The opportunity to speak with members of Esports Entertainment Group (EEG) arose and I simply could not say no. Jeff Cohen the Vice President of Strategy & Investor Relations, Magnus Leppaniemi the President of Esports, and Paul Dawalibi the CEO of Holodeck Ventures who was recently acquired by EEG
Could you please tell me a little bit about yourselves?
Jeff: I run strategy and investor relations here at GMBL. I’ve been a lifelong gamer (more so sports games rather than the typical hardcore genre’s) but I came into the industry from the finance side of the world, having worked on Wall Street for most of the previous decade.
Magnus: I’ve been working in the gaming space since I began working, I worked with Nintendo in the early ’90s. I am based in Sweden, but I have been working with publishers and brands for a long time. It all started in 2009 with Street Fighter 4 where I started with esports with Dreamhack. I took Dreamhack to the stage in 2016 where we did an event in Austin and then 3 more events the next year. I helped start the ESL and Dreamhack merger. Left Dreamhack as I felt I needed to do something else, joined influencer marketing in Sweden but missed the esports scene. EEG fits in as there is a lot of content and spaces with the esports industry but nothing as a solidified betting space yet.
Paul: The themes of my career have either been building tech companies or investing in tech companies. Two sides of the same coin, I managed a well-known venture fund in silicon valley called Garage. I was blogging about the gaming industry in 2011, I was probably only one of the few VC that was blogging in general. Hardcore gamer my whole life, I wanted to combine the two things I’m good at, building companies and gaming
How does your acquisition of Holodeck ventures change the trajectory of the company?
Jeff: From my perspective, Holodeck Media brings expertise in content and content is becoming vitally important in the online gambling world. Their current main IP is the Business of Esports which provides us with a highly engaged niche audience. The plan is for Paul and his team to build out additional content verticals surrounding esports entertainment and betting. This will help us acquire customers in a more efficient manner.
Magnus: The acquisition fits really, well as a complementary scheme. Strong content and helps create new content for what we are doing with all of our acquisitions!
Paul: The first and most obvious, content, in general, is an important part of the ecosystem with the idea of play, watch, bet but it also fits into content that gamers like to watch and consumer media can be its own system. As part of EEG, Betting properties are the cheapest and easiest ways to bring in users, and long term the media and content we create will generate an audience that will create a large space for our betting properties. We have a ton of sports betting customers already that have migrated and we need to get them thinking about esports betting as a whole. We need to educate them and the best way is through our content!
How has the EEG evolved and changed over its time while being an active business? Is it significantly different from its V1.0?
Jeff: We’ve been incredibly active on the M&A front and have really diversified our business from just an esports gambling operation into a diversified esports entertainment conglomerate with a number of different revenue streams. Our mission is to enable esports fans to “Play, Watch, and Bet” on esports wherever they are, however they choose. This mission underpins everything we do as a company and is the core of our strategy.
Magnus: It has changed since it has started, especially as it began as a peer-to-peer betting system. It changed into a much bigger entity since acquiring our tournament systems. We are completely self-sustainable compared to the original pool betting that we started as. We have the capabilities to run sportsbooks but also run tournaments on the side.
What was the moment that made you want to pursue a career related to esports and why EEG?
Jeff: As an equity research analyst covering the gaming space, my job was to get to know all of the up-and-coming companies in the industry. That is how I was introduced to Grant and the GMBL story. I was so intrigued by the opportunity set I saw, that I decided to make a move and join the team.
Magnus: When I started at Dreamhack, seeing how this industry was going forward. Why EEG? When I met Grant at a bar, he wanted to build an esports thing in Antigua, and mentioned how I was going to join his team eventually!
Paul: For me, I had invested in a company in the entertainment space, and I was running that business for a bit. Being a hardcore PC gamer my entire life, being in that space got me looking at what was happening with entertainment. I realized things I did on my nights had gone from nerdy to the mainstream. As a VC I did my due diligence and saw what was happening in gaming and saw that gaming had exploded seemingly overnight but there were not a lot of great company builders in the industry. Why EEG? Guys like Magnus that are legends warrant a lot of respect.
What is the biggest game/industry that is drawing the most people to your platform? Such as FPS, Sports, etc.
Magnus: As a betting brand, CSGO and League of Legends draw the most attention to the betting platforms but Helix is drawing a lot of attention to games and genres. Hopefully, a lot of the sports teams we are working with will draw fans and users to our platform.
Jeff, with your time covering gaming and esports for Stephens Inc. what stood out the most to you about the industry?
Jeff: The sheer number of fans and the engagement is really what stood out for me. Any time you have that many people spending such a large part of their entertainment hours consuming a type of content eventually monetization is going to follow. I think we’re still in the very early innings of brands figuring this sector out, but it is happening slowly but surely.