Phil Hubner, CBDO of Challengermode
When the Esports Certificate Institute came out with the proposal of a $400 certification exam some time ago, it sparked a lot of debate in the community.
While the proposal did get a lot of backing from some esports organization CEOs and professionals, the feedback was not entirely positive.
In an exclusive conversation with Sportskeeda Esports Abhishek Mallick, Phil Hubner, CBDO of Challengermode opened up about the different skill sets that are required in the esports industry, and how it’s not possible to generalize them through a certification exam.
He pointed out some of the flaws in ECI’s model and suggested steps and alternatives that can be taken to that can help esports enthusiasts make their way into the industry.
Here is an excerpt of the conversation.
Q1. Phil, I would love it we can start by having you tell our readers a bit about yourself. From ESL to Twitch, to now being the CBDO of Challengermode, you have a long and illustrious history in Esports, can you talk us through that journey?
Phil Hubner: As with most people in esports my journey started with gaming and esports as a lifelong hobby, from age 2 onwards. I competed in my first tournaments across Counter-Strike and later DotA when I was 10-11 years old and fell in love with the concept of esports. This led to me dropping out of high school at 18 and joining ESL as an intern for my first job.
Here I was part of the Intel Extreme Masters & Editorial teams with a large focus on our online presence, digital marketing, and so forth. After a few years there I joined Twitch’s Content Marketing team as their first European hire where I quickly took over the foreign language marketing and moved into a position coordinating all of Twitch’s International Marketing; working with the local offices around the world & our localization and product marketing teams in San Francisco.
In 2016 I made a leap of faith and went freelance, helping a variety of companies (casinos, game publishers, esports teams) figure out their esports & live streaming strategies and covering business development and marketing-related duties. In that time I met Robel Efrem, the CEO of Challengermode, and joined the company at the start of 2018, where I have been in charge of business development and partnerships for the past 3 years.
Q2. Over the years you have done your fair share of hiring for the industry may it be for Johannes Schiefer or for Challengermode. Can you give us your thoughts on what the current state of hiring and employment is in esports?
Phil Hubner: There are thousands of hungry people out there that want nothing more than to work in esports (and more broadly in gaming) and only a handful of them have any meaningful experience that can actually be applied effectively. The largest difficulty we face is that most candidates either lack the relevant experience within the esports space, or they lack the relevant skillset & training to be effective employees.
It’s very difficult to find candidates that tick both boxes, and hiring candidates that tick only one of the boxes is always a big risk, in one way or the other.
Q3. When it comes to the professional video games industry, what qualities should an employer look for in a candidate, with respect to the indicators present in both the resumé and cover letter?
Phil Hubner: This obviously differs greatly from role to role. When hiring an accountant or similar administrative roles, you want to make sure they have the appropriate qualifications within their field, and their knowledge of esports and games is secondary.
With regards to roles that are a lot closer to the matter at hand, such as marketers, project managers, or business developers, I reckon their knowledge and love for esports and games comes first above all else, attitude and hunger come second, and their actual qualifications and experience in the role itself might be the third thing I look at.
Q4. Can you share some of your thoughts on the recent developments surrounding the esports certificate exam which is being pushed in by the body known as The Esports Certificate institute?
Phil Hubner: I had actually written a small piece on the matter voicing my opinion (or rather, opposition): There isn’t a certificate in the world that could, in today’s esports industry, tell me “you are the right candidate for me to hire.”
The skill sets required in the esports industry today are too broad and in the roles where that isn’t the case – such as lawyers, accountants, or similar – appropriate certifications, courses, and degrees exist that will apply regardless of industry. The knowledge of the actual space, their understanding of gamers, and the different games may be highly important in their particular role, and none of these can be tested sufficiently in a generalized 3-hour paper exam.
Q5. Ryan Friedman, ECI Co-founder, was quite vocal about his thoughts on the “esports hiring pipeline”, how the structure in itself is flawed, and how the certification by ECI will help solve much of that issue. Do you feel that the certification can help even a bit in this regard?
