Tyler Suiters

This special edition of CES Tech Talk is brought to you by Dell.

Tyler Suiters

Hey, everybody. We're the Consumer Technology Association. I'm Tyler Suiters. We are the owners and producers of CES, the world's largest, the world's most influential tech event there is, and what are the key themes at CES 2020? Gaming and esports. Now, more and more brands are backing esports and, with very good reason, something like 40% of brand exposure in esports broadcasts came from companies that aren't related to gaming, so think about that, reaching a distinct gaming audience, but not necessarily a gaming company.

Tyler Suiters

Esports offers direct access to critical consumer groups, among them 18 to 35-year-olds, and this is a group that may be especially likely to have cut the cord, so brands may not be able to reach them through traditional TV, so today's conversation is with Dell, the owner of Alienware, an iconic brand for hardware in the gaming sector, and we're talking to a current gamer, if I just give you the handle EliGE and you're a gaming fan, you know exactly whom I'm talking about, an up and coming star in the sport; also, a former gamer, who has turned gaming team CEO; and one of Dell's directors who is focused on gaming specifically. It's a conversation about how brands are navigating the esports space, which is growing very quickly, and why this is such a powerful medium to reach customers. That's all on this edition of CES Tech Talk.

Tyler Suiters

All right, we have a trio of experts from the gaming industry joining us from CES 2020 and one from parts unknown here in Las Vegas. Bryan de Zayas is consumer and gaming, global marketing planning director with Dell.

Tyler Suiters

Bryan, I'm glad you're with us.

Bryan de Zayas

Thanks for having me today.

Tyler Suiters

Absolutely. Steve Arhancet is co-CEO of Team Liquid. Steve, I'm glad to have you here in Vegas, too.

Steve Arhancet

Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.

Tyler Suiters

Alright, and joining us from afar is a gaming legend from Team Liquid, Jon "EliGE" Jablonowski, and, Jon, it's a blast to have you with us. Thanks for taking time out of your busy training schedule.

Jonathan Jablonowski

Hey, I'm happy to be here. Thanks for inviting me.

Tyler Suiters

Look, we've got a long, wide-ranging conversation ahead of us. Let's start at step one and, Bryan, I'll begin with you, Dell. How did you get into the gaming space to begin with? I know you've been here a long time, but what was the inspiration behind that for this company?

Bryan de Zayas

Yeah, so it actually goes even further back from Dell, so, if you think of Alienware, so Alienware started back in the late '90s, and so really on the premise of building gaming PCs that could play the latest games at the best performance possible. That's the basis of it. We wanted to deliver that ultimate gaming experience for gamers. It's that core brand tenet that that was always there from the beginning. That has been our guiding principle ever since, so, even today, that's still Alienware and Dell's guiding principle within gaming is to deliver that ultimate gaming experience, and so that's just been true since day one for us.

Tyler Suiters

How does the marketplace look for Dell right now, Bryan, hardware, software, a mix of both innovation woven in throughout?

Bryan de Zayas

Yeah. It is a really dynamic marketplace. From a gaming perspective, Alienware is the number one brand in the world when it comes to what gamers are looking from the performance side, consideration side and so on, but it's expanded significantly. It's not just about PC hardware. It's really about the entire ecosystem around the PC, so think of keyboards, mice, headsets, even down to mouse pads. There's an entire ecosystem that surrounds it from a hardware piece, but really what brings it together is the games that people are playing, so nobody's buying a PC just to have a PC. They have a PC to be able to play a game, and that's really the bridge that we play is we have the technology that allows gamers around the world to enjoy their passion, which is gaming, and when it comes to things like esports, and I know we'll talk some more about that, we are that technology brand that enables players to be the best and organizations to be the best they can, so it's our role in this.

Tyler Suiters

That's a great segue, Steve, and where you are with Team Liquid in that, if you want to be the premier team across a number of gaming, individual gaming sets, you want that partnership with a key software, hardware company, a brand name that is really well-known and can deliver you the best.

