The Sports Entrepreneurs Podcast by Marcus Luer

Pete Vlastelica, “Internet Entrepreneur Turned Esports League Builder”

January 7, 2021

Pete Vlastelica is a true product of the Internet and Silicon Valley boom era, studying in Stanford in the late 90s and later getting an MBA at Berkeley.  From his entrepreneurial exploits building, growing, raising funding and eventually selling Yardbarker to FOX Sports to his most recent role as President & CEO of Activision Blizzard Esports (including Commissioner of the Overwatch League), building the Overwatch and Call of Duty Franchise Leagues.  Incredible stories and insights into his illustrious career and close up look into the world’s first franchise Esports Leagues.  

 

Key Highlights

  1. Coming out of Stanford into Disney Internet Group in late 1999, going to London
  2. Back to New York working in a design and software agency
  3. Back to California for an MBA at Berkeley, focus on Entrepreneurship – while studying focused on starting his own company
  4. First idea failed, fractional ownership of Music rights (too complicated)
  5. Started Yardbarker with four buddies from Berkeley – first investors was one of the instructors, friends & family, bootstrapping, US$ 100k lasted 18 months
  6. Yardbarker become the largest network of sports blogs, with over 1,000 independent sites, bloggers and pro athletes (pre-Twitter days)  
  7. Growing the platform to over 22 million uniques and attracting millions in advertising dollars
  8. Funding rounds, from US$ 100k, to US$ 1 million to US$ 6 million (Series A) from proper VC investors (valuations in the twenty million range)
  9. Competition from other Ad Networks and 2008/09 Financial Crisis came along, new lessons, going into survival mode
  10. Fox Sports buys the business in 2010, a successful transaction for everyone involved
  11. Fox Sports Digital & Fox Sports days – building the digital platforms within the Network (FS1) – “sucked into the belly of the corporate beast”
  12. Joining Activision Blizzard, a true Gaming Giant (US$ 67 billion valuation), to build their new Esports Leagues modelling the sports franchise model
  13. Overwatch League – first League in 2018 with 12 teams – after 12 months of planning, building rev share model, governing structures, etc  
  14. Building a global City based franchise League – first of its kind  - attracting top owners (NFL, NBA, Premier League team owners)
  15. Educational process with investors – franchise fees starting US$ 20 million now up to US$ 30-50 million (3rd party sources)
  16. League monetizes League sponsors, media rights, licensing, merchandise, etc and shares with the teams in addition to prize pool (like in traditional sports) – first season reaching US$ 200 million in revenue (3rd party source)
  17. Building an entire League infrastructure from scratch, including minor league structures around the world, ultimately building a career path for players
  18. Call of Duty League – similar model but not as easy as copy/paste, designing a League to fit the Game, different styles and modes
  19. How 2020 effected the Leagues and season – huge learning curve on online vs offline competitions
  20. Dynamics between Teams and top star players – opportunities for sponsors and partners
  21. Korea learning – cultural export from K-Pop to Esports
  22. Interactivity between Gamers and fans, way beyond traditional sports model – Esports is taking fan engagement model to another level – sports needs to learn from it
  23. Comparing Esports Leagues vs Major Esports Competition with tens of millions in prize money
  24. Dota 2 – The International – tens of millions in prize pool, mostly generated from in-game purchase and special access passes by the fans
  25. The difference to traditional sports – short game of content (shorten supply vs demand), Esports is the opposite, 24/7 interaction with fans

 

About

Pete Vlastelica is President and CEO of Major League Gaming (MLG), a division of Activision Blizzard devoted to creating the best esports experiences for fans across games, platforms and geographies. Prior to MLG, Vlastelica was the Executive Vice President of Digital at FOX Sports, where he focused on content and product development, social media, technology, and creation of multi-platform content properties, including the Emmy-award winning “Garbage Time with Katie Nolan”.

He directed the growth of FOXSports.com and the mobile app FOX Sports Go, where he oversaw the streaming of thousands of live sporting events, including Super Bowl XLVIII, which set a new internet record for streaming viewers for a sporting event. Recognized for his influence in the sports media industry, Vlastelica is a member of Sports Business Journal’s prestigious “Forty Under 40” Class of 2014. Vlastelica earned an MBA from the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley and a Bachelor of Arts in Public Policy from Stanford.

 

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