Exclusive Interview With Aaron Speach, CEO of Esports Technologies
Aaron Speach is the Founder and CEO of Esports Technologies, an Esports wagering company. Esports Technologies currently operates Gogawi, an overseas Esports betting platform that is live in over 140 countries, including South America, Central America, and Asia. The company is looking to offer consumers the best Esports betting experience around the world. The team is also working on several platforms for the United States market. The company recently had its IPO in April and went live on the NASDAQ exchange under EBET.
In this interview, Aaron Speach and I dive into his background in Esports, Esports wagering, the United States Market, and the future plans of Esports Technologies.
An Esports Background in StarCraft
Matthew: What kind of background do you personally have in Esports? Did you grow up playing? Did you grow up around the scene at all? Or is this kind of something that you have recently jumped into with this new venture?
Aaron: That’s a great question. So actually, I really started falling in love with video games and then Esports with the video game StarCraft. So, StarCraft came out in the late nineties, and in middle school, kids were playing it at school, and I asked my parents to buy it for me. And lo and behold, I was instantly addicted to the game. So much so that I would come home and I would just sit down and play StarCraft for four, six hours just to get better and to rank up, and the way that they structured their leaderboards and battle network with ranking you, with what they call the ladder, it fueled my competitive spirit because I played a lot of traditional sports as well. So it was no different for me than practicing basketball on the court for four to six hours.
I was really early on it, and I was actually ranked very high on the ladders, and I was very competitive, and then when high school hit, it just kind of, sort of fell out of favor with me. Then, when college hit, I started seeing all these tournaments in South Korea for this game that I played when I was a kid and was watching these massive arenas and these huge sponsorships, and I was instantly hooked to the Esports side of that. I realized that there was going to be a huge business because although it wasn’t very popular in the U.S. or Europe, or the rest of the world in the early 2000s, I realized pretty quickly that it is going to spread because you can’t deny the excitement, especially for people who grew up playing video games.
So yeah, I was in Esports very early on, and when an opportunity came to bring sports wagering to a different market instantly, I was like, Esports is the way to do that because bringing another traditional sportsbook and making traditional sports for millennials and Gen Z is it’s just too saturated, it’s going to be too hard. Esports is an emerging market with half a billion annual unique viewers. It was just a perfect synergy. So, that’s how I started Gogawi four years ago or five now.
Matthew: Yeah, that’s really good to hear that you were in on Esports early. It’s always nice to hear the people who were in the StarCraft and early Counterstrike scene kind of being at the forefront of this new wave.
Growth in Esports and Esports Betting
Matthew: So, my next question, the future outlook of Esports seems bright, but in your mind, what are the biggest concerns for the growth of Esports and Esports betting?
Aaron: Yeah, I mean, it’s kind of two separate questions. I think on the wagering side, the biggest concern is there’s always going to be regulations and payment systems for different websites. I think we’re crossing those hurdles, which is fantastic to see. The U.S. is opening up more states to legalization, and I think where the U.S. goes, a lot of other countries follow in terms of the way regulations are handled. So, I think a lot of those hurdles in the wagering side are being crossed. On the Esports side of it, the biggest part is going to be creating the buzz around the personalities. Right now, I think a lot of it’s team-centric, which is fantastic and great, but there isn’t that LeBron James yet, right? There isn’t the Conor McGregor. The players aren’t household names, and I think a lot of the sports are doing that for a reason. They want to make it more team-focused, but I think they could do a lot of benefit from starting to prop up a lot of its superstar Esports players.
Matthew: I think that’s very true. I think we’re seeing a lot of stars develop, maybe not Esports right now, but kind of the Twitch side, and Esports itself needs to see that kind of meteoric rise like a “Ninja” but with a competitor.
Aaron: Hundred percent, and that’s the thing, right? There are those; there’s the Twitch side, which is the influencer celebrity side of video games. I think those guys are great at promoting themselves, but they don’t necessarily have the talent to be an Esports player. It’s kind of getting the Esports players to—whether it’s coming out of their shell or a lot of times it’s just promotion, and it’s how these teams are positioning and promoting their players.