Steve Arhancet

Yeah, that's absolutely true, so Team Liquid is the most prestigious and accomplished esports organization in the world, and the reason for that is because our athletes, our players are provided the best-in-class equipment to train on every single day, and the analogy would be Serena Williams. She has a particular racquet that she wants to play with, and a gamer is very particular about keyboard, mouse, headset, mouse pad, monitor. It's all a critical component to the training, and if you can get that extra millisecond, if you can become more efficient in the way that you practice, then we have an edge on the competition, and we believe that because of what we use to provide to our athletes like Jon that that has led us to hold and hoist more trophies and be in the finals more often and have won more prize money than any other esports organization in the world.

Tyler Suiters

Yeah. Jon, let's turn to you right now. Great comparison that Steve laid out. I was thinking more about along the lines of the LeBron, and you got shoes, you got nutrition, you got gear, on and on it goes, but it seems like, within the gaming sector, I mean there's no comparison to another sport really in terms of the equipment you need and how integral it is and directly affects your performance.

Jonathan Jablonowski

Yeah, I think that esports is definitely the most particular in terms of the type of hardware that you need. If you're playing any type of esport, you're going to need to have the most comfortable mouse to use because you're going to want to be able to hit that shot or be the most precise that you can in the game that you're playing or the keyboard that feels the most comfortable, stuff like that. In other types of sports, I mean, you have your bats and stuff like that. I mean, if you have a bad bat, I'm sure it's really not as viable as having the perfect one that you want, but I think that you'd still be able to get by, but, in esports, I think that if you have a bad mouse, a bad sensor, that is really going to be hindering your game play a ton.

Tyler Suiters

That comes back to you now, Bryan, with the role of that Dell plays, and Alienware and Team Liquid have one of the longest-standing team sponsor partnerships. You're coming up on a decade now. How did that start, and Steve opened up for you, too, and how did that evolve over the last 10 years?

Bryan de Zayas

Yeah. Actually, I would love for Steve to take this. He tells an amazing story in how this all came together.

Tyler Suiters

Yeah, that was pitched right over to you, Steve.

Bryan de Zayas

No. I started my life in gaming when I was very young. I was the kid that was anxiously waiting to go to the computer lab to play Oregon Trail. I ended up starting my own League of Legends team and traveling around the world and, in the first season before the LCS, which you can think about as like the NBA or something, before it was formed, we played in the world championship, and we ended up finishing sixth, and I played on the team. I was good back then, and after we won that, Marcie, who works at Alienware, she came up to me and she said, "Hey, we'd love to work with you guys. You guys are amazing. We love you," and I was like, "Really? This is great," so that was the first day that we decided to work together, and, since then, we've really just decided to identify problems that exist within the gaming ecosystems and communities that we both love, and we work to solve those, so, within that, comes a giving-back to our players, the communities.

Bryan de Zayas

Most recently, two years ago, we built a gaming facility because, within esports, most players are training and working out of gaming houses, so you'd go to the living room and you would spend eight hours training with your coach and then go back to your bedroom. It's a bit antiquated, and we knew that we needed a facility to properly train and to have the right structure, and so we spoke with Alienware about that and we said, "Look, this is the need. We need a better mental health for our players," and we believe that it will lead to better performance, and we did it, and we built a facility in Santa Monica, and we just broke ground on a new facility that we'll open in Europe, and these are ways of solving problems that lead to a very mutual benefit for all constituents, the fans, Alienware, Team Liquid.

Tyler Suiters

Bryan, Steve brings up this great nascent moment, and who knows how many decades ago it happened when someone first went to an athlete and said, "Hey, I'd like you to wear my shoe," but that happened at some point. There was day one or year zero somewhere, so what was the inspiration for Dell to get into this space and first reach out to a quality team like Team Liquid and get that relationship going?

Bryan de Zayas

Yeah, it comes back to what the gamers are really interested in this game, and so we... Internally, at Alienware, we're very much gamers, and so when we're passionate about something, when it comes to a certain game, certain individuals and so on, we want to take, quite honestly, what we see as our responsibility to help move forward, move the industry forward from our perspective, and so what are... when we choose who we're going to partner with, who we're going to work with, it's very much... It's a process of understanding the people. We've always had this conversation like it's more about the people than the process or what we're going to end up doing.

