Hong Kong-based startup Kek.tv has raised $2.5 million in seed financing for its Kek eSports app. The free app, which is in public beta, is an eSports video aggregation platform that integrates multi-source livestreams and game video replays, as well as news, statistics and tournament feeds into one socially-curated experience for the growing audience of Asian eSports fans.
The lead company in this funding was from German company Bitkraft Holding GmbH, the eSports seed investment vehicle of former ESL co-founder and board member Jens Hilgers. Other investors included Allen DeBevoise (Machinima), Kent Ho (Spectrum28), Jon Bond Jr. (Bond Ventures), Shukri Shammas (Initial Capital), Juha Paananen (NonStop Games), Daniel Shin (TMON), Shuji Honjo (500 Startups), Gregory Slayton (Slayton Capital) and Yitz Applbaum (prominent angel).
John Lee, CEO and founder of Kek.tv, talks about the growth opportunities for eSports in Asia and the expansion plans for this new app in this exclusive interview.
How big is the Asian market you’re targeting with Kek.tv?
Different research houses will give you different answers, but I tend to agree with this one from SuperData Research, which says Asia is a $374 million market (compared to North America’s $143 million market and Europe’s $72 million market). In short, Asia is the lion’s share of the global eSports market at the moment.
What’s different about the Asian eSports market compared to the U.S.?
ESports, like traditional sports, tends to be tribal and localized. In Asian eSports, you will find teams across the region as well as scattered across different cities in each country. This is both very local (hometown favorites) as well as highly nationalistic—Korea vs. China, China vs. Taiwan, etc. I liken eSports in Asia to FIFA and the World Cup, versus the NBA or NFL.
ESports in the U.S. hasn’t grown to the point where you have teams across the country. They are heavily concentrated on the West Coast, particularly Southern California and in Las Vegas. So at the moment, you won’t find fans in the Midwest rooting for any one team due to hometown roots, etc. It will get there though, but it’s too early.
Which countries are you targeting with Kek.tv and what’s the rollout plan?
We are currently focusing resources on South Korea, Taiwan and the Philippines. We’d like to expand to the rest of Southeast Asia and the Middle East, as well as China. We are in active discussions with companies from all the major geographies, and will balance our strategy with some markets going through partnerships, and other markets entering organically.
What separates this Kek.tv from anything out there today for the Asian market?
While there are some websites in different Asian countries covering eSports, they tend be highly siloed to that one market, and not adequately covering content from other regional or global markets. We take more of a global approach to our content aggregation and curation, whereas for example, a Korean competitor might focus well on Korean content, but poorly on non-Korean content. As eSports gets more and more global, users will want to know more about other markets, statistics, matches and trends. Already we see Korean users using our service to keep up with non-Korean related eSports statistics, and Taiwanese users using our app primarily to keep up with Korean and Western statistics, etc.
How are you dealing with localization of the streams and editorial content?
Right now, we essentially crowdsource it, where we work with a number of community volunteers and editors to do this. We can’t be in all markets at once, so at the moment, we focus on Korean, traditional Chinese and Tagalog for localization. We will build up similar community infrastructure for Thai, Bahasa and Arabic markets in the near future.
Does Twitch have the hold in Asia that it does in the U.S. and Europe for eSports?
Twitch does not have the same hold in Asia as they do elsewhere, mainly because they waited too long to have a dedicated organization focusing on Asia, and allowed strong local copycats in nearly every major market to spawn and have a similar business model.
This said, while there may be local ‘fiefdoms’ in different Asian markets, Twitch still is the undisputed king when it comes to international footprint and peering.
Is Twitch one of the feeds you’ll be providing?
What role does the smartphone play as an eSports viewing device in Asia compared to other territories?
According to Taipei-based research company Appier, Asians are using smartphones, tablets, and PCs in very complex and interconnected ways. Among multi-device users in Asia, over half use three or more devices, a trend that has been recorded across the region in Australia (78 percent), Taiwan (77 percent), Philippines (74 percent), Korea (70 percent), Singapore (69 percent), and Japan (66 percent). Countries such as Vietnam (43 percent), Indonesia (44 percent), and India (42 percent) are also catching on in this matter.
Bitkraft is one of your investors. How will ESL be involved in this app either today or in the future?
While we have nothing official with ESL at the moment, we are very close to ESL and always brainstorming ways to work together. Watch this space.
How are you tapping into the global Bitkraft entrepreneurs with this app?
There’s lots of brainstorming going on at the moment. Watch this space.
How will you use the $2.5 million you raised?
Continue development of the platform and adding what we believe are key features, particularly making the app more engaging such as adding social features, etc.
Since eSports is a global phenomenon, would this app work in the U.S. or European markets?
While we could see ourselves someday getting a user base in the U.S. and Europe, Asia is a big enough market for us to win and not lose focus on.
Editor’s Note: This article previously cited Jens Hilgers as CEO of ESL. We have updated to reflect that Jens Hilgers is one of the founders of ESL.