Not too long ago we got the opportunity to sit down with Hazman CEO and Ken Jin CMO of Kitamen to share their experience of running an e-sports business.
What inspired you to start Kitamen?
Hazman: I’m a gamer myself and I’ve always had a passion for video games and it brings me joy when I get to share my passion with others. Back when I was still working, I noticed that many of my colleagues don’t play video games, so I couldn’t really communicate with anyone about my interest. Thus, I wanted to create an environment where gamers can come together, learn, train and be a part of a community that share the same passion for video games as me. I also wanted to make video games accessible to everyone, because not everyone can own a PS4 or a computer.
Besides that, we felt that there was a lot of potential in the gaming industry and it can be a lucrative business. We saw people building their careers as professional gamers, streamers or even game developers. Hence, we wanted to seize this opportunity and come up with something of our own.
What services does Kitamen provide?
Hazman: We mainly provide these 3 services.
- E-sport events specialist
We host and organize events for our clients. We act as an e-sport event consultant to help our clients choose the best strategy for their project. We rent out our equipment and consoles for certain events.
- E-sports dojo.
We also run a licencing program. The E-sports dojo is an e-gaming training centre concept where gamers, pro-gamers, and aspiring pro-gamers can come together, learn and train in a friendly/family-like environment.
- E-sports consultation & strategy
We act as a medium for corporate firms, governments and other MNC’s to connect with gamers all around Malaysia. For example, a lot of brands and agencies want to use e-sports as a cost-effective medium to connect with the young demographic that is hard to pierce. It is easier to engage with the youth through video games as compared to, let’s say, a standard advertising campaign.
What’s the difference between a cybercafe and the e-sport dojo?
Hazman: We get this question a lot. (Laughs.) The main difference is the ambience and the seating arrangements. The dojo we created is more family-oriented and we provide a space where buddies get to communicate and challenge each other as well as host activities. The seating arrangements in a cybercafé tends to be more narrow, and you don’t get to communicate with others. You go there, play a game or two and then go home.
Ken Jin: We want to create a community hub not just for people who play games but for brands who want to engage with gamers as well. We also provide an opportunity for developers to test pilot their programs or games to see how well they fare with real life gamers. We once ran a community tournament for Sony to test out their new Call of Duty game. Ultimately, it’s not just about the game or the consoles, but how you bring people together.
What did you guys do for marketing?
Ken Jin: The marketing we do for Kitamen is quite unconventional. It’s really hard to reach the target audience as the industry is still in its novice stages. The issue is, currently there’s nothing big enough to tell the general audience what e-sports is all about. Thus, we hope to grow the market by building, what we call an ‘e-sport shrine’ so that everyone who is part of the e-sports ecosystem can come, mingle and host activities. We are currently raising funds to build an epicentre in kl. It’s basically an upscaled dojo, where we’ll have streaming rooms, VIP rooms for pro gamers, strategy rooms and even a co-working space. It’s not just going to be a gaming centre but a place where everyone can create, consume and collaborate.
Does Kitamen have a competitive team at the moment?
No, we currently don’t have one.
With that being said, do you plan to get brand ambassadors for Kitamen?
Ken Jin: Yes, we do. But mostly on streamer groups. We’re not getting into competitive teams just yet. Because housing teams can be quite expensive, you’ll have to worry about training, salaries, etc. Unless the teams are already associated with sponsorships.
Is the e-sports industry competitive? How do you deal with competition?
Hazman: Well, if you’re only looking at the event management aspect then we have competitors like Mineski. If I’m not mistaken, they are one of the most prominent e-sports event team in Malaysia currently. There are also a lot of gaming centres that compete with our ‘dojo’ concept as well. But we like to think that Kitamen is more than just a gaming centre, with a movement for a bigger cause.
We try not to view our competitors as enemies but more as our allies. We even partnered with Mineski once for a project. They are more geared towards Dota2 and PUBG, and we lean towards console games such as FIFA. So, in a way we complement each other. The gaming industry is still relatively small, and the community is very close knitted, so try not to make any enemies. (Laughs.)
Can you describe some of the challenges you’ve face throughout this entire business?
