When Chris Park left a senior position at Major League Baseball for a job in esports he was abandoning an organisation with more than 140 years of tradition for one that was 18 months old. The 40-year-old Harvard College graduate was also uprooting from his family home in New York to relocate to Los Angeles and work for Gen.G, a company with roots in Seoul, South Korea.
Sport → Gaming
Park is convinced that he made the right move in joining a booming sector that he believes has the capacity to influence the future of other industries from traditional sports to music and film. “We are just scratching the surface of the full power and influence of gaming on the world,” he says. “Gaming is probably an unparalleled horizontal influence across all of entertainment as opposed to just this fastest growing upstart that becomes the ‘nth’ vertical in entertainment or sports.”
He identifies a “migration of people from the traditional sports world into esports” but believes that others will transition to the sector from less obvious sources, as gaming’s influence grows. “I think there is going to be even more interesting, multi-directional cross-pollination,” he says. “You are going to see great professionals from other traditional verticals start to move into the gaming world as well…you are going to see people from across the industrial spectrum start to game-ify their careers.”
Park grew up as a passionate fan of the Seattle Mariners baseball team, and has had two spells working at MLB. For four years he was its Deputy General Counsel and Vice President for Labor Economics, in which time he took a major part in the negotiations of the 2011 collective bargaining agreement with the MLB Players Association.
“Diversity of experience across industry, across culture, across discipline can be really valuable”
He left to work in the technology sector for Facebook, where he was tasked with expanding the sports content business, before returning to the MLB in 2015 and being promoted two years later to Executive Vice President in charge of product & marketing.
He credits his “doting and supportive” immigrant parents with giving him the sense of freedom to pursue an unorthodox career path and to transition from one sector to another without fear: “My father was born in North Korea and my mother in South Korea and they both emigrated to the US during their medical training (as physicians). Both are very accomplished professionals but in a line of work that is very different from sports and entertainment. I think it probably took a lot of faith and lot of discipline on their part to let their kid wander off into something very different.”
It was at an investor conference in 2018, that Park had coffee with esports entrepreneur Kevin Chou, founder of Gen.G, and realised they had a shared vision. He decided to make the switch. Working at MLB, he says, taught him lessons in “problem solving” both in his immediate environment and internationally. He came to understand the value of “menial things” like scheduling conference calls so that remote workers are not worn down. “These things are the bread and butter of how truly international and truly global teams have to operate,” he says.
He has been able to bring these skills to Gen.G, which had an international outlook from its outset: “We gravitate towards business opportunities that require bridging cultures.”
“I think there is going to be even more interesting, multi-directional cross-pollination”
Moving across industries has given him perspective to “recognise patterns” and “be able to look around the corner to develop faster, earlier insights about what the next opportunities could be”, he says. “Having some diversity of experience across industry, across culture, across discipline can be really valuable.”
Gen.G is growing fast. The owner of esports franchise Seoul Dynasty, one of the founding teams in Activision Blizzard’s Overwatch League for esports, Gen.G has won six World Championships in 18 months and established operations in Seoul, Shanghai, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
But Park says this is just the start. The spread of 5G connectivity will bring a “cascading effect” as the 50-50 male-female split of the three billion- strong global gaming community is reflected in the currently male-dominated world of hardcore competition. Then, he says, “you will start to see the true demographic diversity of people who are in love with games”.