…What we saw in this new technology was a new way to present ourselves and deliver our thoughts, a certain amount of creativity associated with the content that we had created and will create to our audience, not just by sharing it all at once, but by sharing the joy of owning it. As pretentious as it may sound, this is a concrete step forward in interacting with your users, your consumers who love your product and want to spend more time enjoying it.
Many have observed that we are at the cusp of an NFT boom. The thing is, it’s so cutting edge, that many people don’t know what it is. What exactly is an NFT and how can one create a lucrative career out of selling them? To address this, as a part of our interview series called “5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Highly Successful Career In The NFT Industry”, we had the pleasure of interviewing Yura Lazebnikov.
Yura Lazebnikov is an expert in IT integration, software development, and the creation of data centers. He started his first business in 2003 in the field of esports. In 2006, Yura Lazebnikov, together with business partner Oleg Krot, founded WePlay Esports. His achievements include taking it to the multinational level, with offices and esports studios from Hong Kong to Los Angeles. Yura Lazebnikov’sfocus is WePlay Esports’ strategic goals, partner engagement, and creating new global media and IT products.
His goal is to increase the market share of the WePlay Esports media holding company up to 25%.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory and how you grew up?
If we talk about my background, it probably presents a classic example of an IT entrepreneur who was into all things related to computers, gadgets, and computer games since childhood. At some point, my hobby started bringing me money little by little, which produced a number of streams of income that helped me earn and grow in various industries related to IT, video games, software development, outsourcing, and the construction of these infrastructures. And over all this time, my love of gaming hasn’t gone anywhere, which in the end took us to what we have today in the company WePlay Esports.
Is there a particular book, film, or podcast that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
In fact, if I think about it, there are probably a lot. Here’s an interesting story related to video games. When I was a very young kid, I had a computer game. It was the first version of the game Dune. Not the one that was a strategy yet, but the one that was a first-person RPG quest. I was probably 9 or 10 at the time — I don’t remember for sure. So, anyway, I couldn’t complete the game, because I would get very much stuck after the first, like, 10–20 minutes, because the ideology was like an impenetrable wall to me, and I didn’t know where to go or what to do. So, it was basically this game that inspired me to do two things at a very early age. First, I read all the Frank Herbert novels at that age, which definitely helped me complete the game as it was quite accurate to the first Dune novel. Second, it encouraged me to start learning English at least at a level that would help me understand the dialogues between the characters. So, this was a story from my childhood that probably influenced my formation as a person to some extent.
Is there a particular story that inspired you to pursue a career in this new industry? We’d love to hear it.
I guess there is no particular story. It was a combination of numerous circumstances, facts, events, other people’s successes, their stories, books, hobbies — this whole mix, which is always present in the life of each individual and affects their decisions every day. Chance meetings, the convergence of interests — that’s how it all happened. If I had to single out one story, like when I was walking, saw the northern lights, and decided to perform a specific action, I couldn’t because this was not the case. Louis Pasteur once said: “Chance favors the prepared mind.” So, there must have been some uninterrupted chain of events that led to a number of correct decisions, which led to career development. There sure were mistakes, obstacles, and setbacks, but judging by the fact that in the long term, we are moving forward quite energetically, this inspiration probably isn’t waning yet — it just keeps accumulating and driving us forward.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began this fascinating career?