Hazman: The biggest challenge we faced till today should be convincing the older generation. There’s still a lot of misconception about the gaming industry. Even my parents would ask, “Why e-sports?”, “Are you sure you can make a living out of this?” People view video games as just another form of entertainment, but just like regular sports, we want to change the stigma and show them how legitimate this industry can be.
Ken Jin: People tend to compare us to cybercafes. They assume that we’re just another place where people play computer games and loiter around. To be honest, the people that comes to our dojo are legitimate, they learn and train, and if they are good enough they can make a stable income out of it.
But we have to be realistic. Just like any other regular sport, not everyone can be an athlete. Likewise, not everyone can be a professional gamer. However, the gaming industry has opened up a lot of career opportunities such as being a streamer or a shout caster. They generate income through their follower/viewer base and through proper development and business sense, one can make an income out of it.
Can you describe some of your lowest points in this business?
Hazman: I’ve been growing this business for the past 3 years, and I have to say the lowest point should be when I just started out. I started this business with two other partners, but they left due to certain circumstances. So, I was left building this business all alone.
Kitamen came from humble beginnings, it started out just as a mere dojo on the 15th floor of a service apartment I rented. Then one day, I discovered that someone had copied my business idea and did the exact same thing just a floor below us. I had no choice but to close down my dojo.
For the first year (early 2016) I barely made any money, in fact I did sponsors for free. The point was to get my brand name out there, it doesn’t matter if I made any money or not. Eventually, people saw the potential in Kitamen and started to approach me for collaborations and that’s where everything started to turn around.
There’s a saying in Malay that goes something like this, “It is a sin if you do not tell others what you do.”
When was Kitamen’s first big break?
Hazman: When we organized a tournament with the Johor competitive team for a jersey launching. This was an outcome of networking and making connection with others.
Ken Jin: Another big break was when we managed to successfully pitch our Epicentre idea to Teraju and won a funding grant to launch it.
Is traditional marketing still viable for this business?
Hazman: Because we don’t have a physical product, we need to constantly engage with our target market if we want to get our brand recognized, thus everything has to be more face-to-face.
Ken Jin: However, we did partner with some content marketers to come up with articles and news reports on our events.
Hazman: We were quite lucky that The Star did a write up on us. That has to be one of the best marketing strategy for Kitamen, because right after we appeared in the news we received a lot calls for collaborations.
Did you approach The Star, or did they approach you?
Ken Jin: They sort of found us. 3 months ago, when we launched our equity crowd funding campaign with Ata Plus, we managed to meet a lot of media companies form there they decided to do a write up on us and we’re really thankful for that.
What’s the vision for this company? Where do you see Kitamen in 5 years?
Hazman: We want to be the number 1 e-sports company in Malaysia. We hope to grow into the South-East Asian market. There are a lot of things we plan to do in our pipeline, we have already started to expand our team. We hope to eventually have our own e-sports league one day.
What advice would you give to other aspiring entrepreneurs that want to start their own thing? Do you think it’s advisable for other new entrepreneurs to enter this industry?
Hazman: I think this is a really brutal industry, its either you make it or you break. Because the industry is still at its infant stages and there are still a lot of uncertainties. Yes, passion is important, but you need to be equipped with the necessary knowledge on how to run an e-sports business.
My advice is, get out there and learn everything you can before starting your own business. This business is not just about video games, it’s about management. It’s about managing people, finances, taxes, licenses. Besides that, create a well-defined business/roll-out plan. Because the business plan is your direction, it’s how you’re going to get to your destination. If you need a month to plan it then plan it for a month, if you need a year to plan it, then plan it for a year. Don’t rush into things.
Ken Jin: In addition to that, I think you have to be able to experiment around. Try as many things as possible and see what sticks.
Hazman: I don’t want to say, ‘don’t give up’ because to me not giving up applies to everyone and everything in life. You have to be prepared to work 24 hours a day and be constantly sleep deprived. You will suffer. In fact, the suffering never really stops. Just like playing an RPG game, the higher the level you go, the harder the obstacle. So, be thankful and appreciate the little victories. They may be small, but they are victories nevertheless.
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