This time, I took the opportunity to interview the head of the Dynamo Kyiv football club esports team (Dynamo Kyiv Esports) Ivan Bulavka for my blog on sports neuromarketing.
“Due to whom and when did the idea of making the Dynamo Kyiv Esports team come about?”
“In fact, this is the result of trends which basically occur in the industry. Along with other areas of work with the fans that are associated with changes in technology and communications, it became obvious.
Actually, if you look at the history of the arrival of football clubs in esports, last year was a turning point: if there were isolated cases until the summer of last year , since then the system movement has begun.”
“How independent are you from FC Dynamo Kyiv?”
“The esports division is an independent financial unit which is to be self-supporting. It’s not a charity project, but a business one that should prove its worth. So naturally, the activities of the unit are integrated into that of the club, but from a financial standpoint, they can’t go together.”
“How do you plan to earn money?”
“In esports, the sources of income are exactly the same, and even the ratio of benefits to costs is the same as in traditional football – it is merchandise sales, it is matchday revenue, and it is the sale of broadcast rights, and a sponsorship package.
Roughly speaking, you can greatly simplify saying that these are three equal parts, give or take, on the esports market in general. Specifically, in the discipline that we work in now [FIFA], sponsorship contracts and direct sales of advertising make up the lion’s share, 90%.”
“How did you happen to get into the Dynamo Kyiv Esports?”
“I was and am engaged in digital technologies, game mechanics, things like peer-to-peer games. I own all the tools that are needed not for being an e-athlete, but for working with an esports team.”
“Did you get into Dynamo Kyiv when the esports team was being created?”
“No, I didn’t. I was and am engaged in other projects connected with everything related to the digital area.”
“If it’s no secret, what are other projects?”
“It’s a mobile application, which we are now upgrading. It has worked the season for us and proven its effectiveness. There are a number of ways to work with social media. I think it would be right for me to comment after the people see this from the fan’s perspective.”
“You are now the only Ukrainian football club in esports. Are familiar faces from football missing?”
“Yes, they definitely are, but everything is very simple here, just like in football: the stronger the championship is, the stronger our athletes are, the more comfortable we feel in the world context. Therefore, we are all in favor of other clubs to appear.
But esports, you know, already has a developed structure of esports organizations that were the pioneers of esports. In particular, there is the largest Ukrainian and perhaps the world NaVi organization which also has e-football players. This is just one example. So we are not alone, but we are waiting for the clubs to keep us company.”
“If it’s no secret, what is your budget?”
“It’s a secret.”
“And if you compare with the esports teams of other football clubs?”
“It is very difficult to compare that way. Again, the project is working and developing, it has the necessary financial resource. I would say that we are rather limited by some market infrastructure elements.”
“Does the team have any sponsors now?”
“Yes, we have been working since our Spring Cup. We work with the Samsung company and I hope, we will continue to. We’ve had a game with the HyperX company. Now we work with the Logitech company and cooperate with a number of other brands.”
“So your sponsors are separate from FC Dynamo Kyiv, aren’t they?”
“No, they aren’t, we communicate. There are a number of nuances, from the periodicity of contacts and their cyclicity. You know that we started our activity last winter. In fact, we made it by a half-step in terms of cyclicity.”
“How do you generally work on attracting the sponsors?”
“Just like the football club does. Sponsors are interested in us when we execute advertising projects.”
“How do your players train?”
“Ironically, they play. It’s the main part. And most of this training process is aimed not so much at working off some mechanical skills, but rather at psychological stability issues, at tactics.”
“What kind of doping do e-athletes use?”
“The same they do in football.”
“Our guys have energy drinks with pleasure. And they do it in a more reasonable amount than people in everyday life do, you know. The playing atmosphere itself contributes to the release of adrenaline like any competition does. The guys are engaged, among other things, in ordinary sports.”
“How much are your e-athletes competitive at the world level? Is Vitaliy “Labotryas” Mukha the champion of Ukraine?”
