The Past, Present and Future of esports in the SEE region - an interview with Martin Kadinov

Post by 
Viktor Dessov
November 10, 2020

1. Can you please present yourself and what you do?

My name is Martin Kadinov and I am an esports & gaming entrepreneur. By now, I’ve had over 20 years of experience with video games. When I was a kid, I started off as a passionate gamer and then I carried on playing video games professionally - before even the word ‘esports’ existed, playing StarCraft and WarCraft at a competitive level. Back then I took part in some of the largest tournaments in the world, including the equivalent of the Olympics - The World Cyber Games. Its finals took place first in South Korea, then in San Francisco, and eventually in Singapore. Then, upon realizing that I did not have what it took to be the number one, I pivoted towards the organizational part of gaming & esports. I partnered up with ESL in the early 2000s to bring esports & gaming in Bulgaria, and later on I launched my own company that combined gaming-related eCommerce, media, content creation, a festival, and several esports leagues. I was also among the people who founded the Bulgarian federation for esports.

In 2013 my startup failed, which led me to a full-time position at ESL as a regional manager for Southeast Europe. For those who don’t know, ESL is the global esports leader and I had the pleasure of working there up until June 2020. After that, I felt that I wanted to expand beyond the corporate world so I founded TDB Play - a gaming and esports company that builds and develops love brands in the field of esports and entertainment, and also provides services to domestic and international clients who want to build and do things in the field. In a nutshell, I consider myself an esports veteran who has a decent all-around understanding of the business, as well as a good-enough globally and especially in SEE.

2. Speaking of Southeast Europe and particularly of Bulgaria, how developed is the local esports ecosystem?

One of the things that I witnessed myself was that when I moved to Cologne to work for ESL I started becoming less and less biased. Although I am Bulgarian who wants the best for his country, my job dictated that I make objective decisions. With the help of my colleagues, I gradually built an understanding of the market and I can say that Southeast Europe, compared to the EU, is lagging behind in general - in terms of maturity of the market, as well as of the active and actual business development. It’s also lagging behind the fundamental understanding of the business and the overall market, which is absolutely natural, provided the fact that SEE is arguably the least developed region within the EU. It’s composed of many countries which are stand-alone markets with their own languages and business dynamic, and on average have a lower GDP and a lower purchase power compared to Central and Western Europe.

On the other hand, I think there is a lot of enthusiasm because of this discrepancy - we, the Southeast Europeans consciously know that we are a part of the European Union and the Western World, as we are, to a very large extend, a part of its cultural lifestyle, yet, subconsciously, we feel we’re not a full-right members of the club - as businesses, as opportunities, and as societies. This creates a very interesting entrepreneurial spirit, an urge to jump on the fast track and get there sooner. The local entrepreneurs don’t necessarily have all the required know-how, there is a bit of misunderstanding of what can be built and what resources are needed, which is normal considering the nascent entrepreneurial esports and gaming experience. However, I can say that we are really good at esports - just look at Bulgaria. We have some of the top 10 players globally in CS:GO, League of Legends, DOTA 2, and many other popular games.
There is not too much action in Bulgaria currently, but I, personally, expect that esports will be developing quite rapidly in terms of tournaments, media, businesses, etc. in the upcoming years.

3. How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the world of esports in the past few months?

You see, esports has always been the underdog, always felt neglected by established authorities. It had the yearning to be acknowledged by the Olympic committee, by mainstream media, by society itself. For the past several years esports has been demonstrating astounding year-to-year growth which can be measured in, in certain aspects, with not two, but three-digit numbers! This got the attention of all kinds of classical sports entities - organizations, federations, etc., as well as non-endemic (to esports) brands, media and investors. Nowadays, in the US there is no major NBA team that is not involved in one way or another in esports. So, long story short, esports started becoming cool but still the stigma haunts, especially in more conservative societies, such as the ones in SEE.

Then COVID-19 came. In 2019 the question was ‘Is esports really a sport?’. In 2020 the question became ‘Are there any other sports besides esports?’. On a serious note, from the data we see when people became isolated there was a surge in the time spent with videogames, the time spent consuming esports content. We saw a lot of classical sports trying to figure out how to actually stay connected to their fans - it was evident with FIFA, with Formula 1, we even observed it in the Austrian cycling annual competition. Of course, COVID-19 had the implication of slowing down certain processes but from a more holistic perspective it propelled esports even further. Hopefully, COVID-19 will not leave an even more negative mark on mankind, but perhaps in 5 years’ time when we look back we will think of this period as the period when eSports really went mainstream.

4. How and why did you become a part of the BattlePass team?

I was looking for a career change by the end of 2019 when I met Peter Lozanov - who had become involved in NomadPlayers, a project targeting the gaming community. At that moment in time I was yearning to dive into the entrepreneurial space. I was impressed by Peter’s rare quality to read facts objectively and a certain resilience he possesses, which I believe are the key ingredients to build businesses. My strive is to support people in the gaming and esports space who combine passion with great ideas, identify those who are likely to make a difference with their endeavours and help them turn their ideas into reality.

5. What can BattlePass do to further help the local gaming and esports ecosystem in Bulgaria?

It is important to enlarge the stakeholder volume in this business, in other words - to bring more people in. We (both BattlePass and TDB Play) not only bring esports to more people and businesses, but also to bring classical sports, media and journalistic know-how into the field.
If you look at football, for example, it is, on one hand, a sports business, on the other hand, it's a content production business, third, it’s a marketing business, fourth - media distribution business, you can look at it in many ways. And so is esports. True, esports has grown quite rapidly, but at the same time, it’s just starting.

One of the first things we intend to do is to actually inform people about this trend in a constructive way - not in the ultra-hyped way. An objective way.  Instead of saying that esports is going to change the world (which it would eventually do anyway), it would be more pragmatic to share the understanding of the esports reality, and then, to start building the community and the ecosystem. As a member of the BattlePass team, my understanding is that the first 3 to 9 months should be about sharing knowledge and understanding with peers and other businesses and then, once we’ve accumulated that mass we will have access to even more entrepreneurs and businesses eager to become a part of this cultural phenomenon.

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