Fantasy sports has immeasurably heightened the fervor in fans since the turn of the millennium. The competitive game category has blossomed into a powerful subculture calling for countless hours of sports programming and endless ink spilled online each day, breaking down intricate athlete details and nuances.
With such a demand for fantasy fun, HypSports is bringing in the new kid on the block—esports—into its platform so that users can form their own League of Legends fantasy esports teams.
HypSports differentiates itself by not drafting a roster upront, but rather playing general manager yearlong and developing a squad throughout the season by acquiring and upgrading players daily using platform-specific collection and crafting mechanics.
Mike Taramykin is the CEO and co-founder of HypSports. He is building his new fantasy sports platform by bringing in experience from both sides of the business. In his previous three positions over the last 12 years, Taramykin has been an executive vice president at Fan Duel, vice president of Zynga as well as vice president and general manager for Electronic Arts.
Taramykin joined AListDaily to dish details about HypSports’ direct-to-consumer, microtransaction business strategy, and how it will differ as a fantasy sports platform with a fresh approach.
Why did you decide to gamify live sports and esports? What steps were you trying to solve in the consumer journey?
Over the past 20 years, our team has created a lot of sports games. As part of that process, we’ve talked to many sports gamers and fantasy fans to understand why they play and, just as importantly, to understand why they sometimes stop playing. What we found was that fans love sports games because they feel that it brings them closer to their favorite teams and athletes. But many fans eventually stop playing when they feel that they are no longer competitive and don’t have a chance of winning. Meanwhile, we have all seen a pronounced shift in the overall consumption of sports content as the underlying demographics change and new technologies come into play. And while demographics are always changing, we think that this time is different. Consumers in general have more content choices than ever, and as a result, sports content finds itself competing with video-on-demand, free-to-play games and social media. A little over a year ago, our team realized that there was a tremendous opportunity to combine the proven engagement mechanics of games with the real-life daily drama of sports to create a truly unique experience that other content categories can’t deliver.
What is Season Showdown and how are you marketing the new mode to specifically target your audience?
Season Showdown is the mode that greets every player each day when they first log on. Having Season Showdown in addition to our head-to-head and solo modes was the needed element that is pushing us to bring this app to a wider audience. Since our players are intelligent fans and engaged content consumers and creators, we want to respect them and interact with them using their own preferred platforms—YouTube, social media, athlete endorsements and team sponsorships. We’re looking at every avenue right now. That said, we’re focused on three types of marketing content: education, awareness and engagement.
Can you further explain the three types of marketing content?
With education, we’ve improved our website with tips and created new tutorial videos so that prospective players can quickly understand our game and get easy answers to their priority questions. With awareness, we’re talking to multiple teams about strategic partnerships that would include sponsorship elements such as signage, social media, multimedia and experiential marketing. We’re also going to be working with key digital platforms, websites and social content providers for sports fans, as well as talking to pro athlete influencers about their experiences playing HypSports. With engagement, we’ve got a lot planned, but the most immediate engagement promotion is the #FansCompete campaign. Beginning with the football season, fans are encouraged to share their rosters on their social platforms to win prizes. We are also inviting our HypSports players to share and create content for our website—our intent is that our loyal players will be able to use our platform to share their personal brand, personalities and sports and esports knowledge.
How is your approach to social, influencer and streaming designed to be different and hit home for potential sign-ups? Do you plan on testing any new platforms?
Our social, influencer and streaming campaigns are designed to convey how HypSports is a season-long competition for all fans. It’s designed to actively engage fans everyday by giving them things that they can do to improve their rosters so that they have a better chance of winning future matches. Just like real sports where teams and athletes are always training, in HypSports there is always something for players to do so that they can improve their chances of winning on game day. We like to think of HypSports as ‘the game when the game isn’t on.’ As a result, our players stay highly engaged throughout the entire season, because every game matters. Yes, we’re planning to test all sorts of new and existing platforms to see what works for us. It’s exciting to think about all the direct ways that we can reach fans, but at the same time it can quickly become overwhelming so we’re taking a methodical approach trying various platforms.
What are the avenues for sponsorships and partnerships that you plan on exploring?
We’re looking at a lot of options, but we’re most excited about the conversations that we’re having with pro sports and esports teams, as well as the brands that appeal to sports fans. Our main goal right now is to get as many fans onto our platforms as possible. Playing everyday, building their rosters, competing against other fans and most importantly feeling engaged and connected to their favorite sports and esports teams and players. We believe that one of the best ways for us to connect with these fans is to partner closely with the teams, players and brands that they already love. And for us this means finding the right partners and then working closely with them to enhance their fans’ overall experience throughout the season and all year long.