Bryan de Zayas

We know where we want to go. We want to make it better for the professional athletes. We want to make it better for gamers, whether you're a professional athlete or not, and help the organizations move forward, but we want to partner with the right people that have the same motivation, and so you hear Steve talking about mental health of the players. You hear them talking about how do we move them out of playing video games and training in a kitchen area and then walking 10 feet to go to a bedroom, how do you give them the proper nutrition, and so, for us, we can supply technology to enable that, but just, overall, to help the industry and help gaming get to a level where it is viewed as a traditional sport is.

Bryan de Zayas

Steve mentioned that League of Legends is the NBA, so the athletes should be thought of in the same kind of way. The organization should be thought of in the same kind of way, but the teams can't, the organizations can't do that by themselves. Even the league can't do them by themselves, so how can we do that, and so, partnering with Team Liquid for us to go develop this training facility, we want to be able to work with the best from Team Liquid, but, on top of that, we know it's going to have a broader impact in the industry, so, since we first announced, it'd been two years now I think it was, maybe three years, there's been just this growing of more similar facilities trying to emulate what we've done with Team Liquid.

Bryan de Zayas

In my very biased opinion, I don't think anybody's gotten close, but... and if they are, we're going to definitely one-up them with the new facility in Europe, but, for us, we take a step back, and it's great that there's more of these team houses... or more of these facilities moving out of team houses because it's just going to continue to make our sport more viable.

Tyler Suiters

Yeah. Jon, let's get your first-person perspective on this because, with the growth that Steve and Bryan are talking about, with the sponsorships, with the partnerships, that puts a lot of pressure on you all as players. The more prominence you get, the higher the stakes, the more pressure I'm sure you put on yourselves.

Jonathan Jablonowski

I don't really think that it puts on too much pressure. It really gives a really good safety net, like a good support line for us. Whenever there is something that we need or any type of problem that we have. I know that, going to Liquid and asking them to try to support, that type of thing is going to happen. Anything. Like with mental health, we got a really great sport psychologist that they got for us, and I think it's been really integral for our success, and, with the facility, I think that was really helpful as well having that type of work-and-personal-life balance, so having the sponsors like Alienware be so helpful to us I think has only been a positive for us.

Tyler Suiters

Talk about why that help is needed then, Jon, with the competitive schedule, how it's evolved over the last, say, four or five years and what that does for you in terms of your training schedule, your travel schedule and your playing schedule as well.

Jonathan Jablonowski

I mean, it's actually gotten really crazy in the past few years. When I first started being a pro player in CS, the events were really more of a weekend type of thing, like three or four days, and then slowly, but surely, they got more advanced, like seven or eight days or nine days, just so that there would be more media production, and instead of being one event every month, maybe it's two events, maybe it's three events, maybe it's four in a row, so it's gotten really taxing the past few years because, as you are a better team, you get invited to more tournaments and then you have to travel more, which makes it really stressful, and having to make sure that you are playing at the top of your performance throughout all the jet lag, changes in time zones that you're going to be in. It's gotten really tough in the past few years, so I think that there is going to be a need for a change for that in the future at least for CS.

Tyler Suiters

Yeah, so, Bryan, what about that change? What do you see as driving this cultural shift? The popularity of gaming, the growing mainstream awareness of what esports are and what it brings to all of us?

Bryan de Zayas

Yeah, so it's proven out by itself from a viewership perspective, so, when you think of... and the numbers I have top of mind are League of Legends, but it's very similar with CS:GO and that schedule as well, where when you look at viewership of these tournaments like League of Legends, they outrank... they're the number... They're the number three sport viewed in North America. It's NFL, NBA, and League of Legends. They've surpassed the other traditional sports, and they're on a path to have more viewership overall, so, when we think of esports, we a lot of times think of niched viewership or niched interest when it's very much a broad mainstream thing, and so I think it's because we've helped to build the industry from that perspective, but, ultimately, it's the gamer and the viewer, and so, that, that's a great indicator for where the space is going and what we can't do.

Bryan de Zayas

This is why the relationship with Team Liquid is so important to us is we want to build it for long-term sustainability. We want to help the industry. We don't run leagues. We don't run organizations, but we do have a role in helping sustain the longevity of it, and so we don't want this to be a one-and-done kind of esports flash bang. We want to make sure that we're helping where we can to establish this as a longterm path forward, and so these are the kinds of investments we try to do with the leagues, with the organizations and pick the best ones that we can.

