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Interview

IMT COO Ari Segal on Valiant's Social Voice, their LA Live plans, and long-term growth

By Josh Lee
Jan 23, 2018
Ari Segal, COO of Immortals/Valiant, sat with us at OWL Media day about the Valiant's long-term plans, their LA Live plans, and their social media presence.

What do you want Valiant's Social Media Voice to be?

So I think sometimes we forget that sports is part of the entertainment umbrella. We're not curing cancer here. We're trying to have fun and so our social identity is supposed to amplify that idea. We want people to have fun. We want people to seek us out because we stand for something good, because we do have values. But because also by associating with Valiant, by interacting with Valiant team members or staff or other Valiant fans, they have the opportunity to forget about what's going on in their day to day lives and just have fun. Be entertained and be part of something. And so if our social media team is executing on that vision already and they're carving out space being known as the social media team that will poke fun at other teams or engage in conversation in a fun and lighthearted way, I think that's completely appropriate and exciting. I hope that that helps bring fans who want that kind of experience to Valiant.

How will the LA Valiant experience change once you move from the Blizzard Arena to LA Live?

There are a lot of differences between the mature live experience when the teams move to their home markets versus what it will be like in the first year or two of league operations. So in the first league year or two as you mentioned all the teams will be competing at Blizzard arena. So I think the fundamental difference between Blizzard arena and mature venues is just size. So there's about four or five hundred seats at Blizzard Arena.

We think the demand for live sports content in this market significantly exceeds 500 people. So three years from now four years from now whenever it is that we're able to return to our home market and our partner teams are able to return to theirs, we think on a Saturday night you'll have more than 500 people in the seats to watch the Valiant. Number one.

Number two - think about the game day experience in traditional sports. The phrase we came to use to describe a game day was "driveway to driveway". So, fans don't think of showing up at the venue as the start of their experience in walking through the turnstile at the end of the game at the end of their experience. They associate everything that they do from the time they leave their house in the morning until they return at night as part of that experience.

And so integrating into L.A. Live extends what we control of that experience and gives fans all sorts of different opportunities to create deeper engagement and diverse engagement across multiple games in the season. So someone might come to L.A. Live and eat at Katsuya pregame. Someone might come to L.A. Live and see an outdoor activation on the plaza. Maybe it's a concert, maybe it's a live broadcast. Someone might come to one of our games and go to ESPN or see ESPN figures coming out of that building, or go to Wolfgang Puck for a drink after the game. These kind of activities, integrating nongame live events, music or comedy with food and beverage experiences and being able to congregate with other fans.

That is what fans expect of an out-of-home experience in today's day and age. Blizzard Arena is just not suited to that kind of experience. It's off Alameda. It's in Burbank. Certainly there are restaurants around and we'll try to do things in and around Blizzard Arena to extend that game day experience a little bit broader, but we can't really enrich it. We can't extend it. We can't bring it to its maximum potential until we're at L.A. Live and once we're there we'll be able to extend and deepen that experience in a way that is consistent with fan expectation, but we think more responsive to the esports demographic.

Aside from competitive succes, how do you plan to make Valiant a brand that fans can connect with?

So, just to be clear, winning works! Winning sells. We hope we win, and if we do, we will promote the heck out of that and we think that fans will absolutely respond to that. But it's not the only way. One of the reasons why winning has been the linchpin of esports marketing is because of the term of player contracts.

Players in esports, traditionally, have been signed to one-year contracts and teams, traditionally, have not invested in the kinds of development infrastructure that it takes to help a player get better and sustain success over many, many years. And so, as a result, the roster changes every year. What is a fan supposed to connect with besides the competitive success of a team in any given year? I think it's more of a self-fulfilling prophecy than anything else.

We talked earlier about our strategy which is different. We want to build a development model. We want to keep players for many years and help them improve. We want the Valiant to be a team that players seek out because they can actually get better by being on our roster and that's something that fans will connect to. As part of that, we want to sign players to multi-year contracts. We want to get them when they're at this level and help them get to this level over years and years. And we want to benefit, of course, from helping to aid in that development. But beyond that, Valiant as a brand stands for something.

I think Noah talks about this very eloquently. It's not just about being the meme-ist, or the most objectionable, or shock value as a team. We care about the diversity of our fanbase. We care about the way that our online communities are moderated. We care that people who support Valiant (and that includes our staff and our players) stand for things that the community as a whole can get behind and believe in. That's a high standard to maintain, but the benefit for that extra effort the reward is that we think we're going to build a community that's different - that has connection points between and amongst each other that extend beyond any one thing and competitive access is certainly one thing but it's not the only thing.

How does a permanent partnership (OWL) change operations for IMT?

There were a few words that you used in the question that I think are really important. One was "partnership", and the other was "permanent". And those two things really matter. So first of all, the fact that this is a permanent enterprise - something expected to last for years and years as opposed to year-to-year, is really important it means that we should be making decisions to grow the League with an eye towards not trying to maximize value year-to-year but trying to maximize value and experience over many, many, many years; generations of fans. Completely different perspective than other esports ecosystems. Number one.

Number two - partnership. So, we have the opportunity to partner with the League and Activision/Blizzard and 11 other team owner/operators to build something special. And when you have partners that share a long term vision, partners that are bought into the same idea that Overwatch League, the first of its kind, is unique and special and will be here for many many years and generations and everybody works together to achieve that. You have all of the resources and all of the manpower and horsepower but all of those owner/operators and markets bring to bear. I think it gives us a chance to achieve scale at a much faster rate and with much more efficiency and to operate as a truly professional league really much more quickly than other people might estimate.

Interview
LA Valiant
Josh Lee profile
Josh Lee
Josh is the lead Overwatch Producer at Blitz Esports. He's also been spotted casting a few Overwatch and League of Legends tournaments.
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