Fortnite Summer Skimish an Opportunity, Not a Failure

eBashGenCon

10,000 players in 4 days of events at our Gen Con 2017 esports room

Fortnite (at least their esports division) is under fire from this past weekend’s technical and format issues for the Summer Skirmish.  It seems that we love to watch a Goliath fall as much as we like a Cinderella story to succeed. I watch all of these experts debate the issues and pick things apart.  Among the top issues that everyone attacks is the fact that it was “boring to watch” and many critics follow that up with suggestions for how to make it a better “spectator sport”.

I continue to see the video gaming world try to satisfy ad agencies, broadcast companies, big company marketing dollars and all of the the “old guard” when it comes to creating and producing events.  We keep trying to cram this new world of competitive digital gaming into the old world of sports and television.

What if esports is going after things all wrong?

When I started running video game competitions in 2004, esports was not a word.  It is under debate when that term was first used, but I think maybe in the 2008-2010 range it started showing up.  You know why I think it stuck? Because everyone with checkbooks, portfolios and their hands on the purse strings don’t understand competitive video games.

As I continue to grow our company and I get involved with more-and-more very intelligent business people with lots of success and investment money I find myself trying to constantly make references to other sports to justify what esports should be.  Why? Because those who control the money don’t get it. Heck I don’t get it sometimes. Watching Overwatch many times is super confusing and boring so how can I defend that with investors and financial folks looking to get “into esports”?

We need to stop forcing the issue.  Epic has the chance more than anyone else to this point because they reach and appeal to a WIDE audience of players.  Let’s hope they see the writing on the wall.

Esports needs to be its own thing.  It is different and it is evolving at an unprecidented rate of speed.  Many people are going to miss opportunities if we don’t think about things differently.  Stop trying to force esports in the traditional sports world that is controlled by big brands, spectators, tickets and attendance.  I know why you all do that, hours and hours of work for a $250k sponsorship is easier than hours and hours of work for $5 small fees from players.

I am 44 years old.  I played basketball through the collegiate level in Indiana.  I no longer play basketball. Could I? Maybe… but I wouldn’t be able to play at the level I did when I was 23 years old.

I don’t attend an Indiana Pacers’ game and immediately go home and pick up the ball and play in the driveway.  I don’t feel the urge to play basketball while I am at the game. I don’t go join a local men’s basketball league.  Watching the Pacers on TV doesn’t make me want to go out and practice shooting again.

Esports are different.  We ALL want to play. We all CAN play.  There is no aging in esports. My 79 year old father-in-law just had major knee replacement surgery and hopes to be able to golf again when he finishes recovering.  If I am blessed to make it to 79 I have a pretty good chance of still playing my favorite video games. Esports is reaching nearly everyone.

And watching makes us want to play.  You know how many times I hear from older folks how they don’t understand why anyone would watch someone play a video game?  

With a genre like battle royal we all have a chance to win no matter of skill… who gives a crap if that makes for good spectator views?  During that match your heart is in your throat… you have one chance to find a gun, find a spot to defend and out play the player or team attacking you… it is a massive rush and according to Epic over 125M players are doing it on Fortnite.

I work long hours as an entrepreneur and small business owner.  I take a fast lunch and on my lunch when I am in the office many times I pull up Ninja, DrLupo or timthetatman.  I watch them because I love Fortnite and all three of them are cool personalities in their own ways. I want to see new things in the game and new strategies.  It makes me want to play.

Then at night before our little girls go to bed they enjoy watching myself, my 17 year old son and my wife play Fortnite.  They can’t wait until they are older and start playing. We all like playing.

You know what I think?  I think esports viewers are all viewing when they can’t play.  I think when you are stuck somewhere, might be laying in bed, might be in a waiting room at the doctor, might be during a boring class lecture… I think esports spectators just watch mainly when they can’t play.  Or? Maybe they are playing WHILE they watch? I think that happens more than we all want to acknowledge.

What if esports (and especially Fortnite) should focus on being a massively played event and not a massively spectated event?

The issue is numbers and Epic/Fortnite can actually be the ones to break the mold.

Most tournaments are gauged on how many people viewed the streams online or bought tickets to view the event in person.  When was the last event of any kind that had 100,000 players/participants?

