Esports surpasses unprecedented heights every year. And with every successful milestone reached, it’s only standard for those who improved the industry to receive recognition. The Esports Awards is an annual event celebrating the success of the booming industry. Every year, hundreds of people attend and thousands watch. Initially kicking off in 2016, the 2020 Esports Awards continues to peak and pass expectations.
Esportz Network had the chance to interview Michael Ashford, Managing Director of the Esports Awards. We spoke to him about his success as the managing director. Additionally, Michael Ashford gave Esportz Network a better look into what goes behind such a prestigious awarding ceremony.
Esportz Network: How did you become the managing director of the Esports Awards? What’s the story behind your success?
Michael Ashford: That’s a good question, and I think any success is definitely down to a fantastic team here at the Esports Awards who had to put together everything we’ve done.
But my personal story is being a gamer my entire life, which I know tends to be the trope of a lot of interviews is that you’re a gamer first. You get into the industry that way. But for me, I always view gaming as a hobby, and my career was very separate from it. I was always the one that would game in my spare time. I played a lot of different titles growing up, from Runescape to Dofus to League of Legends. My all-time favorite game is probably Skyrim still.
I kept that very separate, and at the same time, I built out my skillset in marketing. And specifically, digital marketing and different non-endemic firms that weren’t related to esports while still understanding that I wanted to get more involved in the gaming industry or within esports as a space. I guess opportunity and a whole host of luck aligned in 2016 with a chance encounter with our CEO, Tom Mercey, in London. He told me about the event and what they were trying to achieve. I was able to enter in 2016 and add, hopefully, a lot of value to what we’re trying to achieve long term.
EN: What made you decide that the esports industry was where you wanted to be?
MA: Great question and I think on that side, it was something that I was doing in my spare time. I was playing a lot of League of Legends around 2014 to 2016, competing in a lot of amateur tournaments and enjoyed being absorbed in the industry, both from a UK perspective, where I live and on a global scale.
I got involved with watching a lot of different esports, to be honest, and seeing different levels of broadcast, different levels of performance, and seeing how the pros react to different environments, and the coaches, and infrastructures to get to the next level of play. I always felt that I wanted to be able to add value in some way to the esports industry.
Fortunately, I managed to get that break via marketing, so I was able to come in and help with social media strategy, digital strategy, amplification, building out the narrative, the story, and the core values of what the awards stand for, which are to recognize excellence in esports, create a legacy, and honor the industry. I think my traditional background is what helped me to bring value very quickly to the awards.
EN: What were your challenges and trials throughout your career in the esports industry?
MA: I think on that side, the first trials and challenges are always taking the leap of faith to get into the industry and to transfer what has been your hobby and your passion into your career and it becomes a very different prospect. When that happens, you’re suddenly looking at everything from a commercial lens and understanding that your career and your success is ultimately hinged on something that has always been a passion and something you do to let off steam or for downtime. It creates areas where you no longer have that as an outlet and as a facility. So if you’re having a bad day at work and you’re working in esports, you don’t want to go home and play your esport of choice. You just want to get away from it. When in a typical role, if you have a bad day at work, you want to go home and play a game to let off some steam.
That’s certainly one area that you have to acclimate and adjust to quite quickly. I think the other side is that we’ve got a very quickly growing property in the esports industry that’s evolved over time. It’s gone from (but still is) a small, independent, family-owned company operating in the UK and hosting in the UK, to a global platform hosted in Arlington, Texas, as the Esports Stadium.
And we’ve really kept the same core team that has been running this from 2016 through to 2020 and it’s a small core team that does a lot of incredible things. Very impressive things within the industry at this stage, from creating content, building websites, and social media implementation to running an event with a thousand guests and welcoming over one hundred of the biggest stars in esports to one destination at the same time. Most of the time, without a hitch. But there’s always room to improve and a lot of growing pains as you adapt. I think for us, it’s always looking at what we can do in a given year, put a blueprint in place for a five year period, and then tackling it one by one. Rather than looking at the finished article and saying we need to be there by X, is looking at how you get to that place.
I think that the key challenge is making sure that we can resource this sustainably so that we survive in this market, while also ensuring that we’re able to deliver the project on a year by year basis, continuing to grow the way we have been. With both the industry and the community’s reception, it has been amazing. We’re also balancing knowing that people have lives outside of the Esports Awards and they’ve certainly got be able to enjoy their esports away from the office.
