The World of Tanks Grand Finals 2015 were held in Poland last week, attracting thousands of spectators to the dramatic tank battles as teams from around the world competed for part of the $300,000 prize money. Over April 25 and 26 at the EXPO XXI in Warsaw, 12 teams battled it out for two days, culminating in the victory of CIS team HellRaisers as the Grand Finals 2015 champions.

At the Grand Finals, Wargaming CEO Victor Kislyi took some time to talk exclusively with [a]listdaily about eSports, World of Tanks, and how marketing has contributed to the company’s success.

World of Tanks Grand Finals

How important are eSports to World of Tanks and to Wargaming?

I think it’s not possible to make a game, proclaim it eSports, and it so happens. First of all, we have to have a very enjoyable product, that’s enjoyed by millions of people around the world — we have over 100 million registrations for World of Tanks for the PC.

Look at this from a little different angle. It’s not that eSports will give us whatever, 10% more revenue. I think what we are witnessing now, and not only in connection with World of Tanks but with companies like Riot and Valve with DotA 2 and League of Legends, is the paradigm shift. eSports is emerging as a new media. I remember that ten years ago we heard somewhere in Korea there was a TV station with Starcraft players. Cool, but that’s Korea. Did you ever hear of a little startup called Twitch five years ago Probably not, but today everybody knows what Twitch is and it’s growing like crazy.

How have free-to-play games impacted gaming, and what has your role been in that evolution?

Two years ago, three years ago, when we were pushing consoles to free-to-play, I was referring to it as a philosophical concept. Free is good. The way World of Tanks and League of Legends gives you progression and growth is good — it’s good philosophically. It should be on different platforms. And guess what, we walked the talk. We released the Xbox 360 version, we are in the final stages of development of the Xbox One version. We did the unimaginable, we did a full-scale MMO on mobile devices on iPads, iPhones, even cheaper, less powerful Android phones [World of Tanks Blitz]. We walked the talk. We just demonstrate and show that it works.

Hellraisers Win 2015 Grand Finals

Many companies are trying to develop their games into eSports, on different platforms. How much room is there for more eSports at the top level?

Critical mass should be there. I think the ecosystem beneath this is growing very fast — connectivity, mobile devices, access to Internet, general awareness, streaming services growing to be broadcast TV like ESPN. When something happens in Staples Center or Frankfurt Stadium, other people think ‘Hey, maybe this is something worth looking at.’ If companies like us and Riot will supply good entertainment — enjoyable games, fast, epic with intrigue and some drama — people will watch it. People watch some sports that I don’t understand. Curling I don’t get it. I’m not saying it’s bad, but people watch it. Can you imagine a stadium full of Candy Crush Saga fans Given their numbers, or Supercell’s Clash of Clans… why not If they have 200 million players, perhaps they can pack a stadium.

What’s the future of eSports on mobile, and what have you learned from World of Tanks Blitz?

This is how eSports happens. You have to have millions and millions of players, preferably dozens or hundreds of millions, who enjoy the game just for fun, and then some of them become obsessed with money, the red carpet, showing off or whatever, and become eSportsmen. These guys have interesting lives — they travel, they train, they meet interesting people. They are like entrepreneurs. Those people find certain things in eSports for them, that’s why they join.

You have to have critical mass, so Xbox and Blitz are not yet there. However, as iPad and iPhones and Android phones grow — can you imagine your life without this? [holds up his smartphone] They have become part of our lives. The penetration and coverage is huge and is growing as we speak. I say why not? Classical sports do reflect certain activities or realities of your life. Horse riding,. Shooting, running, swimming, car racing — those are all things we do in life. If this is a big part of your life and it provides you this fantastic opportunity to be always connected and have fantastic graphics and input quality, I see this happening. I cannot tell you when or where, but why not?

How important has marketing been to where Wargaming has climbed, and how important do you think it will be for Wargaming in the future?

I’m really proud of the many things we did right. Some things behind the scenes, people don’t see this. Before we started World of Tanks, we were already experts in banner advertising. We knew the power of statistics, of CPM, all those things. The first splash of World of Tanks was huge, but novelty wears off. It’s not a new game any more. PR, word of mouth, of course yes, but there are limits to that too. It’s easy in Russia, because tanks, Russia, we are close to that historically and mentally. Other countries where tanks were not history, you have to be smart about it and use special techniques to penetrate the market like big companies do. America, Western Europe, China, Korea, Australia — the key point is how you combine this, how you don’t overdo it, how you don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

We spend huge resources — this is not a free picnic, I promise you that. Sometimes you have to use billboards, and sometimes you have to use TV. Look at Clash of Clans and Game of War. Who would imagine some young people from Finland would be buying Super Bowl halftime ads Seriously If you had told this to me three years ago I would have said you are crazy. You have to be smart about it, some things you have to do your homework, some things you do standardly. This is a very fast-changing world. Advertising is changing all the time, including the technology. You have to have specially trained people who this is their 24/7 job to maximize the ROI. Sometimes it’s TV, sometimes it’s banner ads, sometimes it’s search engines. There are always ways to optimize.