Super League Gaming CEO on Leading the First Public E-Sports Company
This week marked a major milestone for the gaming industry: Super League Gaming became the first e-sports company to go public.
The company, which hosts in-person competitions for amateurs that it streams on Twitch and YouTube, held an initial public offering on Tuesday. But when its stock started trading, its shares tumbled 24% to $8.50. They’ve stayed around that price during the days that followed.
But CEO Ann Hand remains optimistic about the company’s future. It makes most of its revenue — $1 million in 2018 — from partnerships, sponsorships, and subscription sales. It has partnerships with sports entertainment company Logitech, Red Bull, and Topgolf (whose locations it uses for events). The company lost $20.6 million last year.
Hand spoke with Fortune following Super League Gaming’s opening on Wall Street. The following has been edited for length and clarity.
Fortune: Can you describe Super League Gaming to someone who doesn’t follow e-sports?
Hand: These days everyone’s a gamer. It’s not something they’re going to grow out of. It’s just like other traditional sports. When I was a kid, if I was interested in tennis, maybe I took lessons, and maybe I was dreaming of being Serena Williams. I knew there was a very small chance of it, but I still wanted to compete and play in a different way.
E-sports is really no different. We have people who really enjoy playing different types of video games, and they want a different type of competitive structure. They want to join a team, compete in leagues, and play at a heightened level.
Are there many competitors in the amateur e-sports space?
The amateur space is still pretty green. We offer both community and in real-life gaming, and it’s that last piece that’s really our hallmark.
Very similar to traditional sports, if you want to compete in teams and leagues, the power of really separating out the good and the great athlete is bringing them physically together. You learn from each other faster. It’s just a lot more fun to game together. You do learn about teamwork and collaboration and leadership.
How did you get into Super League Gaming and the e-sports industry?
I knew some of the early investors and board members. The company was about six months old (she joined in 2015), and my gut kind of kicks in stronger when I’m trying to build a brand or turn one around. And so, I went to some of the private events, and my eyes were opened. I saw how diverse the demographic was. I saw a lot of young girls and young adult women in the audience. I saw parents playing in competitive leagues with their teenage kids. My eyes were opened to the fact that not only is gaming a really rich, wide demographic mix, but it’s also a lifestyle now. It’s not something you’re going to grow out of.
Why go public?
We were excited about being one of the first true e-sports plays in the public market. We thought there would be a lot of public interest in being a part of investing in e-sports.
Any reason you decided to go public now?
I think being first for sure, and also the fact that we are really now unleashing the platform. We announced our partnership with Topgolf. We just announced an exciting partnership with Best Buy. Because we’re really in a position to start to scale, we felt that the timing was good because we have a lot of exciting growth in our future.
It seems like many people don’t understand how e-sports companies make money. What is the business model?
We work with the retailers, the game publishers, broadcasters, content partners, like our existing relationships with companies like Viacom and Nickelodeon as the business-to-business aspect.
Then of course, like you’d expect with any kind of sports, brand sponsorship is also a big piece of it.
In the back half of this year, we plan to introduce a consumer subscription model. So that would be a very low-cost, monthly consumer subscription that would enable our users to unlock some member benefits, profile enhancements, and other unique content.
What are your thoughts on how the IPO has gone?
We’re playing the long game here. I’ve had a lot of wonderful friends and mentors say, “Don’t spend a lot of time staring at the stock price. Just focus on executing.” We’re just very fortunate be in a position now to really deliver the large growth trajectory that we have planned. We’ll see how the markets perform, but we have a lot of confidence about what we’re going to deliver.
What sets Super League Gaming apart?
We think that when you play together, there’s teamwork and collaboration. But unfortunately, when you game on your own at home, with that layer of anonymity, sometimes there can be a lot of chat that isn’t always the healthiest.
And we saw early on that when you bring gamers together physically, they say they come for the competition, but in exit polling, most of them say that what mattered most was making friends and that positive social environment. That’s a big piece of what the brand stands for.
We also saw early on that gamers had a high interest in getting out of the home and gaming, gaming at a higher level of competition, and as a way to make more friends. It’s a very beautiful global market, but it’s highly fragmented. We’d like to think of ourselves as a local Match.com for gamers.
Being a woman and in business, you have to deal with some things that maybe the men don’t. With similar issues existing in gaming, do you think your experience ties into the effort for positivity?
Certainly, there should be more female professional gamers out there. When you think about why women get turned off from gaming a lot of it is the toxicity that does happen online. It really should be a gender-neutral sport. It is a gender-neutral sport.
To be very, very candid, I’ve had the complete opposite experience. It’s been exceptionally collegial and warm.
Super League Gaming is very much in the news right now with the IPO. Have you seen a jump in people trying to participate from the public?
Certainly we’ve seen people coming to our website, wanting to learn more about the company and hope we can bring Super League to them soon.