“Yes, he is the last year champion of Ukraine, i.e. the defending one, the current. He is the year before vice-champion. Last year, he went to the World Cup in Paris. Unfortunately, he was not pre-qualified, but we see by the current competitions that he is definitely in the world top twenty or thirty.
This can be confirmed as soon as in August 26-27, at a tournament we are to hold in Kyiv [FC Dynamo Kyiv Summer Cup FIFA 17], at the final part, with the representatives of European football clubs among the players present, the professionals well-known on this market.”
“You have your second player, Ruslan “Ruha” Soroka, for promotion rather, don’t you?”
“Well, no, we don’t. Yes, he is much more famous, much more like a media figure than Vitaliy is, but we signed him namely as a player. He participated in only one battle so far – we were for a friendly tournament in Belarus with Dynamo Brest, with Georgian athletes also present.
And he actually took the second place there, having beaten the current champion of Belarus among others. He has a very strong level. We are now integrating him into our process; it will take him some more time to get on the training track, but I think that he has very good prospects.”
“Do you plan to strengthen the team with athletes of other disciplines? Recently, the Dota 2 esports tournament has completed in Seattle and got extensive coverage outside the esports world.”
“We constantly monitor this discipline and some more. We negotiate with potential squads. And naturally, as soon as we get the opportunity to collect the squad that will be of interest to us, we are to expand our disciplines.
There is a nuance that somewhat restricts us in relation to other esports organizations – our principled position that our squad must act under the Ukrainian flag in all international competitions, so we’ve got to have at least three players of Ukrainian citizenship. Unfortunately, esports is arranged in such a way that most of the teams are mixed. And this poses an additional difficulty in forming the composition in terms of shortage of talented people.”
“I’ve learned from your players’ interviews about a possible 2018 FIFA Cup between the esports teams of football clubs. What is your opinion of this?”
“I am positive about it. This has long been expected and discussed among the professionals. This will be announced in September, and we, in principle, expect that next year e-football will take another qualitative leap.”
“What is the FC Dynamo Kyiv players’ general attitude toward the Dynamo esports team?”
“They are curious about it. We still have to prove that it has established itself as the sport, although the figures speak for themselves. The guys play various games in their spare time. It is clear and close to them.”
“Tell us about the long-term Dynamo Kyiv Esports development strategy.”
“The long-term development strategy depends very much on and is tied to the development of the market. It is such a thorny issue.”
“How do you work on your brand?”
“Our number one task is the development and protection of the Dynamo Kyiv brand. We don’t and will never allow any controversy affecting the Dynamo Kyiv brand’s value. Therefore, we are following the general development line.”
“How do you work on the brands of your e-athletes, given that the contracts, I understand, are signed for one year?”
“Contracts are signed in different ways. The structure and logic follow the contracts of the football club. In this respect, it’s e-football that is, from my point of view, the most healthy discipline of esports, because if we are talking about other disciplines, they’ve got a rather complicated situation with the contractual provision of rights both of the organization and teams, and the players.
In fact, all sides suffer because of it and still have to go through an evolutionary path. We have an advantage; our privilege is that we do not invent anything.”
“How do you work precisely on the personal brands of your players? For instance, I’ve visited Vitaliy “Labotryas” Mukha’s Facebook page and found out that he does not really update it, and it is not that attractive.”
“That’s right. The fact is that it’s the off-season now, and the final month of the old game version is ending. This is quite a big change in terms of the audience’s attention and interest. It’s not practical to launch it now. We have a program. I’m comparing it with television now. The TV season starts in September, you hardly see any premieres in the summer; they are likely to rebroadcast…”
“Well, if we talk about Netflix…”
“So this is the story. In fact, working with social media is a streaming, uninterrupted process. And for it to be effective, it has, if started, to be done fully and within the general context.”
“Taking the updates in the UFC now as an example, they refuse athletes who do not build their personal brands, no matter how strong the athlete is.”