Fortnite can easily create their own esports system within the game with normal players.  Who cares about viewers? What if 100,000 players paid 500 “V-bucks” to join a league that paid out $50,000?  500,000 players? 1M players? Epic could do it.

Forget viewership, forget spectator mode…. let players stream their own streams, record their own videos, let the story unfold after the event.  The event is about the players, not the spectators.

I think we are all fighting a losing battle if we gauge our successful esports events on viewership or spectator tickets.

Let’s start thinking about how to get the most players involved.  Once the players are all involved then the sponsors, spectators and viewers will follow.

KLeBash

Some gamers just want a chance to win a controller…….

LAN Arena and Esports Gaming Centers Everywhere!

There were tough times over the past 14 years since we started our first center in 2004.  There have been many people along the way that have helped us pick up the pieces from failed attempts at expansion while we tried to find our place helping fulfill my dream of local esports everywhere.

After years of working to unify the community of center owners through cooperative events we began the process of writing our own software in 2013 to automate all of these locations.

Now… we are closing in to the first release of our software and along the way we have added over 400 locations in early access ranging from a few systems in a hotel lounge all the way up to massive arenas around the world.

https://www.ggleap.com/locations/

That link is the current state of what we have running today and I am posting a screenshot of the installs in the US for later reference here.

ggCircuit US Installs.png

ggLeap Installs in the United States as of April 24, 2018

We have quite a few BIG projects that we are developing for huge industry names that will become public this summer and fall.  I am so thankful that we have weathered the storm and stuck it out all of these years to be the experts in an exploding industry worldwide.

Esport Arenas = LAN Centers Are Back!

LAN centers are back!

With our software company we have seen a big influx of new subscribers the past few weeks. A LOT of calls from investors and business people looking to open up centers. I hate to get too excited, but it is like the 2004-2007 years when there were over 500 centers just in the US, but this time we are gathered together under one common goal with one piece of software to push us even further.

The new ggLeap admin dashboard makes me happy. I can’t wait until we let you all start testing it (maybe next week!). POS is right behind it. The next 6 weeks are going to be insane. The wait has been worth it!

 

Things are happening, there are many things we have been working on for months and months with sponsors and publishers. I can’t talk about details until things are finalized, because nothing is for sure until things are signed on the dotted lines. But man oh man is it a great time to be a LAN center or a great time to finally pull the trigger and open a LAN center in your area!

Esports is Not a Sport.

Esports is NOT a sport.

Not even close.

That might seem to be a strange statement coming from someone who has spent the majority of my career building a business around competitive video gaming.  But I refuse to continue to watch ignorant money being thrown at companies because they claim to serve the esports industry.

I am not talking about the old and lame argument about using a form of the word “sports” means the competition needs to be athletic.  I am mad about how unorganized esports is compared to regular sports structures.

How is no one talking about the scary similarities of the investment into esports to the 90s dot com boom?  Aren’t we supposed to learn from our past mistakes?  I have to believe that the business people behind these investments are intelligent and wise, but if you don’t understand something, why are you throwing money at it blindly?

Esports is either traveling to massive tournaments or playing in your backyard.

Esports is either backyard basketball or playing for the Indiana Pacers. There is no middle ground.

Why is esports not a sport?  Very, very simple.  It is not available to the masses.  There is no path to make everyone feel like they have a chance to play at some kind of level.  There is no level in-between playing random online matches and playing on a professional esports team.  We are sorting out the “best” players according to online matches, twitch followers, youtube subscribers and the ability to have enough cash and free time to travel to try and be seen by a professional team.

That is not how sports should work.  Let me take you down the path of a Hoosier kid chasing the dream of basketball.

(1) I grew up in Indiana, spent 4 years in Dallas, Texas while my father went to seminary, then moved back to Indiana in the 8th grade.  I was a sports nut and was blessed with a decent amount of athletic ability.  I was probably the most gifted to play baseball, taught to hit left handed by my father who spent countless hours playing anything I wanted outside in the backyard.

(2) When we moved back to Indiana in 1987 it was my 8th grade year (one year before high school here in Indiana) and I went out for cross country, basketball and baseball.  As a kid who was the star on any single team I played until this point, I was devastated to barely make the basketball team, not getting much playing time and for the first time I was not in the spotlight.

