esports.gg speaks to Mike Taylor of Versus Gaming about the future of their relationship with Apex.
Mike Taylor founded Versus Gaming in November 2016, building on a keen interest in gaming, esports and traditional sports. Mike, who has been entrepreneurial from a young age has seen Versus Gaming grow from a small peer to peer wagering platform into a broadcaster and tournament hosting platform.
Versus Gaming has found a strong affinity with Apex Legends. They have hosted several Apex Legends tournaments, including a collaboration with ShivFPS last November. They also produced the ALGS Challenger Circuit production for the EMEA region.
esports.gg spoke to Versus Gaming founder Mike Taylor ahead of their return to ALGS broadcasting later this week.
Versus Gaming looking to launch new tournament platform soon
That move away from wagering towards an esports tournament management site was in part driven by a desire to be more family friendly. Attitudes to gambling and wagering have certainly soured amongst many online.
"We launched a basic version of that site a year or so ago. And we ran it all free of charge for six to 12 months, essentially as a test, performing various integrations and whatnot. We were testing data flows and making sure that we knew how things should and shouldn't work, running various events and tournaments.
"Now we are currently working on our second version of that product which we're hoping to get out before the end of the year. We're aiming for an esports site that's all about creating teams, competing in tournaments and tracking your performance.
"Not a million miles off the other esports websites out there, but obviously we feel that we're differentiated by various features that we have planned and a slightly different approach. We're very much focused on grassroots and serving the needs of players and teams on a daily basis."
How did Versus Gaming end up in broadcasting?
But, how has Versus Gaming gone from a tournament platform to a key broadcast partner of the ALGS? Mike explains how it was a natural expansion of the work Versus was already doing.
"Whilst doing all of this, we built up various skills and technology. We were not just running various competitive formats through the site, but also content. You know, tournaments, productions, broadcasts, and all of that go hand in hand. So you know we would do that for our own events and then we started doing it for others."
Versus Gaming's big opportunity in the ALGS came in early 2022. Due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the EMEA ALGS Pro League was suspended. Several players were in Ukraine, and EA also made the decision to ban Russia and Belarus as eligible countries.
As a result of the delays, the EMEA Pro League was ran in less than a week. With both lobbies ran at the same time, the PlayApex channel couldn't show all the gameplay.
"I basically got a phone call and it was like "we've got a problem. Can you broadcast Pro League? And it starts in 24 hours.
"I think I had 24 hours to put together an entire broadcast production for a week's worth of shows. I put the phone down on that call and I didn't stop working for about 17, 18 hours straight. And then we delivered it and they were very happy."
Versus broadcasting both NA and EMEA Challenger Circuit matches in Year 4
Versus Gaming has been awarded Challenger Circuit and Pre Season broadcasts for both the North America and the EMEA region in ALGS Year 4. Mike is ambitious, and is hoping to even add some Arabic speaking broadcasts to better appeal to a wider audience in the EMEA region.
This will present a challenge for Versus, with double the broadcasts to manage. Why was now the right time to expand?
"The first reason is achieving sustainability for these broadcasts. It might seem counterintuitive to double our cost base in seeking out sustainability, but I've been talking to EA about the reach from the preseason qualifiers and the Challenger Circuit and all these other ancillary events that go around the tier 2 sphere.
"I've been saying for a while that I think we need to bundle them up in order to sell advertising across them. And obviously with my history in ad sales, I feel like I have some experience in saying that. They agreed, selling the regions, the advertising separately for each region hasn't gone well for various other partners in the past.
Advertising potential a key consideration
"And I think for EA it was becoming tricky as well, having different regional partners pop up and disappear year in, year out. So I said to them, look, if you can give us an additional English speaking region, then we can bundle up the advertising inventory across both regions. And I think we can achieve sustainability via those bundled up ad packages.
"The second reason, obviously, as a business, we have our own interests in positioning ourselves alongside the ALGS within Apex. We've got the site that we're doing. And we've got various features in and around that. Then, we've got the other broadcasts and productions that we do. I think that by being trusted by EA to run the ALGS Challenger circuit is a good little sort of feather in our hats. It shows people what we're capable of and the quality that we deliver."
