LetsPlay.Live plays a pivotal role in the success of New Zealand's esports industry but if you ask company founder & managing director Duane Mutu, he will tell you that the country can serve as an example for other emerging esports markets. In our conversation with Duane, we find out more about LetsPlay.Live's role in the competitive gaming ecosystem and the NZ esports scene.
Q: LetsPlay.Live is a unique position in Oceania, bringing quality esports locally and supporting the region’s industry. After almost five years of running LPL, what do you think has changed in the region’s esports makeup? Are players more connected today than they were four years ago?
A: Absolutely. I think the biggest change is that players – and even people outside of the ecosystem – are taking esports much more seriously than they were 5 years ago. As the industry legitimizes, betting and wagering standards are implemented, publishers offer pathways from our region to international, prize pools increase and brands back tournaments through sponsorships and the like, we are beginning to be seen as a legitimate thing. Esports has moved from just gaming with your mates after school or work to a potential career pathway with big money on the line and both players and spectators are taking notice for sure.
Q: Have you seen LPL’s efforts translate into more sustainable model for esports in New Zealand and what are the main challenges the region faces in joining the rest of the world – if any at all.
A: For sure, and the impact is not only just in New Zealand but in the Oceanic region as a whole. Offering larger prize pools and partnering with publishers to offer pathways into the official leagues really underpins esports as a serious thing that can and has been growing phenomenally over the past 5 years. In 2020 esports was recognized as an official sport by Sporting New Zealand and we’re really proud to have been part of that campaign for so long.
The biggest challenges in our region have been education and support from the government, however, we have seen a positive change in the former. Right now, I would say that server location does impact our region compared to the rest of the world. As a player you can choose to compete in Australian/Oceanic servers against other players in this region but not immerse yourself in the playstyles you’d find with international players or join servers in Korea or Europe but suffer from ping and lag that can affect gameplay.
Q: You are now working with KRAFTON to help build the PUBG ecosystem in Australia and New Zealand. Why PUBG?
A: We saw huge potential in PUBG in this region with the sheer number of players and viewers but heard from players within the community that there was next to no support for the Oceanic region and that the scene was risking dying out altogether. As a broadcasting company first and foremost we also recognized the fantastic entertainment value of PUBG as an esport – some of the player and caster moments in matches we have broadcast in the past are goldmines for good TV.
After the success of offering an LPL Pro PUBG league in 2020 we felt that LPL could be the answer to some of the support queries the community were looking for – and thankfully KRAFTON agreed!
Q: How do localized organizations such as yours help a region pave a way to a global scene?
A: Because broadcasting and esports is so digitally diverse, we are effectively able to produce content from anywhere in the world. LPL have been lucky enough to produce shows for brands in the UK, Europe and USA as well as our regular regional content from our studio in New Zealand, which helps to knit the global scene together. Of course, offering global pathways via our tournaments such as the VALORANT Oceania Tour by partnering with the publishers of those games is also a great step forward – and we also broadcast these leagues to linear networks around the world such as GINX Esports TV, Fiji TV and Channel 7 in Australia.
Q: It has been a year since esports was recognized as an official sport in New Zealand. Has that helped more people pursue a career in the industry?
A: Having the recognition has stimulated the overall esport ecosystem and yes there are more people looking at esports as a career not just as a player (which is hard to achieve at a pro level) but all other parts of the sector. However, this will be a long-term play with this being the historic milestone that the next generation will reap the benefits from.
Q: Has the pandemic had an impact on LPL and was there any opportunity for growth during the times of lockdown?
A: To be completely honest, the lockdown was a blessing in disguise for LPL. The beauty of the industry is that it is all digital, and the LPL team here did an incredible job of transitioning to work from home including building an at-home broadcasting studio so we could continue to run ‘business as usual.' With cancellations of traditional sport having a huge impact in Australasian broadcasting, there was a huge interest in switching to esports and people began to see the value in leagues and broadcast content that could be produced entirely remotely. We had some extremely exciting discussions and produced some awesome content that otherwise may never have happened were it not for lockdown.
Q: What are your plans for 2021 and beyond?
A: As always, LPL’s focus is growing the esports ecosystem and continuing to partner with publishers and brands to create awesome content and leagues for the scene. Developing our broadcast capabilities, offering a variety of leagues, strengthening relationships with partners both new and current, and pushing the boundaries of esports and gaming broadcasting both locally and internationally is always the goal.