Tim Ebner – Supercell – Designing the ideal mobile esports league

Clash Royale developer, Supercell, has taken an ambitious route to further launch its official esports division with an exclusive competitive league announced earlier this year.

44 teams in five regions attached to well-known, prestigious organisations will play weekly on LAN. China began its competitive season in the spring and now North America and Europe will follow. Four to six players on eight teams from each region have converged on Los Angeles, California to prepare for league play set to begin August 20th.

As media day for the Clash Royale League began, the conference room became crowded with players and organisation representatives such as Matthew “Nadeshot” Haa, Founder and CEO of 100Thieves, Noah Whinston, CEO of Immortals, and Nick Allen, COO of Counter Logic Gaming. Every chance they got, players pulled out their smartphones and played quick matches against each other, showing the pure accessibility of the game. Tim Ebner, Head of Esports at Supercell, addressed the players, team owners, and media about the excitement of the inaugural season and shear magnitude of Clash Royale esports.

During the day we had the privilege to sit down with Ebner and chat about the evolution of Clash Royale esports and what it means for Supercell.

Tim Ebner, Supercell Head of Esports

Esports Insider: How do you feel about today?

Tim Ebner: It’s not so much about today as it is about August 20th when the season kicks off. That’s where stuff really starts to happen. I’m excited, more than anything, for the Clash Royale players. Not just the people [pro players] here but the millions of players that will hopefully enjoy the league as educational and entertaining content.

ESI: When did you realise you should take more initiative to take Clash Royale esports further?

Tim: It’s been a process and a journey that we’re still on. It started even before we launched the game with internal company tournaments.

“All the core components of an esport were there”

I enjoyed them and I was motivated to share that experience with more players. So there was kind of that internal recognition that it could be fun. As we launched the game we saw players similarly self-organizing informal competitions and tournaments and they seemed to be enjoying it. People were watching it too and watching gameplay videos on YouTube so there was this spectator audience.

All the core components of an esport were there. But what you do with that was not clear, especially in the early days. We were trying different tournaments and events, all of which we’ve learned from and that brings us to where we are now and we’ll see where it takes us.

ESI: What did you learn from doing the Crown Championship last year up to this point?

Tim: The Crown Championship was really meant to be an amateur tournament.

We wanted to find the best player in the world but in effect you end up with a lot of the top players that have won a lot of other tournaments competing and being the finalist. We kind of observed that there’s effectively a population of semi-pro players out there. The idea of a casual, “anyone can win” tournament just didn’t make sense with reality. In recognising that players are already largely dedicated to the game, effectively pro already, it didn’t feel like that big of a step beyond that. So instead of them trying to juggle work with tournaments they can now fully commit to the game, which is probably what they wanted to do anyway.

We had that recognition that it’s almost natural to have a pro scene that really supports these top players.

Credit: Supercell

From a production orientation, we saw that our audience was on mobile which made sense because we’re promoting in the game. That got us thinking what can we do to make content better on mobile? The production this year that will optimised for mobile, meaning knowing that the screen is smaller, maybe we’ll need different camera angles, different sized graphics and technical stuff like that. We’re also going to produce in portrait mode as opposed to landscape.

“We’re really optimising for the audience we already have which is on mobile”

ESI: Interesting! Will you produce it in both modes?

Tim: We’re all in on portrait. You’ll be able to watch on PC but depending on the platform it may have the sides blacked out or not visible or something.

We’re really optimising for the audience we already have which is on mobile and we expect it to continue to be on mobile because it’s a mobile game.

ESI: When you were developing a larger scale esports scene, why go the route of creating a league over a different format?

Tim: A league like this with minimum and guaranteed salaries for some period of time lets players that want to do it just really focus and I think that actually makes for a better esport product. These players are now competing against other good players and can regularly practice with them so when viewers watch you get very high level gameplay.

We’re really excited to include these team organisations. We think that gives us a scale that we can’t get on our own because we’re a small company.

Credit: Supercell

We have these 44 team organisations around the world that are involved with the league that are supporting players and creating content which is a big part of it. We also hope the teams will help the players become influencers and content creators in their own right. The teams are essentially media businesses that have fans and followers and monetise content.

We understand teams are businesses and they’re trying to make money and they want to sell sponsorships, which is great. This league lets them do that.

ESI: What were the parameters for picking out all these organisations and getting them involved?

Tim: It started pretty organically, even with the Crown Championship last year.

These amateur players were already signed with teams in some way shape or form. We started talking to them about what we could do and then just through industry connections we started talking to owners and investors. Many of them seemed excited about the opportunity around mobile esports and the scale of the game for players. They’ve been really valuable giving input to us about how we can design a league and how to make the formats good. They have years of experience beyond what we have at Supercell so that’s been very productive. 

Credit: Supercell

ESI: How often will you do the combine?

Tim: I’m not sure yet but we know we want to continue doing that. Aside from that we’ll have other challenges in the game that relate to the league. I don’t have a concrete idea to share yet but we’re talking to the game team about how we can engage more players as participants, not just viewers, and not just the one time challenge.

“We did want to ensure that any player that’s interested or has the ability has that chance”

One of the difficulties for us, philosophically with having a pro league, is almost by definition is limiting to a small number of players. We do think that it make sense but we did want to ensure that any player that’s interested or has the ability has that chance so we have these extra steps to ensure that.

ESI: In the past the format has been focused on individual players with 1v1 games and sometimes 2v2 but the league is more honed in on team based strategies with 4-6 players on a team. Why the change?

Tim: In Kings Cup we had a team format. I was there in Atlanta and experienced it in person and I thought it worked really well just as an entertaining format to watch. There’s an extra level of drama and tension there just in the way the matches evolve – one player goes away, another player comes on.

It was the natural entertainment element of players potentially interacting and communicating. 2v2 is now a game mode and we’ve had concerns about whether that will be balanced and work competitively. The league in China already started in the spring using 2v2 and so far it actually appears to be fairly balanced but we’ll see how it goes over time.

Clash Royale League – China

ESI: How have the overall results been with the league in China?

Tim: Everything we’ve seen in China has been encouraging but we know we have a different audience here compared to there. They actually have longer match days and longer matches than we’ll have here.

They have an audience that is accustomed to traditional hardcore esports with long detailed content. Whereas here we’re trying to basically bring in a whole new audience that may not be as familiar with esports at all and grow it.

ESI: Besides the portrait mode, what else can people expect from the broadcast structure?

Tim: One thing we’ve learned in prior years is that people tune out when we get away from gameplay. We’re doing our best to minimize that downtime.

“We had 25 million players already engage with the league as competitors, whether they became fans or viewers”

Hopefully most of the broadcast will be pure gameplay but we also have ideas about just making the broadcast entertaining and in general while respecting the competition. It might look a bit different from other esports broadcasts.

ESI: What do you see for the future of Clash esports passed the league?

Tim: Hopefully things go great and there’s more added to the league and it continues to grow. We are two and a half years into this journey and hopefully many many years to go. We had 25 million players already engage with the league as competitors, whether they became fans or viewers.

We’re all interested to see how this does and excited to see what it will grow into.