Broadcasts are set to improve over time
"The plan is to very much increase production value and provide more insights using the data in the endpoints and the APIs. We want to improve the quality and increase insights. I think it's going to be a tricky balancing act because we have taken on an additional region. We need to do it incrementally.
"I would say that the pre-season qualifiers are likely to be of a similar standard of what we delivered last year, which both we and EA were happy with. But, for when the Challenger Circuit rolls around in January, February, we have, as I said, improved production assets and processes.
"So there should be more interesting facts and stats for the on-air talent to talk about and go into.
"Beyond that, if we can, we're hoping to provide additional analysis shows that kind of extend beyond the live broadcasts themselves. Hopefully we'll be getting on casters, coaches and pros to provide a little bit of insight into how the events played out."
Casting pathway key aspect of ALGS Year 4
Part of Versus Gaming's success in Apex Legends has been in the promotion of lesser known casting talent. DiA, Spidertiff and Zephyr have all graduated from the Challenger Circuit to the Pro League and LAN level of the ALGS.
One such graduate, DiA, has been given permission to run a new development programme for up and coming casting talent. The Challenger Circuit broadcasts will give them an opportunity to showcase their skills in front of EA and the ALGS community.
There are risks involved of course with lesser known talents. Especially when big names bring additional lure to potential sponsors. So why has Versus Gaming chosen to not rely on only established talent?
"So I think this kind of brings us back to our core mission as a business, which is to drive development in grassroots.
I think it's far more important with something like the Challenger Circuit, which is a tier two competition, that we do our part in offering opportunities casters, observers and producer Giving them opportunities to gain experience and grow and hopefully fuel the grassroots scene further.
"Obviously part of the challenge for us as a business is to make sure that we are offering those opportunities to people that deserve them without compromising on our ability to deliver."
Casters on the programme will be mentored by experienced casters. Mike is keen that more talent comes through the Challenger Circuit and finds their way onto tier one ALGS broadcasts in the future.
DiA hoping to raise the casting skill floor in Apex Legends
esports.gg also spoke to DiA, who is running the programme for Versus Gaming.
He added that "The ultimate goal of the program is to mold incoming generations of commentators that can benefit from the knowledge and lessons, learned by ALGS Professionals, raising the skill floor for all commentators over time, and providing an inclusive pipeline that will generate unique and well-educated talent for the future of the ALGS."
EA have an eye on the programme
While EA are not formally involved with the programme, they are aware of it and keeping an eye on it. Mike revealed that EA have even suggested some people they'd like to see on the programme. That gives those casters, and others that get to work with them, perhaps the best chance to catch the eye of EA anywhere in Apex esports.
Versus Gaming planning to return to tournament hosting too
One of the weaknesses of the current grassroots Apex Legends competitive scene is the lack of tournaments. While the Tier 1 level has very few events, lower tiers have next to none at all.
Mike explains that Versus Gaming chose to step back from organising when 'Realm' arrived on the scene. The solo queue league was an instant hit amongst players. However, it has since closed amid controversy over funding.
"[Realm] popped up and I think they were doing their thing. We said this might be an ideal opportunity for us to kind of step back into building mode. Because we were throwing budget at those events and we weren't charging entry or anything like that. So we thought, right, we'll just take this opportunity to step back into build mode."
Events to come at the end of the year
"We've been building away. We've got this new site. We plan to get it out by the end of the year. It's difficult to say exactly when with development. There's always some curve balls and game integrations are notoriously difficult, but hopefully by the end of the year. And once that site goes back up again, then yes [we will be back].
"People are likely to see our weekly tournaments for EMEA and North America coming back again. We've got a few other branded events as well. There's a few other sort of larger events that we've signed with sponsors in the EMEA region. So there should be some some larger invitational and also open registration prize pools."
You can watch the ALGS Pre Season qualifies for the EMEA and North American regions this Monday on the Versus Gaming twitch channel.
Track major ALGS roster changes with our handy roster tracker. Then, for more coverage of the ALGS, stay with esports.gg.