“We will invest in your ideas and the things that you’re looking to do. It’s not just going to be us giving you a bunch of money and you go run the whole thing.”

Sports betting and media company Rivalry and Counter-Strike 2 (CS2) legend Mohan "Launders" Govindasamy are working together to make the Launders LAN CS2 esports tournament happen between April 20 and April 21. Ahead of Launders LAN 2, we sat down with Rivalry co-founder and chief executive officer (CEO) Steven Salz for an exclusive interview about the event, the competitive CS2 scene, Rivalry's esports strategy, and more!

Building Rivalry: From finance to CS:GO to esports betting

Rivalry co-founder and CEO Steven Salz has always been an esports enthusiast. Some of his first experiences with competitive gaming were at events such as Fan Expo in Toronto. During his interview with esports.gg, he recalled how he had attended Major League Gaming (MLG) tournaments plus Rainbow Six Siege and Halo events with his twin brother. This passion for video games and the competitive side of it persisted into adulthood where Salz continued to learn about the evolving esports space.

Featured games on Rivalry's esports betting platform (Image via Rivalry)
Featured games on Rivalry's esports betting platform (Image via Rivalry)

While working in finance, Salz began to notice parallels between the trading of CS:GO skins and financial markets. This inspired him to merge his career with his passion for gaming. Subsequently, this led to a partnership with the founders of Loot Market, which is an online marketplace offering Dota 2 and CS:GO items. Together, they explored the idea of creating a sustainable and regulated online gambling platform rooted in the esports community. This led to the launch of Rivalry in 2018.

Ryan White, Steven Salz, and Kevin Wimer (Images via Rivalry)
Ryan White, Steven Salz, and Kevin Wimer (Images via Rivalry)

"Coincidentally, Ryan happened to be in Toronto as well," Salz told esports.gg, referring to Rivalry co-founder and chief technology officer (CTO) Ryan White. "We came together in 2006 to originally invest to grow Loot Market more and then also invest in the esports ecosystem."

Salz also mentioned working with Rivalry co-founder and chief operating officer (COO) Kevin Wimer, who used to play professional StarCraft in Korea.

Rivalry CEO Steven Salz talks CS2 esports

Back in January 2024, Rivalry had the FragFest CS2 LAN at the Red Bull Gaming Studio. To Salz, despite some operational and logistical challenges such as power shortages and physical setups, the event was a success. He explained how the grassroots CS2 esports event surprised him in terms of players bringing their own gaming setups and how the social aspect of the event was just as valuable as the competition itself. Folks worked together to get the tournament going.

Red Bull Gaming Studio's TD Player Lounge (Image via Rivalry)
Red Bull Gaming Studio's TD Player Lounge (Image via Rivalry)

According to Salz, the upcoming Launders LAN CS2 tournament will have significant improvements in terms of operations, logistics, and activations. At FragFest, he noticed that people really appreciated casual activities like ping pong on top of the esports competition. Therefore, the upcoming LAN will feature Launders' own merchandise, numerous giveaways, and setups for games like Mario Party and Mario Kart. The LAN will be improved for those watching from home as well.

FragFest happened in January 2024 (Image via Rivalry)
FragFest happened in January 2024 (Image via Rivalry)

"We expect better production value, less technical difficulties and errors or just things like that. A lot less hiccups," Salz said. "We're going to be doing different giveaways and content pieces to the stream audience so they'll have their own experience that makes them feel like they're in their own version of the LAN online."

The livestream will feature giveaways, content pieces, plus an imaginative theme. "Even like the HUD and everything," Salz continued. "We're going to see how it turns out. If you've seen Rivalry's branding and creative in the past — it's a little quirky and strange. So the aesthetic and style for this definitely continues to lead into that — very thoughtfully bizarre and the strange, creative world that we like. Like the Alice in Wonderland-style world that we like to create. We're trying to represent that as much as we possibly can on the actual broadcast of the stream itself."

Launders LAN graphic for April 2024 (Image via Rivalry)
Launders LAN graphic for April 2024 (Image via Rivalry)

Rivalry, Launders, and brand partnerships

When asked about Rivalry's approach to partnerships with content creators such as Launders, Salz detailed his company's philosophy. He noted that Rivalry's goal is to create value beyond financial incentives in the esports scene. Instead of aiming for just the highest bidder, Rivalry focuses on unique and creative activations that resonate with their partners and audiences, similar to Red Bull’s approach in extreme sports.

"We'll literally speak to a creator," Salz told esports.gg. "We're never going to be like the highest financial offer, but we'll say, 'Look at all the things we've done. These are the things we're thinking we could do with you. We really understand you. We understand your brand, understand your community.' We understand their objectives."

"So Launders is a perfect example," Salz continued. "Launders is from Toronto. He's really big on developing grassroots esports here. And so we partnered with him as a brand saying, 'Okay. Yes, you'll be a brand partner of ours. There's some financial benefit to that. But also we will invest in your ideas and the things that you're looking to do. It's not just going to be us giving you a bunch of money and you go run the whole thing. We're extremely creative, extremely capable. And we'll execute at a level that you want to match.'"

By supporting Launders' projects creatively and logistically, Rivalry enhances community engagement and elevates the CS2 player’s brand beyond the scope of typical sponsorships. This strategy fosters long-term growth and brand loyalty for both Rivalry and Launders.

The future of CS2 esports

To Salz, growing the Canadian CS2 esports scene is only the beginning for Rivalry. He aims to expand Rivalry's global reach by entering new markets while building on its existing presence in Ontario, South America, and Southeast Asia.

According to Salz, the core of Rivalry's business strategy is anchored in gambling. To him, this offers a scalable and profitable model that can sustain long-term investment in the esports ecosystem. This approach is designed to not only ensure Rivalry's profitability but also to support the broader esports community for the sake of creators and fans.

"At the end of the day, it has to make financial sense," Salz said. "Which isn't some evil thing. If it makes financial sense, that means it's sustainable. If it's sustainable, that means people will continue to receive a product that they want. So with these types of events — that's what we try to achieve."

That's all for now. Stick around on esports.gg for more news, interviews, and updates!

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