Dennis “Thresh” Fong has parlayed his success in the early days of eSports with Quake and Doom into a serial entrepreneurial career focused on gaming, community and eSports. His latest venture as founder and CEO of Raptr is Plays.tv, which has over 1.5 million monthly active users. The social gameplay video recorder has been integrated into World of Tanks, League of Legends, and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. Fong explains why this technology is important for the eSports ecosystem and explains his expansion plans in this exclusive interview.
How does Plays.tv work?
Plays.tv is a platform with two main components. It’s a desktop client that does capturing and sharing of gameplay and works with any game. It auto records all gameplay and also can record a webcam and mic as well, which is great for streamers. It’s unique because it’s smart. When you install it, it’s lightweight and automatically knows when to record and stop. It’s like the Replay concept except it works with any game. You simply hit a hotkey to bookmark a moment and when you exit you can edit, stitch, and share gameplay clips.
How are you connecting with eSports fans?
We started with League of Legends. And now we’re adding CS:GO. We have a Highlights feature which reads the live game data of what’s happening in-game and automatically creates highlights. Every kill, death assist, baron fight, or dragon fight is recorded. We know the second you’re doing damage to the second you killed the guy, so there’s no wasted footage and no editing required. We get the exact moments you want to save.
How have eSports pros used Plays.tv?
It’s used by most of the top pro teams for both analysis in reviewing their own play from a learning tool perspective, and also to share their best and most memorable moments. In short time, we’re doing the same thing for CS:GO. Every death and kill and bomb plant and diffuse is auto-bookmarked and the highlights are saved.
How has Plays.tv changed the way pros connect with their fans?
We saw with League where these pros spend 12 to 14 hours a day practicing in scrimmages against other teams or playing on their own. They live, breathe, and practically eat playing the game they’re professionals at. They don’t have the patience or the time to capture and share videos. Imagine recording a four-hour scrimmage and having to remember where in the video you had five kills. Even for a one-hour video it would be hard. You’d have to rewatch it. That’s why most people don’t share videos.
With League we’ve seen smart recording divide a four-hour clip into seven different games. And we read the live game data and divide it with that data. Click on one of those matches and every key moment is already booked for you. You can find that Ace and sharing it and takes 10 to 15 seconds.
Why have pros gravitated to this tech?
The pros use it because it’s drop-dead simple and it becomes part of their workflow. It’s enabled them to help build their own brand outside of streaming or Twitter. It’s a new social platform to build a new fan base and keep fans engaged.
The most popular League team is TSM and within a day of us introducing the tool to the team, two players had clips on the front page of Reddit and they had over 100,000 views. In this way, the pros have control over engaging with the fans, rather than having someone else monetizing off of that.
What’s the business model for Plays.tv?
Eventually it will be ad-driven through sponsorships. As of now it’s ad-free. Our goal is to enable the users and creators to share in that revenue as well like the YouTube or Twitch model.
How are you working with ESL and Wargaming?
We built the best recording and sharing technology in the world. There’s no service or app that does these key features. Tournament organizers and eSports organizations recognized that as well. Our partnerships with ESL and Wargaming allows them to install and run the Plays.tv client in all of the competition machines. It’s the first time either of them has done anything like that.
What does Plays.tv open up to the fan perspective?
When you look at any eSports competition in the world — even Valve and Riot and ESL large-scale ones — they’re all lacking point-of-view video. When you watch League and CS:GO it’s from an observer view. We believe there’s a better experience to be had. The first step was to have an app to run on every tournament machine. Spectator is an externally connected account that watches the game. It’s not on the tournament machines because of the impact it has on the PC. But our tech has no impact on the actual machine. Then we can record the point-of-view from every player’s perspective. When you play league as a Jungler — you watch because you want to learn. You’d want to watch the game completely from the Jungler perspective.
And these views aren’t part of the live-streaming?
This is not live-streaming. We have a Web experience where you can watch the regular broadcast view and you can switch to any players point-of-view. This is available after the official match has streamed. We have 11 videos after the match that we need to upload them to make available. We’ve done it at a few ESL events and people can switch and watch from anyone’s perspective rather than be controlled by a cameraman. The cameraman can only do so much, so he misses some things.
Which events have you used this at?
Wargaming went live at the North American Finals event Oct. 3. We did IEM at Gamescom and Shenzhen, and we’ll be at SAP Centre in San Jose for IEM Nov. 21-22 for the first CS:GO event and the first League event after Worlds.
How are you targeting games for this technology?
World of Tanks gets 60 million monthly active viewers. CS:GO will eclipse League in the next few years. CS:GO is on an insane growth curve now. Having the top two eSports is a pretty big deal for us. Our goal is to cover all of the major eSports. You can bet Dota 2 will be following soon.
Are you finding that fans still watch events live and then spend time on Plays.tv afterward?
Fans are watching events live and then watching the multi-view on Plays.tv. Our site is a different take on video and eSports and gaming. It’s a follow model like Twitter or Instagram. It’s centered around gaming clubs. It’s less about sitting down for hours and more about watching key moments that are shared. It’s a more social take on gaming video that’s different than Youtube or Twitch.
A lot of Plays.tv users will say, “That’s a Plays.tv moment” during a match the same way people Instagram things. You see the world in a different light because you’re looking for moments that are Instagram-worthy. It makes you appreciate those moments more. Now those moments from games can be captured and shared and relived.
How active are pros with the Plays.tv community?
It’s an integrated experience where maybe half the people are famous pros and the other people are friends and people you met on Plays.tv. There’s a lot of fun and engaging interaction. If something crazy happens in Skyrim like when kill your first dragon, there’s an experience and interaction built around that now that previously didn’t exist. The moments you share to Plays.tv are the moments why you play games in the first place. You want to relive beating the boss or the glitch, and you want to relive them with the community. It’s not like sharing with YouTube and it going into the ether.