Zack Johnson took his love of athletics and competition, and applied it to eSports before it was cool. Realizing that there was a growing need for a place for people to meet and compete against one another in videogames, Johnson founded eBash. Johnson and his team would build upon eBash by developing the esports management platforms, ggLeap and ggCircuit. Wanting to learn more about his background and his eSports work, I was able to interview Johnson for ScifiPulse.
Nicholas Yanes: What were some of your favorite video games when you were growing up? Are there any that you still enjoy playing?
Zack Johnson: In college we were very serious with our Tecmo Bowl seasons along with having regular Street Fighter matches. Golden Eye was big for us as the first FPS in our living room, but Perfect Dark we played more due to the fun challenges we could tackle as a group in PVE. Competitively I played a ton of Halo, Halo 2 and Gears of War along with WoW and Lord of the Rings Battle for Middle Earth.
My current game of choice is of course Fortnite, but we played Fortnite before it was cool in early access Save the World mode. We all play tons of Battle Royale now as well, but just to be clear we were playing Fortnite before Fortnite was cool. 🙂 One of the community managers for Fortnite at Epic is a friend of mine and managed one of our stores in 2007-2009.
Yanes: You founded eBash in 2004. What was the motivation behind building this company?
Zack Johnson: We actually held all night gaming tournaments as youth leaders at our church. We grew tired of hauling big CRT screens and building networks on the fly so I set-up some spare offices in 2004 at my existing eBay consignment company with Xbox and gaming PCs hooked up to our T1 lines (yeah, T1 lines).
Yanes: You first founded eBash in Indiana. Given that the video game industry is largely located in coastal cities, why did you want to build this business in the Midwest?
Johnson: Nothing complex, this is where I grew up, went to college and where my family and my wife’s family all live.
Yanes: On this note, eSports only began to gain a lot of financial attention after 2010. What was it about eSports that attracted you to this industry in 2004? Specifically, were there any specific events that made you see this industry’s financial potential so early on?
Johnson: I love to compete. I love tournaments of any kind. Video games have been all about leaderboards, head-to-head and high scores for me since the first time I played PopEye on the Atari 2600. Putting up $500 or $1000 for a prize in Halo or CS Source back in 2004 and hosting teams from all over the Midwest just made sense to me.
Yanes: In regards to esports at large, what are some issues you think esports companies need to address for the sport to grow?
Johnson: Anyone that knows me realizes that my passion is to fill the gap between online play at home and the esports pro scene. I want there to be a physical place in every community for players to not only compete but also meet other people and form their own REAL WORLD communities around gaming.
The biggest factor with online play is that no one acts like themselves online and 99% of the time that is in a negative fashion. Players don’t treat each other with disrespect in person.
Yanes: ggCircuit is your technology that does a great job of keeping track of esports players and running leaderboards for games. When did you realize that a program like ggCircuit was needed?
Johnson: ggCircuit started in 2008 just as a competition between LAN center champions in the US. Not until 2013 did we begin to develop the software around automating the competition for players and then in late 2015 we went “all-in” developing a full blown Esports OS for managing centers. I think in September 2016 when we flew to LA and helped launch the UCI esports center with our software I realized that we had something special.
Yanes: You’ve also developed ggLeap. When did you realize that something like ggLeap was needed?
Johnson: After trying to build the competitive software on top of old school internet cafe software we were tired of being limited by software that had not been modernized yet. It became a necessity to us to build a proper foundation for the software to automate our competitive side even more.
Yanes: As more people have begun using ggLeap how has the software evolved?
Johnson: I think my favorite parts are the special clients we have added the past year such as our retail version that runs for Alienware at 50 Best Buy locations in the US. Not only special projects like that but a few more partnerships and integrations that we haven’t yet announced with major industry players.
Yanes: What are some of the challenges you face getting more people to use ggLeap and ggCircuit?
Johnson: Honestly it is funny but a lot of these centers don’t seem to think there is software that exists for this market. I think education is our biggest challenge in letting people know what our software does and why they can’t live without it. 🙂
Yanes: What are your long term goals for ggLeap and ggCircuit? Specifically, where would you like to see this company a decade from now?
Johnson: Our short term goals are to get to 1000 locations and 1M players which is moving along even quicker than we forecasted. My personal goal is to see us delivering revenue from publishers, manufacturers and sponsors to the centers and providing benefits to the players they cannot get at home. Long term we want to have more than 80% of the market for gaming centers which will be over 100,000 locations in the next 5 years.
Yanes: Finally, what are some projects and upcoming events you are working on that people can look forward to?
Johnson: Now that ggLeap is nearly finished I am looking forward to getting back to working on the competitive side and integration of new games. We are talking with 3 major publishers about unique integration with their game platforms and driving players to physical locations for community events together.
I also really enjoy traveling and meeting new clients and speaking at events to help speed up the learning curve for universities and partners starting up centers to avoid making mistakes that we have made in the past 14 years.