Ahead of a judging role at ESI London 2022, we sat down with Overwolf CMO Shahar Sorek to talk about the event and Overwolf’s role in the esports space.

Overwolf recently announced a $25,000 contribution to ESI London 2022’s The Clutch competition. A pitch investment competition, The Clutch helps esports-related start-ups get exposure, funding, and kick-start their progress.  We sat down with Overwolf CMO Shahar Sorek, who will be on the panel of judges for The Clutch’s 2022 competition.

Shahar shared with us the unique proposition that Overwolf has, as a modding, app development, and private server platform. He also talked about the potential of The Clutch event.

This article was powered by ESI London

Introduction to Overwolf

So for anyone who doesn’t know, what is Overwolf?

Overwolf's Shahar Sorek: “Overwolf is the Guild of In-game Creators. It's a term we coined to define gamers who develop, in-game apps, or mods, or private servers, or in general, anybody who wants to make a game more fun. 

I'll throw in a few stats, I'll give context. We have over 31 million monthly active gamers that consume these creations. We have close to 100,000 creators creating apps, mods, private servers, whatnot. And we support over 1000 games. Some of them are extremely popular like League of Legends, World of Warcraft, Minecraft, PUBG, Rainbow Six, the list goes on and on. and list goes on and on. And yearly, there are over 15 billion downloads of mods apps on the Overwolf platform.”

That's incredible.

Overwolf's Shahar Sorek:Yes, it's kind of a user-generated ecosystem that that just supports creators and gamers. And also another thing that will come to the front soon you'll hear about it as a product we're working on for game developers, which allows them to create UGC (User Generated Content) environments inside the game. So they can allow their creators to express themselves through an SDK (Software Development Kit) we’re building and also sell it, upload it, download it, just kind of like inside Steam Workshop type product.”

"Yearly, there are over 15 billion downloads of mods apps on the Overwolf platform."

And that's for any game they’re developing? That's crazy.

Shahar: “And we're gonna launch with some massive titles soon.”

Wow. So I have Overwolf installed on my computer. I primarily use it for Minecraft mods, which is another beat I cover outside of esports. What do you think makes Overwolf such a good platform for modders?

Shahar: “I think that first of all, Overwolf spearheads a new profession, which we call the In-Game Creator. It could be a mod author, it could be an app developer, could be a private server owner. And in general, what that does is puts a lot of order and abilities in the hands of creators that without the platform they just don't have. So for instance, you're downloading mods. So the Overwolf, CurseForge platform, allows you to download and upload mods in a very comfortable way as a gamer. 

In June 2022, Overwolf acquired Curse Forge from Twitch (Image via Curse Forge)
In June 2022, Overwolf acquired Curse Forge from Twitch (Image via Curse Forge)

But as a mod author, it also allows you to monetize mods, which is extremely unique and kind of a never done before type of thing. I mean, there are Patreon solutions and whatnot. But that really depends on the individual, the ability of the individual to build and manage these types of services.

With Overwolf, you get an ecosystem that can monetize your work, and an ecosystem that can accelerate your work because we do marketing and growth for the creators. And also fund your work. So it's kind of an all in one ecosystem, 

That really helps you realize the potential of what it is you want to create. And kind of turn it from a passion into a profession. If it's relevant, maybe you're not interested in making it a profession. But, you know, some developers are making a substantial living out of it.”

Overwolf and Esports

In terms of esports then, in general, when people think of esports, the first thing they think is teams and and developers. But what do you think Overwolf fits into that ecosystem of esports?

Overwolf's Shahar Sorek: “So if we make a more granular separation between the type of creators, then esports games, by definition cannot be modded. But Overwolf has a tech stack that knows how to read real time events from esport games. Let's use League of Legends, because that's kind of the premier, Alpha example, okay? So from the set of data and events we track in real time, you can build all sorts of applications that run as an overlay on top of the game. And that's called an app. And Overwolf has an app store, you can go check it out and it has a tonne of apps for all sorts of games. League of Legends is the most popular game, so the most popular apps naturally are for League of Legends. 

One of our top-rated apps is called Porofessor. It helps League of Legends players to understand their match statistics, improve performance, and provide other key aspects of gameplay. And these apps, some of them really help enhance your sensemaking of what's going on in the game, who you're up against, all sorts of things. 

Porofessor is one of the many apps on Overwolf (Image via Porofessor)
Porofessor is one of the many apps on Overwolf (Image via Porofessor)

Also, you know, with Outplayed, that’s also on Overwolf, you can record, cut, send screenshots of your game. Or with Buff, that runs on Overwolf, you can monetize your game time. It's like a frequent flier miles for gamers and esports players. And there's all these training programmes. So it's basically kind of, you know, in Dungeons & Dragons, I would say, it's like the Find Familiar spell. Overwolf has a Familiar-type of relationship. Basically, if you want to get better, you will download an Overwolf app at some point.”

