Tencent Ramon Hermann Speaks of Mobile and Arena of Valor Esports

The World Cup for Arena of Valor was held in the TCL Chinese Theater of Los Angeles, California.

The event successfully ended with Korea claiming the first championship. At the scene, we were able to speak with Ramon Hermann, the director of esports for Tencent. He was eager to introduce what potential Arena of Valor (AOV, Honor of Kings, Wangzhe Rongyao) had in the esports scene.

The following is the interview with Ramon Hermann.

 ※ Note: This interview was held on the day for the semifinals of the AOV World Cup.

 



It’s nice to meet you. Can you briefly introduce yourself?


My name is Ramon Hermann. I’m the director of esports for Tencent. I look after North America, Europe, and Latin America. I look after our esports efforts in the west. So designing what our league structure looks like, how we think about esports in North America, for Europe, and for Latin America.



AOV has been popular in China and Asian countries for a long time. How is it in the US?


The game still very new in the US. We only launched December of last year, so it’s only been out for seven to eight months at this point, so it’s still very early in the stage for us. We launched an esports league and esports structure with our first season very soon after the launch of the game.


Our first season started in April of this year, which was only three-four months after the game launched, but it has been really exciting for us to see how the community has reacted to it; to see already the level of play. At the end of the season, we ran playoffs at E3 in Los Angeles last month for both Europe and North America.


It was really exciting to see how much attendance was at the event; the engagement of our audience. It’s something because it was the first time; we didn’t know how much interest there would be. So seeing that there was a lot of people for the finals, it was really good.



There hasn’t been any mobile esports that had succeeded widely in the past. How do you think AOV will be?

I think it has a very bright future ahead of it for two reasons. One is if we look at the game itself, it’s already proven it’s a great esports title in China, Thailand, and Vietnam. The game is super super successful there as an esports title, and most of those countries it is the most successful esports game. We’ve seen that the game self-delivers as an esports title.


For the west, for North America, mobile gaming and mobile esports are still a bit new. It’s something it’s something we’re still seeing early adoption, and I think part of that is because, for most gamers in the US, they’ve grown up having a PC or console or both. That’s going to set the bar and standard for what they expect from a game.


It hasn’t been until very recently that phones got powerful enough to offer a similar experience. AOV is one of the first games where you can get core mobile experience. That’s very comparable to what you’ll be used to from your PC before. We’re at a stage right now where the first early adopters are discovering what they can laugh and enjoy, that they can also do on their phones. We’re really positive about the feedback we’ve got around that, the engagement we’ve seen. We’re looking to grow that space.

 


What do you think is needed the most for AOV to succeed as an esports title in the west?


The game just needs to continue to grow for people to get more familiar and to accept the fact that you can have a legit mobile experience that’s comparable to what you’ve been used to before.


It’s interesting, I mentioned E3 earlier; we had a big stage, big screens over the stage that showed the matches, and people that were coming from afar first saw the big screens and they would come close to check it out. I spoke to some of them and they hadn’t realized that it was a mobile game until they got really close and saw the players playing on their phone.


Just looking at the game itself, it felt to them that it was like a PC game. The fact that they didn’t know that you can have that experience on mobile just tells me that it’s still going to take some time for people to get more familiar with it, to become more accepting of it. But I think we’ve seen more growth, we’re on the right track so we’re looking to go bigger for season 2 and just keep pushing.



You had said that a high skill ceiling is needed to be a competitive esport. Do you think that AOV has that advantage?


Absolutely, yes. The fact that you have the best players competing; it’s those exact players, it’s not random teams that got lucky and happened to get here. They’ve consistently proven that they’re the best at what they do. I think that to me is the hallmark of a strong esports title. Your skill, your expertise; that you’re consistent in your performance and can demonstrate the point that you’re 0.1% at the top of the top to really deliver on it.


We saw during the regular season for the NA game; the NA teams that qualified were the strongest team throughout the season. It was really deserved for them to move to the World Cup and compete. I think that is what really makes an esports, that it’s your skill that gets you into these competitions and allows you to win these competitions.

 


How are you planning to run the league for AOV? Are you planning on a serious league with fixed teams like Overwatch League or League of Legends, or is it something like Hearthstone, where anybody can compete?


Our first season was more for a grassroots effort. A lot of that had to do with the fact that the game had just launched. So we didn’t know who the strong players were, and neither did the teams. We really needed to find a much more flexible system, which meant that we had multiple qualifiers initially, but then even during the season, we had weekly relegations for the weakest teams to drop out and new teams move in through qualifiers.


That allowed the strongest players naturally surface to the top. Towards the end of the season, we saw things settle in, and it showed us that we probably had the strongest players in those teams, and the strongest teams in the league.


With that experience, for season two, we’re planning for season two and we’re about a week or two away from announcing it, we’re a lot more confident in locking in the teams from the start and having a more regular team structure that will continue throughout that season.


Maybe if that settles well, we can think about franchise models in the future. I think that’s maybe still a little bit off into the future, but we definitely want to move into a more structured full season system for what’s coming.



If you’re planning on a more structured system, what are you planning to do for the players so that they can continue to pursue their careers?