(3) For those that know me, I am rather competitive.  Not playing much drove me into a frenzy.  I immediately identified as many possible paths that would lead to get me back into the starting lineup as quickly as possible.  If you live under a rock you might not know that in Indiana, basketball is life.  There are rules to follow for practice times and what the coaches could and could not do, but there were a ton of things that we knew we had to do to have a shot to play.

(4) Summer between 8th grade and freshman year was intense.  In the summer every single day the gym was open for “free” play.  I believe it was 3 PM until sometimes 8 or 9 PM depending on how many players were there.  The first 10 formed teams and started playing.  Those that arrived later formed teams to take on the winners.  Sometimes there was enough teams waiting to open up the middle school gym (attached to the high school).  Not only active players, but even older players came to the gym.  We would have 14 year-old players trying to keep up with 25 year-old players, or in some cases the opposite.

(5) Then freshman year started and I found out that the gym was open before school each day.  I didn’t have a way to get there, but asked the coach who lived past our country house farther in the country if he could pick me up.  He pulled into our driveway every single morning that year, with his beat up old pickup.  One of his sons was on the team and a year older than me and the truck had bucket seats.

(6) I remember that old beat up truck and have forgotten so many other things in my life. I sat on a folding chair between the two seats.  The passenger door had to be tied to the chair with a rope, sometimes it would not get tied well and fly open around a curve.  One of the headlights was rusted and pointed straight down, so it was easy to see them coming to get me from way down the road each morning.

(7) Every morning most players arrived around 6:45 or 7 to play for an hour, but because I rode with coach we got there just after 6.  Coach suggested that I practice free throws and shots around different parts of the court and showed me a clipboard with shot charts I could use to track my progress.  I loved it.  Every single morning I shot 200 free throws and then took as many shots in different spots and tracked everything.  When enough players arrived we scrimmaged again, sometimes right up until the bell or after and took a tardy getting to class.

(8) That freshman year our team was crazy good.  I don’t remember how much I started or played much through the year but we were good.  Our school was 400 students, while the other two high schools in town were 2000 students each.  But the fun part was that while we were in high school the other schools were transitioning from 9th grade at middle school to 9th grade being in high school.  We won the first 15 games of the year, most by a large margin, against schools that had a ton of resources and a big pool to draw from for players.  I remember the TV news coming out after the 13th win and interviewing a few of us.

(9) That year for sectionals (end of the year tournament to lead up to the state championships) the coach did a crazy thing.  He took 2 of the older seniors that didn’t play much and put them in street clothes and had myself and my buddy Jimmy on the freshman team dress varsity.  We got to play in one of the blow out games and I remember hitting a couple threes.  Our guys won the sectional and we went on to travel to the regional weekend.  We lost but it was a real feeling of success.

(10) The story was similar throughout high school, we kept playing non-stop, anywhere we could travel and find games.  We went to local 3v3 competitions and played in a lot of parks/playgrounds in the summer on the weekends, in the gym every day during the week.

(11) I hated weight training but I really wanted to be able to jump out of the gym and I remember running hills with weight vests.  By my senior year I could touch the rim with my elbow.  I remember when the coaches from college would show up and our high school coach would just line us up for “rim touch”.  Think about layups without a basketball, except that after a few runs of seeing how high you could touch on the rim or the backboard those of us that could dunk would pull out the basketballs and start getting crazy.

(12) My high school career ended up on a tough loss in the sectionals when we were picked to go on much farther.  But that then launched my college career.  I knew I wasn’t good enough to play professional someday, so I picked a really good educational school to play that was based on Midwest Division 3 schools in a conference called the ICAC.  I would say the ICAC would be competitive with most D2 programs.  For example, Steve Alford, the Indiana University star who now coaches at UCLA, started coaching at Manchester in our conference.

(13) My college career ended much better for me with our team upsetting two higher ranked schools in the conference tournament and getting a bid to play in the NCAA Div 3 tournament.  We lost a heart breaker in that tournament that I relive in my mind a few times each month to this day.

uncle-rico-picture

… I can throw a football over those mountains.

13 paragraphs about my life growing up a basketball kid in Indiana.  Some washed up player talking like Uncle Rico from Napoleon Dynamite?  Probably a little bit, but I do have a point.  🙂

Throughout my career, with a very similar story as anyone else who has played traditional sports, there were big milestones that we take for granted that DO NOT EXIST in esports.

