Jake Smith & Cameron Robinson – RankR Esports – It’s all about the players

RankR is aiming to become the home of esports, where the community can meet to find an opponent for any game, join a team (or build and manage one) or find upcoming events and read news from the industry as a whole. 

Jake Smith, RankR CEO
Jake Smith, RankR CEO

Whilst the past year has seen an increasing number of esports suppliers and operators, in varying capacities, the majority only have a vested interest in the growth of their particular title. As such esports as a whole suffers, including the players and fans.

Imagine if Sky Sports News owned the Premier League and so exclusively covered matches and news from it. This is the problem that RankR is addressing, it’s more predominant in esports as individual companies actually own each title such as Riot with League of Legends, or Valve with Counter-Strike.

SBC spoke to RankR Founders Jake Smith CEO and Cameron Robinson COO to discuss how and why they’re going about making a community hub, legitimisation of the sport and how betting can help tackle match fixing.

SBC: Why is RankR needed and why hasn’t it been done before? 

Cameron Robinson, RankR COO
Cameron Robinson, RankR COO

Jake: There was no need for a site like RankR three or even two years ago. There was very little crossover in esports as a whole. People cared about particular titles, but this is rapidly changing. There is now major interest in esports as an industry and far more crossover. The question we ask ourselves for every decision we make is: does this help the players play the game? We don’t care who makes the game, and which platform it’s on, it’s all about the players. This is one reason nobody has done what we’re doing. It’s easy to just focus on the numbers and overlook the community which makes those numbers. We think the community is the most important part.

Cameron: Everything we do is about the player, that’s where our focus lies. We wanted to create a place for all levels of gamers across all esports titles where they could visit to check events, join events and find someone to play against at a suitable level.

SBC: What are your backgrounds, what led to the founding of RankR? 

Jake: I saw a job posting for an esports coordinator at Riot Games which showed me that a career in esports was possible. I graduated with a Media Arts and Game Development degree, after I’d started a League of Legends club at my school in order to gain experience and get that job at Riot.  

During this time I put a lot of work into finding events for the club’s members, and this regularly proved to be incredibly difficult. With the popularity of esports, it occurred to me that this shouldn’t be this hard. It was then that I contacted Cameron, and the idea for RankR was born.

Cameron: After we started working together on what became RankR, we won an entrepreneurial concept award which was what kickstarted it for me as I began to see it as a truly viable business option. Jake went to South Korea to study esports as a business at this point, and I stayed to help grow the team. We entered a startup accelerator programme and this provided an excellent foundation for RankR.

Valve announced prizes of $1m for CS:GO Major Championships this year, four times higher than in 2015. Is this proof of the professional CS:GO scene leading by example and reaping the rewards, and do you expect other titles to go the same way?

Cameron: There has been a precedent set by The International for Dota 2 which last year saw a prize pool of $18.4m (£13.1m). This elevation in the prize pool can only say positive things about the CS:GO scene, though almost undoubtedly others will follow suit. Such prize pools are becoming more of a standard.

Jake: The money that goes into these events now is great to see and it legitimises esports to a point, but without the game being where it is and being played to the level that it is, the prize pools wouldn’t matter. All of these companies are making far more money than they used to which enables them to have such prize pools, and this looks set to continue with more sponsorships flooding in.

SBC: What, if anything, can esports learn from DFS industry?

Jake: One of the things we’re taking from both fantasy sports and traditional sports is that people care much more about a game when they have a stake in it. It’s about engagement and involvement, and this transfers over to esports extremely well.

Lewis Smith is the Director of Statistics and Fantasy Gaming at RankR and has worked in a professional capacity with sports teams in North America. He’s RankR’s numbers guy.

SBC: What is the ultimate direction you’re aiming to push RankR in, is there a long term product road map?

Jake: We are aiming to be the one place for everything esports. The aim of the chat feature is to make it the one place you have to go to manage your team. You have this, the calendar and all the tools you need to effectively manage a team.

In the early days of Myspace it was the place for bands to make a page, on which they’d have a presence, showcase their music and list their gigs. Myspace made it so bands didn’t need their own site anymore. We want our tournament support system to go the same way, and ensure that organisers can use RankR to broadcast their events.

As time goes on there are more games coming out, meaning the sky is the limit with how far RankR can go.

Cameron: In two years time I’d love to have created a community in which people interact, improve and find teams. If we can also have helped a few teams reach the point in which they’re able to start competing professionally, that would be fantastic.

SBC: What do you think of the Turner’s forthcoming CS:GO E-League, is esports and tv an uneasy and pointless mix, or will it bring in a new wave of fans?

Cameron: More than just creating new fans and players, it’ll be a great foray into an education to the masses on esports and the esports scene. Once it’s on the likes of Turner it’ll make the industry as a whole more robust. As such it’s good for esports in general, and particularly Counter-Strike, but we’ll have to wait and see how it’s received.   

Jake: I think the current fans will continue to watch it on Twitch. As for bringing in new fans and players it could be similar to the effects of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. What that game did for video games was to take people who normally wouldn’t be a ‘gamer’ and made them such. With E-League it’s bringing CS:GO to that same audience, on a grand scale. It’s also legitimising, perhaps more so than the growing prize pools, as people will be able to see it even if they don’t know what Twitch is.

SBC: A growing number of betting operators are offering esports markets. What does this mean for the wider industry?

Jake: Whilst I personally don’t gamble with real money I’m notorious for skins betting, which is huge in esports, with some skins going for considerable sums of money. What I think the investment of gambling operators does for esports is that it forces companies, event hosts and the industry as a whole to look at truly tackling match fixing which has been something of a problem in recent years. It was an issue in South Korea wherein players from StarCraft and more recently League of Legends got in trouble for match fixing.

In this sense that the increasing involvement of gambling is actually helping to curb match fixing and develop good practice across the industry’s events, this can only be a good thing.

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