When we talk about that, I think it’s important to keep the entire esports ecosystem in mind. It’s not just the players that are part of it. As an esports title grows, there are a lot of different needs to make that space thrive. Like having a team manager, trainer or coach. Those are positions that are needed to be filled.


That’s also a matter in neighboring aspects like production, broadcast or talent. That was one of the big challenges for us when we wanted to start our first season for the broadcast. We needed to find people with talent that are familiar with the champions or the meta that can speak to it.


So for the first season we ran something called ‘Caster School’ to bring in fresh talent. We trained them and every week there was a challenge where they could prove how good they were at mastering, and the top casters from that week would move on to the next week. As a matter of fact, the two winners were casting our finals at E3 and at the World Cup now.


We helped them grow in that space, and I think it’s important to continue to attract people and give them opportunities in that space to find a role that they’re excited about.


Before we held the World Cup, we had a boot camp in Thailand for the players to get used to playing the same game. We needed to get the players used to the champions that are slightly different from Honor of Kings to AOV. At the same time, the boot camp allowed the rest of the teams exposed to the meta and strategy that the top teams in Asia are currently running.


That I felt was an interesting set up to fly all those teams to Thailand for two weeks, and have them constantly scrim against each other. I noticed how much the gameplay of the teams from NA or EU changed over a very short period of time, and how quickly they leveled up.


I’d love to see more global competitions and more global opportunities in the future, where teams from different regions get to compete with each other. It drives the best strategies and mechanics forward very quickly.



How much is it different from Honor of Kings and AOV?


We had to rework the looks of the champions from scratch to fit more for the western audience. That has also led to some of the champions have some different abilities or how their abilities function. Some of the champions hadn’t been released in some regions yet.


Will, Senior Account Director for Gaming at TRUE Communications: The maps are a little bit smaller too. One of the main differences in the meta would be AOV has a larger map; it’s more about rotation and you have to cover more ground, while Honor of Kings is more about teamfights. That’s one of the easiest ways to explain it. They’re largely the same, but the map size changes how they play.


It’s a few nuances, but on the pro level, those have a big impact, so we wanted to make sure whoever competes here has enough time to familiarize themselves with that and adapt their strategy accordingly.



China is the region that AOV is the most popular in, but why did you hold the World Cup in the US, in LA?


We launched the game in the US this year, so for us, this was the opportunity to acknowledge that we’re now present in this region as well. LA as a city is a very iconic city for esports, and we felt that the Chinese Theater as a venue was a really good place for us to do it.


We talked about a couple of different options but we really liked Los Angeles as a destination to really show to our players, especially North America, that the game’s now available in this country as well.


We’re going to rotate the locations in the future. At this time we thought that North America was the perfect place for us to go to.

 


The prize pool for this tournament is $550K. Are you planning to expand it for the following competitions?


We’ll see how things develop. We’re just locking in our next season for NA, and we'll probably increase the prize pool a little bit for that. We’re moving that up gradually. We haven’t had the chance yet to talk about the next major event yet, so I don’t really have the answer for that yet.

 


You started open beta on Nintendo Switch. What was the main reason you went into that area?


Will Powers: One of the main appeals of AOV was the accessibility on a mobile platform. It’s known as one of the most accessible competitive game. We saw a big opportunity specifically with Nintendo. The Nintendo Switch is seen as a really mobile platform. It’s like a home console that has mobility.


So there is a natural marriage between taking something like AOV that has its roots in a mobile platform, on your phone and taking it to a home console that also has mobility.



Will it be like the same competing system on Switch as well?


Will: That still needs to be determined. We’re looking at Nintendo Switch as its own ecosystem. Just like there’s Honor of Kings in China, and AOV in the west. The way that Tencent operates is that they’re very community driven. We’ll look at what the community on that platform wants. If the community wants more esports, and if they’re gravitating towards being very competitive, then you’ll see Ramon enter into that space and create competitive aspects on Switch.

 


It’s not over yet, but are you satisfied with what you’re seeing at the World Cup?


Personally, I’m sad that the North American team is no longer competing, but I’m taking the same approach to the soccer World Cup which ended a few weeks ago. I’m German, and the German team didn’t make it past the group stages, but it was still a great World Cup to watch. At that point, you just look at really good games to follow, so I’m really excited to watch top level plays here.


So far, it seems to deliver on that. I’m excited to see more of that especially for the finals, I’m very curious to see who’s going to be in the finals and who’s going to win. So far the experience was really good.

 


Are there any personal regrets or things to improve in the following competitions?


There are certainly a couple of things we’d like to improve on. I think one of the areas we didn’t have enough time to focus on was to explain who the players are or who the teams are.


That’s something we’d like to put more tension to it towards the next season; to be able to relate that story to the audience and building more of a storyline. As more seasons are played, we’d like to introduce where the teams come from, and about the history of the teams and players to create more interest there.



Our main audience is the NA and Korea. Any last comments to those who enjoy AOV or to those who are considering playing it?


Korea has always held a special place for me because that was where I first got introduced to esports many years ago, with Starcraft: Brood War. Experiencing that in its early days was really impressive. Seeing how a lot of other Asian countries like Thailand and Vietnam have really started to embrace AOV; they’re running really big events. I’m hoping to see some of that in Korea, not in the distant future.

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