From the earliest moments of the Overwatch League, it was always clear which team every fan had their eye on. Whether it was their rooting interest or just as a potential rival, everyone wanted to know about the Seoul Dynasty.
In the months leading up to the Overwatch League, the Seoul Dynasty — then known as Lunatic-Hai — established themselves as the top team in Korea thanks to their huge victories in Korea’s Apex tournament, one of the largest pre-OWL tournaments in the world. With such a strong reputation coming out of a region that already dominates two esports completely, League of Legends and Starcraft 2, and the word Dynasty already in their name, Seoul entered the Overwatch League as the team to beat.
Thankfully for the team, things have gone pretty well through the first four weeks of the league, with the Dynasty sitting at third place with a 6-2 record heading into the final week of stage one. And that’s not the only place the team has been successful, Seoul Dynasty have also just announced that the team has partnered with Razer who will become their exclusive hardware provider.
Heroes Never Die had a chance to chat with the team’s CEO Kevin Chou to talk about how the team came to be, the successes they’ve had so far, and what lies in the future of KSV eSports.
Heroes Never Die: So, talking about both League of Legends and Overwatch here, obviously, in both games you have invested heavily in Korea. What made that region of the world appealing to you?
Kevin Chou: That region of the world for those two games is where clearly the best talent in the world is. I think League of Legends is indisputable, from SK Telecom to other teams like Samsung I mean, a Korean team has won the title the last five years. And it’s not just the title going to Koreans, it’s Korea versus Korean in the finals. So, the dominance of League of Legends is indisputable and my thesis was that Overwatch was trending the same way.
You have the popularity of the game along with the locale competitions that were happening in Korean and there’s a cultural element to esports that’s very uniquely Korean in how the players train and how the coaches create the regimen, I think all of that is absolutely the best in the world.
And for me, that’s my biggest weakness. I don’t have five years of experience or seven years of experience like Regi at TSM or Jack at C9, so it was like ‘how do I create an esports team and compete at the highest levels.’ But my strengths are a deep understanding of technology and the ability to build a strong business foundation. Knowing how to put together people with different skill sets and create a vision that everyone can buy into or a business that can operate across the world in multiple markets and deal with currencies, language differences, time zone difference and cultural differences.
So there was a unique realization for me that if I set up in Korea and I go pick up some of the best teams, both player and coaching talent, and I build out some of the rest of it, the marketing, the sales, and the technology pieces we are interested in doing, I can put together a truly world class organization in esports in a unique way rather than other owners who have other strengths... So that’s the unique differentiator for our company it takes the skill set I have and pairs it with the best players and coaches which I just naturally thought would be in Korea. Or that was the thesis seven months ago, and it seems like it’s played out pretty well so far.
HND: So, has that been your philosophy, since you said you don't have a lot of experience running an esports team, to just leave some of those existing infrastructures in place?
KC: That’s right. One of the core skills that I developed when I was running Kabam was the importance of a great team. We had studios all over the world, five across the world, all making games, and you could walk around an office and get a pretty good sense of the culture. Are people engaging with each other, is there a sense of energy and buzz because people are working together in a positive way, or is it more confrontational culture? And that was very interesting to see across our different studios and that same kind of thing has helped me when it comes to running a sports team.
It was fascinating to me when I talked to the top eight Overwatch teams in Korea before we put together Seoul Dynasty, it was absolutely fascinating to see the differences between the eight teams in terms of the culture and the way they thought about the layers they wanted or the coaching staff they wanted to bring on and what the coaches actually spend their time doing with the coaches. So after getting a good sense of things, spending two plus hours with each team, I though, ‘ wow this Lunatic-Hai team has such a positive vibe to how the players work together, they just really like each other. Even the way that the players interact with the coaches and take feedback from the coaches I thought was incredibly positive. I love that two way interaction between the players and coaches that just shows strong teamwork. So, I picked up Lunatic-Hai.
HND: Do think that that feeling of camaraderie and positive attitude around the team is something that will help you, over the course of Overwatch League, gain fans who find that appealing?
KC: I am actually just as fascinated to find that out as you are... I know there are a lot of other owner that want to put together a mix of teams with big personalities that will draw huge crowds and help with merchandise sales. But I was more interested in putting together a great team that can work together and that can compete for the championship... What’s gonna be a little harder for us is that we don’t have one of these over the top personalities, but if you are trying to watch some of the best Overwatch being played, I think we have a roster that shows off both individual skill and incredible teamwork in the ways that we are sort of setting the meta in the game.
HND: Yeah, and that attitude of winning, I’m sure has translated across all of Overwatch’s competitive regions and already helped gain you a lot of fans in LA, despite being a Korean team.
KC: It’s been really cool to see! In the preseason the only people wearing Dynasty jerseys were Korean, but I watched the game last night and there were six or seven fans in the audience with Dynasty jerseys and they all took a photo and were all non-Koreans, or maybe one Korean, so it was really cool to see. Hopefully as the season progresses and we continue to show great gameplay we will build more western fans as well.
HND: As you move forward in the season, what do you see as future challenges on the horizon for the Dynasty?
KC: Well, we’re new to esports... we don’t have anybody in sales or in marketing so we’re building up those teams and we are starting to create some content but we’re literally just getting started. And there’s the question of, ‘do we build that team in Korea or do we build them in Los Angeles?” We also have our League of Legends team based in Korea so we build the marketing team in Korea, but we’ve got the Overwatch team in LA, so we actually embedded a film crew into our LA team house to help create content and manage social media presence.
So, we are just working on some of the basic blocking and tackling that some of the western teams are so good at already. Ya know, how do we create this content and build this interest for the Korea audience who is half a world away and how to we engage the LA fanbase, which content goes in English?
HND: So, really, everything for Seoul Dynasty and KSV as a whole was built around the idea of strong player and coaches first and then building everything else up from there?
KC: That’s right! We are trying to innovate on the way we do marketing and build a business, but it’s hard to do that if you are the tenth team in the league. You may have a nice dedicated fan base in your local market, but if you are trying to do some more innovative things you want a team that people are following and want to support. Which also alligns with my personality a little bit, I always thought that if I get into esports I want to have the championship team and hopefully we are, between Seoul Dynasty and our KSV League of Legends team, we are putting a great start together in the season.
HND: So, similar to the challenges you see for the Overwatch League, for it to grow and become a successful esport?
KC: Yeah, that’s the question. I think the first is that it truly needs to be more global. Right now, Shanghai, Seoul, London as much as there are questions like, hey you have Seoul owned by an American entrepreneur you have London owned by an American entrepreneur, so I’d love to see a much more diverse and truly global ownership group come to the table. I’d like to see teams in different markets grown their own local markets more too. Right now it’s very American-centric and I think that’s fine for year one while things are just getting started...
I think the second thing is the viewership. While we’re off to a strong start, I would like to see the viewership stay consistent. For me that’s all about building up the personalities and making sure that the fans aren’t just watching the competitive match and that’s it. How do we give fans the backstory of what’s happening with the teams and players, which is critical in other sports so people care when the draft comes or trades come. When some superstars emerge and become the flag-bearers for the league, I think that will be hugely exciting for me.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.