Raptr is expanding its online service features for PC gamers with its Game Video Recorder (GVR) technology, which allows Nvidia and AMD PC owners to seamlessly capture gameplay and stream video content. The new Instant Replay feature leverages the GVR functionality and enables users to save up to 20 minutes of gameplay even after it’s happened. Other new features include automated uploading and sharing of recorded gameplay, and an online destination where gameplay clips are shared and curated via the Raptr community of 30 million gamers. Both the GVR and live streaming functions in Raptr are supported across more than 5,000 games.

Live streaming has given rise to the global eSports phenomenon, something that Raptr co-founder Dennis Fong knows well. He was one of the early eSports stars who played under the name “Thresh.” Fong explains how he’s used his eSports skills to succeed with his video game business ventures in this exclusive interview.

What were eSports like back in the days you played?

One of the bigger differences is that because of the popularity of live streaming, it’s much easier for guys in the minor leagues — the guys that haven’t been discovered yet — to come up. You can pop into a stream and watch them play. It also enables a lot more scouting and recon on your opponents today to see how they play. Back when I was playing you had to decide if you wanted to record a demo/replay, and it wasn’t widely distributed. You couldn’t upload it because of the format.

Dennis Fong

With Twitch you can record audio while you’re playing, which changes the way gamers interact with their stars. It gives a lot more insight into their personalities. Before, you wouldn’t know a lot about me or my personal life, only the match results. There’s more transparency. It’s as if LeBron James or Kobe Bryant had a GoPro camera on their chest every day in practice. Fans are able to connect with pro gamers on a more personal level. And players can make money through Twitch streams while interacting with their fans.

What’s a favorite memory that stands out from your career?

It’d have to be the tournament where I won John Carmack’s Ferrari 328 at E3 in Atlanta. One of my big strengths is that I don’t get nervous when I compete. I focus on what I’m able to do. I believe if I do my best, I’m going to win. Shaky hands can affect your play with your mouse in PC gaming. The only moment I got nervous was in the final match. I was seated at a PC where the Ferrari was behind me and I could see the reflection in the monitor. I had already won the game but there were 10 seconds left and I finally let myself relax because I’d won the tournament. It’s a big deal to win a Ferrari at the age of 19.

What impact do you feel big sponsors like American Express, Coke and HBO will have on continuing to grow eSports?

Up until the last few years, very few people could make a living playing games; making more than $100,000 a year playing games. Having big sponsors spend money on pro athletes to build up brands is a big step. It brings legitimacy to eSports. Once these big brands jump in, they open the gateway. The floodgates are starting to open with Coke, AmEx and these other brands because they feel like they’re missing something. Those brands have been extremely happy with the results they’re seeing and the impact and reach of eSports thus far. It ultimately means more money coming into this, more pro teams and more players. We’re past the tipping point and eSports is getting to a real scale.

How will your GVR technology impact eSports or eSports fans?

Twitch has 40 million uniques watching streams, but less than a million people actually broadcast their gameplay. It’s designed around a premium content premise where you go there to watch the most famous players play. Part of what we want to do is democratize the experience a bit. I feel like every time I play a game there’s something amazing or cool that happens, it could be a funny moment or a bug or something epic. But I may not be at a point where I can generate a lot of Twitch streams. We want to help people capture those moments. We’ve designed capture technology that has no impact on the performance of your PC. Whenever something cool happens you click save and it’ll save the last 15 seconds. It’s like the ESPN SportsCenter highlights. You can capture and share with the community. We have 27 million PC gamers on Raptr and they can live stream any game they’re playing without set-up or complex broadcasting software, similar to what Xbox and PlayStation did on next gen consoles. With the rise of the GoPro cameras everybody has hero moments, and now you can share those with friends.

Raptr GVR

How do you feel your GVR tech differentiates itself from Twitch?

League of Legends is our number one game and DOTA 2 is in our Top 5. We have live stream gameplay videos featured on Raptr for the community. Our take is more democratic. Think of us as helping the minor league players to rise up to the premium leagues. Everyone has the opportunity to be recorded and capture cool moments. And then the community decides who has the coolest stuff and it rises up.

How have you seen the League of Legends Challenger Series open up eSports?

The Challenger Series has been structured as a way to be discovered and rise up through the ranks. It’s only for League, but before you’d have to get lucky. Any kind of structure that helps people to rise up through the ranks and know what your next goal is. Before they had a system, you didn’t know what level you needed to get to be on a pro team. The minor league system mirrors pro sports. There’s a reason why every sport has a minor league system. It helps gamers explain to their parents what it will take to be a pro. I’m sure it’s something that other developers and companies will institute. Riot just happens to be way more aggressive in pushing this stuff. Korea has a similar structure with StarCraft gaming houses. A lot of what’s happening with League and the rest of the world is playing catch-up to Korea. It speaks a lot to how serious Riot takes this and how much they are responsible for driving eSports forward.

What differentiates this golden age of eSports from the earlier days when you played?

Cyberathlete Professional League (CPL) and World Cyber Games (WCG) are gone. Leagues come and go. They were supported by outside organizations. Riot was one of the first to put the whole company behind eSports. They are the single biggest reason eSports is as popular as it is today. The big money helps. For many years, very few people could play games professionally. That’s changed because of sponsors and prize pools growing.

How has being a pro gamer helped with your second career as a gaming exec?

One of the things I was known for as a gamer was Thresh ESP. They called me the most intelligent player and I could tell what opponents were doing before they knew it. As I moved into other stuff, my brain naturally works in a way that applies well not only in games, but where you put yourself in other people’s shoes and see the world through other people’s eyes. It’s like Super Turbo Speed Chess. As I’m running around playing Quake I’d see my opponent from his first-person perspective and I could visualize if he was coming around the corner. I have a strong intuition in what I’d be doing in his situation given what he thinks I’m doing. That’s the one thing that’s quite unique about me. I don’t have to consciously do it. I don’t have to separate things. It happens intuitively. That translates to starting companies or business. Recruiting people you need to understand what excites them and what their passions are and see things through their eyes, or see things through gamers’ eyes marketing-wise and try to put understand how your product solves problems for them. That transition into business was seamless for me.

How much overlap is there across top eSports titles like League of Legends, DOTA 2 and StarCraft II?

We’ve done pretty in-depth analysis on these games with our Raptr audience. The core enthusiasts all play games like World of Warcraft, Counter-Strike and Dragon Age. In the months of May and June 2014, 22.8% of League of Legends players also played some DOTA 2.

Our hardcore gamers spend time playing 30 to 100 games in the time we track them. The newer breed of gamers not in that hardcore play a much broader variety of games including League of Legends and DOTA 2. The big trend we’re seeing is the rise of indie games. The Top 5 games that League of Legends players also play is other free-to-play games or other indie games. The picture of a gamer has changed the past few years as free-to-play is more popular with games like World of Tanks and the rise of eSports.