If you think video games are just for kids, or took to heart the notion that playing games would never get you anywhere in life, eSports should change your mind. According to a report from CNN, the eSports industry is on track to be worth $1 billion in just a couple of years. With eSports growing so big, so fast, it’s not surprising to see companies springing up to meet the needs of competitive players.
Today, we’re chatting with Adam Toll, CEO and co-founder of Haste, a company that’s looking to kill one of eSports competitors’ greatest foes: lag.
Tell us about your company. How did it come about?
Haste is network software that optimizes the internet for people engaged in live, interactive experiences, like gaming.
Haste co-founder, Taric Mirza, is a dedicated gamer and an engineer. When lag prevented Taric from playing his favorite game, League of Legends, and none of the existing lag-reduction services helped him, Taric started building his own solution to fix lag. Taric had worked for my first company, Big Champagne, which we sold to LiveNation, so he approached me for advice and help with his new startup. I helped where I could and ultimately decided to join Haste as CEO and Co-Founder.
How about your software? What problems in the eSports space does Haste solve?
Any gamer will tell you that lag is a huge problem in online gaming and eSports. It literally can mean the difference between winning and losing. Haste fixes lag, providing gamers with a faster, more stable internet connection to their game. The superior connection reduces common network problems such as stuttering, disconnects, rubber banding and other issues associated with high ping, jitter and packet loss.
Also, when teams, leagues and tournament operators host competitions over the internet (as opposed to in-person LAN matches), Haste can provide a “level playing field” over the internet by tweaking all players’ connections to have about the same quality of connection. This means that in competition — or even just scrimmaging between teams in different global regions — the teams can really compete on skill and the results won’t be skewed by uneven network performance.
How have eSports changed in the past decade, from your perspective?
It’s staggering to think about the changes in eSports over the past decade. It has gone from a niche activity shared by a small group of passionate gamers in basements and meeting rooms to glitzy professional matches in large arenas watched by tens of thousands of fans in person, and millions of fans watching online broadcasts.
Along with the mainstream exposure and massive audiences, we’ve recently seen eSports treated more and more like traditional sports with million-dollar prize pools, major financial investments, highly organized leagues, broadcast partners and mainstream brand sponsorships.
What impact have dedicated streaming sites like Twitch had on eSports? Do you view them as collaborators with a similar goal (though with different roles to play)?
There’s no question that streaming sites such as Twitch have been a major part of the eSports growth story. They expose audiences to new games, like Rocket League and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, offer another revenue source for players/content creators and provide a platform for viewers to watch their favorite teams compete in real-time. They also provide an immersive way to interact with other fans and professional players.
We see the streaming services as potential collaborators. We already work with several streamers and know that the streaming services have also been part of our growth story. In the future, we believe Haste might be able to optimize streaming video in the same way we’re optimizing gaming now. This would further benefit streamers and their fans by providing faster, smoother connections to streaming content.
What are the biggest challenges to helping eSports gain a foothold in modern culture? Video games were traditionally seen as “kids’ toys,” so has that perception been hard to break?
That perception has been, and continues to be, hard to break. Convincing the public that video gaming is a real sport and that gamers are athletes might be among the biggest challenges. However, we believe the perception is beginning to shift as eSports are now prominently featured in publications such as the New York Times, and major brand advertisers increasingly see eSports as an essential part of their marketing mix to reach young audiences who are otherwise difficult to reach.
When did the big turning point for eSports occur? To the unaware consumer, it seems as if eSports appeared overnight as a huge deal, but in reality the transition must have been slower. When and how did things begin to change?
I believe the turning point came with the creation of MOBAs like League of Legends and Dota 2 – games which are still at the top of the eSports hierarchy. These games, their publishers and pioneering tournament organizations such as MLG and DreamHack paved the way for professional eSports as we know it.
The free to play model, in which players can play the game for free, and generally only have to spend money if they want to purchase cosmetic upgrades in the game, has been an aspect that helped the eSports games’ popularity.
Readily available broadband internet was also a major factor. Without it, eSports could only exist in a LAN environment. Good, stable connections continue to be a major pain point for players, which is why we’re focused on creating a better internet connection for gamers.
Does Haste-optimized gameplay put players at an advantage over players who aren’t using it? Does Haste move the needle on fixing the problem of other players’ latency in online games?
We believe Haste levels the playing field for all gamers. Anyone can install Haste and use our software to get the best, most stable connection to the game server.
Haste optimizes the connection for the individual player, playing over the Haste network. It does not impact the latency of other players in the game unless they are playing on the Haste network.
What games are you looking to support in the future, beyond Overwatch and League of Legends?
We plan to support all the top eSports titles. We plan to announce support for new games this month. Our shortlist includes Dota 2, CS:GO, Paladins, Smite and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds.
Any thoughts on console support in the future? Is that even possible?
Absolutely, we are starting to work with both ISPs and hardware manufacturers towards solutions that will encompass any device connected to the internet. So not just console, but mobile as well. With Haste embedded in an ISP’s infrastructure, and/or with a Haste-enabled Wi-Fi router at home, we can optimize traffic from any device.
What advice do you have for aspiring eSports players?
Keep grinding …, and don’t play without Haste ;-)