DreamHack expanded to the US for the first time this year with its inaugural Austin eSports event. The Swedish company is also doubling down on America for 2017 to take advantage of the fastest-growing eSports audience in the world.
In 2017, DreamHack will bring its eSports festival to convention centers in Austin (April 28-30), Atlanta (July 21-23) and Denver (October 20-22). In addition, the company will host its first US DreamHack Masters event in Las Vegas February 15-19 at the MGM Grand. Sixteen of the world’s best Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) teams will compete for a $450,000 prize pool.
The inaugural DreamHack Masters in Malmö, Sweden this year had over 12,000 attendees from around the world. The tournament garnered over 32 million stream views, making it the most viewed CS:GO event in 2016 outside of the Valve Majors. DreamHack Masters is a touring eSports championship that will visit different cities and venues with different game titles, depending on market and timing. In 2017, DreamHack will produce two DreamHack Masters events—both featuring CS:GO.
Michael Van Driel, business developer at DreamHack, talks to [a]listdaily about what’s in store for the company’s US expansion in this exclusive interview.
What do you feel defines the DreamHack brand in eSports?
DreamHack is one of the pioneers in the eSports space and has been doing it from the very beginning. One of the keys to success is that we have always worked extremely close with the community, teams and players by being transparent. Our main focus is to maintain authenticity and see what our audience wants, and then do that.
DreamHack is one of the pioneers in the eSports space. How are you drawing from your extensive experience in European eSports for your US eSports initiatives?
We are drawing in a great number of ways from our experiences in Europe. When looking at our DreamHack festival events, our goal is to bring something for everyone, rather than strictly focus on one area. We like to have DreamHack as a smorgasbord of different eSports activities and be a platform for the community that is attending the events. In that way, we look to create a different experience, still focusing on our core pillars of BYOC (bring your own computer) LAN, eSports and gaming exhibition, but augment it by focusing more on popular activities in the US such as tabletop gaming, and this year we are eyeing console eSports.
What did you learn from DreamHack Austin that you’re applying to Las Vegas and other US eSports initiatives?
We are overwhelmed by the welcome we received from the American audience in Austin and the feedback we got when announcing our 2017 events. We will continue to offer the unique DreamHack experience and push the boundaries for gaming and eSport entertainment on our events. Overall, the US is a very different market when it comes to hosting events, and we’re keen to continue to learn and optimize to make our events the best possible for all visitors, sponsors, competitors and partners.
What role do you see the US playing for the future of the DreamHack brand?
The US is the largest market we have entered, and with the success of DreamHack Austin in 2016, it will (for the coming years) be one of our core markets. The US viewership has always been a significant part, but it’s important for us that our European presence and core market in the Nordics continues to develop and expand. Our overall thinking is that where there is a community and DreamHack fans, there should be a DreamHack event. The key challenge for us is to maintain a high quality of events, and that each visitor will get that unique DreamHack experience that we were able to create originally in Sweden in Jönköping.
What do you feel separates DreamHack eSports from what ESL has done on its own?
Typically, we focus mostly on DreamHack and don’t look at much as what other companies do, since DreamHack is very uniquely positioned in the eSports space. In general, DreamHack is an events company first and an eSports company second. ESports is just a part of what we do and our foundation will always be our festival events, which stretch far beyond just the eSports component, and are more about the social experience visitors have. ESports is simply a platform for bringing people together.
How do ESL and DreamHack work together?
DreamHack and ESL have been working together long before we shared MTG as a parent company. DreamHack operates entirely as an independent company and works together with ESL in the same manner. We have worked with all sorts of different eSports companies, such as FACEIT, PGL and others. Our ambition is always to work with as many other companies as possible. At the same time, it’s important for DreamHack to continue breaking new ground on the eSports side of things. ESL continues to be our main competitor where we want to deliver the best events, broadcasts and experience to our ability.
How are you choosing which US markets to focus on?
Overall, we want to reach as many Americans as possible and make it as easy as possible for any American to visit a DreamHack event. This means considering a great number of different cities and dates. DreamHack events are very special, such as our ambition to always offer a BYOC LAN party open for 24 hours a day during the event, the rigorous demands on internet and more, we need to make sure we can find a city and venue that is capable of hosting us.
What role do US sports stadiums like the Las Vegas MGM Grand Garden Arena play for DreamHack eSports events?
Arena venues play a key role. We created the DreamHack Masters event brand because convention centers simply didn’t fit the bill for building big enough stages and fitting the number of spectators with an appetite to watch the biggest tournaments. Therefore, arenas are crucial for success. MGM has been a great partner to work with, and the format of eSports events requiring visitors to be at a venue for 8-to-10 hours a day over multiple days is something that venues need to plan and consider for, which is very different from a standard concert or sports match. We don’t have any intention to focus more on DreamHack Masters events than DreamHack festivals, so convention centers will always be the location of most DreamHack events, but we do see that as long as eSports continues to be as popular as it is, US sports stadiums will be a key part.
What will differentiate the DreamHack Masters Las Vegas CS:GO event from other CS:GO eSports?
We believe we created the best standalone CS:GO event with the first DreamHack Masters event we hosted in Malmö. We will look to create this again and do it bigger and better. This will mean that we will have a variety of ticket types to cater to all visitors, we want to create an atmosphere in which visitors will have the best possible access to players, while still respecting the needs of the players as world-class competitors. Furthermore, DreamHack Masters Las Vegas will feature 16 teams competing live to ensure that the arena show has the opportunity for the best possible teams, as well as a record-breaking prize pool for a non-Valve event held in the United States.
We have been paying lots of attention to the community, and as arena events become more common, we have been visiting them ourselves and evaluating to offer the best possible experience. One big factor that will create a very different experience for visitors is that we will—instead of having a flat facing stage—build a stage in the center of the floor, to much more mimic a traditional sporting event.
How do you decide which games to focus on for DreamHack US events in Las Vegas, Austin, Atlanta and Denver?
Game selection is a complicated process in which we weigh a lot of variables. Of course, the number one criteria is community interest, both onsite and online. If a game is popular, we will want to host tournaments in it. Alongside this, we always also take into consideration a variety of factors like other eSports events happening and the general calendar, as well as more common publishers. In general, we always want to host as many titles as possible at our festival events. At DreamHack Austin, we hosted major international tournaments in CS:GO, StarCraft II, Heroes of the Storm, Super Smash Bros. Melee, Street Fighter V, Pokken and Hearthstone. We will aim to continue to always host as many titles as possible.