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Anton Cherepennikov: "We‘re now at a place where our revenue is growing."

In a long, in-depth interview, co-owner and director of ESforce Anton Cherepennikov talked about crucial holding’s achievements, deal with Mail.ru Group and shared his own eSports dreams.

On ESforce's history

[…] It‘s important to know that ESforce‘s history began with Virtus.pro, and that primary objective I had, my passion, was to build a world-class esports club. It so happened that I was financing this development myself; I could afford it, it was my hobby, my soul. At a certain point, the club even recovered its costs; we signed the Poles, we started winning, things were going well, but esports was becoming ever more popular, so fairly large amounts of money started to get pumped into esports. At some point, I realized that while I was paying the Poles a thousand or fifteen hundred euros, some others were starting to pay five thousand, so unless I create an ecosystem around the team, unless I‘m able to sign large contracts,

[…] That was why I had to negotiate with NaVi. Why we came up with the idea of a merger that would get both clubs‘ audiences together, accumulate them, and get larger contracts.

On the holding’s results

[…] When people try to judge ESforce I love to tell about facts. Here are the facts: we have built a holding without any state money. We have done it ourselves and we grant 500 jobs in esports, which is quite a lot, in fact. We have held 4 events at the world championship level, Epicenters. We have paid a few million dollars prize money, $10M of salary to our players. We have invested a lot of money in equipment and completely transformed RuHub. We have created a media source, Cybersport.ru. I use it and I‘m happy with it, to be honest. We have built huge Yota Arena. We have sent about thousands players on international trips. Here are the facts about what we‘ve accomplished. I‘m proud of what we have created. If I could turn back time, I would keep the same strategy, follow the same path, but I would do many things differently.

On Mail.ru Group deal

Just like before, I am looking not at where we are but at where we will be in two years.  That‘s what I am interested in as an executive. […] My strategy was very easy: when you have an ecosystem, you come to publishers as esports is getting more popular and suggest your complete ecosystem. The publisher in question does not need to run around searching for contractors, we tell them: you can have tournaments, teams, media, content creation—a full cycle.

[…] I spent a lot of time trying to strike a deal with Wargaming, because it was logical. We have an ecosystem, they want to go into esports, let‘s have a deal. But even Wargaming chose to create an esports department of their own. I can‘t say anyone but CS:GO, Dota and League of Legends have done it [went into eSport] with great quality.

[…] Of course, we tried to figure out with Mail.Ru how we are going to work with their games. At some point we realized that we can make an agreement similar to that between MLG and Blizzard. We can be a good platform for Mail.Ru to develop their esports area because we know how to do it. As for us, Mail.Ru is the biggest Internet company in Russia. They have VK and Mail, which give a lot of traffic, and they are more mature as a business structure with a more powerful sales house. Mail.Ru‘s management are also a dab hand when it comes to the internet. This is the logic we applied to reach his decision.

On his own status and holding’s structure changes after the deal with Mail.ru Group

[…] I‘m still the CEO of ESforce, and it hasn‘t changed. I‘m still a member of the ESforce board of directors. I maintain my position. It is crucially important to me that all of it wouldn‘t break down [...], that everything stayed the way it is and improved.[…] We had a clause with Mail.ru Group for ESforce to remain a separate ecosystem. We‘re a holding within a holding. […] In terms of our strategy it hasn‘t changed at all. It will only be expanded.

On eSports dreams

[…] I had the challenge of bringing a cool club, and I succeeded. I had the challenge of hosting an international tournament in Russia, and I did it too. My personal ambitions and goals as an esports fan were fulfilled. […] Essentially, if you take a look at VP, we have collected the main esports titles. We are one out of two or three teams who have two victories at ESL Majors. In both CS and Dota. The International is the only event we haven‘t added to our collection yet. But we have a chance this year.