they do. When they find something that meets their needs, they are passionate supporters and users of that; the onus is now on the companies selling into this audience to make sure they’re keeping relevant.

The great thing about eSports is that it’s not one single game. So, in a few years’ time, another game may come along that only appeals to a subset of this generation or the generation that follows on. Music hasn’t died out because no one’s listening to Duran Duran any more… it’s flourished because they’re listening to Drake and Adele and all the other new artists out there. It’s the same with eSports: new games will come along that re-engage established audiences and ignite passions in new audiences.

And it’s here to stay. Games makes more money than music and film put together, eSports is the competitive arm of that and delivers something that has never been done before: a professional sport that the audience can participate in as easily as they can watch it. This may not seem like much, but it provides a sort of symbiotic relationship between a professional player and fan that you don’t get in any other sport. Moreover, it delivers a deeper, more passionate and all-encompassing engagement than any other sport or entertainment. Based on this, I don’t see eSports fading out – it will continue to grow.

As for reaching ‘older’ audiences, of course it will do that, but that’s because the current fans will grow older. Will the grandparents of today drop snooker in favour of CS:GO? No, they won’t, but we also don’t want or need them to. This is not their sport, and our success does not rely on engaging with older demographics.

For the people who are unfamiliar with the routine of eSports industry members, what does a typical day look like?

It very much depends on what your role in the industry is – are you a player, coach, manager, PR exec, sales person, event organiser, videographer, blogger, streamer, game designer, or coder? There are hundreds of roles within the industry and each has its core disciplines and requirements. As with any job, the fundamentals are typically unexciting – be it writing copy, game practice, reviewing contracts, negotiating with sponsors, or balancing the accounts – there are sessions where our players are just running drills with their team for hours until they nail it, just as you’d see in American Football for example. Whatever you do, it’s a job and you need to focus on the deliverable of your specific role.

Vexed Gaming has competed in several tournaments this year, what can we expect next from Vexed?

Hopefully something you’re not expecting! We like to do things a little differently and like to push barriers but, ultimately, we are on the path to be a world class team, and one that showcases the best British talents. We are fully committed to developing British talent and being able to offer a career for many roles in the UK. We’re also looking at how we can leverage our experiences and success to build an enviable eSports industry in the UK and giving us the sort of platform, attention and, ultimately, career opportunities that are prevalent in places like Scandinavia, Korea or the US.

Interested in reading more eSports teams-related news? Discover more about about G2 eSports, a growing success story.