Matthew: I want to ask, who’s done that the most successfully? The first thing that comes to mind for me is NadeShot, who was a competitive Call of Duty player, and then he started 100 Thieves, and that’s been, in my opinion, one of the better branded Esports teams. They are doing a really good job crossing over casual and competitive players. Are there any other teams to you that are doing a really good job of this, of their branding and helping their stars to become superstars?
Aaron: I say FaZe Clan, and they did a fantastic job. I mean, if you really look at FaZe Clan, they weren’t competitive for a lot of years, but their market share in terms of how many people were watching was growing, which is odd, right? You would think whoever’s winning more, like the traditional Cloud9 and the Team Liquid style, let’s go win and we’ll get popular. The FaZe Clan kind of went in a little bit different direction, and they decided to focus on the influencer side mixed with the Esports side and propping up the players. That’s actually Clinton Sparks, one of our advisors. He actually helped grow FaZe Clan [and] kind of turn the direction of that company around, to promote in that way. That’s why I think XSET, which is his new team, is right on the right path, highlighting their players and putting them front and center.
But in terms of what I know, the players that I always think of are mainly StarCraft players, but there’s no team there, right? So it’s an individual player. They might have like a team logo or banner that they reside under, but they got to be their own kind of personality, personalities like “Life” or “Jaedong” or “PartinG.” Like these are huge, huge names in StarCraft. Those guys are superstars in Korea. I think they kind of did it the right way, but it gets a little bit lost when you’re on a Dota 2 team, and the players are always getting shuffled around. It’s kind of hard to keep everything on track in terms of who’s on what team and who you want your favorite player to be.
Esports Technologies & The US Market
Matthew: What kind of regulatory or structural change in the United States would you ideally want to see before entering the market and really going full force into the United States wagering market?
Aaron: I think the U.S. is a very early market, and we’re more in the wait-and-see approach when it comes to regulation. We’re by no means waiting for all the states to open up, but we want to see how the tax laws function. More importantly, we want to see how friendly the states are being to the gambling operators once they’re inside the country. But that’s why Dennis Neilander, he’s actually on the Board of Directors, is guiding us through that process. He’s actually the longest-tenured serving person on the Nevada Gaming Control Board, which, basically, the world looks to the Nevada Gaming Control Board to see what decisions they make. So he has the inside scoop on how each of these states are opening up and the way that they’re doing it.
I think what’s important for us is, before we commit to a state and get the licensing and pay the fees to be here, we want to make sure that it fits what our brand is going after at the time. But that doesn’t mean that we’re not going after the U.S. customer. We have several products that we’re really excited to announce over the next couple of months, including one which is called Esports Games, that we will be announcing in the next few weeks. [It] will give an opportunity to showcase to U.S. customers and allow them to see what Esports Technologies is up to.
Matthew: Oh, that’s perfect. That answered one of my next questions. I was going to ask if that free-to-play platform that you guys are developing was going to be unveiled in the U.S. market.
Aaron: It will be. We don’t have a hard date on that yet, but we do plan on showcasing that in the end.
Matthew: So, I think something that we’ve seen is DraftKings, FanDuel, BetMGM swallow up so many companies or partner with so many companies to try and make their platform the best. Do you see Esports technology bringing Gogawi to the United States, or is it more likely that you team up with an existing sports betting platform to bring Esports to the American market? Is that something that you guys are kind of open to, working with these existing sportsbooks, or do you really want to bring your business to consumer model straight to the U.S?
Aaron: Yeah. So that’s a couple of questions—great questions, by the way. So the first question is, will Gogawi ever be a U.S. product? The answer is no. It is never going to be a U.S. product. That is our offshore betting platform, and we’re going to keep it that way. It’s just too hard to cross an offshore platform with U.S. customers. It’s just easier to keep it separate. We do have a plan for the U.S. market. It will be under a different name and a different banner. We’ll be excited to release it within the next coming months, but I’m not ready to share yet.