EN: As the Managing Director of the Esports Awards, what’s the most rewarding aspect?
MA: I love the Esports Awards in general. It’s almost my baby in a lot of aspects because I put pretty much every hour of every day into trying to help it to grow and building new functions and new ways to create content and to achieve different aspects. But I think the biggest one for me is that I wanted to be a pro player for a good amount of time and to compete at a high level. Ultimately, I’ll be honest, I just wasn’t good enough to be at that level. I was always a semi-pro player, so I didn’t get to win many trophies.
Thankfully, due to the awards, I now get to give them out to the best players in the industry. That’s certainly rewarding. I think the most rewarding part of the entire year is always when the ceremony opens and all of the celebrities and the VIPs start coming into the ceremony or the general admission guests start filling up. You see the look on everyone’s face when they look at the stage, the branding, and the design and how impressed everyone is.
It’s a very proud moment to realize that a team has managed to achieve that on a really cool celebration for the industry and to see how much it means to each and every person in attendance.
EN: If you could describe what the Esports Awards are to a potential attendee or viewer, how would you describe it?
MA: I think how I interpret it is that it’s the culmination and the closing of the esports season. It’s the curtain going down on all of those huge achievements that teams are making throughout the year. You’ve got all of those major events, the likes of Dota 2 The International, League of Legends World Championships, Overwatch Grand Finals and all these events have distinction and build up. Then the big celebration when the team wins. And this is the stage that brings all of that together, celebrating them all and recognizing those who achieved more than anyone else during that competitive window.
We like to say that we have room for esports enthusiasts who want to be able to nominate all of the categories throughout the year that they feel they want to be a part of. They’re able to vote on them and tune in on the night to have that gratification, to see those who thought worthy win and celebrate with them. We also do a good job with more casual gamers being able to bridge the gap in their knowledge, maybe of the story of a year in esports and bring them up to date with all the major activity.
We’ve also started appealing to the lifestyle market a little bit more because we’re getting all of those major celebrities and influencers there. They’re able to tune in because they want to see Dr DisRespect walk the red carpet or to see some of those cool activations like closing Six Flags for a day so twenty influencers could go and create content. For me, it is to nail home that culmination and closing of a competitive season and this industry-wide celebration of everything that’s been achieved in a calendar, not just on the professional side, but on the industry-side and on the community-side, which are the key drivers of what we’re trying to achieve.
EN: There are many awarding events every year but what makes the Esports Awards one of a kind?
MA: Straight away what comes to mind is the fact that we’re all-encompassing of the esports industry and we hit those key touchpoints of community-based awards, industry-based awards, and pro awards. We’re giving recognition to all of those who are attending the events, putting on the events, and competing in the events and all of the different outlets of that to have granular details. To make sure that those who are doing the videography, photography and so on are recognized for the part that they play in creating such a good atmosphere at each and every event in esports is what’s critical.
Highlighting this early is what makes us special because sports and other entities have grown over a hundred years and learned as they went along. What we have is a rich history of being able to learn from each of those events and to understand what they’ve been able to do over a hundred years. I think for us to combine that and do over a much shorter period, that’s incredibly special and it’s very forthcoming of what the awards stand for.
Secondly, the awards are very aspirational in what we achieve because in a lot of award shows, you look and you don’t have an opportunity to be that person on the stage. And let’s say its a dream to be it, but you don’t really have a pathway. One thing I love about esports as an industry is that you can work incredibly hard at your craft and you have the opportunity to be up there winning that award. That’s something we love.
Bugha wasn’t on the radar the year before in 2018. He hadn’t won the Fortnite World Cup. He wasn’t a standout candidate and he worked as hard as he could to be the best in Fortnite and won the Fortnite World Cup. The next year, he stood on our stage in Arlington, winning two of our major award categories. And I think that goes across the board.
EN: Are there criteria that people must pass through to become one of the nominees for one of those categories?
MA: Definitely. To be honest, it’s a pretty rigorous process, which is why we’re so adamant on celebrating each and every finalist and the achievement of being a finalist in the awards because we’ve invested a lot of time and resource into building a process that really works and that’s founded on having a very strong panel that helped to support this and create that level of diligence when it comes to handing out these awards and making sure that it matters. At this point in the campaign, we’re very close to opening our nomination process for 2020, which is the first stage in a potential finalist journey since this is the point where the community and yourself can submit nominations on your behalf to the panel to get in front of them, to say why you should be shortlisted as a finalist.