Okay, so you're attending and I believe participating in ESI London 2022, correct?

Overwolf's Shahar Sorek:Yeah, I hope so! There is a semi-conflict, so I will see how that pans out.”

Do you have a sneak peek of what Overwolf are going to be contributing to the event?

Overwolf's Shahar Sorek:Okay, so basically, the partnership with ESI London 2022 is with The Clutch. And what we're doing is contributing to a prize pool of $25,000 to The Clutch London edition this year. So there's like a first place that's going to win $15k. The second place $7k. Third place $3,000. And also be granted the opportunity to come to Tel Aviv, with us and kind of help them with that. It’s an app-building competition; some great apps came out of it in past years. 

Last year, Jack from iTero Gaming won The Clutch. That’s  it's kind of a revolutionary data analysis tool designed to give pro teams and average players a kind of edge. It's doing really well. 

So each year we come to ESI, and of course, we meet up with all sorts of people. And we also run this competition and judge, kind of vet the applications that come through, and try to support them. So that's kind of our main involvement in ESI. 

This year, we do have a team on the ground as well, not only myself, that is taking meetings and then trying to kind of facilitate and connect more with esports. But that's more kind of a business development type of an activity.”

The future of mods and how developers view Overwolf

Returning to modding and plugins, one thing that’s constant is that modders have sometimes had a bit of a rocky relationship with developers. In the 90s and 2000s we had a situation where people could literally sell DOOM maps on floppy disks, make money, etc. 

But more recently, companies like Blizzard have locked down their modding tools or altered their EULA so that modders can't make the next DOTA, or the next Team Fight Tactics. Has Overwolf ever encountered that resistance from developers on your end?

Shahar: “Okay, great question. So, in general, the way to look at Overwolf overall is kind of the Sheriff of the UGC Outlands.”

Okay, yeah, that's a great metaphor.

Overwolf's Shahar Sorek: “Right? You have all these creators in the Shadows and the Outlands creating all these things. And you have the IP owners with a walled gate with guards and laser beams, and squads of guards, and nobody wants them to touch the IP. And then there's us, in what we've done up until now, specifically with League, but also with other companies such as Activision Blizzard as well, we helped facilitate some of these creators to be able to work with a developer. 

It's not an easy ride, but we've established a relationship. First of all, we have a ‘kill switch’ for everything. So if anything is crossing the line, and something that the game developer doesn't like, we just shut it down. And then we start figuring out what's going on. 

"So, in general, the way to look at Overwolf overall is kind of the Sheriff of the UGC Outlands.”

Shahar Sorek on Overwolf's relationship with developers

On the other hand, if something is justified, or is a great addition, we talk to Blizzard. Like Firestone Arena, It's a very popular app for Hearthstone Arena, which helps you make your decks and whatnot. And listen, Blizzard’s fine with it. 

There are creations which are a problem. So that's one thing. So over the years we had this relationship where we're kind of trying to negotiate and run moderation, curation, and live ops with developers. But when you come to modding, modding it's a bit of a different story.” 

So where do developers go from here?

Overwolf's Shahar Sorek: “I think there's, you're going to see a shift come now, I think we're at a watershed moment or an inflection point, in which all the attitude to modders is about to change substantially. It's going to be a change of mindset. Because there is a trend now that is beyond the modders. I like to explain it like this: When I used to game, my generation and generations before me, and a bit of the generations after me, when we game, I say we ‘game and submerge.’ Okay? You and I, we play a game, and then we lose ourselves in the game. And weeks, months, years go by and whatnot. 

"The need to consume is… is immense. So the only people who can actually answer that need is fans, creators, gamers."

Shahar Sorek on the shift in game development

Today, the gamers, they are about games, submerge, and then they're about change. And you see that mostly with a young generation that is on Roblox and Minecraft and Fortnite creative. Very quickly, the gaming experience, and that submerging experience turns into this need to change whatever is going on. You want to contribute, you want to change. It could be a cosmetics change. And then there's what type of specific change you're looking to do. 

Modding is kind of the ultimate change. Specifically, standalone mods are the ultimate form of creation. When it comes to that. I think that, at least with our conversations with AAA developers and developers at large, they understand the consumer's demand for ongoing content iteration is not something they will ever be able to fill. 

The need to consume is… is immense. So the only people who can actually answer that need is fans, creators, gamers. So you have the IP,  for an extreme example, you have Squid Game. And whatnot, before you even think Roblox has 10 games, and they're doing great. Nobody, no game studio can deal with that.” 

