Ninjas in Pyjamas CEO Hicham Chahine on building for the next 20 years

Founded in 2000, Swedish organisation Ninjas in Pyjamas marks a major milestone this year, still going strong after two decades in esports. Not only is that a significant marker of time, but 2020 may also prove to be the year that helps set Ninjas in Pyjamas up for the next two decades, and beyond.

Recently, the team established new headquarters in Stockholm and brought on COO Jonas Gundersen, previously of North, and the organisation is eyeing significant moves over the course of the year ahead. Esports Insider spoke with Hicham Chahine, CEO of Ninjas in Pyjamas, to discuss the past, present, and future of the brand.

Photo credit: Ninjas in Pyjamas/Fartein Rudjord

Esports Insider: How does it feel to mark 20 years of Ninjas in Pyjamas and have one of the longest-standing brands in esports?

Hicham Chahine: As a brand, 20 years is a long time, right? Especially in esports. Also, I think for the journey NiP has been through, it is a remarkable achievement to reach this. It is definitely a milestone, and it is also a milestone that’s going to be celebrated.

For me, I’ve been here for four years now. It’s always exciting when you have 20 years of legacy. When you look from an industry perspective, it is very nice for us to have a brand with this length of history to solidify esports. Esports is a very young space, and having a brand which has essentially been part of this space since the very beginning and early days of esports… look at the history of the brand and teams that competed here in the 2000s and compare that to how it looks today. I would say that it is extremely rewarding to witness from where esports has come in 2002 and where we’re going now in 2020.

For me personally, and for people working here, it is a representation of the development of esports. It’s truly exciting, and coming to a place where we have experienced tremendous growth of the industry, and also coping with professionalising the organisation in a way where we’re set up for another 20 years. Hopefully, 20 years from now we’re celebrating 40 years.

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ESI: Can you talk about the team’s new headquarters in Stockholm and what that will enable you to do as an organisation?

HC: If you look at NiP, you can just look at it 3-4 years ago when I joined, it was essentially an organisation with a Counter-Strike team, a coach, and a social media guy. Everyone was working from home, trying to string it together. When I came on board and started here, we got our first offices; we called it the cave, because it was essentially a small room in a coworking facility where we could fit six people. We quite quickly grew out of that, and moved into a slightly larger space.

We’ve kind of been nomads, in terms of a home. We’ve always had a facility in the south of Sweden, which is very sizable, where our hardware company Xtrfy sits. We have operational facilities and a warehouse, but that is not in Stockholm where most of the players are based, where the company is based, and where you need to be from a general talent pool standpoint. So we decided some years ago that we were going to build here. Stockholm is a bit challenging because it’s all these islands and there’s limited space, so it took us around a year to scout a location. Then it took us another year to start building, and two months ago it was finally complete. We have now moved into our new facilities. 

In our new facilities, we have gone from having a facility down in the south and a small office in Stockholm to now having everything in one place. We’ve brought all of our staff together: marketing, content creation, social, merchandise, operations, finance, and management, and also have a permanent location where the teams can come in on a daily basis. We have office spaces, we have our gaming rooms for the players; we also have a content creation studio, other lounge-like areas, and editing pods for video.

Compared to two years ago, there’s just a tremendous amount of resources available now, especially for the players. The facilities have gone from being – I call it a homemade boot camp – to actually professional facilities where they have dedicated rooms for Counter-Strike and for Dota. Essentially, the players have a place to come into.

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With that, we also can start delving into the performance aspect properly, with mental coaching, nutrition, conflict solving, and team building, and more act as a company where everyone is working together. We’re very integrated with all of the players and talent that are here. Now everything is collected under a small roof, it just simply makes it so much more efficient compared to how it once was.

I think that this was a very necessary step in the evolution of NiP – to have a proper infrastructure where the organisation can finally work seamlessly.

Image credit: BLAST Pro Series

ESI: What do you have planned for NiP in 2020 and beyond?

HC: For us, we have just exited a point where we have set the foundation. We talked about facilities as one key part, another is the organisational side. Having committed a large amount of resources on the staff side, we hope to enable it. One of the big priorities is to all be together and flow seamlessly. We have essentially gone from two people to an organisation including players which is slightly over 50 people, so obviously we need to make that work. We will still have a part of this year where we will be focusing on getting the teams to function from an organisational perspective: building a culture, team building activities and so forth. It’s based on culture.

One thing with the recruitment of Jonas (COO) is we are focusing very heavily on the performance aspect of the organisation when it comes to teams. How can we best allocate resources to help the players win, essentially? We need to get NiP back to winning ways like it was in the past. We also have a facility purely for player experience. We have just recruited a new performance and mental coach, so the performance aspect is very important for us this year. That is also the reason we brought Jonas onboard, to handle everything esports.

There’s another big project on the cards too. If you look at the brand of NiP, it’s sort of a brand that has emerged from the community. If you look from the logotype to the colours, it’s something that has been created and fickled with over time. This year, we are looking at doing a lot of work on the brand platform that we have. It might not necessarily be a rebranding that we’re doing, but we are formalising more and putting down the foundations that should have been done on day one. This is things such as what the brand is; what our tone of voice is; what are our brand guidelines; what is the look and feel; what context do we use and how that relates and feeds into video and social amongst other things. That is part of the structural side. It is a continuous evolution there.

We’re still looking at between 5-10 new hires this year, and once those hires are completed in those roles, we feel we’ll be in a good spot organisationally. We’re also expanding games like we always do as we keep track of the market. We will be announcing a new game shortly and we have another game on the drawing board as well to expand into, so there’s a lot on the way. 

One of the reasons we built a facility here is we want to get closer to our fans that we haven’t done on this level before. That’s why we built a fan activation area of our new facilities, where we can host events, and actually have it open so people can come and visit us and attend and interact with us at a level that they haven’t been able to before. And lastly, obviously, like every single other team, our apparel business is a large focus.

Read the full version of this article in Edition 4 of The Esports Journal.