Think about it… how many people are involved with traditional sports at some level that never make it to the pros?  I think they say less than 1% of players that start in little leagues will ever play at the college level.  The number is even smaller at the pro level.  But those players did more than just shoot baskets in their driveway.

Why share 13 paragraphs about my path through basketball?  I want to point out where esports has a chance to really expand to 99% of other gamers, this is where the REAL focus and investment should take place.

(1) Support from Parents, how do we get them involved like parents of sports kids?
(2) Available geographically everywhere, even through moving states/cities with your family you need to jump right back into the same scene you just left.
(3) Multiple paths for success and different training options, not just being the guy to play the game the most.
(4) Many options for play with a variety of competitors all year in something more than online ranked play, even off season finding groups of local players to practice and scrimmage.
(5) More adults getting involved to help kids get to practice/events and create a support system.
(6) Impressionable memories at younger ages, marketing companies would go crazy for reaching these ages.
(7) Ways for players to practice individual skills.  I am surprised that more games do not have single player modes to practice certain skills that are crucial to the games they play.  The only way to practice a certain scenario is to get lucky enough in a game to have that scenario happen.
(8) Community and Media support at lower levels.  Make events and kids feel accomplished.  Don’t just cover the giant events, plenty of media already covers those.  Local newspapers are dying, why can’t they jump in and support this new movement and become relevant again?
(9) Organized levels of progression for local teams.  Local teams against local teams, then regional teams, then state teams.
(10) Many options for competition.  A true esport is one that can be played casually, recreational, with all ages, multiple formats and all year long.
(11) Recruiting for the collegiate level and again training programs to increase the player’s individual abilities.
(12) Just because games are “online” and can instantly be “national” that isn’t a good thing.  Online you are one of 100 million League of Legends players.  There is a reason that there are multiple college conferences and divisions.  Everyone needs to find their standing in different skill pools.
(13) Everyone needs to be able to follow their path to their ultimate end of the story.

Here is where I think investments in esports should be directed.

Area 1 – Little League/Boys Club (ages 12 and under)
In esports if a kid is under the age of about 12 video games are looked at as an addiction or a problem.  “Oh those parents are bad, they just let their kid play video games all day.”  I know that is true in many, many cases depending on what game they are playing, but when was the last time someone said “Oh those parents are bad, they just let their kid play basketball all day”?  How are we supposed to take “professional” esports seriously if we think that playing video games is bad?

In addition to the negative view of video games for kids, there is zero support and organization at this level.   For every sports player that succeeded at some level, there were many instrumental people that helped them get to that point.  Parents, coaches, clubs, schools, teachers, bus drivers and more.  There has to be adults involved to organize the matches, teams, practices, travel, etc.

Area 2 – School Teams (ages 13-18)
The ability for any kid to have a chance to play.  Everyone can go out for the team.  You don’t need 4 other players to join a basketball tournament, you just need to try out and make your local team and the coach/manager takes care of the rest.  Not only can every kid have a chance to play, but it is local to their school and the games are played locally against other local schools.  Schedules are set, team travel is arranged.

Again at this level where are the supporting teachers, clubs, school corporations, state organizations, coaches, athletic directors and parents?  What options does a 15 year old Call of Duty or League of Legends player have?  They can just hope to get noticed in online ranked leaderboards?  Tweet at their favorite esports organizations to try and get a DM to show them some montage videos?

Area 3 – Collegiate (ages 18-22)
Esports is starting to do better here, but please understand that it is not even 5% to where it should be right now.  Schools are adding esports as more of a marketing tool than as a serious commitment to esports.  I like what Lambton College is doing up in Canada, working towards adding a degree in esports promotion and management.  Those kind of efforts help grow the programs into something that is sustainable.

However again we are looking at the major esports organizations at the collegiate level being mostly filled with club teams, not actual organized teams that have a support system from the school around them.  It is mostly the players themselves trying to do everything and in the end, a player can’t make rational decisions on practice times, roster changes, travel budgets, strategy moves during a game, etc.  It takes coaches, managers, directors, office staff, etc.