I can tell you, but it’s probably not a very interesting one. However, what happened was part of what influenced the formation of some sort of entrepreneurial mindset, and my career, too. When you move from school to college, numerous opportunities open up; you get a lot of freedom, and also thoroughly different parameters for life that apply to you, in fact, as an adult, when you stop being a schoolboy. So, in my first exam week at the end of the first term, I failed all the possible exams and tests, my grades were even below the threshold required to get to sit them. And this gave me an understanding that a lot of freedom comes, of course, with quite a lot of responsibility, and in the end, you have to sort everything out yourself, because it’s unlikely that someone will come and solve everything for you. It was a great lesson, and in the end, I passed all my exams very well, at the end of February or in March. And it had a strong impact on my formation, my understanding of the world, and so on. It was a good wake-up call, which made it obvious that with great freedom comes a lot of responsibility, and, my friend, you have to learn to solve any problems fast and basically by yourself. That was the story.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
There is actually a series of such stories, and I would hardly call them mistakes — I’d rather call them experience. We analyze all mistakes and move forward — just as I told you in my previous answer. I can recall our experience with the green screen at a tournament in 2016, which has contributed to the fact that WePlay Esports has now one of the strongest production teams in the world, and we are making the coolest content on the market. But at the time, it was a funny enough story that allowed us to learn a lot. Such stories are small, and they happen weekly, if not daily. They are all part of the set of factors making up our experience and progress. So, yes, I know that it echoes the previous question, but we get a lot of experience every day.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
At different stages in my life, there were, of course, different people. Of course, there were my parents, who gave me some basic capabilities, who believed in me, helped me, sometimes they would give me a push, sometimes they would discipline me, and sometimes, they were cool about things and did not scold me. Sometimes they also passed on their experience. It was in my teenage years, some sort of anti-childhood — my formative years. Then, quickly, I met Oleg Krot, my partner. We influence each other, and it’s hard to put anybody else at the same rank — that’s why we are partners, we grow and move forward together.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
There are actually many projects, both in my head and in development. You can give people either a feeling of joy and happiness or a sense of earning and increased prosperity through the projects that we are doing, if we don’t consider the social and charity projects that we have. As for our business projects, we either create products that make life or the world better, or they are products deliberately intended for earning money, which in the end still make people happier. That’s the only way we do projects. That is, we don’t do those that can harm anyone or can be detrimental to any of the parties in advance. That’s why, same as any IT entrepreneur for that matter, we are looking for undiscovered areas of the market and trying to combine many things like a puzzle. And if this puzzle comes together, there is a huge BOOM — fireworks exploding, someone has a smile on their face, someone has got more money, someone has more happiness and joy. So, that’s it.
Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. I’m sure you get this question all the time. But for the benefit of our readers, can you explain in your own words what an NFT is, and why people are spending so much money on them?
That’s an easy question, compared to all the other questions that come at us from the crypto world, cryptocurrency and blockchain industry, and so on. Because, in fact, an NFT is just a digital asset, which does not appear to be any different from the assets that people had in earlier years. And if a person actually has an original Dali or Van Gogh in the basement, they don’t see it every day anyway, but the mere knowledge that they have this painting is heart-warming. And an NFT is a digital treasure of the same order. In other words, it’s a unique item that exists in the digital world, belongs to a certain person, can’t be replicated, and whose value depends on many factors. Basically, people have long been accustomed to owning digital or semi-digital derivative assets, such as company stocks, gold and precious metal derivatives, futures contracts, and so on. And no one normally has any qualms about them. Since we live in the 21st century and everyone spends a huge amount of their free and working time on the World Wide Web, it’s only logical that civilization has produced a certain type of asset that exists in this digital world. Thanks to blockchain technology, it is practically indestructible, its ownership is easily confirmed, and, basically, the only question that arises is that of the price of these assets. And as we well-know, in today’s world, things are worth exactly as much as people believe they should be worth. And the market for digital items, digital game currency, skins, accounts, and everything else has been around for years, and for some above — even decades. NFTs are just a sort of new step forward, a step-up in the cultural and business development of asset ownership on the Internet at the moment. And if you look at the essence of things, there is nothing new in it compared to owning any other type of asset, be it rare cars, a diamond ring, a baseball cap with an autograph of an athlete — there is no difference. It’s just another transferable thing, or, yes, a digital thing. Yet another prized possession that increases in value over time, that’s nice to own, to know that you have it somewhere, let’s say, in a digital vault or a cold digital wallet or platform. And you know that no one else has it. That’s what an NFT is.
The NFT industry seems so exciting right now. What are the 3 things in particular that most excite you about the industry? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
NFTs are now peaking as a trend since the technology has been around for quite a long time — several years already. Now everyone is talking about it. Again, there are things that make people more excited about this industry. First comes the easy access to acquiring these assets. That is, in fact, unlike with any other asset that exists in the physical world, you spend your money, cryptocurrency, conventional currency, and instantly get in your possession a digital asset that you can just as easily sell, auction off. It’s stored with you; it’s much easier to transport than any other type of asset. And if you really love something you’ve bought — a painting by an artist, a photo, a music track, a digital autographed card, a highlight reel, digital figurines, characters, etc., you can wrap many things up as NFTs. It makes it much easier for you to own them, and you get as much pleasure from owning them as from anything you bought on the market. And that’s probably where their secret lies. Because we as human beings have already come to the understanding that we don’t quite distinguish between the pleasure of owning digital and physical objects, so the trend for NFTs will grow, the industry will develop. Perhaps hype will decrease a bit. But, same as with the pandemic that, I hope, is declining in many regions, the number of cases is now much higher than it was a year ago, but everyone is talking about it much less. It will be the same with NFTs — more and more people will own them each day, the market will stabilize, it will become understandable and accessible to millions, hundreds of billions of people, but the feeling of hype will decrease, although the engaged audience will grow by tens and hundreds of times.
