As esports grows, so does the number of people looking for a career in the industry. However, it can be very difficult to find a job, and hard to know where to start. The need for people with diverse talents increases as the industry continues to grow, but it’s not always obvious how to get in.
For those planning a career in esports, we've prepared a series of interviews with esports insiders. From how they found their jobs, what they needed to succeed, to who they are as people, we want to bring you their stories. We're delighted to introduce our next interviewee in the ‘Meet the esports insiders’ series, Kang Koo-yeol, former Starcraft pro, and AfreecaTV’s esports project manager.
Please introduce yourself to our readers.
I’m Kang Koo-yeol, and I’m a project manager of the AfreecaTV esports content team that runs tournaments. There are many people that enjoyed Starcraft who recognize me. Thank you so much. It’s been a long time since I was interviewed — I’m happy to do one now.
What exactly do you do?
I make Starcraft content like ASL at AfreecaTV or League of Legends content. Besides that, I’ve been designing a competition where former pro players can participate in.
How do gaming leagues get formed and operated?
ASL, for example, AfreecaTV wanted to hold a competition with Starcraft back around 2015, so they made a competition, and from the second time around, the competition went on with the name AfreecaTV on it.
Planning a competition is a very broad term. What I have to do is think about how the viewers can enjoy the broadcast more, and create content for that. Casting the commentators, getting players to participate, designating official maps for the competition, preparing for the preliminaries up to the tournaments, etc. There are a lot of things to think about when planning a competition.
When you plan a competition, what’s the first thing you consider?
If I were to plan ASL season 15, I start with the maps. We need to show new maps to the viewers for the league to feel new, and we could show new aspects of the game that way. The main focus is to get the viewers’ attention by giving them something new to enjoy.
After the maps are designated, I proceed with having the former seed holders’ participate. If the players aren’t well or if they can’t participate, we need to prepare a wild card match. Next comes the preparation for preliminaries — we do online preliminaries through an agency and check the progress regularly.
What makes a competition plan successful?
For a competition plan to be successful, we need to make one that’s fun and enjoyable to watch. If the people who watch the league don’t have fun, there’s no reason to continue the league. In Starcraft, balance among the three races is essential. If there’s only one race winning all the time, the fun decreases drastically.
How about the collegiate leagues? How did you first come up with a collegiate Starcraft league?
I thought there should be a competition like pro leagues for the colleges. There was a league that was going on already, and AfreecaTV went in to aid in operating the league.
Starcraft is an old game. It should feel new to you when young streamers participate.
There are more young players that participate than you think. When I see them play, it’s refreshing. I didn’t think there are many new users in Starcraft, but it was really refreshing for me to see the younger players as I ran ASL,
How old are the viewers that watch ASL and the collegiate leagues?
About 98% are men in their twenties and thirties. It’s really interesting. When I watch other esports competitions like Kartrider, there are a lot of female fans, but in Starcraft, there are a LOT of males. I’m thankful to them for always loving Starcraft and watching our league.
What was the most fruitful while running leagues?
In season 6, Kim “effOrt” Jung-woo beat Lee “FlaSh” Young-ho 3-1. I was moved then. The stories of the players were great. It was a competition where effOrt showed great plays in difficult situations to turn the game around and win. A lot of people, including me, were completely immersed.
These days, when we open the tickets for sale, they get sold out within one minute. Seeing that made the finals feel like hot singers’ concerts.
On the other hand, what are the difficulties of running a league?
We weren’t able to have spectators for about two years because of COVID-19. Since there weren’t any spectators, the games were pretty quiet. There needs to be the roar of the crowd for it to really feel like a competition. I hope COVID-19 goes away as soon as possible.
Do you have any advice for those who want to become an esports project manager?
Sometimes, those people message me through social media. Whenever they ask, there are some pieces of advice I always gave.
First, you need to plan a competition for a game that you know well, a game that you enjoy. The planner must know the game better than anyone else. Since I used to be a Starcraft pro player, I knew what was fun about Starcraft, and I had a clear goal about how to prepare.
Obviously, if you start working as a project manager, you might have to plan a competition that you don’t want to. Even in those situations, you need to understand the game and try to enjoy it.
Second, making a competition can’t be done alone. Renting a venue, broadcast, selecting players, production, etc. You need a lot of help. Maybe anyone can actually “plan” a competition, but it’s really difficult to make it really happen. So to become a great project manager, you need to get close to many people in the scene. That way, you can get help when you run into any difficulties.
You don’t need a special certificate to plan competitions, but if you can show what you’ve planned and explain it through presentations, that would help a lot. When you’re actually running a competition, you should have a checklist and progress meticulously. If you don’t do what you needed to do, that always comes back to haunt you.
You also need to think in advance about the possible variables. There are many variables that can happen. There could be COVID-19 issues, there could be issues with the casters, or maybe a player might not be able to attend, etc. Whenever something like that happens, people look for the project manager. The project manager needs to have a clear answer to solve the situation. That way, the competition can go on smoothly.
Do you have any last comments?
If there were someone that taught me about managing and operating esports competitions, I would be able to do better as a project manager. I’m happy that I am “that someone” who can do that now.
If you dream of becoming an esports project manager, I hope you work really hard. When you work hard with passion, things often work out for the best. I felt that passion is the most important.
Lastly, it was an honor to be interviewed like this. Please enjoy and support Starcraft and ASL.