Every gamer has been there: You make an amazing play and want to share it with your friends immediately. For a while now, startup Plays.tv has made that pretty easy. Much like popular screenshot programs Gyazo or Jing, Plays.tv uploads whatever highlight you want to its site and generates a link for sharing on social media.
But there’s a little more to Plays.tv than meets the eye. Founded by the world’s first professional gamer, the company is starting to pick up steam in the esports world, with a big coming out party later this year when it will feature at some of the biggest tournaments in the scene.
The company recently partnered with one of the world’s largest esports event organizer, ESL, and its premier tournament series, Intel Extreme Masters (IEM). For the first time, viewers can instantly share highlights from professional players. The partnership will last for the remainder of the IEM season and will cover major events, such as IEM Cologne and IEM Katowice, which drew more than 1 million viewers to its Counter-Strike tournament in March.
The man behind Plays.tv is very familiar to old-school competitive gamers: Dennis “Thresh” Fong, hailed as the world’s first professional gamer by the Guinness Book of World Records. Fong’s heyday was in the competitive Quake days, before esports was even a concept. Back then, it was just video games, and Fong happened to be one of the best.
“The esports scene was very different when I was playing professionally—it was really just starting to take shape,” Fong told the Daily Dot. “The experience was amazing, going from just playing against my brothers and then with and against friends to suddenly playing for what at the time were the highest stakes imaginable, having live spectators, endorsements, etc.”
As a competitor, Fong picked up on a business opportunity: creating an online community for gamers across the world. In 1996, Fong launched his first startup company, GX Media, a media group that owned a number of sites managed by Fong and his brother. He stopped competing in 1999 at the age of 22, but continued his business ventures targeting the gaming community.
“Practically every company in the gaming industry makes games—community has always been an afterthought,” Fong said. “While it’s more commonly understood now, it hadn’t been for a long time. I wanted to focus on improving that by building services [and] tools that solved our needs.”
Fong’s held to that mission throughout his entrepreneurial career. In 2002, he co-founded an instant messaging client and social platform Xfire, a program made specifically for gamers to connect with one another, which would grow into a popular hub for players in many different games. At its peak in 2006, it was acquired by Viacom, a major media company that owns movie studio Paramount Pictures, as well as television networks MTV, VH1, Nickelodeon, and more.
But parting ways with Xfire wasn’t the end for Fong. His next venture was Raptr, another product designed specifically to cater to gamers connecting via the web. Fong says Raptr is much like his previous experiences at Xfire, but varies in the fact that the company has grown to be more “intricate and complex.” It’s also grown to include Plays.tv, which Fong and his colleagues are betting will be a big driver of growth.
“We built Plays.tv because we believed there must be an easier way to share,” Fong says. “Traditionally, you have to install a video capture client, remember to turn it on/off before/after games, dig through hours of footage to find a couple of key moments were worth sharing, upload to YouTube, then share it with friends. It was an arduous process and a big reason why almost no one did it.”
The IEM partnership is just the beginning for the company’s esports ventures. It recently began working with two popular esports teams, Team Liquid and Team SoloMid. Team SoloMid stars Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg and Lucas “Santorin” Larsen, as well as Team Liquid’s Christian “IWillDominate” Rivera and Kim “FeniX” Jae-hun, frequently use the client to highlight their plays.
“I sent them an early beta and their players were hooked the first time they tried it,” Fong said. “Pros effectively are creating content every time they play, but there was no feasible way—without spending a lot of time [and] resources—to curate and share those moments. Plays.tv enabled them to do that.”
At IEM, the software will be used to record footage from League of Legends, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, StarCraft 2, and other games. “You can imagine how logistically challenging it is for event organizers to have to run to each tournament PC, right before each match, to start recording and then run to them after to stop the recording and upload it,” Fong said. “[But] Plays.tv automates almost all of that process.”
It’s a combination of logistical coordination and computing power that Fong surely could have hardly imagine 20 years ago. It’s safe to say that many of his best plays were never recorded and barely seen. That’s not going to be a problem for the next generation of esports stars.