One of the foremost organizations in European esports is looking to expand into North America.
That’s according to new Fnatic CEO Wouter Sleijffers, who sat down with the Daily Dot at this year’s Esports Conference. Sleijffers joined Fnatic earlier this year to take over as the organization’s chief executive officer. Fnatic is hoping he can bring a fresh perspective to one of the most storied teams in competitive gaming.
Sleijffers previous worked in marketing for Skrill, an e-commerce company based in the United Kingdom. He’s now looking to use his proven skills in brand management and promotion to take Fnatic to the next level.
The Daily Dot: What was your understanding of esports prior to getting involved with Fnatic?
Wouter Sleijffers: Not much more than the average esports outsider. I knew the scene and industry were there, but I didn’t know the whole history of esports.
How did you first come into contact with Fnatic?
I got in touch with Fnatic when I was at Skrill working in marketing. Fnatic came to Skrill to make a presentation. There I met Patrik “cArn” Sattermon and that’s how esports was first presented to me, as well as who Fnatic was and how exciting the esports industry really is.
How did that lead to your getting directly involved with the organization?
Skrill went through some organizational changes and after five years it just wasn’t the same thing anymore. It went from a “fin tech” to a financial services company. It wasn’t where I wanted to be. I decided to move on, and we had an agreement in place while they were looking for a replacement so I had some time and I reached out to Fnatic.
I loved what they were doing and asked what I could do with them. I started as many others have in this industry, just being passionate about esports and asking how I could contribute.
How did that turn into your becoming the CEO?
What I didn’t know was that Fnatic had grown so much, the business was growing, there were more people involved in it. They were looking for someone who could not only do the day-to-day management of the organization but also help Fnatic grow further both as a business and as a brand.
What needed improvement at Fnatic?
To bring certain standard practices to the business. Fnatic, as many of the other esports organizations have, grew organically from a team of gamers passionate about what they were doing to being more successful and getting together with other teams. They began working on other content and social media, and volunteers become paid employees.
Eventually you get to a point where to grow further you realize that you’re now a business and you’ve got to get some structures in place. Someone has to look after finances, human resources and content.
What do you think was Fnatic’s motivation for looking outside the industry for their new CEO?
For Fnatic, they deliberately looked for someone who didn’t have years of experience and can bring a fresh eye to look at things. Someone with experience with other industries.
So what is your role with the team, in practice?
To help Fnatic grow as a global brand. Our vision is to grow out as an authentic and global lifestyle brand in esports. To help set the organization in place to achieve that ambition. I have a responsibility over the teams and the games in which we’re present, and at times which players we have.
Do you have a say in player movements?
We do talk through roster changes and what to do moving forward, but my basic question to Patrik is, ‘What does it mean for us as a brand? What does it mean for us in terms of audience and reach?’ It’s the business approach of us being a brand and helping to achieve our ambition.
Speaking of reach, is it possible that you would expand Fnatic to North America?
We feel we can make a significant presence in other regions. If you look at our Dota 2 team in Southeast Asia, that’s another interesting region for esports.
The United States is probably the number one market for esports. In order to have a relevance in that market you have to be present there, which we’re not yet. The most likely way to do that is to have a team, or multiple teams, in the United States.
So you are looking to acquire an American team?
We have an interest in an American team. Yes, I would say that.
What’s the next step for Fnatic’s growth?
To keep growing as a global esports organization and brand as opposed to being perceived as a strictly European organization.
And what’s your goal once you accomplish that?
It’s about delivering a stellar experience to esports enthusiasts and our followers in terms of content and the products that tie into our core values.
What do you think is the next big goal for the industry at large?
Being more professional. And that doesn’t mean being corporate. It means that you have a clear focus, you deliver on your promises, you take note of everyone’s interest and make the best effort you can in order to achieve your own ambition, whether it be players or employees.
And more cooperation between esports organizations. We highly value our relationships with other teams because we still need to jointly develop the industry, and the way bigger [non-esports] brands and organizations perceive esports.