KSV eSports, the global esports organization based in San Francisco, Seoul, and Shanghai, has made strides to improve player wellbeing with help that will develop, retain, and attract talent across all its athletes. With ownership of Seoul Dynasty in Overwatch, and KSV eSports in League of Legends, Heroes of the Storm, and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, the KSV family continues to grow. With that growth, the CEO of KSV eSports, Kevin Chou, has made it his mission to providing his teams with English tutoring, media training, competitive salaries, nutrition services, and physical training. A recent partnership with Mirae Asset Venture Investment has added to that list with financial management help and skills, and another partnership with Razer has allowed KSV players to ensure they always have proper, working gaming peripherals for their day-to-day jobs.
Mxdwn Games had the opportunity to talk with Kevin Chou and explore what makes KSV a pioneer in esports companies.
mxdwn: How does a typical day at KSV operate for both you and your athletes?
Chou: The players have a more standard schedule. Once a week, usually its Sunday, they have the day off, so they are working almost six days a week in terms of their preparation. Not all of that is just hardcore practice, though. Some of that is based on media stuff that we are doing, so they will be appear on different shows, or they will be on different media outlets. However, for five days a week, they are really focused on training. Normally the day starts off around 11, and it goes for as long as the formal training sessions go, which is around eight or nine hours. Afterwards, they have free time which they generally use to work with their teammates or individual coaches on skills or strategies that they may have. On game days, like the Overwatch League for instance, that gets cut short. Our team, Seoul Dynasty, will go to the Blizzard Arena and then train there as opposed to the team house. Generally, each day we will have somewhere between two or three scrims against other Overwatch teams, and more than half of their work day is taken up by scrims.
For me, I don’t think there is a difficult day for me at this point. The company is still developing because it is still relatively young, but we have multiple teams, like a League of Legends team, which is the Championship team from last year, Samsung Galaxy. We have two PUBG teams, one of which just won the first Korean League, and then we have a team for Heroes of the Storm, and then we are starting up a new team in Shanghai right now. A lot of my day is spent discussing which game publishers have got a new league, and there is a lot happening in that space right now, so its having a lot of those conversations. We have been really fortunate to have some really big sponsors notice or work with us. We just had a sponsorship with Razer this week, and we have had several other interesting partners that came in later down the line. I’m not always involved in each conversation, but I am in the key stages of trying to figure out if we can make something work at a senior level. By the team things get to a senior level, it really is just trying to figure out if we can do this or do that. My day varies between thinking about new leagues and publisher work, but it depends if I am working with the individual teams and coaches. Because I am involved in the hiring process, I have to wonder if we are hiring a general manager, or if we are hiring a head coach. I will generally be involved in that. I will also be thinking about partnerships or media interviews. The other thing is we are building out our content production team, so you can check out Seoul Dynasty, or you can check out KSV PUBG on YouTube. We are starting to make some really cool content that gives a behind-the-scenes look at some of the players and coaches. What I do really just changes every single day.
mxdwn: That seems like a pretty dynamic job for you.
Chou: Oh yeah. I love it. I’m the type of person that likes variety in my day, and I definitely don’t have any two days that are the same.
mxdwn: What would you say is the most exciting part of your job?
Chou: You know, I just love being on the cutting edge of things, so whenever I meet a player who is the best player in the world, it is always really fun to meet them for the first time since they play a very special roll. That’s been really fun, and that’s one part of my job that I have really enjoyed throughout. I love some of the stuff we’re working on right now, like some of these new partnerships, or the new leagues that are being formed. For example, we are working on a partnership with a potential block chain, and we are working on a partnership with some of the new leagues that are being set up in China right now. That’s kind of a totally new, bleeding edge thing that our company is really trying to figure out right now. How do we do esports in Korea, China, and Los Angeles? It’s been really fun trying to figure out how to get that all set up. For me, I love trying to take a vision of something that’s not yet been done before and then try to make it a reality. What we are trying to do at KSV is pretty different than what some other great organizations are currently doing. We are very Asia-centric, but we are trying to have a global perspective in terms of what we are trying to do in esports that is different from other teams. We are kind of blazing new grounds on these kinds of things.
mxdwn: Speaking of blazing new grounds, I know that you have some amenities for your athletes which includes financial management with recent partner, Mirae Asset Venture Investment. Would you mind going a little deeper into that partnership?
Chou: Absolutely. That’s a partnership that I am super proud of. It all started when we were doing a deal to acquire our League of Legends team. The way that that happened was they had just won the World Championship. One of the big discussion points was: what happens to all of the prize money? The prize money actually has to go through a company before it gets to the player. Riot does not pay the players directly, so the money would have to go through us before it would get to the player, and there is a timing differential. We were sitting there thinking about how all of these players were about to get a lot of money and how we should try talking to the players to see what they were thinking about doing with it. We were hoping that they would use the money wisely, so we started talking to one player and he told me that he was just planning on putting most of his earning into his bank account. It was great that he was was not going to use the money to buy a Lamborghini or something, and instead he was going to give some to his parents, use some to go on a week-long vacation, and then put the rest into his bank account to save for the future. I asked him if he thought about investing his money in bonds if he wanted to be conservative, and he told me that he didn’t know how to do that. That conversation kind of spurred the idea to find our players a good financial manager that can help them with some very simple financial planning for the future. Some of our players are actually supporting their families, some are married, and some have kids already. We even have one player on our League of Legends team that is married with two kids, so we decided to find a financial planner and have them work with our players. We want to develop a long time relationship with them so the financial planner can think about things that the players may not even think about.