What are the 3 things that concern you about the industry? Can you explain? What can be done to address those concerns?
There are actually no concerns about the industry, and if we talk about the cryptocurrency industry, then it has nothing to do with NFTs. If there can be concerns about cryptocurrencies, like that it’s digital money with nothing behind it, and so on, NFTs are just a new format of asset ownership, as we just mentioned. So, if we talk about the industry, there is no entirely new industry — it’s the same one that sells paintings worldwide for tens of millions of dollars on Sotheby’s, the black market that sells one-of-a-kind pieces of jewelry, people queuing for new collections from their favorite artists, so they can put them in storage or hang them on the wall of a private museum. And NFTs are just another commodity added to that list — it’s not a new industry, it’s the enrichment of the old one with new types of items that exist in the digital world. Therefore, there are probably no three things to be concerned about — there is hardly even one. This industry is not connected in any way with cryptocurrency, cryptocurrency exchanges, the rise or fall of Bitcoin, Vitalik Buterin’s remarks about Ethereum, or Elon Musk’s tweets about Dogecoin. There is just one base, it’s used in many honest NFTs, and blockchain technologies are used for storage. Blockchain is a centralized, deregulated data storage system. It’s basically a type of database. So calling it an industry is a bit of an overstatement. We at WePlay Esports often get asked about the esports industry. Sure, it does exist as an industry. But more and more often, I try to explain to people that it’s not a separate industry. It’s the good old sports industry, to which new disciplines get added. And a person who watched a boxing match on Friday night, the same person aged 25, who is, for example, interested in neuroscience, who loves video games, and spends their free time with their girlfriend or boyfriend, on Saturday night will watch a Counter-Strike matchup. Just because they like to consume competitive content, be it Formula 1, boxing, or Dota 2 — for people who have grown up in the 21st century, it makes no difference. It’s the same with NFTs — it’s just a new kind of asset that people who have money will want to own, will maybe want to earn some money from speculative trade, from reselling it; there will be a black market, a gray market, a white market. So, I think we needn’t worry about NFTs — they’re not going anywhere.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about NFTs? Can you explain what you mean?
We’ve just talked about this — it’s about them being non-existent things. “They are non-existent things” is one of the main myths in general, which concern not only NFTs but all the digital assets existing in the world: how can you spend money on something you can’t put your finger on? Well, for one thing, people very often spend money on things that they can’t keep or touch, for example, on services. If people endow a certain object with value — one can talk for a long time about the value of modern-day money, gold and reserve assets, the gold peg, etc. We can talk about whether modern money is worth anything in the understanding of the 19th century, for example (a small spoiler — it’s not). So, the main myth that people believe in is that if a certain asset exists in the digital world, it has no right to have a value in U.S. dollars or euros, and this is a myth and nonsense. Because if humanity as an entity endows a certain object a certain value, then this object automatically acquires this value. It’s somehow been working like this for 50 thousand years, and we all live with it — starting from the times of digging sticks, berries, and mammoth meat, and ending now, with NFTs, digital works of art, some unique things that only exist on the Internet, which are physically impossible to transfer to the real world.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen people make when they enter the NFT industry. What can be done to avoid that?
If we talk about mistakes and recommendations, I would probably like to address the security of storage. People are often quite messy when it comes to storing some of their data, accessing digital wallets, and so on. Most of our company projects exist in the digital space, which is why we are careful when it comes to cybersecurity. Therefore, when we were preparing the launch of WePlay Collectibles NFT project, we approached the issue of choosing a marketplace carefully, and selected a safe, reliable partner with a solid reputation — the leading international exchange and blockchain ecosystem Binance. They are launching the Binance NFT marketplace, and we have decided to present our first tokens from the Storyline collection at the platform’s auction as part of the “100 Creators” campaign.
