Talon Esports' Sean Zhang On Quitting Investment Banking To Go Into Competitive Gaming
The Hong Kong-based entrepreneur reveals how his company is bringing traditional sports concepts to competitive gaming
Sean Zhang is at the forefront of professionalising the fast-growing but often chaotic world of e-sports. The China-born, Australia-raised CEO of Talon Esports worked in investment banking before co-founding the Hong Kong-based, pan-Asian e-sports team in 2017.
With a diverse range of revenue streams including tournament winnings, sponsorship, player transfers, publisher fees, and the sale of merchandise both physical and digital, as well as events and its own creative studio, Talon brings the discipline of traditional sport to competitive gaming. It is particularly known for its PSG Talon team, which plays League of Legends, in partnership with the e-sports division of legendary French sporting club Paris Saint-Germain.
Here, Zhang explains how Talon Esports is taking e-sports to new competitive and commercial levels.
I was always interested in gaming. When I was a kid, my dad bought me my first computer, a 486. He was an architect, so the machine was loaded up with Microsoft Paint to see if I was interested in drawing. I forgot it in about 10 minutes and got into gaming instead. I’ve also always been a passionate believer in traditional sport; I’m a football coach. I’m fortunate those two things have come together in e-sports.
I was working in banking, and I read a Goldman Sachs report about e-sports and thought: there’s a massive opportunity here. For the first two years, when we [Zhang and his co-founder Jarrold Tham] weren’t working on Talon full-time, I’d say it was a relatively large failure—we didn’t have the time or resources to make it work. Then in 2018, we went on this crazy roadshow in the US, and we were fortunate to raise enough capital that I could quit my job and work on it full-time.
A lot of e-sports teams are just based in one market. We pitched the idea of Asia’s team: a team from the whole of Asia. I think that ambition and crazy goals are what differentiate us.
The end goal is for the company to be 50 percent e-sports, 50 percent lifestyle. We want to have conversations with millennials and Generation Z. E-sports are a big part of that, but so are NFTs and the metaverse, and music and fashion. We’re building a platform, and going forward it will incorporate more traditional components.
The pandemic has made e-sports more mainstream. The fact that people have spent more time at home has definitely helped. There were no traditional sports during the first half of 2020, and you started to see celebrities, musicians and sports stars using gaming to reach out to their fans. Added to that, a lot of brands started using e-sports to communicate with people; they attract a younger demographic than traditional sports.
The partnership with PSG happened completely by luck. We’re very fortunate that PSG’s values are very similar to ours: winning sporting championships, but also the lifestyle component, plus they want to expand in Asia. They’re looking for additional ways to bring credibility to the PSG brand. Their objective is to become the world’s biggest sports club, but they have humility. They say: on the e-sports side, we don’t know everything, so can we learn together?