“My deep conviction is that all esports disciplines are to get through it. Being relatively young, the esports will have it developing tougher and more dynamic than in traditional, flagship sports. If you look at Dota 2 and CS:GO more closely, you’ll find that there are teams and players with a very strong media side, but at the same time there are teams that have good sporting results, but for some reason allow themselves not to deal with the media part. But it won’t last long.”
“Should we, therefore, expect that Vitaliy “Labotryas” Mukha will have something interesting as well?”
“Sure. I think that as soon as in September, we will be able to talk with you about this in detail – what exactly we do, how we do it, and why.”
“In the case of Ruslan “Ruha” Soroka, we see on his social media a constant focus on advertising sales and short-term gains. How does this relate to the positioning of the Dynamo Kyiv Esports and the Dynamo Kyiv football club in general? It still has a small, but negative impact on the club’s brand.”
“It’s part of the adaptation process that I talked about when we discussed training. It is not only a training process but also a media thing. We do not want to go off half-cocked. Likewise, we are getting ready to fully integrate him into Dynamo Kyiv Esports by next season.”
“What if tomorrow, the main rival of FC Dynamo Kyiv who is a big fan of using not the most ethical methods of rivalry, comes to esports and steals the players from you? Do you have any legal, motivational ways to defend against such a thing?”
“We are in exactly the same situation here as in the football market. You see what expectations you have. I would like to be pleasantly surprised by our competitor. Although anything can happen, just like it is in any other sphere of our life.”
“How do you select e-athletes for the Dynamo Kyiv Esports? How can an ordinary game amateur get into the Dynamo Kyiv Esports team?”
“It’s hard to talk about the ordinary when you have only two players signed. Plus, oddly enough, FIFA is not a team game, at least, in this format. Because, going off the main question, I can state that the format change is actively developing now. I believe everything will shift to the 2×2 format. 2×2 – 100%. They are experimenting now with 5×5, but it is quite difficult logistically. I think it is in the 2×2 format that we will soon see many more tournaments.
So, let’s get back to my answer to your main question. It has been a piece work, but on the other hand, when we are now considering the signing of a team discipline, we are looking at how a certain team will be able to work within the organization. Because playing for oneself is one thing and being part of the club is another.”
“You’ve mentioned the game against the Dynamo Brest esports team. I’ve seen on Ruslan “Ruha” Soroka’s Instagram photos that the Dynamo Brest esports team wears the jerseys like an ordinary team of their club does, i.e. with the sponsors on. Do you have any specific uniform?”
“The guys now play in tournament T-shirts without any logos. In fact, there are two models: either the athletes act in the club uniform that replicates completely the football club one with the same logo, or they have the second model with the identity of the club at the center, yet with a clear identification that this is an esports team.
As for sponsorship contracts, they are agreed upon on a case-by-case basis; they are produced by our negotiations with specific partners, just like they are in every club. Some sponsors find it interesting and consider it a higher priority area; others do not want to be present, so the brands that work with a football club and an esports team do not always, or rather, almost never mix.”
“Dynamo is not in the FIFA game. Do you have any negotiations with EA Sports to include the club in the game?”
“Yes, we do, but the shortest way into the game is the level of the national championship. The story is very simple: if EA Sports has an audience, they get interested. Otherwise, buy a license like the Arab sheikhs do. It is the way, but not ours.”
“There has already been a game between the Dynamo e-athletes and the football club players Maksym Koval and Nikita Korzun. Apparently, the strongest, according to FIFA, football player of the Ukrainian national team is Oleksandr Zinchenko. Are you interested in arranging a game against him?”
“With great pleasure.”
“Do you personally play any games?”
“Sure I do, but not at the professional level. I am probably done as an athlete already. I follow and stay in the context of the disciplines we work in.”
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Leon The Alien
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Images: Ivan Bulavka, jeshoots, Dynamo Kyiv Esports, Dynamo Brest