We need to understand that if the asset is digital, the number of attackers and scammers who will try to set up schemes to steal NFTs and then resell them on a black, underground market will grow with each passing day. So, the biggest mistake that people can make is to be messy about the safety of their digital assets, because the number of people who will want to steal them will grow exponentially every day. So, I do have a recommendation — if you want to start owning this type of asset, work on your technological literacy. This basically applies to the ownership of assets of any type, be it stocks, cryptocurrency, shares in enterprises. You should always meticulously observe security measures that will allow you to continue to own these assets, regardless of the desire of scammers and people who want to take them from you.
How do you think NFTs have the potential to help society in the future?
As a matter of fact, it is one of the ways people can apply their creative and entrepreneurial potential. It’s another tool for self-expression for which other people are potentially willing to pay money. How will it help society? It will make the world a richer place in terms of art, music, and sports achievements, which can also be represented as NFTs. This will give artists the opportunity to look for new ways to earn money, new ways to express themselves, and that’s cool, that’s the way to go. Many people are horrified about the 21st century wiping out professions through automation, and trade unions are fighting tooth and nail to save thousands of jobs at companies. Here are the jobs — take them! More routine work will be done by ever more advanced algorithms, machines, robotic technologies, while this is where the human potential can apply itself — create some things that algorithms, neural networks, etc. are not yet capable of creating. Although, of course, there will be a place for them, too. But as in any other industry, handcrafted things will always cost more than those created by algorithms and mechanisms. So, there is this huge field of possibility for new professions, for earning money, for applying your intelligence and your creative abilities. That’s why this all is so cool.
Ok, fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Highly Successful Career In The NFT Industry?” (Please share a story or example for each.)
That’s easy enough to answer using our example and our reasons for deciding to enter the NFT market. I can tie all my previous answers to this question. What we saw in this new technology was a new way to present ourselves and deliver our thoughts, a certain amount of creativity associated with the content that we had created and will create to our audience, not just by sharing it all at once, but by sharing the joy of owning it. As pretentious as it may sound, this is a concrete step forward in interacting with your users, your consumers who love your product and want to spend more time enjoying it. What we are doing with NFTs is something that I think companies from all industries that are not entirely b2b-oriented but have at least some connection with b2c will come to eventually. If you have a live person as a client, you want to touch them and share with them some part of what you do. And, at the same time, baseball caps and T-shirts with the company logo are already a cliché everyone is sick and tired of. On top of all that, in industries such as media and competitive gaming, in which WePlay Esports works, we accumulate a lot of complex, beautiful, and cool material that you can start releasing to the audience. That’s what we will use NFTs for. This is not some random tool that we decided to mass-produce, like some sort of baseball card equivalent, and give it away for a bit of money. No, it will be a large set of what are, in fact, our history and our thoughts, ideas, events — assets that are ours, which we will distribute among our audience, giving them the opportunity to own it all together! That’s what NFT is for us and how we got there.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
It seems to me that this is a trick question. It’s like, “If you know the answer to this question, why haven’t you done it yet, and if you don’t, why try to come up with some stupid thought just to answer it?” So, my answer to this question is that I honestly don’t know, but I sincerely believe that every day, all the people on the team and I, we all try to do it. And so, “the most amount of good to the most number of people” is what we do every day. In some things, we do better, in other things, we do worse. But if at some point we do have an epiphany and suddenly understand how to make sure that everyone has enough of everything, we will probably take that chance. However, the probability of this happening tends to absolute zero. My answer is part romantic, part cynical, but my point is that if someone says they know the answer, they are most likely either a fool or a liar.
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them
Can I just briefly answer “No” to this question? Actually, as an entrepreneur, I try to pursue the meetings and opportunities that help move the business and what we do forward. If we talk about what we do in esports, then, of course, I would like to be able to convey my thoughts in a deeper, more interesting way to the people who make decisions as leaders of the global industry — at Valve, Epic Games, even though I really like what they both do. I am no less awed by what Blizzard, Riot Games, and so many others do. This doesn’t mean that there is no chance to have these meetings, but if the question is who I would like to have breakfast, lunch, or dinner with, then the more breakfasts and dinners I have in my life with people who we can mutually enrich and find some common ground for of our potential projects, the more fun it will be for everyone, and no matter how selfish it may sound, for the world as a whole. So, you can tag Gabe Newell and Electronic Arts Inc., Blizzard Entertainment Inc., and Epic Games Inc. top managers.