No one is more plugged into the Heroes of the Storm Global Championship (HGC) scene than John Teymoorian. The current Esports Product Lead for Blizzard Entertainment’s main goal is to help strengthen and grow the program since its inception a few years ago. By networking with professional organizations, gathering community feedback and planning a long-term strategic calendar, Teymoorian wants to ensure everyone is happy, not only in the present but the future.
At the Mid-Season Brawl global tournament in Sweden, Teymoorian sat down with me to discuss the growth of HGC, upcoming sponsorship opportunities for un-sponsored teams, how regional feedback differs and more.
Your official title is the Heroes of the Storm Esports Product Lead, what does that actually entail from a day-to-day basis?
I’m basically the strategist for the program, so I look at everything from a holistic standpoint. I look at everything from nine months to about a year out and I’m paving the way for where we’re going. I spend a lot of time getting feedback from talking to our orgs, players, what is happening in the scene and looking critically at all the things we are doing and trying to find ways that we can improve.
How would you describe the current state of the Heroes of the Storm esports scene? This could be from an analytical or strategical approach.
I would say that the program has been growing. Our first year was pretty good, I think it was successful by exceeding all of our expectations. We are really focused on trying to do new things. We’re pretty humble and try to get feedback on a regular basis and we are willing to act on it and try something. If we are getting feedback that is not positive or has issues, we’re not shy of just scrapping it and starting over or getting feedback from our organizations.
“The top teams in NA and EU want to spread the wealth. They want to create an environment where all the teams within the same region can learn and grow together.”
Case-in point, HGC Cheer last year. It was the first year and a brand new program that there was no example of this happening elsewhere so we said, “Okay, this looks cool, let's give it a shot. Lets see how it works.” We launched it and exceeded all of our expectations. We blew the Cheers right out of the water and were super happy with it but, despite all of that, we saw right away that there were a lot of ways we could improve that program.
We spent a lot of time this year making those changes and the program we have now is much better and much more robust. There are more incentives to keep coming back and cheering for your favorite teams as there are a lot of cool items you can get and overall it just has a much better structure, there's more information. You can figure out which team has the top Cheers, you can see where you fall-in on the Cheer tiers and overall it’s more thought-out.
We made other changes like introducing our owned-and-operated foreign language channels because we saw viewers were watching our main channel from countries where the primary language isn’t English. We thought, “Okay, what if we invested in these channels to serve them better? Would that help?” For example, on our main channel, viewership may look like it’s down from last year but what we are seeing is a lot of our users who are not primary English speakers are choosing to watch on our other channels because it serves them better so our bottom line is up.
We are also seeing more of our teams sponsored and there are two or three that are in the process of getting sponsored so we’ll have some more news in the next couple weeks. I also have other interested parties emailing us and asking us for more information about how to get involved with HGC. I feel like things are moving in the right direction.
Does the feedback you receive from teams in different regions differ in terms of what their focus is on?
In NA and EU the feedback is much more aligned with one another because I think culturally they are more similar. The top teams in NA and EU want to spread the wealth. They want to create an environment where all the teams within the same region can learn and grow together. So, creating a way to bring everyone to a LAN for example. These are the things they talk about.
“All of the goals we have are structured around, “How do we help make the players successful?'”
For Korea and China, it’s more about how we structure prizing because the idea around “How do we incentivize our teams to try their best and try to grow?” Their standpoint is prizing is the level to pull. Whereas the West is more about collaboration and involvement and facetime with fans. It’s a slightly different approach but the end game is to learn and grow together.
Do you happen to know the number of bits cheered in 2017 off the top of your head and the revenue that was generated as a result? You just hit 7.5 million bits today (now 11.3 million) so how does this compare to 2017 thus far?
I think we hit somewhere around 28 million bits in 2017. I think out of the gate last year the numbers were higher as I think we were the first ones to do that type of program at all. It was newer last year and had a level of excitement around it because people were expecting it.
The program overall that we have right now is better and it’s going to be more successful in the long run.
What are some long-term goals that you want to see achieved within the scene or are actively working on?
Team sponsorship is still a thing and it’s something that we’re focused on. All of the goals we have are structured around, “How do we help make the players successful?” So, last year was all about setting the foundation and creating this slot-ownership program to bring in more structure and organization for us to take care of our players.
We created this system to where players have control over their own destiny, negotiate with orgs directly and they can choose to pass on ownership to an org or keep it with themselves and have a sponsorship deal. Other changes that we are looking at are creating opportunities for fans to interact with each of the players directly to kind of get more face time.
“It’s tough to quote specific numbers though because it fluctuates but, for example, our LAN events we’re exceeding all of our numbers from last year. Sometimes it’s double, sometimes it’s 30%, but we’re out-performing.”
What we get out of that is, for example, some of the teams that never to go LAN that’s an opportunity for them to sell themselves and create that connection. So, presumably, they’ll get a growth opportunity that way.
Some other changes that we are talking about is based on feedback we’ve gotten from the orgs like, is there a way for us to sell their merchandise at our LAN events? That’s something I’m looking into. A lot of this stuff looks achievable so I’m feeling good about that. Right now it’s a matter of us figuring out the “How” phase about how we execute all of this.
I’m sure you’ve heard this request from organizations and fans but where do we stand on allowing users to purchase in-game cosmetics associated with their favorite HGC team outside of the Cheers program?
There are things that I’m considering for next year. We spent a lot of time planning this year with Cheer so we’re trying to see how this performs and get feedback and, basically, we’re going to go through the iteration process again. We’re already thinking about these things one to two years out.
As you are well aware, the battle royale genre of gaming has exploded in the scene and has impacted where people are dedicating their time in terms of viewership and play-time, how has this impacted Heroes?
I think our viewership is up an average of about 15% this year which is pretty good. It’s tough to quote specific numbers though because it fluctuates but, for example, our LAN events we’re exceeding all of our numbers from last year. Sometimes it’s double, sometimes it’s 30%, but we’re out-performing.
Battle royale is really interesting, right? I think we’re all fans of a battle royale game and the things that are happening right now are exciting for esports. When these new programs pop up and there’s a lot of attention brought to it I think it’s good for esports because it’s more excitement around the scene and orgs started talking to companies that produce their favorite games.