Insights from the latest guest on my Office Hours podcast:
Brandon Beck, Co-founder and CEO, Riot Games
- Co-founded Riot Games with Marc Merrill in 2006
- Named Inc. Magazine’s 2016 Company of the Year
- Never finished high school, but graduated from University of Southern California
- League of Legends player name: Ryze
- What in the world is eSports and why are people buying teams
- Insights into Riot Games’ award-winning culture
- Why hiring people who relate to your product is so important
- How much League of Legends Brandon actually plays
I loved video games as a kid – I had an Atari and played Pac-Man, Frogger, and Space Invaders constantly. In my house today, I have two video games that my kids and I love – a standup Millipede game from 1981, and a sitdown multi game I bought on eBay with around 100 different games (Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Dig Dug, Frogger, and much more). But those games are quaint. Gaming is now a sport, and it’s big business.
Nobody knows this better than Brandon Beck, who practically invented competitive gaming as the co-founder (along with Marc Merrill) and CEO of Riot Games, maker of League of Legends. League has more than 100 million players worldwide. They also produce gaming competitions where tens of thousands of fans and hundreds of thousands more via streaming watch others play League. League of Legends is a way of life for its players, who collectively log over a billion hours each month and invest in virtual goods (think: clothing for their characters).
Riot’s swift ascent – the company was acquired by Chinese tech giant Tencent in 2015 but continues to operate independently – may baffle non-gamers, but that doesn’t faze Brandon. Riot wasn’t started for people like me; it was started for people like Brandon and Marc who want a longstanding relationship with a game that keeps them entertained and challenged. Riot’s commitment to its dedicated users goes so far as to hire exclusively gamers, something Brandon admitted as a pain point – the search takes forever to fill some key roles – but a policy that is essential to preserving their deep knowledge and understanding of their audience.
In a world where we can learn virtually anything about user behavior and product performance from data, why does being part of your own audience matter? Because personal connection to what you’re building leads to better product and better decision-making.
At Zillow Group, we have it a bit easier than Riot when it comes to hiring people who get what we do because our audience isn’t niche; it’s broad. We are all renters, buyers, homeowners or sellers, which means we can all relate to who we’re building for every day. This deep understanding helps us build products people love, engage with and want tell their friends about – an advantage for which no marketing or advertising budget can compensate. Once you develop a great product, iterating on it in a way that retains existing users and attracts new ones requires continued learning about, connection to and prioritization of your users. We’re constantly focused on ways to make experiences more seamless, intuitive and helpful for home shoppers because our utility is what fosters a long-term relationship. In this regard, gaming is no different.
Being part of your user base – as a gamer, homeowner, athlete, et cetera – also makes it easier to stay focused on what is best for the user when making decisions. In Riot’s case, the big online game companies often produce a portfolio of titles, but the type of player League of Legends attracts doesn’t want a portfolio; they want a deep experience. Riot, comprised of individuals who feel the same, prioritizes what its users want over industry norms or expectations, and I’d argue this is why they’ve been so successful to date. As a media company, we are constantly faced with opportunities that could benefit short-term revenue but could also put our users second. Our tiebreak question is always, “Which option is in the best interest of the consumer?” She is our north star, just as the League of Legends gamer is Riot’s.
It was fascinating to learn just how similar our priorities were as leaders in two very different industries. Whether you’re a student of leadership or are intrigued by what’s driving the rapid rise of eSports (which Brandon believes will one day be part of the Olympics, and I think I now agree).
Press play below to listen to the full interview or read the transcript here.