For example, we have a pretty good picture of the kind of benefits that we are providing to the players and so forth, but how do the benefits that we are providing as a company tie into what the players think about? We have to think about if a player retires, if a player stops playing, what kind of future tournaments and prize purses there are, and what the realistic chance of winning that prize purse is so they can think about their financial earnings. The whole idea was to work with a financial planner to help them understand esports because none of these financial planners have had clients from esports, so we want to help them understand the uniqueness of an esports career and work together to give our players great financial advice for the future. That’s really how we started going around and talking to a few financial partners, and Mirae Asset just became the right partner for us. I could not be more proud of that deal and what it can do for our players in the long run.
mxdwn: It really does mean a lot how much you care for your players, especially with not only offering financial help, but with your other amenities. Not every company does that.
Chou: Thank you. One other thing that we didn’t have a press release about is we have been providing physical therapy to our Overwatch League team in LA. We actually found a medically trained practitioner who has come in and developed some short exercises for our players to do to prevent neck, shoulder, and wrist injury. We are very focused on that, and these are all just things that make sense to make sure the players are being taken care of. We obviously want our players healthy throughout the season, so these are things that we think about in the long term.
mxdwn: How else do you plan to ensure that your players will be well off financially and physically after their career has concluded?
Chou: Right now, I don’t think we are a big enough company to really think all the way out to when a player retires or moves on from us. My whole goal, though, is to open up the player’s eyes and let them know how they could be eating, how to take care of their body, doing the right exercises to prevent injury, to keep them healthy in the long term, and how to be thinking from a financial standpoint. I think once some of these eyes have been opened up to that, then I think for a good amount of these players who are smart will continue with these habits. A lot of our goal in doing these things is we think about how busy a player’s schedule is and how to fit the current stuff into their schedule. I think these are nice, daily, healthy habits to have. For example, the food that we are feeding them, and in terms of how we put that together, we hope that they will continue eating healthy after they leave us because it makes them feel better. The idea is to open up the players’ eyes and to let them know that these things aren’t that hard if they have the right knowledge and have simple habits. Our hope is that players will continue to seek out these things after their time with us.
mxdwn: What kind of path would you like to take KSV down in the future? What direction would you like to lead the company to?
Chou: Our mission is relatively simple. We seek to have more fans than the New York Yankees. I know that sounds like a really weird thing, but the New York Yankees are synonymous with baseball, and baseball is big in Korea, and the Yankees actually have fans in Korea. We think a lot about how to build up an organization that drives passion and the same amount of energy surrounding the brand that we have as other fantastic sports brands. That to me is just kind of the fun of it. Everything we do we kind of think long term. Just like the Yankees, we want to be around for a very long time and build a brand that means something in esports and do it on a global basis.
mxdwn: That still sounds very cool. So the esports industry is expected to be valued over $1.6 billion by 2020. With all that money in the business, what would you say is the most crucial amenity or amenities that other esports organizations and foundations should invest in for their players?
Chou: I really think it differs from team to team. There are some esports where there is a lot of travel involved, so one of the things that should be invested in more should be travel related. I think very simply, how can teams level up? There is a gap between traditional sports and where esports is today. Of course for a new industry, the revenue from the esports business is still a very tiny fraction of what traditional sports are. I think traditional sports do provide a good model, so it’s all about what things that I can do to close the gap between professional sports teams, whether that be better travel or accommodations, good training facilities at home, good equipment to use, better nutritional diets, or financial management. These kind of things really depend. Every single team and esport have a challenge for itself, and I would hope that in five years that the gap between traditional sports and esports narrow significantly, and in ten years it’s almost gone. I want it to be where the esports industry has grown so much that a player will be like an NBA player, or an NFL player, or an NFL player in terms of the amenities. That would be a huge success in my mind.
mxdwn: Last question. Just a couple days ago, Germany agreed to officially recognize esports as a sport within the country. With big news like that, how do you feel now that esports are being more recognized as a legitimate sport?
Chou: I felt like three years ago it mattered more, the legitimacy of esports. I don’t think the biggest challenge of the sport is legitimacy anymore. My question about a country recognizing esports as a sport now is, what does that change? For example, in the United States, it would probably be a lot better because it would be a lot easier to get visas to travel in and out of the country. That would be awesome. I’m not caught up with the news in Germany, but if that is the case, then that’s fantastic. In Korea, we face another very specific challenge which is for an Olympian. In the Olympics, if you are a gold medal winner, you are exempt from military duty. So, a lot of men in Korea want to be an Olympian and win a medal to be exempt from military service. Also, it does not have to be from the Winter Olympics that are going on right now. It can be a medal from the Asian Games, or the minor Olympics that have happened. Probably one of the biggest benefits for Korea would be if esports became some type of Olympic sport or Asian Games sport where teams could compete and potentially win for military exception. That would be something huge. I kind of think about the legitimacy today as high profile enough where there isn’t as big of a legitimacy issue anymore. It’s still there, but it’s definitely not the biggest one. To me, as a team owner, some of the more practical aspects of not being considered on the same level as other sports is kind of a bigger one, especially since it is a huge pain in my butt right now. The other one is having players excited to compete at the highest level as another Olympic sport for example. That would be fantastic.