During the day I’m Ben Feferman, CEO of Amuka Esports. After dark, I’m 5kfef (my gamer tag), and you’ll find me streaming games like Grand Theft Auto, CSGO or Fortnite.
You describe the Amuka team as a group “consisting of film producers, bankers, farmers, creatives, and developers” - an awesome mix! How did you all come together to form Amuka?
Our team really came together, through acquisitions. We sought out some of the rising esports start-ups that we felt with give us a diversified revenue model and piece by piece, acquired each one. We’ve made 4 acquisitions to date and look to continue to make big moves. Really big moves.
How would you describe esports to someone who has never heard of it before?
Esports at its core is playing video games competitively. It could be in front of 100,000 people with $30m in prize money or could with 5 buddies winning $20.
And what’s a good game to try out if you’re a first time gamer?
If you haven’t played video games in a long time, try a cooperative game like Overcooked (Xbox, PS4 or PC). You and a partner need to complete food prep tasks in a fast paced restaurant. My wife doesn’t play any games and we have our COVID date nights by ordering take-out, a nice bottle of wine and intense competition on Overcooked.
If you want to learn some of the more tier 1 esports, I will happily give anyone a lesson in playing Fortnite. Even if you’ve never played a PC game in your life, you can pick up the basics of the game easily.
Tell us about the importance of community when it comes to esports.
Gamers, probably more than any other group, are extremely savvy online. But at the same time, they seek out and foster real life experiences that support their passion. Often the community will far outlast even the game itself. Look at Super Smash Bros. Melee for example. The game is almost 20 years old and the developer, Nintendo, has long forgotten about supporting it, but the community still thrives and lives on. And that’s where community comes into play, it’s the lifeline of any video game.
And how has the esports community, as a whole, reacted to life in lockdown and self-isolation?
It’s been devastating that some of the biggest events in the esports world have been rescheduled or cancelled but the community moves. Unlike traditional sports, many esports leagues like Call of Duty and Overwatch, were able to move online and see very strong viewership.
The other thing to consider is that with traditional sports shut down, esports got the spotlight. Whether it was the eNascar series or the NBA2k Players tournaments, the world got to see their favourite celebrities start to game. If esports was nerdy and misunderstood before COVID, it’s now gone totally mainstream.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson of the Toronto Raptors is a global ambassador for Amuka. Please explain a bit more about his involvement with the company, and esports generally.
It’s been great to have someone like RHJ as our global ambassador. He loves gaming, plays Fortnite at a very impressive level and will be working with us on some really cool tournaments and live-activations.
You’re aiming to build the first $1B esports company. What’s your plan for making that happen?
I have that statement written down in my office A daily reminder of where I believe we can take this company and the goals we want to achieve. Cloud9 is valued at $400M or so and Amuka is valued at around $5M so they have a very very very substantial lead on us, but we will cross that finish line and I still think we can be the first.
Sallie Krawcheck says that "If you’re starting something on your own, you better have a passion for it, because this is hard work." To what extent do you agree with that statement?
If I didn’t love what I did and had the passion, I would have given up a long time ago and that’s the same for our team. We closed our doors to the public on March 15th and I’ve been coming into our venue every single day since because I love the energy. Even if all I can see is a bunch of empty computers, it reminds me of energy that this place has when people are playing and competing and keeps me motivated to keep fighting through this so we can get back to hosting some of the biggest esports events in Canada.
What do you do when you’re not at work?
I have 4 kids, all of them are under 6 so that’s really my full time job. If I’m not working, I’m spending time with my family. Every Sunday I let them play Xbox and they love playing Spongebob Squarepants kart racing, the LEGO games, Minecraft or Rocket League.
I do try to dedicate some time to pursuing some hobbies. I recently started my own stream (www.twitch.tv/5kfef) and I’ll be online 2-3 times per week. I used to be a marathon runner, and I would love to get back in shape and take on a big challenge like that.
Who inspires you when it comes to entrepreneurship?
When I look at the entire industry, I really admire guys like Andy Miller, who is the CEO of NRG Esports or Carlos Rodriguez, CEO of G2 Esports. These guys have built some of the most iconic esports organizations that are leading the charge and pushing the industry forward.
On a more local level, we have so many amazing esports entrepreneurs in Canada. I’m inspired by Menashe Kestenbaum, president of Enthusiast Gaming who has built such an incredible company and someone who has stayed true to his core values.
Guys like Evan Kubes and Josh Marcus who run MKM Law group and Rumble Gaming. It’s guys like that who work so hard behind the scenes to put together some of the biggest deals that are making Canada the industry leader that it is.
Why did you decide to launch a campaign on FrontFundr?
Amuka Esports has always been that scrappy underdog. We weren’t seeded with millions of dollars, or had all of these great connections to get started, we had to get our hands dirty and build what we’ve done with very limited resources.
Being on FrontFundr was about saying to our customers, supporters, friends, we want to build this with you. Regardless of your cheque size, we want you to be a part of this journey with us. FrontFundr made that possible for any investor to come in and invest and allowed us to focus on growing the company.
Where do you see Amuka in 12 months’ time?
We will be the largest esports venue provider in Canada. That I’m 100% sure about on. In 12 months’ time, I want to be pushing to be the biggest and best in North America. But # of venues and company valuation are not my metrics. I want to be sure that we can scale this in a way that stays true to the amazing gaming communities we’ve built and our growth should only add to that experience.
And what would you say to someone who is considering investing in your campaign?
When you invest in Amuka Esports, we don’t see you as an investor, we see you as a partner. I’m in regular contact with our almost 100 shareholders. I give monthly updates, take investor calls personally and keep everyone in the loop. But the main reason? I said $1B billion.
Amuka Esports campaign is now live on FrontFundr. Head on over to their Campaign page to find out more!