Area 4 – Professional (any age)
I hate the current state of professional esports.  It is a pathetic marketing land grab and there is generally no focus put on what is the right thing for the players or the longevity of any of the leagues/games.   For companies that own their own IP and run their own leagues they are the most stable, but all they are doing is trying to sell more stuff in their game.  I know that professional sports is all about advertising and marketing, but before all of that is added on top, beneath the surface there is a basic concept that was made for the players.

Think about it this way.  The NBA doesn’t “own” basketball.  Basketball is a game that was created for players and teams to compete in a standard format.  Rules were made and then distributed out to local clubs to add to their list of activities.  NBA, NCAA, high school associations, Boys Club, AAU and any other organizations do not own basketball itself.  Spalding doesn’t own it.  They took a fun game and organized it.  Guess what?  Someone could make a brand new professional league for basketball today.  It wouldn’t work because there really isn’t room for two professional leagues and it ruins the whole concept of reaching the top of the pyramid for a sport.  But legally the NBA doesn’t own the game of basketball itself.

Game companies will control their own IP and obviously they want to make money from the game and the players.  But start looking at making esports for your games relevant at many levels, not just the ones that you can generate 20M views in a weekend.  You have the burden of creating all of the levels of competition if you want to sustain a “sport” around your video game.

I love competitive video games, we have been hosting tournaments for 13 years and have grown to support hundreds of centers around the world.  But I hate using the word esports and giving investors and partners an idea that our industry is even close to being organized and compared with other sports.

Esports is not a sport.

 

 

Our Growing Pains Building Enterprise Software for Video Game Arenas, LAN Centers and Virtual Reality (VR) or eSports Venues.

Interestingly enough, after being a terrible blogger over the years, somehow my blog here still sees nearly 1000 unique visits each month.  I am sure there are not many other resources for researching starting a gaming center and good old Google probably pushes a lot of keyword seekers my way.

For those that follow regularly you know that I started my first store 12+ years ago in 2004 which has always concentrated on events and eSports.  Before eSports was cool, we held tournaments monthly and in some years even weekly or more.

In late 2013 we released the first version of our software for tracking in-game stats and rewarding and ranking players in centers called ggCircuit.  We quickly grew to support hundreds of centers around the world but the software we all used to run our stores was archaic and no longer served our needs.

Here is an example of how we built our software originally to work with third party management software running in the local centers:

how-ggcircuit-was-built

So in late 2015 and early 2016 we began building our own solution from the ground up which we call ggLeap.  Instead of following the traditional model of local servers doing all of the heavy lifting, we wanted a cloud-based solution to remove the need of highly trained technicians setting up stores.  Not to mention the hours of work it takes to make everything work in a center environment.

By summer of 2016 we had a pretty good working prototype and I sacrificed my two eBash centers in July to move from our old software to the new ggLeap solution.  By sacrificing I can show you the slump in sales year-over-year that we have experience both because my focus is on the software primarily but also because our customers have suffered through all of the errors running beta software.

We also installed it and ran our set-up of 200+ stations for Gen Con in August.  By using our live installations as the sacrificial lambs we gained months of testing in weeks and sometimes days and turned our development team up to turbo speeds fixing issues for our real world environment.

Here is how ggLeap now works:
how-ggleap-changes-things

The great thing about accelerating our development cycle for eBash was that we were ready when we received a phone call from UCI eSports who had heard about the development of our solution and was 3 weeks from launching their arena.  They had tried all other available solutions and they had all failed network security requirements on campus.  Again, at the expense of our dev team’s time and our increased cost we pushed hard, flew out to their grand opening week, helped set-up our software as well as just helped with general set-up and they launched right on time.

At this point we were really drained financially, mentally and physically.  So we put out the call to our network of centers to join us on the trip and become pioneers in the process.  By contributing funds that would be stored as future credit on license fees they could start using the software early before our full release.  Throughout October we brought on just under 100 new centers.

Since we now had a great test bed, we ended the pioneer program and just allowed centers to sign up for early access if they wanted to run the software before release.  Since November we have brought on another nice size group of centers.

Then in December we were approached by Alienware to bid on a contract to run our software on their new showcases being built at 50 Best Buy locations in the US.  This was exactly what we needed.  The chance to ramp up our development cycle building features that were both applicable to their project but also important to get us closer to full release for game centers.