Tyler Suiters

That's got to be unique from your perspective, Steve, in that you talked about that moment when you were first approached and felt like a professional. People were reaching out to you. What do you see as the key moments in that evolution? I'm sure some happened when you were a player and some happened with you as a team lead, but I think also, as a fan. There have got to be some key moments for you that you've seen.

Steve Arhancet

Yeah, absolutely, I believe esports has been around for a very long time. When I was growing up, I remember my parents would take me to Blockbuster, and there were competitions where you had to try to get the highest score in Sonic the Hedgehog and—

Tyler Suiters

Kids, there was once the historical Blockbuster.

Steve Arhancet

Yeah, it went out of business, and that was esports because there were other people in the Blockbuster watching me play, and, yeah, the fans, there were three, but it was limited to the ability of being able to broadcast the content in HD for free, and so I think the evolution of esports is the convergence of a few factors all coming together to create this momentum, and one of them is definitely the technology, and that's the streaming component, so it started with Justin TV and then moved over to Twitch.tv, which allowed the broadcast of this content, and you could watch it, and there was also a community associated with it, so, you all, you had a chat that was next to the broadcast where you could converse with your friends while you were watching the game together, and you had this digital relationship with somebody in the world, and you just their screen name, and so I think that was an important component, and the second one was just the types of games.

Steve Arhancet

I grew up playing StarCraft, and I had my external modem, doh, doh, doh, doh, doh, doh [AOL dial-up tune] and connecting on AOL, and the key and the running man, somebody picks up the phone, and then you get disconnected from your game and you're shouting, so there was this ability of being able to play multiplayer in a reliable way, and that was League of Legends actually, and they were the first real dialed-in and reliable multiplayer experience, so you had that coupled with the ability of broadcasting, and you had all these gamers that were watching their parents and their friends scream at the television and they're like, "That's so weird. Why are you screaming at this pigskin getting thrown around?" That's not me, and there was a lot of us, and so, when we all started watching, the numbers got to where the numbers are.

Tyler Suiters

All of a sudden you're like your dad screaming at the TV.

Steve Arhancet

Yeah. Exactly. Yeah, I'm the crazy one.

Bryan de Zayas

I think what's happened, too, is the digital transformation that Steve was talking about. You were talking about football. It's funny. We've gotten to a point where gamers... we're kind of the... I'll say my generation. I won't say anybody else's age. My generation is hardcore gamers, but we had to figure out the technology along the way, building our own PCs, trying to figure out what works, what doesn't work, but, at the same time, we didn't have a generation before to help guide us, so we just figured it out, and so I think we're first-generation. I think the second generation is now really starting where gaming is just... That's why it's mainstream now. It's just a part of it, where you have younger audience. It's just growing up where it's natural to be a gamer. You're not fighting the, "Oh, gamers," the stereotypes that people think about with gaming, and so I think, just over time, the digital transformation has helped it get there, but, additionally, we're growing up, and gaming is just a part of like going to the movies. You're gaming. You're watching esports.

Tyler Suiters

Jon, to what extent do you adhere to or appreciate the history of what Steve and Bryan are talking about and how it all started, and is that relatable for the space that you're occupying now? I mean, you've been a professional for... coming up on five or six years now. How does that affect where you are today?

Jonathan Jablonowski

I think it's really cool to hear about how esports really started back in the day, how all the orgs used the function and how they used to interact with the sponsors. It was a really world to how it is right now. Everything is a lot more professional, a lot more experience and a lot more guidelines for how you're supposed to be doing things. It really is like a professional athlete type of job. I think that it really puts into perspective how far that we've come.

Jonathan Jablonowski

In the past couple of years especially, I think that there's been massive growth since I've started becoming a pro player, and that only helps the long-term sustainability when we're looking at the scene as a whole just like looking at future esports players that are going to be coming up, the ones that are now, the environments that they're are going to be brought up in, so I think that is all a really good perspective to have, and it's good to have that.

Tyler Suiters

What about the investment and the time it takes for you now? I'm talking about like a CS:GO Bootcamp. You've got to travel. You've got lodging. You've got to talk about connectivity and the hardware involved for practice right now, so, as the sport evolves and being a player and what that means evolves, can you walk us through a little bit what it takes logistically to get ready for one of these boot camps, say?

