Juked.gg Co-Founder Ben Goldhaber On The Present and Future Of Esports Broadcasting
With over a decade of experience in and around esports broadcasting, Ben “Fishstix” Goldhaber is one of the premier minds around all things esports streaming. Initially a founding member of Twitch.tv, Goldhaber together with his partner Chris “ChanmanV” Chan founded Juked.gg, a one-stop shop for esports entertainment. Intending to be “the home for esports fans”, Juked’s current features range from an aggregation of esports streams focusing on discoverability to a comprehensive esports calendar.
Due to his unique and storied career in the esports space, Goldhaber was able to speak with GGRecon on a large variety of topics, ranging from both the history and future of esports broadcasting, who the average esports fan is, the warped impact of COVID on esports, and which parts of the industry are currently bottlenecking the growth of esports.
The interview was edited for brevity and clarity.
I think for the followers that have been with you on your journey in esports, Juked.gg makes sense. You were always the guy for the esports calendar. How can fans even discover esports streams? It’s all over the place. Back in the day, it was even on different streaming platforms, and it’s once again moving into that space. Do you think you’re on a good path to solving these issues with Juked.gg?
You’re exactly right. I don’t want to say it’s a life mission, that’s probably too dramatic, but it’s something that I have been thinking about and wanted to solve for actually more than a decade. If you go back to as early as 2009, a couple of friends and myself, we actually built a website called gamescast.tv. This is before League of Legends, Starcraft 2, this was just as those games were coming in. We built this website that aggregated streams from livestream, ustream, justin.tv, and own3d. It was a super simple platform, we just used the APIs of these services with the goal of being the place where you go to find esports streams. It’s no stretch to say that this has been something like version .001 of it in 2009 and 2010.
Then I obviously joined Twitch’s founding team in 2011, which was amazing and I wanted to solve that problem at Twitch as well, but I was never able to get the engineering or the resources I wanted to build this type of product internally within Twitch. I don’t think there is anyone else on the planet who has put more time and more thought into this specific issue “discovery in esports.”
Yeah, that’s definitely true. The underlying premise, of course, is that you must believe that there are people out there that aren’t just one-game-followers. Do you see Juked more as an attractor of new esports fans, or is it more to get the already dedicated esports fan to join in on the next esport?
I think it’s definitely both. We’d love Juked to be part of growing esports and make it easier for people to get into esports in the first place, but I think one thing that’s really important for us is creating a sense of community on the platform. A huge part of what the problem what we’re solving is discovery. It’s pretty difficult to know what’s happening every week across many major games, but we also want to build a deeper sense of community for esports fans.
Like myself, like you Yiska, who maybe follow multiple games, you not only want to know when your favourite teams are playing, the big storylines, what to watch each week, easier access to the bracket and scores but we also want you to feel like Juked is your home as an esports fan. It’s where you come and commune with other like-minded fans. This is a huge part of our product development that’s going to be happening over the next six to twelve months. We are going to be focusing much more on these engagement and social functionalities, but today we want new fans to get into this space. We want to be the place where you go if you’re a hardcore fan like myself and follow multiple games.
To address your question directly, I think Juked was founded on the fundamental belief that there are people like me and you out there that want to follow multiple games. I can’t tell you how many times throughout my decade-plus in esports, people I’ve talked to said “No, that doesn’t exist. Nobody is like that. A CS:GO fan only watches CS:GO. Don’t even try to make them watch DotA.” But I truly believe that this is an audience worth serving and time is on our side. There’s only going to be more and more people who follow multiple games in the future. When I talk to esports fans, the average person, the median follows two to three games closely but will casually watch three, four, five, six, even seven other games, if there’s something happening and they happen to find the stream. I know this is anecdotal evidence, this is people I’m talking to. It’s our users. It’s the absolute median use case that I’m seeing.
You mentioned that you wanted to build this community, and it’s interesting that you then chose an opportunity for people to put their money where their mouth is and to invest in you. You had a crowd equity fundraising campaign, and as far as we can tell, it’s going really well. Is it past your expectations?
Oh yeah, it’s absolutely way past our expectations. Our goal was to raise a couple hundred thousand dollars through crowd equity, but we gave ourselves six months to do that. The fact that we’ve gotten over half a million just as of yesterday in about three weeks absolutely smashed our expectations. We’re super excited.
Do you have any idea who these people are that are so convinced of your product?
A good portion of them are Juked users or people who know who Chris [Chan, Juked.gg co-founder and esports personality] and I are. We’ve been around in the ecosystem for a very long time, but a good amount are just average investors who want to own a piece of esports. That’s a big part of the 500k, maybe not even people who are endemic to esports.
I apologise in advance for tooting my own horn but “new esports platform by someone who was on the Twitch founding team” is a pretty good story to your average investor as well.
I think you guys had to make that conscious decision: What actually qualifies as esports content. Have you found a solid definition? What is esports for Juked?
That’s a great question for which I don’t think I have a super concise answer for you because we have actually put something like Twitch Rivals on Juked even though it can have an influencer spin to it, even though it’s a little bit more casual. If it’s organised competition with big price money, with hundreds of thousands of people watching, even if it’s not as hardcore a CS:GO major, I think it still fits our platform. It still fits our ethos. It still fits what we are trying to do.