Phil Hubner: This particular certification? No, I don’t think so. That said, if they rework the model, work more closely with academic bodies and actual courses, and many months’ worth of study and examination go into a certificate of this kind, then certainly employers may want to take note.
Given that the material taught can be taken seriously and is applicable. I believe a further breakdown into fields within esports would be necessary either way; a generalist certificate doesn’t make much sense to me.
Q6. What would you say is the best way forward? If the exam is not the right step, then what do you feel are the right solutions to help the thousands of esports enthusiasts out there make their way into the industry?
Phil Hubner: I think there are some great courses at both public and private universities and colleges in the world, and I’d say most companies within the esports industry are willing to support these institutions in shaping their curriculum and can benefit from tapping into those classes to find new candidates. Outside of that, I can’t say I have the perfect answer to this, but I think the most passionate and hard-working among those that want to get into the industry will and always have found a way.
Q7. Can you tell us a bit about some of the esports emerging markets and the accessibility issues that they have been facing?
Phil Hubner: There are a lot of markets that could be named here: Africa, South America, South East Asia and even parts of Europe fall into this category. I can’t say I’m an expert on any single one of the markets, but broadly speaking there are a few problems that plague all of them: Because esports is such a global phenomenon and prize money in global competitions is obviously adjusted to attract the players from countries with the highest buying power. This means that any local talent in an emerging will often leave the local scene at the first opportunity. Then there are issues with the sustainability of local esports markets.
Because sponsor budgets are highly localized for brands, and sponsorships make up the majority of esports revenue, country-based leagues and tournaments and country based sponsor budgets are usually too little to make a dent, but multi-country leagues aren’t feasible because your sponsors will rarely be interested in more than one country. This is compounded by problems with viewership. Because global top level esports competitions are so accessible (they’re usually free to watch), you’re fighting with these for your local viewers’ attention.
Lastly, infrastructure and devices available to the local audience can be a huge problem or at least differentiator. Mobile esports the top dog in most of these markets, simply because everyone has a phone, and very few people have access to consoles or gaming PCs.
Q8. What are your thoughts on grassroots initiatives and how that can help expand the hiring funnel?
Phil Hubner: I think grassroots initiatives and the opportunities they bring with them are core to how esports growth and hiring have functioned across the past decade. Being a part of your local university esports program, your town’s esports events or similar is the best way for interested individuals to get a hands-on & proven experience with esports, something tangible that’ll help them take steps into the professional esports world later on.
This goes for literally everyone involved in these activities, from commentators, hosts, players to the event staff and those reporting on everything. The only blocker I see is that the top-level has grown so much faster than the grassroots has, and it takes a long time in any individual game to grow the long-tail. That’s part of why we see what we do at Challengermode as so important to the industry. We make it much easier, quicker, and more accessible to grow grassroots activities, accelerating that process and providing more opportunities for all.
Q9. Can you tell us which esports title gets the highest amount of community participation in Challengermode?
Phil Hubner: I’d argue that would be our longest-standing game: League of Legends. But many other communities are on the rise as well, most notably Rainbow Six and VALORANT.
Q10. Can you shed some light on Challengermode’s mission and what users can expect from them in the near future?
Phil Hubner: Challengermode’s mission is to make esports as accessible as possible. This means we try to make the playing experience as seamless as possible for anyone competing, give players the tools to improve their skills, and work with organizers on all stages of the zero to hero journey to provide those players with a road to the top.
For organizers, this means we build extensive competitive toolkits to allow them to easily host tournaments of any scale in order to allow anybody to host a competition for thousands of teams. For game developers, this means an easy tool to plug into their game to power their esports needs, be they first or third party: because we’re easy & free for everyone to use, we allow any game developer to give its game a chance as an esports, with as much or as little involvement from their end as they want to.
So.. what can users expect? More competition formats, more games, more tournaments from thousands of more organizers, both local and global, and more meaningful ways to track their progress as a competitor.
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