Interview with ESL Senior Product Manager Shaun "Apollo" Clark

Mar 10 2020 8 min read

Interview with ESL Senior Product Manager Shaun "Apollo" Clark ⚡⚡⚡ Esports news, analytics, reviews on WePlay! The latest news on WePlay!

We had an opportunity to talk to Shaun "Apollo" Clark, Senior Product Manager at ESL.

— Hi, Shaun. Can you share what you do at ESL?

— As Senior Product Manager, I'm responsible for all of the Intel Extreme Masters programs as well as ESL One Rio and ESL Pro Tours. And, that's essentially managing the day to day processes.

 — So, you manage everything like production, event formats, dates, talents, etc.?

 Yes, the product manager is responsible for designing and building the product, and ultimately for what the consumer sees and experiences. That involves, for example, what the opening ceremony looks like to the live and online audience. I design everything to make sure that we build and create the best possible tournament brand.

I set the vision of the direction we need to go, and then I work with a large team from multiple departments at ESL to get the vision done.


— Most viewers remember you as a talent. How did you transition from being a commentator to a Senior Product Manager?

— First of all, I was never going to commentate forever — it wasn't a long-term plan. I enjoyed it during the time I had, but in the back of my head, I knew there was going to be a day when I'd stop.

When you are in esports, you are exposed to a lot of moving pieces, and it's a very natural progression from one stone to another. For example, as a commentator, you are very closely tied to the production of the show. And when I was in that position, I always thought that I could make things better.

So the next step I took after being a commentator was becoming a producer. I produced and designed shows, changed the flow, changed the story, and got involved in that new thing for a while. But once you get connected to a show, you learn how the product is run.

That's how I moved from being a caster to making a show to seeing how the entire tournament and its brand is run. And that's how I jumped over to product management.

— One of the IEM Katowice talents Leigh "Maynarde" Mandalov mentioned in an interview that he learned many of the casters' trade secrets from you. It feels like you've always seen a better way to do the job and was eager to share it.

— Sharing the vision of how I thought the commentary should be was what I did with the StarCraft casters in general, and Maynarde is a good example.

It's one thing to appreciate good work and another to ask why someone is doing it in that way. The "why" is very important for a lot of things that we do, not just in commentary but everywhere. So I used to explain why I do the things I do and how I think about it. Who is watching our tournaments? Is it a hardcore fan, or is it not a hardcore fan? What are we saying, and how can we translate what we do to what they need to listen to. So, there are a lot of thought processes to that, and I helped them with that at the time.

By the way, Maynarde is an amazing person, incredibly authentic and genuine. He is just a great guy and very good at commentary. He is very energetic, knows how to hype up at the right moment, and he is delivering pretty awesome casts.

— Much of IEM's DNA is connected to StarCraft 2. How did your team feel about becoming the only flagship StarCraft 2 tournament organizer?

— When Blizzard first approached us sometime around Summer last year, we got incredibly excited straight away. It was a fantastic opportunity to take ownership of what we had been doing for so long. It's one of the key reasons why the announcement of the ESL Pro Tour came in. It just made sense.

We've always been close to Blizzard, even before StarCraft 2. When the game was released, the very first tournament was IEM Gamescom 2010 in August. I was commentating it myself with Sean "Day[9]" Plott. So, since the beginning, ESL has been there, and if you fast forward 10 years later, we are still here today and doing IEM Katowice every single year.

When Blizzard came to us, we finetuned a few things about the previous WCS format and had to launch the new program according to the philosophy that we had. We believe it's going to be a great product, and it has been well received so far.


— ESL has been supporting the StarCraft 2 scene for a long time, even when other TOs dropped it. It must feel like a reward for you.

StarCraft 2 is a kind of our legacy. We didn't run the game at every tournament, but we never removed it. We are one of the key reasons why it was such a successful launch.

— Do you think the ESL Pro Tour will bring more stability and confidence to the scene?

