November 2, 2017

Media Tech Venture Studio Participant Q&A: GankStars

Earlier this year, we announced the launch of the Verizon Media Tech Venture Studio in partnership with R/GA. This is a new program focused on identifying and developing innovative growth- and early-stage companies with disruptive technologies that will shape the future of digital entertainment and media consumption.

The program, consisting of eight innovative startups, coming to a conclusion and we wanted to catch up with the participants to see how the program is going. For this participant spotlight, we sat down with GankStars' CEO Alex Novosad and COO Luke Hoffman to talk about the company's background story and experience so far.

What is the problem your company is trying to solve and how did you identify this problem?

We have had generations of people that grew up playing sports and then wanted to watch athletes compete in those same sports. The most recent generation grew up playing video games, and as such  they naturally want to watch professionals compete in those games. GankStars mission is to fulfill that need by providing fans with the best experience in esports - from inspiring teams that kick butt to high-quality content to being a place of community and acceptance.

Tell us how you first came up with the concept and/or business plan for the company.

About three years ago, I downloaded a game called Vainglory after seeing it demoed at an Apple keynote. Little did I know that the game would draw me into the exploding world of esports. The game was of amazing quality, so I kept playing and making friends with other players. At first, GankStars was formed as a group chat. A few months later, the three best players in the group entered a tournament and found themselves winning the first-ever Vainglory world championship in Korea. It was then, in Seoul, that my co-founder at the time, Hamza, and I realized we were onto something big. A business entity was formed and we began expanding GankStars’ scope to other games. Esports is a movement, and we wanted to be at the epicenter of it.

What drew you to this the Verizon Media Tech Venture Studio program?

Our specialty has always been in mobile esports. Working with the largest telecom in the United States just makes sense for a mobile-focused gaming organization. We’re learning from Verizon and in return are helping them navigate esports in whatever way we can.

What’s the most valuable lessons/advice you’ve received thus far?

When we first arrived at the program, we really struggled with a lack of focus and wanted to do everything. We still do, but the amazing people in this program have helped us learn to take things one step at a time. We’d like to specifically thank Gene Mauro, Paul Heitlinger, and Alden Mahabir for their patience in guiding us through some of the most amazing opportunities we’ve ever had. 

What have been the highlights of the program thus far?

The entire program has been a great learning experience, but we probably most enjoyed working with the creative services team. They did an excellent job iterating on logo and branding with us. We are a picky bunch, and they were always more than willing to try new ideas until we were happy. Thanks to Diana, Craig, and the team from R/GA!

What aspects of the program do you find most useful for yourself and your business?

GankStars is making business and investor connections we never could have found otherwise. Being an early stage startup, this is an incredible opportunity for us to jumpstart our business and keep up with the rapid pace of the esports industry.

How have your interactions with the other program participants been?  What have you learned from them?

Everyone in this program has been incredibly nice and happy to offer advice when asked. We’re probably the earliest stage company in the program, so learning how to best prepare ourselves for the next stages, like fundraising, has been invaluable.

Why would GankStars be part of a Verizon sponsored program?

GankStars as a mobile esports team pairs wonderfully with the objectives of a wireless carrier. Our professional gamers are always on the go, and being able to work directly with Verizon allows us a small voice in the future of a network that is so integral to online gaming. In return, we provide an authentic platform for Verizon to communicate the message that it is one of the best networks for gamers.

What are the opportunities for Verizon in eSports?  What is the benefit of working with the Verizon network?

Over 200 million people in the US play games on mobile devices. From hosting tournaments to sponsoring teams to establishing a gaming centric services platform, Verizon has the chance to really engage an entire generation of digital natives in a way that is unique and important to them. Esports fans in particular need a reliable and fast wireless connection, and Verizon certainly offers that, especially with 5G on the way.

Tags: E-Sports , Paul Heitlinger , sports tech , Gankstars , Venture Media Tech Studio