WePlay Studios is in a period of transition.
Much has changed at the Ukrainian tournament operator and production company lately, which until recently was named WePlay Esports. (Before that it was known as WePlay.TV). Operations have been disrupted by Russia’s invasion of its home country, which many employees had to endure the start of.
At the same time, the company has been doing some strategic soul-searching. Despite its previous name, much of what WePlay does these days is not esports at all; its remit spans social projects, traditional sport, art and much more. The company agreed earlier this month to be the technical partner of MURALS — a documentary exhibition which showcases digital 3D models of the territories, buildings, and other cultural monuments that have been damaged during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
With so much change afoot, Esports Insider spoke with WePlay Studios’s Maksym Bilonogov, Chief Visionary Officer and General Producer, and Iryna Chuhai, Chief Marketing Officer, to learn more about the company’s fresh branding and strategic direction.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
Esports Insider: First things first, changing the name of your company is a big deal. Could you explain why you made the decision?
Maksym Bilonogov: This is the second rebranding the company has undergone throughout its existence. Those who have been following the esports scene for a long time may remember us as WePlay.TV, which was the name of our company until 2018. After revising the strategy and forming a new business vision, it was decided that we should become WePlay Esports.
The same thing is happening today: we have revised our vision based on our business goals, plans to scale into the global market, and trends in terms of interaction with the audience, and we came to the model and branding we plan to use in the future — as WePlay Studios.
Esports Insider: How long was this decision being explored?
Iryna Chuhai: The first thoughts about rebranding appeared in 2022 after the company entered the US market. The final decision to change the name to WePlay Studios and adapt almost all visual elements was made this winter. It took quite a long time to develop new visual elements, establish a colour palette, develop a new brand platform and obtain a patent for a new trademark. Some changes are still in progress, such as work on the corporate website, but over the next couple of months, we will finalise everything into a single comprehensive picture.
Esports Insider: What new opportunities could the rebrand offer?
Maksym Bilonogov: In our case, it offers freedom. The ‘WePlay Esports’ naming is certainly thriving: it is already established, recognisable, and associated with interesting, high-quality esports content. But we want to play big. Today, we feel that we are not just willing, but also capable of doing more than just esports tournaments and broadcasts. When communicating with potential partners from the entertainment or IT business, there were situations when our naming caused misunderstanding and puzzlement on the other side. The ‘esports’ part started to play against us.
In view of all this, today, the naming ‘WePlay Studios’ is more successful: it does not limit us to any one industry and is fit to describe our range of services. Last year, WePlay really worked more as a content production studio, providing services for organising events and award shows, creating post-production content, and providing services exclusively in the field of design, stage construction, broadcast studio setup, and so on. WePlay’s rebranding is not about leaving esports. We are expanding our boundaries and possibilities.
Esports Insider: Will you scale back on the amount you do in esports? Or, if not, will you change the type of esports events you do?
Maksym Bilonogov: Frankly speaking, today, WePlay is not that strongly represented in esports. We are in talks about potential esports projects in the future and reviving our own IP this year, but all of it requires vast resources, both financial and human, and total safety; the war in Ukraine is still going on, and we cannot guarantee safety to the players and employees within the country. Everything has its time.
As to our approach to holding esports events, it will definitely remain unchanged. From the very beginning of its existence, WePlay has distinguished itself from other competitors by its principle and love for creating atmospheric, high-quality tournaments. Although today we are called WePlay Studios, we have a reputation behind our name of being one of the strongest representatives of the industry. We will not lower the bar we set earlier for creating shows, tournaments, and services. On the contrary, we will strive to become even better and stronger.
Esports Insider: What are some of the risks of this rebrand, and are you worried about them?
Iryna Chuhai: WePlay’s main task in the context of rebranding is to increase awareness among the audience. The audiences we work with and their categories have increased amazingly. We adapt our messages and communication lines to all of them. If earlier the company was working mainly with and for the gaming audience, now it is wider.