— Yes. It was one of the key points of the announcement that we committed to three years straight away. It brings lots of benefits for us, for the players, and for partners.

Just to be able to know that this is going to be a long-term plan is great. We've already seen some responses to that. And not only in the form of feedback, but also we see teams pick up players now because they know it just makes sense to invest in StarCraft 2. When a competitive season is announced in March, and it ends in November, there is just not enough reasons to sign a player because of the low amount of tournaments and a low amount of exposure. With the three years, you can commit to year-long contracts.

— Can you explain how you chose this current roster of StarCraft 2 talents?

— The current roster is the same that you usually see at an IEM StarCraft 2 competitions, with a couple of new faces.

— Yes, none of these casters come as surprising.

— Exactly. At the end of the day, the talents that we have are the best StarCraft 2 casters in the world, so these are the right guys and ladies to have.

We weren't able to come to an agreement during the negotiations regarding this event with Nick "Tasteless" Plott and Daniel "Artosis" Stemkoski. Moving forward with ESL Pro Tour, they will be critical, especially at the next IEM Katowice events. We have a great relationship with them, and I have personally been working with Tasteless and Artosis for many years. 

We are already talking to them about what the ESL Pro Tour will look like between ESL and Tastosis, trying to make the best agreement for both sides.

 — StarCraft 2 and WarCraft 3 are very connected right now. How do you feel about the future of WarCraft 3 after the first big event, DreamHack Warcraft 3 Open Anaheim 2020?

 — This is a bit hard for me to answer right now just because Anaheim happened during the group stage buildup of IEM Katowice 2020. I have not seen any reports from the event at all. After this event, I will go into details of things and get the feel of both the first StarCraft 2 and WarCraft 3 event of the ESL Pro Tour.

 — The community has been very passionate and vocal about the current state of WarCraft 3. Do you have some words of reassurance for them?

 — We are not a game publisher and can't just get into the game and do something about it ourselves. But, we do have a great relationship with Blizzard and talk to them. We can point out things that we need to be successful in organizing tournaments. We usually deliver that type of information to them and get a positive response.

 Overall, we have a great relationship with them, share what we need, and they pick it up to improve the product.

 — So, in a way, you are a voice of the community?

 — Absolutely. The dynamic we have with Blizzard is that they say, "How can we help you?" And we answer that we need this solution or this server or whatever it is to be able to successfully run the tournaments.


— A couple of questions about IEM attendance. Can you share what emotions you went through when you learned about the decision made by the authority?

 — Within ESL, we have a task force that has been working with the issue of the coronavirus epidemic since early February. We worked on the topic furiously since the outbreak in Italy. We were in communication with the local health bureau, and we complied with everything, trying to maintain the event in its usual capacity. Unfortunately, at the end of the day, the verdict came through, and it wasn't what we wanted. Perhaps, if you think about it from a different perspective, it was for the better.

Overall, we, of course, were very sad about it, and I think that's the reaction of the community too.

I think it was super important to understand that we couldn't do anything for the 180,000 people who couldn’t join us at IEM Katowice, but there were millions of people who still relied on us to produce a great show. That was one of the key internal messages — the news is incredibly sad, but we need to move forward as the show must go on.

We couldn't afford to let the moral drop overall because, at the end of the day, attendance is a huge part of what we do, but it's not the whole thing. IEM Katowice is a flagship esports tournament, and that's what we need to reflect in the show.

— It's a unique case and a unique situation. You as a TO and the audience are equally disappointed, and we are all in this together. Can this negative experience become something that ultimately brings you and the fans closer together?

— You are right in saying that we are all in this together. And it's not just an isolated topic. We have a great number of 30-year-olds and 25-year-olds who work every single day so hard on these events. And then they go home and do exactly the same as fans at home — they play themselves.

We believe in that type of bond between the viewers and us. And, the types of responses we have gotten has been very evident of that.


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