Last week, a selection of Rocket League pros competed for their share of $100,000 USD in the very first WePlay Esports Invitational featuring Rocket League. The tournament was a huge success, with WePlay Esports showcasing a creative vision for the future of gaming. We sat down with WePlay Esports' Chief Visionary Officer and General Producer, Mr. Maksym Bilonogov, to talk about his company and its role in the competitive Rocket League scene, as well as the evolution of the Esports Industry, and WePlay Esports' future.
It's always a little bit nerve-wracking to sit down with one of the key representatives of a company, especially the head of a company as impressive and successful as WePlay Esports. The company is only a few years old, yet, has already made a name for itself as one of the most creative and innovative Esports entities in the world. Despite of WePlay Esports' formidable success, CVO and General Producer Maksym Bilonogov was a remarkably down-to-earth individual, and we had a fascinating conversation.
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The thing about last week's WePlay Esports Invitational was that it continued the company's habit of standing out amongst the pack. An incredibly creative and entertaining affair, the Rocket League tournament featured a style and substance that is usually missing from such events. Amongst great performances from Karmine Corp (who's number one talent, Stake, is EarlyGame's Rocket League Player of the Month) and Team ENVY, we got a showcase of not only talented players and presenters, but a company that was willing to take some risks.
Enough rambling, though, it's time to dive into what was a fascinating and eye opening interview with WePlay Esports' Chief Visionary Officer and General Producer, Maksym Bilonogov.
Our Interview With Maksym Bilonogov, CVO and General Producer at WePlay Esports
I'm talking today with the CVO of WePlay, which is an online Esports Organization, but we'll get more into that later. My first question is whether you can tell me a little bit about WePlay. What is your initiative, and what would you say your sales pitch would be to Esports fans?
If you're talking about WePlay, the company is a building and growing infrastructure in Esports. We're not only doing tournaments; we've got our tournament platform, we've got our grass roots project, we've got our developers – in-house teams that develop a lot of, you know, the titles and stuff that you see on the broadcast. Our augmented reality is made in-house, so we are growing Esports together, and making this industry into the future of entertainment. You know, it's not only sports, and it's not only broadcast, [Esports] is the entertainment of the future.
It's very interesting to see Esports growing so exponentially, especially in the last decade – in fact more in the last half decade – so when did you start WePlay?
WePlay, before our branding, we started about sixteen years ago I think. Since our rebranding, though, I believe we have three, or perhaps two and a half years. So about two and a half years ago, we started our new Esports entertainment vision, with a new set each tournament, new themes and new content. So, I believe that the new generation of WePlay entertainment has been about two and a half years.
You said that what you've been working on has been "in house", could you give me a bit of an explanation of what you meant by that?
We've also got business development in-house. You need that in-house to for sales and media sponsorship. We also have the ability to do full-cycle production in-house, from screen writers, editors, CG graphic and AI designers. We have technical guys for augmented reality, and all of this stuff is inside the company. You would usually rent or partner with these people, but WePlay decided to bring them inside the team, so inside WePlay.
So, talking about all of this in-house development at WePlay, including the hiring of talented staff to fulfill different roles within the company, could you give us a bit of an insight into what the process was? How did you build the company into what it is now?
Yeah, of course, so we have the goal and mission to do something that no one on the market can do. To take broadcast to another level, and find another way to entertain people in Esports. I started thinking about who can do this, and all of our team is now made up of people who previously worked in theatre, cinema and television. About 60 percent only just graduated from Kiev University, and we worked together for a long time on national TV or theatre (in Ukraine).
Personally, I have two masters degrees, one in theatre direction, and another in film making. So, I have studied for eleven years in University, and I really knew the market and people well. I should say that in the Ukraine, there are a lot of really talented guys, who have an unbelievable passion for what they are doing - especially if we're talking about broadcast and producing shows.
So I just called, I just opened up my Facebook and started writing to people that we should start working together and make history together. We found the team somewhat like this.
Fantastic, and leading on from that, you had a lot of fantastic talents on the show last weekend. How did you build that team of talents on the show?
I think that one of the strongest parts of WePlay is that we are always keen for feedback from the community, from the publishers, from the media, and try to find out what they want to see. After all of this time, we have a full Esports department, so lots of people working for specifically our Rocket League content and our different games. Each of them have a special task, so they're speaking with the teams, with the managers of the teams, with the guys who organize the RLCS, and we think that this is the best line-up for a broadcast that we could have.
Working with talents at the venue is, for us, already easy, because talents have seen our previous tournaments, and they already know how it works. They understand how it will be set, that there will be costumes, that it will be very specific content. They seem to really like it because it's something different, and they're interested in the experience.
Well, it certainly is a very different way of presenting a tournament. So, we're obviously in contact as a result of last weekend's WePlay Esports Invitational (featuring Rocket League) tournament. This is the first time that you've expanded into the Rocket League Esports space, so my question is: could you tell me a little bit more about why you jumped into Rocket League, and how you went about it?
Yes, of course, so now we're in the final stages of building an arena in Los Angeles, and I hope that it will be ready in about two months. We're trying to get into the US market, where games like Rocket League, Valorant, Call of Duty, Rainbow Six are popular. It's a totally different market to our current region, and we thought about Rocket League because it is a really dynamic game.
We spoke with Psyonix about getting permission to do this tournament, and it's really great to work with them. They answer fast and they always help us. They help us with not only promotion, but with tournament things. We ask them about the format, they asked us if we need help with admin and stuff like that. So they were fully open and I should say thank you for their help. It's really great to work with them, so it was an interesting experience for us, and we really hope that we'll continue to work with them.
