KSV COO Kent Wakeford: Seoul Dynasty players put pressure on themselves

The Seoul Dynasty, expecting to finish at or near the top of the Overwatch League, has struggled in the first two stages to live up to the hype. Blizzard Entertainment

All the Overwatch League teams were gunning for Seoul Dynasty as it ran off with a string of wins at the beginning of the inaugural OWL season, and was initially predicted to finish at the top of the standings. At the start of Stage 2, however, it was clear teams had started to hack away at Seoul's defenses. The team lost often late in the stage, and found itself on the outside of the Stage 2 playoffs, missing out on a chance for $100,000 for the second stage in a row, despite lofty expectations.

Kent Wakeford is the COO of KSV Esports, the organization that owns the Dynasty. Before KSV, Wakeford co-founded Kabam, a mobile game developer and made titles like "Marvel: Contest of Champions" and "Star Wars: Uprising." Now with KSV, Wakeford has a different role, and that's overseeing the Dynasty Overwatch League franchise, as well as its League of Legends, Heroes of the Storm and PUBG teams. At the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco last week, ESPN sat down with Wakeford to see how he's helping his team deal with the current string of losses, the Dynasty's future in OWL and his thoughts on mobile esports.

ESPN.com: How have you dealt with the recent losses with your players?

Kent Wakeford: Seoul Dynasty was ranked no. 1, and was the team that everyone wanted to go after. And many teams created strategies to go after our team. And specifically players, whether it's Fleta, or others.

ESPN.com: What are some of the unforeseen dynamics you've had to deal with?

Wakeford: The Overwatch League, the first two years are being played in Los Angeles. So you have players that may or may not have spent a lot of time outside of Korea. They're now living and have moved their lives to Los Angeles. And that alone creates whatever kind of nuances within each of the players that they need to deal with.

ESPN.com: Is there a pressure to get back to No. 1?

Wakeford: The pressure to get back to No. 1 is all within the players themselves. Within the Seoul Dynasty, you have some of the most amazing players. When they lose, they internalize this. They focus. They push themselves as individuals and as a team to be No. 1. They are such dedicated professional athletes that there's no further pressure that we as an ownership group, or management, can put on them.

ESPN.com: Should there be a rule that mandates a certain number of players be from the franchise city or region, kind of like the homegrown player rule in the Premier League?

Wakeford: No. I think the teams should seek out and put together the best players in the world in all the various positions that they have.

ESPN.com: Why even have franchise cities then?

Wakeford: I think from a team perspective, it's something they'll want to balance. They'll want to create passionate fans within their specific geography ... You look at New York, that's a great example. New York's having a great year, the chemistry is working, the team's playing well, they're No. 1. But it is an all [South] Korean team. So, would you rather be No. 1? Or would you rather have a mix of players that might not have that same chemistry today?

ESPN.com: Are you finding a lot of American fans of Dynasty wherever you go?

Wakeford: Absolutely. Today, the growth of our U.S. fans is the fastest growing segment of any of the fan bases. Now, part of that is the team is playing in Los Angeles. I think a lot of the viewership in Twitch is U.S.-based.

ESPN.com: Should team owners be on the table with Blizzard when changes to the game are being made?

Wakeford: The Overwatch League has been very open to creating a positive relationship between the teams. And we have a lot of input with many aspects of the league. But when it comes to the game? That's all Blizzard. We haven't had a lot of input with game design itself.

ESPN.com: Does that attitude come from you dealing with annoying producers when you were in game development?

Wakeford: Having spent 10 years in the game industry as a developer, I fully recognize Blizzard's position in not wanting a bunch of team owners telling them what to do.

ESPN.com: What are your thoughts on mobile esports?

Wakeford: So, I am completely biased. I have spent the last 10 years at Kabam, where we were a mobile game company, with the fundamental belief that the market size for mobile games is exponentially larger than PC or console ... we believe that it's coming, you can look to China, with Arena of Valor, and what Tencent has been doing there. Kind of a mass market game that's complex, has strategy, and is team based, is kind of a really interesting and exciting mobile esport ... by 2019, there will be competitive esports games around mobile games.