Gavin Weeks is an esports entrepreneur and runs the platforms Esportsify, Skinssanity.gg and Shard Esports.
Esportsify allows companies to create their own esports focused site, Skinsanity is the largest and first skins auction only platform whilst Shard, his latest venture, is aimed at unearthing grassroots talent in esports.
SBC caught up with Gavin to pick his brain on commercial opportunities in esports, skin betting and more.
SBC: Hi Gavin, as somebody who is heavily involved across the esports industry, could you walk us through your current ventures? What’s your personal background and entry route in esports?
Gavin: My involvement in esports has been long but mostly quiet, started with running a few teams around 10 years ago including 4Kings & Trademark Gamers. At this time I was working at Future Publishing and spent a great deal of time working within various teams in the company help push the digital side of PCGamer, Gamesrader and a few of their other gaming related brands.
I decided to get involved in tournaments and making it easier for gamers and teams to participate at a grassroots level so I built a platform called Jowst, this was sold to the popular chat software company Xfire in 2013. I here worked for a couple of years to help build out their esports and tournament related product taking on the COO & Creative Director role.
Myself and CEO left the company in late 2014 to launch Esportsify, a platform for helping teams get up and running with a website and other creative options. This is still running and serving over 23,000 teams across a variety of games and nationalities.
Right now we are winding down all our operations which make use of the Steam API (Skinsanity & the Skinz marketplace) mainly due to the volatility of this market right now. We weren’t running any gambling websites and neither of our sites had been approached by Valve but we felt it wise to move our operations away from it as to not conflict with a new set of projects we are working on.
Others are more than welcome to reach out about the auction platform if they wish to launch something similar.
Shard is a new initiative I am setting up. It’s in essence a team, but with the sole focus of scouting grassroots talent and feeding them into bigger more established teams, giving the players, teams and staff the support and structure they need to learn to become valuable within esports.
There is a lack of education on what is actually required to be a success, a lot of players and staff just assume it comes to them.
SBC: What would your advice be for non-endemic companies looking to involve themselves in esports by way of sponsorship?
Gavin: I think this is an interesting situation. Esports has grown to a point where big brands and companies are noticing that they can get prime placement in front of key demographics that suit their brands.
However it’s a minefield; there are thousands of teams who claim they can help these brands, and certainly some can very well, but others cannot. A lot of teams only know how to play. They think that it’s all about what the brand can do for them rather than how they can work together.
Twitter followers means little if you can’t get your fans to engage.
Brands wanting to get involved need to pick their investments wisely and teams need to be educated on how they can convince the brands to work with them.
I work with a few large brands to help them find ideal investments in the space, be it with teams, tournaments, influencers or platforms.
SBC: With the recent skin betting scandal finally coming to the fore, what is next for esports and gambling? Will skin betting survive, and how much of an increase in customers should traditional operators expect if any?
Gavin: We have hit a strange point, Valve did their infamous crackdown on the big sites; some of which have shut down and some have continued regardless.
A couple have even opened up to accepting real money as well as skins for deposits, without a gambling license or any regulated software. With the work arounds that have been put into place we have a very interesting time ahead, will Valve carry through their threats? While risking crashing the market for their skins, the whole reason people give Valve money to open cases is because of the value of the items inside, if they aren’t worth anything then people won’t bother.
I don’t feel Valve will crack down any more than they are already, I think they have too much to lose. The real issue here is the gambling aspect; the fact these sites are all running without gambling licenses in countries that require strict regulations to be followed for running this type of business and need to be approved, or are just flat out illegal.
Some site owners are very nonchalant about this and will end up in serious trouble, running gambling businesses illegally in countries where it’s banned will result in jail time. Let’s not even think about what on top of that will occur when you factor in the underage side of it. It’s a serious business with serious consequences when not followed correctly.
People argue that skins aren’t currency. This is strictly true, however it is a commodity which can be bought and sold via a market. This means they have a monetary value, which in turn means it is illegal to gambling with without a license. While the marketplaces exist, gambling will be cracked down on, if the only marketplace was Steams closed platform it would be less of an issue.
I think skin betting will always exist, much like torrenting copyrighted content does still. Of course moves will be made to block sites at the ISP level in various countries. Valve will block the accounts and a lot of people will lose skins, something a lot of people are happy to risk it seems. I wouldn’t be happy if i had $500 a skins on a site only for it to be blocked or shut down!
The only way for these brands to survive and prosper is to go down the licensed route and remain as a gambling site. This is something that isn’t specifically easy or quick and is a great deal of work.
SBC: What should traditional betting operators do to attract and retain esports fans? Is the Dafabet and Fnatic partnership for instance something which is worthwhile?
Gavin: This is not an easy question to answer. I have my theories about what will and won’t work within the space as I’ve discussed with various traditional licensed companies about this so to spill all those beans would not be wise.
I would simply suggest these companies work closely with teams, platforms, tournaments and events to promote a healthy and safe gambling experience. It’s not going away so it’s best that we at the very least keep it safe and educate people on responsible gambling.