You just mentioned that you're building an arena in Los Angeles, how's that going?
I will be in LA on Thursday, and all the technical stuff, all the computers, and all the sets are already in Los Angeles. We just need to set it up. We hope that it will all be ready in about two months, and that our arena will open. The arena will be of the same style as, um, it will be the same as the Kiev arena.
Speaking of Rocket League and speaking of the RLCS, some of the teams that competed in last weekend's tournament were some pretty massive players in the Rocket League Esports scene. I'm very curious about how you managed to score teams like this, and what do you see as your role in the Esports space?
We'll see, we'll see. I hope that we can develop Rocket League into the CIS region as well, there are a lot of great teams there. So, I think that we can help Psyonix develop Rocket League in the CIS Region. There are also a lot of opportunities to work together world-wide, so we'll see. I can't say anything else now, because we haven't spoken with Psyonix yet about any plans after the tournament. We speak with them, and from our side, we see a lot of opportunities to work together.
So in the tournament itself, which got held last weekend, Team Envy came out on top in North America, and Karmine Corp in EMEA. It was a pretty impressive showing from all teams involved, how do you feel the tournament last weekend went?
Um, I can say that it was really dynamic, it was really emotional, and it was really interesting. Our main focus, though, was on the game itself. Of course, we wanted to make this a LAN event but because of, you know, the restrictions and political situation now, it's really hard to do. I hope maybe the next tournament will be a LAN event and we will see players here with all of this stuff, people on the stage, teams and presenters on video and all of the stuff we look forward to. I think that it was really emotional, interesting, and something really new for WePlay. All of the teams were really impressed, and it was fun to see this game.
You mentioned something just now about restrictions, I assume relating to the current pandemic. It must have been very difficult to build such a company, and garner all of these different connections not just in Rocket League, but also in the other games.
I can say that due to Covid, we made four LAN events, if I'm not wrong. One of them was a major, with eighteen teams and two hundred players. So we've got really good and strong protocols to deal with Covid-19, we've had zero cases in both hotels and venues, so for us it has worked. I know that the teams were a little bit scared because we're a little bit new. We're fully new in Rocket League!
Of course I understand that Psyonix and Epic Games, as well as the teams, saw us in a certain light due to our relative inexperience with Rocket League. Due to this, we decided to do the Rocket League event online, but I hope that the next one will be LAN.
Do you have any idea as to when we could see some LAN events?
What would you say to players who might want to enter the Esports space as Content Creators, or perhaps might want to become a pro? What would you say to those who want to join into this industry and make a name for themselves?
I think that the most important thing to come into this industry is that you should be a strong professional in what you're doing. If you are a content creator, if you are an editor, if you're a camera man, if you work in post, you should be just a professional. Also, make sure to get a passion for Esports and gaming.
What do you mean by a "professional", per se?
Um, I can't even really explain exactly. But when you see how someone does their job, and as you said, when they say "oh it's great" or "oh it's cool"... I don't know correctly how to answer this, but a professional... I'm always trying to find the guys for a WePlay production from the University or from the TV, as I said. So, for me, it's someone who studied for five years in University, or worked for the TV. They're professionals.
So, to clarify, what you're saying is that a professional is someone who knows their stuff, and should have studied and be educated in their field?
Absolutely, so you said that you're going to be continuing with Rocket League. Obviously, you've already mentioned that you can't tease any of the new developments you might have in the pipeline, but do you have any kind of broader dreams as to how you want WePlay to develop into the future?
I can say that we've got some crazy, unbelievable, crazy ideas, and we have spoken about these with some publishers. When we told them about our ideas, I saw their ideas and they were thinking "are you crazy, are you really thinking what you're saying right now?" But, of course, you must understand that I can't tease it because we've got a lot of ideas, but the most important important thing is which ideas will be realized. So when we're ready to realize our ideas, I think that you'll be ready to see this stuff.
I also just wanted to ask about what you said earlier about one of your biggest strengths as a company incorporating user feedback. You said that you want to know what people want to see, so that you can improve. What have you found that people do want to see?
I can tell that, from the Rocket League tournament, we have some technical problems. I got some messages on Twitter from one guy who told me that "guys, you've got technical problems". The next day it got fixed. Also, we spoke with Psyonix about the style of the tournament, are they okay with it, etc. So we're always collecting feedback. You can check the Reddit. We created a feed for feedback from people about how they feel about our broadcast, how they feel about how we share information, how our servers are working, their opinions on our content, our broadcast, segments. We are always trying to collect as much feedback as we can, and I like to say "You're only growing when you are making mistakes", so we should keep making mistakes to get better and better every time.
I wanted to finish this off by giving you the stage for a minute. Do you have any upcoming events that people should be tuning in to?
Yeah, just follow our social medias, our Twitter where we're always teasing new events. I think that very soon you will see our new Arena in Los Angeles. I hope that you'll see announcements of new Tournaments and new disciplines, and in the next year we will upgrade from the two Arenas in the USA and Europe, and we will make more and more each year.
We wanted to thank you so much for joining us today. It has been really good, so yeah, thank you so much.
Thank you so much as well, thank you.
Well, there you have it. Our interview with Maksym Bilonogov, Chief Visionary Officer and General Producer at WePlay Esports, revealed a whole lot about the company's lofty ambitions. There's a lot to be excited about here: a new Arena, mysterious new events, and a company intent on Esports world domination. Formidable and exciting, WePlay Esports will be one organization to keep your eye on.
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