Each award has criteria that you can find on the website over at Esports Awards and it’s up to you to sell how you meet that criteria. Fire it. Each award is very different. An esports videographer of the year will have very different categories at defining criteria compared to the likes of an esports console player, which will come down to performances, tournament wins, and so on.
It’s your opportunity at any level to showcase yourself to the panel, and the panel spends a good amount of hours going through and considering each submission and application so it’s your chance to stand out. I guess if I could give one tip to people, it’s thinking outside the box when it comes to those submissions and how you present them because we certainly provide a format and a formula for submission. The more you can do to stand out, the more I think the panel will take notice of video content or presentations and different ways of really engaging the panel.
Additionally, I think the big one is to show examples of what you’re doing and what you’re contributing. Even if you don’t get in one year, the panel will have seen that and we’ll be able to see in further years the contribution you’re making so that they understand more on what you’re doing and understand when your breakthrough year is and when you’re at that point when you should be shortlisted.
EN: What do you think makes a winning character and also ultimately awards them the category they are nominated in? Is there anything distinct?
MA: Yes, so I think the one that ties them all together, and you see this when they all stand on stage together at the end, is that every winner tends to have the mentality of a champion in their profession. That’s something that they all share and is not unique to those that win the awards or of good finalists. They all want to be the best at what they do and they’re willing to sacrifice and put in the work to get there.
You look at different winners over the years and you look at Richard Lewis, who has slaved away and taken jobs that he isn’t getting paid for just to own his craft and be a part of it and gives as much as he can and dedicates as many hours to put together the best investigative journalism possible. You see that mentality across all of the different players as well, the likes of Sonic Fox, who is playing and grinding year after year to stay at the top of their game and not just stay at the top of their game, play across multiple different titles.
EN: With so many rising stars in the esports industry, and because of that, will the 2020 Esports Awards be expanding their category list?
MA: We definitely will. The panel has met fairly recently to discuss this and to look at different award categories that are deserving of that recognition.
What I can’t do is give any spoilers at this point, unfortunately, but I’m pretty excited at how things are shaping up and some of the things we’re going to be able to recognize in 2020. At this point, all I can say is watch this space and look out for our first spotlight show to see some of the cool new awards we’ll be giving out.
EN: Can anyone attend the awarding event? If not, how can people attend?
MA: Yes. The good news is that 2019 was the first year that we welcomed a general admission crowd to the awards and it’s something I’m very proud of because I always know I was a fan at first before I got involved in the Esports Awards. So for me, it’s important that the fans get to be a part of this. The community are the ones that are nominating, voting, and supporting each of the winners throughout the year.
It’s important they get to be part of that huge moment when they win an esports award. We’ll certainly have general admission again in 2020 and we look forward to welcoming as much of the esports community as we can.
EN: Do you think COVID-19 will affect the 2020 Esports Awards? And if so, what will the Esports Awards do?
MA: It’s something we continue to monitor and obviously very aware of with all of the media news and speculation. We’re hoping for as little disruption as possible to the rest of the calendar whilst also being hyper-aware that we need to be safe first and preventative at this stage for the betterment of everyone.
So we don’t have any guidelines around COVID-19 at this stage and the Esport Awards given that we’re still eight months away from the event. It’ll be something we continue to monitor. At the moment everything goes ahead as planned.
EN: What can the world expect from this year’s Esports Awards? Will records be made and expectations topped?
MA: Definitely. We always like to outdo ourselves when possible. We’re excited and we’re a competitive team. We all have our own games and esports that we play. We always like to make sure where we’re upping the ante, with the ceremony and the weekend. We’re already in the planning stages of doing some pretty cool activations.
EN: Lastly, is there any official information about the approaching Esports Awards event that you can give us a hint about, like dates, schedules, venue, or anything you can disclose?
MA: The awards will be held once again at Esports Stadium, Arlington, and our friends over at the stadium. We look forward to seeing those guys again in Arlington, Texas in November 2020. We don’t have a finalized day at this stage, but we are excited to announce that in the coming months the nominations list will be open early April.
Written by Jay Hunter