Over the holidays our team work furiously, we were awarded the contract with only 3 weeks before the first test launch.  In the middle of this we also had a few of us traveling to CES 2017 in a partnership with EBlue to show off our software alongside their awesome eSports hardware solutions.

ggcircuit-and-eblue-at-ces-2017

ggCircuit and Eblue team showing off our eSports arena set-up at CES 2017

January was a blur, I was flying everywhere and so were many members of our team.  Not only at CES for a week, but check this travel schedule out:

1/2 – Jmac flies to MN for BB
1/2 – Zack/Dustin fly to LV for CES
1/3 – Zack/Dustin set-up CES, Jmac testing at BB
1/4 – Jmac and Mark fly to LV to join us at CES
1/5 through 1/9 – CES and travel back home
1/11 – Zack and Dustin fly to MN for BB
1/12 – 1/14 – Zack and Dustin set-up first BB install in Mall of America
1/17 – 1/19 – Dustin back in MN for work on installer
1/22 – 1/25 – Dustin/Zack and Mark in TX for second install at BB

Keep in mind that this entire time the development team is working 12-16 hour days and most weeks 7 days per week.

ggcircuit-and-ggleap-with-alienware-at-best-buy

ggLeap and ggCircuit at the Alienware installation for Best Buy Mall of America

Our very first hiccup came the week of 1/22, where we had issues with our messaging service.  This is not messaging like chat, this is a service that takes all of our data between clients and servers in the massive network.  The third party we were using was starting to falter and we had just used them to save time thinking we would go back and setup our own later.  Well, later became that week as we began our transition to solve the 4 hour outage we had with that company’s services.

This is such a crucial part of our system because this messaging service provides about 20 links between processes that run on our servers with EVERY single location we run.  So…. imagine for easy math we have 100 locations we support, that is 20 x 100 = 2000 simultaneous links with processors.

Which brings us to last night, February 3rd.  This week we have added more centers as well as added the remaining BB installation locations and it all came to a stop as the system was overwhelmed with connections (still running on the third party messaging platform, as our devs were planning the move to our solution this coming Tuesday and the last two weeks of updates were laying the foundation to make the move next week).

So for about 3 hours last night again the servers were extremely spotty and down for long periods of time again.  I am not sure that it is clear, but trust me that the pressure on us for supporting a network of centers is like a reverse pyramid marketing program.  Think about it this way:

– Every center running our software has tons of customers that are upset when things don’t work and they take it out on employees, lets say 100 points of pressure for easy math or “100 PP”
– Employees don’t like it when customers are mad, so they then put the pressure on managers/owners, let’s say 3 employees per store x 100 PP = 300 PP
– Managers and owners then put that pressure on the ggLeap support staff, here is where it gets scary, 200 owners x 300 PP = 60,000 PP
– ggLeap support staff are then passing that along to the dev team, 4 support staff x 60,000 PP = 240,000 PP
– ggLeap devs and support are putting the pressure on ggLeap management and owners, 4 devs x 240,000 PP = 960,000 PP

Trust me… we feel it more than anyone can imagine.

All of us at ggCircuit are not software people first, we are game center people first.  So I know firsthand the pressure on staff and customers at a store.  My stores are down at the same time everyone else is down.

So I have two crushing problems at this point on me personally that might seem to be in contrast, but actually push us toward the same place in the end:

As a store owner I demand 100% up time
As the CEO of a software company I want to provide 100% up time

So as my software CEO self, I would say to my owner self: “Hey, we are doing the best we can building a cutting edge solution and we are in early access!”

Then as my owner self, I would say to my software CEO self: “This is the lifeblood of my business, every second offline costs me money!”

Here is the bright side of the entire process.  We are as laser focused as ever on our path to unify centers and gamers through software from all over the world.  We still have never doubted our choice to build a cloud-based system.  We will take the responsibility when necessary for our growing pains and always promise to work around the clock to limit any downtime.

We will be in full release in less than 2 months.  Those running the software with us now truly are PIONEERS in this journey.  That is why we are allowing their contributions as pioneers to apply for future license fees and letting them use it basically free of charge during this early access.

Just know that we will look back on this post in a year when we have tens of thousands of locations and millions of players and the pain won’t seem as bad as it is today.  That is when companies are paying us to reach our customers and all of our stores have extra +$$k in revenue that would not have had on our own.