One thing I will say, when we look at other platforms, I don’t need to name too many platforms. When we look at other media companies out there in esports, they seem to conflate any Twitch streaming drama with esports. That is something we are never going to do. Take my words, and I guess, use them against them in the future if we ever decide to change this because I don’t want to be TMZ for Twitch streamers. I guess that’s one thing that we very purposely said “we’re not going to do that:” We’re very much more focused on the actual competition and the industry.
The tournament cut-off is a solid one. I think there is some grey line when I’m watching a great player do drills in Aim Lab. That theoretically has something to do with esports competition, but it’s then therefore very hard to automatically discern what this player is doing at that point. Have you thought about that in some way?
Esports pro player streams, especially if it’s them actually scrimming or practising, I think it makes sense. I think we could build a database of players and pull in their streams. It would be very difficult because a lot of the time it’s not so hardcore. A lot of the time they are playing other games other than their main games. It would be doable, though. Maybe something we’ll tackle at a later date.
Esports has been in an interesting situation in 2020. The vehicle of esports also brings positives with it. How have you guys received this? How do you think the industry at large has used this advantage?
Obviously, when you compare esports to traditional sports, there was a period where traditional sports literally screeched to a halt, and there was nothing happening due to COVID for many months. Esports was able to adapt especially the big publisher run leagues - LCS, LEC, LCK, Overwatch League, Call of Duty League - those were the types of events that had the resources to build that online broadcast very quickly. ESL started doing all their Counter-Strike stuff online.
I think that there is this incorrect perception in my opinion that COVID is like the best thing ever to happen to esports. Certain communities have been hit extremely hard and weren’t able to adapt. We love the Smash Bros community, and over the last six months, I think there have been like three interesting tournaments. Before that it was every two weeks there was a huge awesome major with amazing storylines. I was loving Ultimate before this, and now it’s completely dried up.
I think in some communities it’s been pretty much fine like Counter-Strike you’ve seen ESL, Dreamhack, and Blast do great online content. Then look at DotA, there hasn’t been this much going on. There haven’t been any majors or minors. It’s not as clear cut. I don’t think it’s correct to say that esports has only benefitted from COVID, in my opinion.
There’s also always the argument crowds are part of the entertainment. It’s the roaring crowds that not only grab the player and then do something with it, but it grabs the broadcaster and then also the audience at home. Do you think that’s another growth factor that we are missing here when we are talking about COVID growth?
100%. Players playing from their bedroom is not the same as in front of 20, 30, 40 thousand roaring fans. It’s not even comparable.
We got investment backing. We got great players and staff, and we got smart tech companies increasingly coming in too. Where is the bottleneck in terms of esports growth?
I don’t think it is something that anyone would disagree with: There’s a real lack of storylines being told about the players. It’s pretty rare that you see amazing content embedded into these esports tournaments and broadcasts that are telling these stories that will bring in people from the outside. Obviously, TI does really great player background stories. The better tournaments, the better CS:GO majors do it from time to time. Just put yourself in the shoes of someone who doesn’t necessarily play Counter-Strike, how are you going to get them emotionally invested? How are you going to get them to care? It’s going to be through the storylines.
There are tens to hundreds of millions of fans who play these esports games, so there’s obviously still room to grow, even just with the people who do play these games. If you look at traditional sports, people don’t play American football in the US, but it’s the most popular sport when it comes down to the viewership numbers. I think that there is a lot of work that we could be doing as an industry that isn’t being done right now to tell better storylines about the players, about the teams.
That’s one of our goals with Juked. You have to be pretty hardcore to follow what’s happening. You have to follow hundreds of people on social media, you have to be in discord servers, you have to subscribe to different subreddits, and even then you are probably still going to have to go to several different sources just to know what channel the stream is happening on or how to find the brackets. I think this high barrier to entry is definitely a drag on the growth of esports.
Recently there has been this development where individuals will provide their own commentary and own view of the action, be it from a humourous or a highly analytical point of view possibly involving players that aren’t in this match but are in the same competition talking about it. How have you received this companion stream influx?
I actually give a bunch of credit to [Marcus "djWHEAT" Graham]. I don’t want to toot our own horns again, but I have to be honest about it. It was actually way back at Twitch, maybe 2014 or something like that, when we implemented this new idea of co-streaming. E3 was happening, as Twitch we were doing our own broadcast, and we said: “You can just capture your stream and you can do your own commentary over E3”. And it took off. Ever since then, co-streaming has grown every single year. More events allow it, from E3s and the Gamescoms of the world to all kinds of press announcements and game releases to now esports.
Some esports are officially sanctioning and allowing co-streaming. I think it’s awesome, it’s a great way to engage with your audience if you are a streamer and you care deeply about something. If you’re an esports person or if you’re just a gaming person. I love the idea of co-streaming.
When it comes to the Juked perspective, we haven’t really built any product around this, but it’s something that both Chris and I know pretty well.