Gamer Sensei - An Inside Look at the Leading Esports Coaching Startup
Here’s an obvious statement: the video game Fortnite is popular. Extremely popular.
The easy-to-play battle royale shooter is now a cornerstone of tournaments and can be seen almost every day on live streaming platforms like Twitch. With the surge of popularity, it may come as no surprise that people who are starting to play will want to improve.
This is where a startup like Gamer Sensei comes into play and they have been busy focusing on coaching players in Fortnite.
Gamer Sensei is teaching platform for pro and semi-pro gamers. Gamers will connect teachers (or “senseis”) with users for lessons to get better in all kinds of games. The platform currently supports 15 of some of the most popular esports titles.
Gamer Sensei’s CEO is Jim Drewry, a veteran of the video game industry in Boston. We had a chance to speak with him and learn more about the company’s connection to esports. We also asked Drewry about what kinds of experiences instructors have had coaching users in Fortnite. Also, we asked what some of the team member’s favorite games are.
Colin Barry [CB]: Every startup has a story to tell. How did Gamer Sensei come together?
Jim Drewry [JD]: One of the founders, William Collis, was working a day job and was playing on a semi-professional level on a Heroes of the Storm (HotS) team. While he thought he was playing well, the captain of the team took him aside one day and told him that the team actually lost more when he was playing...which was something he didn’t want to hear.
He did what most people do, and he went to find a coach or a teacher on the pro level where he could improve. He ultimately was successful, but he spent a lot of time trying to find one. William was DMing people on Twitter and messaging other players on Twitch. The whole experience put an interesting thought in his mind that was ‘If I needed this service, that means there must be other people that need it too.’ Rather than continue playing at a pro level in HotS, he decided to get some friends together and start Gamer Sensei.
CB: What is your background with video game and esports?
JD: My gaming career goes back to the Sony PlayStation days, and by that I mean the original PlayStation. I’ve been involved with games for 20 years of my career.
When I was at Warner Bros. Games, I worked on a MOBA [massively online battle arena] that was unsuccessful, but that gave me my first taste of the esports scene and I wanted to continue to work in it. When I had the opportunity to join Gamer Sensei, I felt like it was a natural fit.
CB: Could you go into detail on how Gamer Sensei’s platform works?
JD: At our core, we’re a two-sided marketplace. On one side, there are gamers who want to get better at games they love. On the other side, we’ve got esports professionals who are also great teachers. We are pretty selective in bringing on teachers to our platform. Some people are expert gamers, and there are people who are great teachers but rarely do those skills overlap. When we can find those people who are capable of doing both of those, it’s fantastic. That’s primarily what we do on the platform, is that we connect these coaches with the players through our services with customized features and presentation tools.
We also have a screen sharing feature called Sensei Connect which is designed for games that may not have built-in coplay tools. For example, a lot of our users play the console version of Fortnite, which limits what we can do in a teaching session. In addition to playing together, students also will have the option of recording your gameplay and sending it to your instructor or they can jump in a game with you in the game’s Sandbox mode and work with you one-on-one.
CB: Who are the average users of Gamer Sensei? Are there plans to roll out the platform to high schools and colleges across the country?
JD: I don’t know if we have an ‘average customer,’ since we support 15 games across all kinds of genres. One of the biggest trends we see is with students playing MOBA games want to work on strategy and fans of first-person shooters like Counter-Strike often want to improve their aiming skills. Our users tend to run the gamut from total beginner to pro. We have folks who are looking to go pro and casual gamers, which is where Fortnite has been more prevalent.
We work with a number of colleges directly, such as Becker College. Currently, we are partnered with an organization called the National Association of Collegiate Esports, and they have close to 80 colleges associated with them. What we do is provide coaching programs and set up these programs with the colleges who are part of the organization.
CB: Fortnite seems to be the number one choice of gamers, so it’s no surprise that people are looking to get better at it. What are some experiences your coaches had in the super popular game?
JD: You know, it’s been a whirlwind with how Fortnite has exploded in popularity. We only launched it on our platform back in April, and it went from being newly introduced to being one of our top titles in just a couple of months. With that much activity, we’ve had a lot of experiences.
One of the biggest ones and we’ve heard this from a number of our students is that Fortnite has become more of a family activity. We’ve had students tell us that they now have multiple gaming rigs at their home so that the whole family can be in a squad together. In some cases, it’s a bunch of Xboxes or even multiple gaming PCs they’ve built. Not many games drive that kind of passion where families will start making game rooms so that the whole family can play together.
CB: Esports are becoming bigger and bigger, and there are probably aspiring entrepreneurs out there looking to get involved with them. What is some advice that you could give those who are looking to get involved?
JD: The esports community rewards authenticity. So, don’t do it because it’s an industry where you think you can make a quick buck, do it because you’re passionate about esports.
CB: Gamer Sensei is a pretty awesome name for a startup. How did the team come up with the name?
JD: I actually joined six months in, so I, unfortunately, wasn’t in on the initial meeting for how the founding team came up with the name. One of our founders is a Japanese scholar and thought the name “sensei” fit what we did. A sensei is a teacher and we are teaching gamers how to get better at games.
CB: Switching gears here to something a little bit more fun...what is your favorite (or one of) video game of all time?
JD: Oh jeez, I don’t think we have the time to discuss all of the team’s favorite games. Like I said above, we’re all gamers so we play everything. Regarding games we play together, Super Smash Bros for the Wii U always draws a crowd.
However, if I had to pick one of my personal favorites and one that I spent a lot of time on when it first came it, it would have to be the original Unreal Tournament.
CB: Any other additional comments you’d like to make?
JD: We’re super excited for the future of esports, and we think the best is yet to come.