 

My eBash Pitch on Shark Tank Season 2

640x180-q100_82fae8c8b831dcee02b63fc3ded709da

Many of you know that I filmed for Shark Tank Season 2 all the WAY back in 2010.  They told me there were over 10,000 applications for season 2, narrowed down to just 45 of us that were flown to LA to film and pitch the sharks. Of the 45 that filmed I believe they ended up using 32 on the episodes that season.

They filmed two days with Jeff Foxworthy and two days with Mark Cuban. I was filmed with Jeff Foxworthy who was the first person that spoke after I finished my pitch and said “I think video games are terrible for kids, I am out”. Even so after long negotiations with mostly O’Leary who loved the idea I didn’t get a deal, I didn’t cry, and obviously Cuban got the long term contract and Foxworthy sucked on the show so my pitch never made it to air.

I guarantee you that if Cuban had met me that weekend instead of Foxworthy, we would have made a deal.
Long story short, while digging through old files today I found my pitch that the producers went back and forth with me to finalize in the weeks leading up to filming the show and thought it would be fun to share it:
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Hi my name is Zack Johnson and I am the founder and owner of eBash Video Game Centers. I am here seeking $200k in funding and in exchange I am willing to give up 20% equity in our companies.
A few years ago while leading the youth program at our church my wife and I were brainstorming activities for the group. We invited the middle and high school students to bring their favorite video game systems for an all night lock-in at the church building. They loved it! We couldn’t hold enough of these events and each time more-and-more kids would show up. I knew we were onto something.
So I started eBash. eBash is a modern day arcade, ON STEROIDS. Each eBash location is equipped with state-of-the-art gaming stations where gamers can play the top games on the latest systems and try out high end equipment before they make big purchases. Players pay by the hour to use the facility.
But the best part is the income goes beyond just gamers PAYING to use our equipment in our store. We are selling energy drinks, soft drinks, candy and snacks while they are there. We stock the store with thousands of current generation games and accessories AND all of them are available for gamers to buy and take home! Gamers cannot try out high end equipment anywhere else and most big box retail stores do not carry any of these products. I now have game companies calling me to put their products in our stores to reach this lucrative demographic.
We have 2 successful eBash locations and I want to have thousands more all over the US. With the Shark’s help I am ready to have eBash take its piece of the $24 billion dollar video game industry!

Dear Smartlaunch, Stop Hurting Video Game LAN eSports Centers and Arenas

So… I got this cool email from Smartlaunch today (pasted at the bottom). For those of you late to the game, in June of this year I sent Smartlaunch an email letting them know ggCircuit (my software company) will be discontinuing support of Smartlaunch on July 1.  I sent the email on June 27 and then 3 days later on June 30, Smartlaunch announced their “eSports 5.0” product.  It is posted on their “blog” which was the last post made on there the same day they announced eSports Leagues which never have started.  I did a quick screen grab of their site this morning:
smartlaunch-screen-grab

Smartlaunch Screen Grab from October 31, 2016

 
As you all know, there wasn’t anything close to being a product yet, who knows if there was actually one at that point. After months of people trying to get it, some people actually got something installed (which has to be done directly working with one guy) and it was obviously not anywhere near finished.
 
So today, on the last day of our ggLeap pioneer program, they sent the email below to let all of us know that it “has been released”.  Sounds great?  But is it is an official product that we can all run our centers with and feel good about?  
 
During this time Smartlaunch keeps signing centers up with “BIG” discounts for 1, 2 and 3 year contracts. Then nothing works right, they disappear and stop helping centers and move on to try and sell the next long contract.  I know this because the list is LONG of centers coming to us just happy that we answer the phone, reply to emails, answer FB messages, give our Skype account to them, etc.
I absolutely don’t care about competition with our own software, if I give them the courtesy of allowing them to be anywhere near our product to call them a competitor.  For those that know me, I thrive on competition.  I welcome it.  I am driven on the thought of someone out working me to the finish line.

For the 12 years I have ran my centers I firmly believe that Smartlaunch has caused our industry to be stagnant and been solely responsible for many centers closing their doors.

