Trevor May: “I want to know what makes people so good and then, I want to know how I can be that good ..."
Whether it is creating music, streaming Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds, or pitching for the Minnesota Twins, Trevor May has seriously shown his excitement for entrepreneurial success. He has partnered with and is closely working with many business partners, one of which is statistics website, Winston’s Lab. May is attempting to create a large platform that could help with wide-range scouting based on empirical data. Trevor May took some time out during BlizzCon to discuss his history in games and esports, if he would ever tease the idea of stepping into a team management role, and much more.
We know that you’ve been very involved with Esports Labs and their partners, how did that come about? What did you personally look at as an investor?
Well, it was a vision that developed over time. While it’s still in the developmental stages, I think that there is an untapped market that parallels some things that are around traditional sports. There’s certain things that esports has been swinging and missing at, and that kind of changes the way that third-party businesses are run. I saw an opportunity with the Overwatch League and the direction they are taking to set some precedents and really get the number of people who are into video games and then to get the people who are into competitive gaming kind of aligned. I’d love to really get to activate that huge, huge, huge population.
One of the big things I believe in is that I want a 12-year-old kid to tell his parents that he wants to play video games professionally. I want them to know that there is that possibility and that there is hope. Even up until now, in Overwatch specifically, it seriously was like the wild west; there was no clear way to know where you stood and Blizzard is trying to really solidify that. I personally saw Winston’s Lab; I know Dennis is doing some great stuff over there. He is leading the way on advanced scouting and using numbers to really chart and scout players really young in esports. The technology is there to collect the data, but there are two ways to scout. Whenever two humans compete in anything you can judge them based on the eye test or by numbers on paper. It’s very easy for people to go straight to the numbers because that's kind of the way we think. So, a lot of my investments reflect that kind of idea. Like Wawa’s Bootcamp is shaping up to be a large scale scouting and the guys at Winston’s Lab are doing very well on the statistics front for the teams and how to tell if someone is good on paper.
Talk to me about your origin story in esports and gaming. What were some of your old stomping grounds? Where did you first get into gaming?
I mean, I am an extremely competitive person and traditional sports took over my life, but if I was 10 years younger and I was 18, I’d probably be playing video games or at least trying to play at a high level.
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“I want to know what makes people so good and then, I want to know how I can be that good. That’s how everything is for me.” - Trevor May
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It was an odd parallel there and I’ve always loved video games, always have. It started with a friend of mine that I grew up with; he’s 2 months younger than me, was born in the same hospital, and lived 4 houses away from each other our whole lives till we were 18. His dad built computer desktops, so we played Warcraft 1, 2 and 3.
Warcraft 3 was big; the whole custom game community was big. I mean, we made maps. Then, I got into World of Warcraft. Then, he transitioned to League of Legends and I followed suit. I mean, we played Age of Empires, all of the Total War games—the massive strategy games that were our big games. My brother was a big console player; he played Halo 2. So, I love games and they have always been super important to me. The competitive aspect for me since I’ve been streaming has really taken off with me because I spend so much time playing that I want to be good. We’re at a time now where—let’s be honest—the market is exploding and ambitious and entrepreneurial in that sense, so it all lined up.
Now, you did mention that you did play League of Legends and TSM actually had—albeit for a short stint, a baseball pitcher and coach as their head coach for their League team. Would you ever consider going down that route coming from traditional sports and moving to esports as a coach or even a general manager?
Absolutely. It’s just like anything else; people won’t listen to you if they don’t think you're credible. For example, in Overwatch, if you're a Master level player and you're a diamond level player and you're trying to coach top 500 players, it’s tough because of the way that the hierarchy in video games works and it’s just based on a rating, which is a number and that just tells you if you're better than someone. So, immediately there is no conversation there. But, I think I'm more suited for a business management side, but maybe heading a team of analysts or even working as a general manager, I absolutely think I could do that stuff.
Analytics are just how my brain works. To be honest, I’ve been pretty hands off with Dennis over at Winston's Lab, but we all start to shoot the shit the other day about analytics and all the different scenarios that data could be inaccurate, and we kept coming to the conclusion that with the mounds and mounds of data that we could possibly compile that the patterns will start to outline themselves. We just need to keep track of stuff for a long time—not just for a month, but for a long time.
You're touching on an idea that has been tossed around quite a lot in the scene—the idea of a form of “Moneyball” team. It seriously would be a costly experiment, but do you think that teams will really start to lean on analytics when it comes to scouting and recruiting new players?
Oh, someone is!
I won’t say who it is full on. I’ll use this example: in 2009 when I was playing World of Warcraft, I would spend hours on Elitist Jerks and just sit there and min-max my gear. Games tend to boil down to just a bunch of min-maxing, you know? What gem goes where? What rotation do I use on this boss? What gear to use on what boss? Like, that stuff is analytics. That stuff is how serious gamers think already.
Baseball is hard because it’s traditional and everyone went off of feeling and guts and whatnot. The transition that happening in Baseball doesn’t have to happen in esports. I know for a fact that the Korean team is very data-driven and that their analysis is extremely, extremely, extremely forward with this stuff. I’ve spoken with a lot of the GM’s and they all are developing their process on how they determine who is ‘good’ and I can tell you that it is all very data driven and they all use Winston’s Lab.
Two things are going to happen if this takes off: the competitive balance will be addressed. It’s not good for a league to have the worst team go 0-60. You want to worst team to be about 20-40 and the best team to be around 40-20; you don’t want sweeps. The other thing is that you want player representation. Sinatraa set a precedent and the next big star is going to want the same salary if not more than Sinatraa, so teams are going to find it beneficial to start to invest into advanced scouting and recruit the next 18-year-old prodigy as a free agent for cheap.
One last quick question before I let you go, you mentioned player representation. How important do you think a player’s union is for Overwatch League?
It’s huge! I’m not going to say the owners are screwing over the players, but there is no incentive not to. You can say whatever, but there is no precedent set that players know where they stand. There is no way to tell if a player is getting what they deserve.
For example, Major League Baseball has the best union by far. We have ridiculous contracts. It’s to a point where people are making 100 million dollars and you know that they are not going to ever be worth that. Like, you sign a 150 million dollar contract, you know that you're not going to play well enough over those seven years to make that money. You're just not, but that's because we have built such an amazing union and that is going to need to happen in esports. It’s extremely important to me that I want to see a 12-year-old kid look at games as more of a career and be able to pursue that. And once that happens, you're going to see a lot of people who snubbed the esports scene early on and people who didn’t pay attention—they’ll start to pay attention because it’s cool. It’s going to be very good for people who are building businesses right now.
I mean look at what Blizzard is doing with Overwatch. The new spectator client looks great! I spoke with Nate Nanzer this morning about everything and the whole team was positive but anxious to see how it would be perceived.
All of the stats, the new API that is also brand new that they didn’t have literally a week ago—it’s all seriously so exciting.
You can follow Trevor May at @trevmay65
Joseph “Volamel” Franco has followed esports since the MLG’s of 2006. He started out primarily following Starcraft 2, Halo 3, and Super Smash Bros. Melee. He has transitioned from viewer to journalist and writes freelance primarily about Overwatch and League of Legends. If you would like to know more or follow his thoughts on esports you can follow him at @Volamel.