Jonathan Jablonowski

Getting ready for it, they're just having the best type of bootcamp possible.

Tyler Suiters

Yeah, both I think. They go hand in hand.

Jonathan Jablonowski

The most important things to me from my perspective from it is that everything needs to be as easy as possible. You don't want to have something that is logistically hard, so you don't want to be taking a 10-minute Uber to the facility all the time when you want to go just play because, from my perspective, a lot of gamers just want to take a really short walk and just get on the computer and start playing or, when it's time to eat, they have it all really planned out and they know the time that they're going to get it. They know where they've got to go. They don't have to plan and order an hour before, so that makes it really helpful when we go to our training facilities and we have that type of thing. We have a chef that is going to prepare food for us at a certain time, and we don't have to worry about when we have to order it, because we've had bootcamp in the past where we actually have to order food right before our screen just so it arrived in time for our break, and it's all really messy.

Jonathan Jablonowski

In terms of like other things, I think just having the most optimal hardware that you're going to have at most tournaments, so, having a PC that gets really good frames and having a desk that is tournament compliant, having those types of things is really important, and Alienware has all that types of stuff in our training facility where we don't have to worry about having performance issues or the wrong height for our desks, because the desks that we have are adjustable, so we can get all the types of things that we have in the tournaments right in the same place where we practice, and that is the best possible way for us to be performing at our best capabilities.

Tyler Suiters

Yeah, so that's a great point, Jon. I want to turn to you again, Bryan. With the that you've got to listen to your players, certainly the teams that you're dealing with, that you're partnering with, but also you'd have to know the space in terms of the other players, and, when I talk about players, I mean the brands and what's going on, so let's dive in a little bit into Alienware's partnership with Riot Games, what that means and where you see that going.

Bryan de Zayas

Yeah, so we've been partnered. We just completed our first year formally with League of Legends globally, where they've standardized on Alienware PCs and displays for all their tournaments, but, what's interesting, a little bit of backstory on it, so—

Tyler Suiters

Yeah, please.

Bryan de Zayas

—season one, the first year of the finals was actually run on Alienware systems as well, so we have actually a very long history of working with League of Legends in their esport and running their tournament's. We've just now gotten to a point where, in the conversations with them, we expressed interest, "Hey, we want to help move your tournament forward. How can we enable that?" One of the things that was a major challenge for them is how do they bring scope and scale to rolling out hardware globally across, I believe it's 13 different leagues now around the world, and then being able to do that on the global platform like the world championships, and so, when you think of Alienware and you think of Dell, scope and scale is absolutely there, and so what we've been able to do is really help enable them to manage a worldwide fleet of PCs, a worldwide fleet of displays and help service that proactively.

Bryan de Zayas

Before tournaments are run, they're running Dell-specific hardware that's... or software, excuse me, that is actually looking to see if there's going to be a hardware issue before it happens, and so, if they think there's going to... might be an issue, that product comes out of the fleet and gets fixed before it goes back in, and so when you hear Jon talking about the hardware and the reliability, that's... Those are the kinds of things when we, from a Dell and Alienware perspective, think of what we can do. That's how we think about it. It is very easy to go and say, "Hey, here's money. Go throw a logo on a banner," or something like that for a lot of the... a lot of companies out there. We don't approach it that way. We approach it, "Do we have a meaningful place in this area and, if we do, let's go in, and, if we don't, cool, somebody else can step in. That's fine."

Tyler Suiters

Yeah. Yeah, that's interesting. One of the aspects that you and I had talked about previously, Steve, is the fact that the partnerships, the connections that you make, CES 2020 is a great example, but these are... The brands you're looking for aren't necessarily gaming brands always. Dell, for example, is, yes, deep into gaming, but it's also a brand that is well-known by people who aren't gamers, so do you see that as... Is it the state of play now or is that where we're going terms of someone like Team Liquid and the partnerships that you want to develop and the relationships that you're building?