How does your business model shift traditional fantasy sports? What are the engaging opportunities out there?
For years, fantasy sports has been about stats and (to some part) money, while sports video games have been about hand-eye coordination and twitch skills. In our consumer research, we constantly heard how casual fans eventually quit both when they felt that they could no longer win. So, while their passion for sports never went away, they would lose interest in their fantasy team or put down their game controllers when the work required to stay competitive grew to be too much. The two stories that we heard most often was how fantasy players give up after week four or five because they drafted poorly, or their team was riddled with injuries and they didn’t have the time to read every article about who to start or sit. Likewise, gamers would say that they stopped playing their sports video games because developers changed the controls every year and they didn’t have time to learn all the new modes and button combos. In both cases the customers told us that they lost interest when they felt that they couldn’t be competitive. So, the opportunity for HypSports was to create a season-long competition where every player was competitive throughout the season. This meant creating roster-building mechanics that allowed a player’s team to constantly improve over time, thereby strengthening their chances of winning their upcoming matches. We want fans to always look forward to the next match and always feel better about their chances of winning the next game. That’s kind of what sports is all about.
How are you leveraging mobile gaming, and particularly through the gamification of real-life events?
We’ve designed HypSports around proven, fundamental, mobile game mechanics of collecting, crafting and questing—which is exactly how real sports works, too. In real sports, teams try to collect the best players, then they constantly train to craft each player’s individual abilities, and then the team sets off on a quest to win a championship. Our platform creates the same experience for the fans—only on their phone and with a user-friendly UI.
What is the proven way you’ve appealed to millennials?
I think we do a great job of bridging the gap between traditional pro sports and esports, which in turn appeals more to younger fans. We believe that the world of sports is always expanding, and sports fans enjoy watching competition between the best players in the world. Esports is no different. In many ways, it’s more exciting right now to see a whole new category of competition develop right in front of our eyes. On our platform, we not only provide a competition for esports fans, we also have a linked economy that incentivizes all players to compete in multiple sports and esports seasons. For millennial sports fans, we provide an integrated app for playing along with all major sports and esports leagues.
What are your thoughts for new sports monetization models?
We believe that there are exciting new ways to build massive businesses that cater to a new breed of digital sports fans. Most existing models revolve around either sponsorships, ticket sales or merchandising. What none of these models account for yet is that today’s sports fans are always connected, always ready to transact and fully accustomed to microtransactions. We believe that in the next five-to-ten years, sports will become an ‘always on’ direct-to-consumer service business with incredible new revenue channels. The games industry went through the same transformation over the last decade, and now more than half of the $108 billion dollar game industry generates its revenue from free content and microtransactions, two business models that didn’t really exist 15 years ago. The same will happen in sports, and we want to help drive this trend.
How would you assess the current fantasy sports landscape?
Fantasy sports is a great category that is enjoyed by 60 million sports fans in the US. The industry recently went through an exciting growth cycle, which was driven in large part by the invention of daily fantasy sports. Now daily fantasy sports growth has slowed, and we believe that is because the current offerings have found their audiences. We also believe that this indicates there is an opportunity for innovative new products that appeal to the approximately 130 million US sports fans that are not interested in the current crop of fantasy sports products that are available.
How do you envision competing with platforms that are already dominating the fantasy sports landscape?
We don’t see ourselves as competing with existing fantasy platforms because we have a different value proposition. Our product is 100 percent free-to-play and it’s designed to engage fans in a season-long competition, complete with playoffs and finals. Our game is designed to let fans join at any time in the season and lets them play right up until the very last game of the year. Furthermore, HypSports is designed for fans to play all year long. We incentivize cross-sport play by awarding resources in each sport that can be used in any other sport. As a result, our crossover between NFL and NBA players was 90 percent last year, and now we’re seeing close to a 40 percent crossover between MLB and League of Legends (LoL) esports.
What is your ultimate vision and strategy for scaling HypSports?
We believe that sports fans are just as passionate and competitive as the teams and athletes that they follow. This means that we want to turn traditional sports and esports into a personal competition for the fans so that they can leave their mark on the world of sports at large. We envision working very closely with teams, leagues, athletes and brands to engage fans on a daily basis, to support season-long competition and drive year-round retention.