Not many expected brotherly-duo Kieran Holmes-Darby and Joel Holmes-Darby to hand over the reins to Excel Esports, but that’s exactly what happened at the top of 2020. Taking on positions as Chief Gaming Officer and Chief People Officer respectively, Kieran and Joel welcomed new faces to the roles of CEO and CCO.
Esports Insider caught up with Wouter Sleijffers to discuss joining Excel Esports as CEO, his goals for the British organisation, and the newly-announced partnership with BT.
Esports Insider: When did discussions with Excel Esports start and what drew you towards the organisation?
Wouter Sleijffers: Discussions started last summer; it wasn’t just one discussion or two, there were quite a few. We took a little time to make sure everything was right for all involved.
Excel, first of all, is in the LEC – which is a great league. Excel is a young brand and they had their struggles in their first year but it was a year filled with lessons. I would say Excel is at a stage where I fit in quite nicely – refer back to my time at Fnatic for an example of that!
In a nutshell, the vision really resonated well and there’s a passionate team behind the organisation. I’m also really excited about building an esports organisation in Britain. I think it’s a great opportunity for Excel to become the British example for global esports. That’s the ambition and that’s what I’m excited about.
ESI: What is it about UK esports that has made you stay in it?
WS: It’s the country I’ve lived in for the past 11 years, but I think there are a bunch of reasons. Firstly, everyone says “esports is lagging in the UK” and I would say maybe it’s not really lagging behind. There’s a lot already out here, it just takes a little longer for it to surface. So whilst it is maybe more challenging, it also provides a big opportunity because the country is already very advanced and well set-up in terms of professional sports leagues.
I think the infrastructure that is already here, and the experience which has already been gained here, is an amazing opportunity to tap into.
“We want to cement ourselves as the leading professional esports organisation in the UK.”
ESI: What are your short-term and long-term goals for Excel Esports?
WS: Short-term, we want success. You’ve already seen that we’re serious about upping our game in the LEC and in the UKLC. Number one is to become relevant in European esports – we’re already in one of the biggest leagues in Europe. Secondly, we want to reach the live stages in the LEC. That’s a very clear objective for ourselves. That’s where we want to be. That’s where we want to belong. Then we absolutely want to have a shot to reach the World Championship in year two, that’s another clear objective.
More on the organisation side, I believe that we will need to do a lot on the brand to find this unique mix of British esports culture and we want to be the leader in that.
We already have a great partnership with BT, we want to surround ourselves with the right partners that really fit into that brand that we are and will become. We want to cement ourselves as the leading professional esports organisation in the UK but also make that resonate in Europe and the rest of the world.
I even see Brexit very much as an opportunity to put the best of Britain forward from an esports perspective.
ESI: Excel Esports announced BT as the lead partner last week. How is this a significant development for esports as a whole, but especially UK esports?
WS: BT is, of course, a big name and a big company. It shows that a big household name like BT sees where the industry is and where Excel is. I don’t know how much I can say about it now, but we’ll see how BT incorporates the Excel partnership in its brand campaigns down the line.
It helps with the legitimacy of the Excel brand, it will open a lot of opportunities and doors to bring us further into the top tier of esports. As we all know, that doesn’t only come by having good players, it comes with having a top notch facilities, all the content that needs to be created around it, and creating a great community of followers and fans.
I think all these areas – and there’s a lot more to it – is where BT can contribute. Equally, I believe that Excel can contribute to BT’s mission in connecting people and enabling opportunities for future talent.
ESI: Can fans expect to be support Excel Esports in games other than League of Legends in 2020?
WS: They can definitely expect us to be present in a lot of titles but, from a time frame perspective, it’s hard to say when. There’s obviously more than League of Legends so, yes, there are a few titles that we’re reviewing and therefore this year you will see us step into at least one other title.
ESI: Excel Esports had a rivalry with Fnatic through both the LEC and UKLC in 2019. Does your appointment at Excel Esports strengthen that rivalry considering your past with the organisation?
WS: It’s a good question! A CEO from one organisation moving on to another organisation, I’d say let’s just see how this unfolds. We’re very good friends. You know, I really think about it this way: we very much share the same passion.
I will, with Excel, walk a somewhat different route. They’re not the same, Excel has a different starting point and a different story. There’s Kieran and Joel here as the founders who are very much part of the Excel brand. We’re going to walk a different path. We’re going to be very competitive in-game and are likely to be competitive in the business side of things as well. We’ll definitely stay friends because we share that same spark when it comes to esports.
“Robin and I coming in to Excel didn’t change a massive amount for Kieran and Joel – it’s just to put more focus on areas that we are really precious about.”
ESI: Can you tell us about Kieran and Joel’s new roles? How involved will they be in the leadership of the organisation?
WS: Let’s look at the senior management team in full. There’s myself as CEO, we have Robin McCammon coming in as Chief Commercial Officer, Kieran is now Chief Gaming Officer, and Joel is Chief People Officer. We had a bunch of discussions in order to make sure that we could all fit together as a good team.
Kieran and Joel were already massively involved with the teams. Kieran, with his personality, is a great brand advocate and ambassador for Excel.
This is all a sign of how the organisation has very rapidly expanded, in particular when it got into the LEC. For the most part, having Robin and I coming in to Excel didn’t change a massive amount for Kieran and Joel – it’s just to put more focus on areas that we are really precious about.
Number one is, of course, team performance. Joel, as Chief People Officer, is really passionate about it. We want Excel to also be a great place for the staff that work here. He highlighted these things as what he would really want to work on. That was a natural evolution from the conversations we had and now, all is firmly in place when it comes to the management team.
ESI: How do you feel about the evaluations that Forbes published in the latter part of 2019?
WS: It’s a good question. I don’t know all the numbers myself but I would say Forbes is probably not too far off. I definitely don’t have the information on everything but I would say with certain things I was like “okay, they must sit on some good information.”
I consider it serious information and it’s a good benchmark. On the valuations themselves, it’s actually very interesting because I would say esports isn’t a tech industry. As much as this is a fast developing industry where, no doubt, revenues are going to grow and we’re all going to be profitable, it’s also an emotional industry and emotions might do things that we don’t always expect in evaluations.
It shows also that people do have a very firm belief in esports as a long-term exercise and that’s important because you can look at the valuation from a short-term perspective or a long-term perspective. In that regard, I’m not too concerned because if people accept that type of valuation, that means they have a long-term perspective on this and that’s welcomed.