Steve Arhancet

Yeah. For Team Liquid, we... There's a lot of aspects to our business, and one of them, probably the most important, is the athleticism and the accomplishments that we're able to achieve from having our players and teams compete and to focus on that. Another focus is our fans, and I think that most esports organizations are not doing a good job of recognizing all of the loyalty that is being expressed from fans around the world, and there's no geographic predisposition to an esports team's fandom, which is very typical in other traditional sports, and that's both a weakness and also a benefit, and so if we can establish a better relationship and recognize, when somebody tweets at us and jumps on our Discord or watches us on YouTube or Twitch or they go to one of our CS:GO tournaments in Kiev or whatever it may be, that we hear you, we see you, and so we're looking for partners that can help us be an extension of that experience where we may not have the infrastructure in certain regions in order to continue that conversation and to listen to them, and so I think that is another area that we're looking for other partners that also share in that.

Steve Arhancet

Another big piece of it, it's interesting here at CES 2020, I was at a... listening to a panel, listening to the... Tim who's the CMO over at Delta, and he was talking about an incident that happened a few years ago and that you can't buy their values, and even though this incident cost them $40 million, and we're very much the same thinking, where you can't buy our values. They're core to Team Liquid, and that's why our fans are fans of the organization, our teams and our players, and sometimes it requires very hard decision-making, but aligning with other brands that share that methodology and that frame of thinking is very important for us, and, that way, we can speak to our communities in an aligned way.

Tyler Suiters

That's a great point. Bryan, I'll turn to you with what exactly CES 2020 means to Dell as a nexus of all of these players in the tech sector being here, whether you're buying, selling, innovating, ideating or just a brand ambassador. What is Dell looking for in that space, and what do you get here at a place like CES?

Bryan de Zayas

Yeah, so at CES and, actually, specifically CES 2020, we have... We're always looking for what is that next big announcement that we're going to be able to make publicly to showcase that Dell and Alienware are moving technology and the industry forward, so we always look at this as a major milestone in the year where we're going to come and plan our announcements around CES, make sure that we're basically driving the news out there with our announcements, and so, for us, it's a major moment. It is great to see just how gaming and esports continues to be a major part of not just announcements, but the conversation across the board when we talk to technology and... technology companies and technology brands. It's not just, hey, here's the fastest thing or the biggest item or whatever it might be. It's how is that going to go enable something like gaming, and so that conversation is absolutely happening here throughout CES and the kind of things we're looking forward to continuing.

Tyler Suiters

Yeah, and Dell is very much in the center, I know. Jon, we'll turn to you. You've been watching CES 2020 from afar and I'm sure tracking the innovation. What is it though moving forward that you really want to see as an innovation that will matter to you as a player and as a team member in esports that you're really looking forward to?

Jonathan Jablonowski

Honestly, I'm not really too sure. I think that there's a lot of things here and there that companies should be doing. It's tough because I know, a lot of players, they are really set in their ways with the stuff that they like, so it's up to the companies a lot of the time to show that this is actually what you want, and, when there's a product that comes out like that, then that is like what makes them want to walk through it and be like, "Wow, I do need that," so I don't have that type of innovation myself, but I know that there's going to be something out there that when I see is going to be something that most people are going to want to get.

Tyler Suiters

Yeah, if you keep playing at an elite level, as I'm sure you will, Jon, technology in the sector will find you, will just go for the innovations you need. It's tough to push pause and stop the conversation here, so let's all, Jon, plan on doing this again at CES 2021. Jon Jablonowski, you know him best as EliGE, Team Liquid player, great to have you with us, Jon. Thanks for joining from afar.

Jonathan Jablonowski

Thank you for having me.

Tyler Suiters

Yeah. Absolutely. Steve Arhancet is co-CEO of Team Liquid. Bryan de Zayas, consumer and gaming, global marketing planning director with Dell, a pleasure to have you both with us and taking time out of your busy schedules here at CES.

Steve Arhancet

It was great to be here. Thank you.

Bryan de Zayas

Yes, thanks so much.

Tyler Suiters

That does it for this edition of CES Tech Talk. A reminder, subscribe to the CES Tech Talk podcast. We are on all the major platforms and, that way, you won't miss an episode and you can actually catch up on a lot of the episodes you missed in the run up to CES 2020. As always, none of this is possible without the true stars of our podcast, our executive producer, Tina Anthony, and our senior studio engineer, John Lindsey. You two are the best in the business. I'm Tyler Suiters. Let's talk tech again soon.

CTATECH-PROD3