We are known for working with gaming audiences and creating iconic content for them that creates memories and lives longer on Reddit, Twitter, and other social media, creating viral effects longer than the event itself. That is what is needed right now from us when we work with other brands, wanting to attract the attention of a younger audience to their product and brand values. We turn everything into a game and create interactive content while working with the gaming audience for the whole entertainment market in general.
This is a long-term task that cannot be accomplished in one day, and we are aware of this. However, as I mentioned earlier, this is the second rebranding WePlay has undergone. We understand all the risks and are gradually moving toward the desired goal.
Esports Insider: It’s no secret that some of the ‘hype’ around esports has died off, at least compared to around 2017-2020. Has this factored into the decision to remove ‘esports’ from your name?
Maksym Bilonogov: The current decline in interest in esports is an obvious phenomenon that could have been foreseen a couple of years ago. If our team focused solely on this process when deciding on naming, perhaps we would not be called WePlay Esports. The name change to “WePlay Studios” is based solely on the desire of the business to grow and develop in the field of entertainment and gaming.
Esports Insider: What other fields is WePlay looking to enter?
Iryna Chuhai: Today, the general trend is that any business that has its own product, values and assets adapts its strategy and components to the interests and needs of the audience. We all compete for user attention, a user who has only 24 hours a day, and the competition includes not only other brands but also basic needs such as sleep, food, socialisation and so on. In total, the consumer has only a few hours a day left after work or studying and sleep that they can spend on gaming, listening to music, watching a movie, or other entertainment activities. Therefore, companies are now striving to adapt in such a way as to become a total love mark and match the interests of the user.
And we can help other businesses with this. The WePlay Studios strategy is based on the fact that we don’t want to interfere with what people are interested in. We want to become what people are actually interested in. WePlay’s specialists have expertise in esports, traditional sports, show business, organising concerts and festivals, and more.
Drawing on this experience, we can see beyond the boundaries and create content that will be interesting for the gaming audience in many ways — through activations, integrations, side content, and more. To summarise, WePlay Studios is a content production company that creates entertaining content for any brand that is interested in adapting its values and messages for the gaming audience.
Esports Insider: Can you share any examples of projects you’re working on outside of esports?
Maksym Bilonogov: As we mentioned earlier, last year, even before the rebranding, we already started to work more as a content production company. In March 2023, our WePlay team completed work on NFL Tuesday Night Gaming, an entertaining live-streaming show in which the stars and legends of the National Football League and prominent gaming influencers competed to see who the real gaming pro was.
The show was live every Tuesday since September 2022 in the US and Canada from the WePlay Esports Arena Los Angeles. WePlay was the official production partner of Enthusiast Gaming for NFL Tuesday Night Gaming — we were responsible for the technical support of the project, filming all the content (both live and pre-recorded), the development of graphical elements and complements to the broadcast, the development of stage design and scenery, and so on. In short, our team was responsible for the whole picture the viewer saw on the screen.
Now WePlay Studios is also a production partner of game developer miHoYo. Last year, we hosted a live quiz show on its game Genshin Impact, One True Genshinologist. This year, we have already created a show for the release of their new game, Honkai Star Rail, as well as continue working on the thematic content around Genshin Impact. Some announcements are yet to come in the near future, so stay tuned. Plus, our strategic partnership with the One True King [OTK] influencer network is still active. Currently, we’re working together on the OTK Games Expo, which will be held at our arena in Los Angeles this summer.
We are also actively involved in projects aimed at helping and raising awareness about Ukraine among the international community. For example, this month, WePlay Studios became a technical partner of [the aforementioned MURALS project]. Among other images, the project features digital models of Banksy’s work created during his trip to Ukraine in November 2022 in solidarity with the Ukrainian people. This month, the exposition was presented at the Cannes Film Festival in the Cannes Next section.
As you can understand, when we say we are capable of many projects in sports, gaming, art and IT, these are not just lofty words. The work is already in full swing, and a lot is yet to be done. WePlay Studios has some surprises to present in the near future — just wait for it!
Supported by WePlay Studios