(Image via Alesia Studios)
(Image via Alesia Studios)

(Squid Game released on Netflix to universal acclaim in late 2021. Just weeks later, there were Squid Game-themed games on Roblox, and games like Squid Guys and Crab Game on Steam Early Access. The AAA developed Squid Game game is projected in generous estimates to not conclude development until sometime in 2023)

Overwolf's Shahar Sorek: “I'm sure also, you know, in heavily modded games that are super big and legit, like GTA, you constantly have the demand for mods. And if you are in space and you actually see the usage of the live mods, the GTA modded world is as big as the game itself! I mean, there's all sorts of modding environments that are getting, I would say, equal traction, if not more than the game itself. Minecraft is a great example of this.

I think four, five years from now, the game developer will always make the core experience, but it will rely on fans' abilities to expand that. And those games will need to offer extensibility features for the IP. And that’s where the gaming world is going to be. It’s going to go through a whole transformation. Maybe not every game, but definitely the ones that leaned themselves into it.

League of Legends could have been a Blizzard game. Do you want to be like Blizzard was in the past? Or do you want to take the Valve approach, what they did with Half-Life and Counter Strike, and encouraged the top creators to be entrepreneurs and creators, and also backed them and whatnot? So we're hoping to spearhead and allow a plan and kind of develop a platform that will facilitate this type of behavior and ecosystem and fold everybody in and also create a trustworthy space.” 

Are in-game apps cheating?

Obviously, some of the plugins on your platform have seen some criticism from developers and players in terms of they feel that these in game apps are, you know, sometimes cheating, or and some have even gone so far as to ban. How would you respond to that? And what's your general feeling on that?

Overwolf's Shahar Sorek: “The general feeling is, the line between an add-on and a cheat can be vague sometimes. As we developed this is a profession for us—We kind of spearheaded it, we’re the owners of the space—We learned how to tread that line very carefully. I mean, we don't want to lose business right? We can't do business if the developer doesn't sanction it. 

I mean, if Riot doesn't want the League of Legends apps to exist, they won't. But Riot is a great example. You'll see their developers say "go to Overwolf. If you have an idea, go to Overwolf. They'll help you get it off the ground, develop the API, we love the guys, they will do the work." 

Each game developer is a bit different. Activision is a huge company. It's very tough to talk to anybody there. We talk, but you know, if something happens in Warzone, the player gets banned. And sometimes it's not even our fault. So it's a very fine line, a fine, careful environment. 

"The players within a week came to Overwolf and built the mini map. Amazon was freaking out and saying “what's going on?!” And we got on the phone with them."

Shahar Sorek on New World's Mini Map

I do want to say that in the last two, three years, we've gotten way more proficient in not crossing that line. And responding very quickly to changes that need to be made and also fighting when we need to. 

You know, when New World came out by Amazon, the players within a week came to Overwolf and built the mini map. Amazon was freaking out and saying “what's going on?!” And we got on the phone with them. And you know, it's not a cheat, it's a feature that they're never gonna get to or like, in a year, two years to get out. 

This is kind of what I mean, there's an organic need, why not have that need fulfilled? It's a gray area, by definition. We are in no way promoting cheating, and we shut down cheaters, and we shut down profanities day in and day out. If there's a gray area case, we try to get on the call with the developer and see what's up. 

You know, a good example is we shut down a lot of crypto NFT-based apps. We could have launched a million of those. We're not. We're taking a hard stance against certain things. We really need to vet out things. Not to say that they won't exist ever. but they need to be done in a way that all ecosystem stakeholders enjoy and sanction.

Finally, a bit more light-hearted then, do you have a project or an app or a mod within Overwolf that you personally use the most and the you're most proud of?

Overwolf's Shahar Sorek: I would say I'm not much of a League of Legends player, just because I don't have the time. But I use Facecheck of League of Legends. That's an app I use when I play League of Legends. 

And there's a bunch of Minecraft Mods that have to do more with turning Minecraft into RPGs than that I used to use from time to time. 

But my job today, and family, all that you know, I'm not the gamer I used to be! I used to be a Hearthstone player, but sadly I just don't have the time. 

And I find out that you know, my kids play Minecraft now! One of them is Seven and the other one is Nine. They're not playing the modded versions yet, but I'm sure that they’ll get to it, they watch… Do you know, JJ and Mikey? They stream constantly at the house. They're very popular with kids. But I can’t just dive into mods over a weekend anymore, to find the latest Feed the Beast pack any more.

That’s a shame, but thank you for the recommendations. And thank you for your time!

ESI London 2022 will take place between September 5th and September 7th. Shahar Sorek is scheduled to be a guest and judge of The Clutch competition, while Overwolf is an official technology partner. Esports.gg is an official media partner of the event, and will be on-site to report and engage with the event.

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