The first few minutes of a conversation is important to fact find and gather information about the person you are speaking to. Esports is a rapidly growing industry with many newcomers, but many have also been a part of the movement for a long time, as a hobby or a fan. By asking the right questions and being attentive, one can gauge how to pivot strategies if necessary, depending on your audience.
As a part of our series about entrepreneurs who transformed something they did for fun into a full-time career, I had the pleasure of interviewing David Lee. Since the fall of 2017, David Lee has led the production team for Estars Studios as Vice President of Operations, responsible for overseeing all aspects of the company’s production including the World Showdown of Esports (WSOE) series and white label business. Lee’s team is responsible for the look and feel of what esports fans see on their live stream, television, smart phone, and more when they tune into an Estars Studios produced broadcast. Before joining Estars Studios, Lee produced some of the most widely watched mobile esports competitions including programs for Amazon’s Mobile Masters and Supercell’s Clash Royale. Lee was also the Senior Manager, Publisher/Developer Relations and Legal Counsel at ESL — Turtle Entertainment, an online and onsite esports competition. Before working in the esports industry, he was an Associate at Lax & Neville LLP and Jaffe & Asher. Lee received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Speech Communications from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and later received his Doctor of Jurisprudence degree from Saint John’s University School of Law in New York.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
I’ve been obsessed with video games for as long as I can remember. My mom used to teach piano when I was a toddler, and I used to play on her students’ Ataris during their lessons. When I was six, I got my first Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), and from there I’ve owned and played just about every gaming device I could get my hands on.
I competed in local StarCraft: Brood War and Counter-Strike competitions in high school and was involved in competitive gaming online — I was an admin for the largest online CS league at the time and was paid to play Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne. It’s difficult to consider myself a “pro” given how different it is from today’s definition. I was paid a couple of hundred bucks per month to maintain a high ladder rank and compete in clan wars and online leagues.
What was the catalyst from transforming your hobby or something you love into a business? Can you share the story of your “ah-ha” moment with us?
I created a professional mobile esports team from scratch that competed in titles such as Vainglory, Clash Royale and Critical Ops. I built an amazing network of friends and colleagues and eventually won a World Championship. From there, I knew I could succeed in this industry if I gave it my all!
There are no shortage of good ideas out there, but people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How did you overcome this challenge?
More than anything, passion for a project or idea can be that driving force behind turning it into an actual business. It’s one thing to have an idea, but to bring it to fruition requires motivation to see the project through, despite any setbacks you have along the way. I think having already worked in esports in varying capacities also helps — it puts both the highs and the lows in better perspective.
What advice would you give someone who has a hobby or pastime that they absolutely love but is reluctant to do it for a living?
I think passion, while a powerful trait, is frequently underrated. With passion empowering you and driving you to naturally work hard, you have a natural advantage in your job when you love doing it!
I practiced law for four years before moving into esports, so I know how difficult it could be to make a career change. I love video games, and I know I want to be surrounded by it, both in and out of work. Fortunately, I realized that my single passion was video games early into my career. I hedged my bet by accepting a hybrid legal and esports role at my first transitional job, but once I realized my life passion, I decided it had to become my career.
It’s said that the quickest way to take the fun out of doing something is to do it for a living. How do you keep from changing something you love into something you dread? How do you keep it fresh and enjoyable?
I’m lucky to work on fun and challenging projects every day, with a new problem to solve daily. It’s part of what I love most about my job and why I’m able to stay engaged and focus. It fits my personality quite well!
What is it that you enjoy most about running your own business? What are the downsides of running your own business? Can you share what you did to overcome these drawbacks?
I get to have the absolute ownership of what I do, which I love. At the end of the day, securing a new client or creating a quality broadcast comes down to me, and having that responsibility is both empowering and humbling. Like with anything, there are hard days, but it’s easy to power through them when I know I’m doing what I love.
Can you share what was the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
It’s hard to say exactly because I don’t know if I ever knew what my current job could be. My job has always and continues to, morph with the needs of the business and our clients.
Has there ever been a moment when you thought to yourself “I can’t take it anymore, I’m going to get a “real” job? If so how did you overcome it?
No, I haven’t!
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?
None really come to mind!
Who has inspired or continues to inspire you to be a great leader? Why?
I frequently draw inspiration from everyone around me. Everyone has qualities you can learn from, and I love adopting others’ good qualities, methods and ideologies and incorporating them into my philosophy. Making an active effort to learn from others also enables you to be more attentive, engaging and observant which happen to be great residual effects!
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
Fortunately, I’ve been able to give back to alma mater, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I currently sponsor Illini Esports, the gaming organization, and community at U of I because before this there wasn’t a community like Illini Esports back when I was in school. It’s been an honor to contribute to the organization so current and future students can experience all that gaming has to bring.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Sales — Understand your client’s needs and always advocate for their best interest. Building trust and a long-lasting relationship is more important than a flash in the pan.
- Educate People on a New Industry — The first few minutes of a conversation is important to fact find and gather information about the person you are speaking to. Esports is a rapidly growing industry with many newcomers, but many have also been a part of the movement for a long time, as a hobby or a fan. By asking the right questions and being attentive, one can gauge how to pivot strategies if necessary, depending on your audience.
- Work/Life Balance — This part of my life is something I continue to work on! But that is the beauty of a fruitful work/life balance you constantly need to check in with yourself to ensure you are dividing out your time in a productive, healthy way.
- Overcoming Obstacles — Spend time evaluating and analyzing your obstacle first. Focus your efforts and energies on things that are within your control; that you can directly affect because some things are out of your control.
- Startup Life — Critical thinking, analysis and evaluation are equally important to executing quickly and efficiently as a startup. Sometimes problems can be solved by taking a day to think about the big picture and thinking holistically instead of trying to quickly solve with sub-optimal solutions.
What person wouldn’t want to work doing something they absolutely love. You are an incredible inspiration to a great many people. 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.
As the esports industry continues to grow and mature, there are a lot of young people that want to work in esports. Lots of kids that are just like me when I was in high school or college that are getting involved, and I want to help professionalize the industry and pave the way for more people to work in esports and gaming which is why I started supporting Illini Esports, and it’s been a phenomenal way to watch them learn and grow.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I don’t have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote.” I’d be lying if I did. I briefly considered googling some inspirational quotes, but that’s not me! However, I do nod my head in approval when I come across a great quote.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
I’d love to get breakfast with Warren Buffet. He’s an inspirational investor with incredible instincts and wisdom.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.