In terms of, will we, or, are we open to partnering or acquiring different operators that are inside the United States? Absolutely. We’re always looking to partner. One of the things we’re building out is the best value and the best odds on Esports, which just really isn’t being addressed right now. If you look at traditional sports, they’re about 50% cheaper to bet on than an Esport, which we don’t really see as a great value proposition for our customers. We’re going to change that. So would we be looking to partner, sharing our odds, and bringing that value to the rest of the community? Absolutely. And getting Esports in the United States quicker? Absolutely. But do we have plans to come in with our own brand in the United States in the next, year, year and a half? A hundred percent.
Matthew: That’s really good to hear, and that does make a lot of sense. There are so many differences between the United States and the offshore market. So I’m actually really glad to hear that it will be a separate thing for the U.S. market. That’s really exciting news for someone who really enjoys Esports and is looking to hopefully have a wagering market for it in the future.
Aaron: Yeah, and the regulation side is boring, right? So, I don’t want to just say it’s regulation, but it’s also branding, right? Our Southeast Asia product is differently branded than what we’re going to have for the U.S. based product, and for our marketing efforts, it’s a more cohesive way to do it, to bring a brand that resonates with American or European audiences heavilier than the brand we built specifically for the Asian market.
Match Fixing & Cheating in Esports
Matthew: So my next question is in regards to cheating. Cheating scandals seem to happen in every sport. I mean, we just saw it with the Astros and that whole investigation with the World Series, but some may worry that cheating can run a little bit more rampant in Esports. I’ve recently covered a couple of scandals that happened in lower-tier Counter-Strike. I think it was the Mountain Dew League. Is cheating something that you guys are worried about? Is that maybe the reason that the value on Esports betting is not as good?
Aaron: Yeah. So I would say first off, that’s a fantastic question. If you’re looking at lower leagues absolutely not. Cheating is far more rampant in lower-league sports. It just doesn’t get covered as much because frankly, people don’t really cover those leagues, but if you go to Sportsradar and we offer this on our own sports site, we can offer the Albanian, you know, class D rec leagues. Seriously, there, you can take bets basically on any sport, and there’s way more likelihood of cheating to go on in those than like an Esports competition as a whole. Now, if we’re talking about a lower league Esports competition, of course. So we mitigate our risks on those, for sure. But I don’t think that is the reason why the odds are so out of whack on Esports versus traditional sports. The reason really lies in competition. There just hasn’t been the competition there to push the prices lower and we’re here to do that. We’re going to take the stand. We’re going to bring the prices lower and bring everybody with us.
Esports Technologies’ Betting Exchange
Matthew: So you did answer the question on the free-to-play platform, coming to the U.S, but I have a question regarding the project that you guys called Esports Betting and Trading Exchange. The description is a platform to provide insight and high volume risk and trading tools for the Esports wagering ecosystem. What can you tell us about it, and why exactly is a company interested in providing this kind of platform to the market?
Aaron: We post that on our website because we want to share some of the technology we’re working on. I can’t get into too much detail on why we’re doing it or the product around it. I wish I could, that will be revealed at a later date, but, at the moment I’m just not willing to share kind of the overall Esports Exchange product just yet.
More Details on the Esports Technologies’ U.S. Product
Matthew: So when I was researching questions yesterday, my teammate and I were doing some background research and we just went to the Gogawi website and were blown away by the user interface. I have to give you guys complete credit. I think it’s by far the best user interface I’ve had to deal with on a sportsbook. I even noticed in your video, the little video on Twitter, that you guys want to make it easy for millennials, easy for people at a younger age to interact with it. And I think you guys have done a fantastic job. So, the fact that you guys mentioned that you’re bringing a different branded platform to the U.S, is that going to continue to be one of the big things that you guys focus on?
Aaron: Thank you. I appreciate that. The user experience and the user interface, we’re going to carry it across all of our wagering platforms. So definitely don’t worry about that. The interface, the experience will be the same. The branding will be different from a market perspective and what we see as more appropriate for the U.S. markets. But we do want to have consistency in the way our product works, whether it’s in Asia or it’s in the United States.
Matthew: I think that covers all of my questions. I really appreciate your time. I really appreciate the interview, and I have a lot of good information that I’m excited to share with other people.