While that may seem like a strong statement, here are the facts to support it:
  • In 2004 when I opened eBash, Smartlaunch software license could be purchased for a one-time fee.  We paid $1,500 for our copy and not only was it promoted as no other fees in the future, we could also actively sell our license to other stores.  This was a REAL program they supported, you contacted them and said “I sold my license for 27 stations to this email address” and they would transfer them.  Crazy, they actually made the licenses a commodity and gave them value almost like a bar with a liquor license.
  • Smartlaunch then went into financial ruin.  I know more than most about what happened.  But I will keep this extremely fact based.  They went out of business.
  • All of a sudden, they are back in business again and guess what?  Now you have to pay a monthly fee for the licenses for the EXACT SAME THING YOU ALREADY BOUGHT for a one time fee.  It seems like a joke, but it wasn’t.  Because the licenses we bought outright still authenticated on boot up they were able to just shut everyone off without a monthly subscription.  How does a monthly subscription even make sense when the software runs on game center servers at the game centers?  There is no SaaS model here, and there were no new updates to justify charging monthly.
  • Up until I guess today (if we believe this is a NEW product released today) the software has been on the exact same version since I started in 2004.  Yep, 12 years of the exact same version of software being provided and still charging monthly with nothing new and worthwhile developed.
  • The software is dated and therefore it still takes tech geniuses to be able to run it.  You have to set-up a local server, understand databases, be able to write batch files and search the internet for extra solutions.  Business people cannot run LAN centers using Smartlaunch, they have to be technically savvy and spend hours with work-around solutions to get things to work correctly.
  • Here is the big one:  For all of the  years that I have been in business as a LAN center owner, Smartlaunch has NEVER been concerned with making sure their own customers are successful.  It has always been about the money.  For them centers come-and-go and is all water under the bridge.

This is why today’s email makes me so upset.  Smartlaunch doesn’t care about the centers, they just care about the fact that someone else like us (www.ggleap.com) has finally started a product that actually helps centers.  They are willing to lie to people, take their money and then literally put them out of business and move on to the next center.

To continue to break down where we are at today, let’s take a look at the main differences between our product, ggLeap, and Smartlaunch’s new product they are calling eSports 5.0 from feedback with centers that have ran it so far:

ggLeap

Smartlaunch
Cloud-based servers Yes No
Web-based admin usable anywhere Yes No
Game license management between multiple centers Yes No
Free game licenses like Battlefield 1 Yes No
Multiple center support channels Yes No
Player stat tracking in-game with leaderboards Yes (3 years) No Proof
Unique prize and redemption system Yes (3 years) No Proof
Integrated touranment bracket software Yes (3 years) No Proof
Prize support from major gaming companies Yes No
Built by LAN center owners Yes No

Currently we are moving centers over to ggLeap that have “upgraded” to Smartlaunch’s new eSports 5.0 product.  They can’t get rid of it.  It is either so genius in programming as an intentional take over of control of the machine or so completely poorly written that they forgot to make a way to uninstall it. Centers are now just formatting their PCs to get rid of the Smartlaunch product and start over from scratch!

Thanks for the Monday morning motivation Smartlaunch.  If that was not your intention, then sorry about your luck.  Just stop over-promising and under-delivering and I will leave you alone.  In the meantime you are putting my friends and good centers out of business so it is very personal for me.

I will leave everyone with the copy of the email I received today from Smartlaunch which is a desperate ploy to try and keep customers from jumping ship.

************* Email from Smartlaunch sent today, October 31 ***************

Hello

Smartlaunch eSports 5.0 has been released! eSports is experiencing explosive growth, which has made it a necessity for game centers to deliver advanced services to an increasingly sophisticated customer base.

Smartlaunch eSports 5.0 is a state-of-the-art software platform designed to deliver a complete eSports solution to Game Centers and eSports Arenas. Smartlaunch eSports 5.0 introduces a wide range of tools for day to day management of an eSports centers as well as administration tools for organization of local eSports events and participation in international competitions.

Smartlaunch eSports 5.0 comes with long awaited features such as automated game loading and patching in addition to a suite of eSports features including popular game statistics, player rankings and individual profiles for players and teams.

You can upgrade to Smartlaunch eSports 5.0 under the supervision of Smartlaunch Support. For more information and to book your installation contact me at vj@smartlaunch.com or support@smartlaunch.com.

Vinay Java
Smartlaunch
vj@smartlaunch.com