Written by Andrew Seale
In August 2016, 15,000 fans filled Toronto’s Air Canada Centre with the hallmarks of any great sporting event: sold out crowds, deafening cheers and weaving merchandise lines 200 people long. But this wasn’t a Raptors play-off run or a Maple Leafs home opener, this was the League of Legends Championship Series North American Summer Finals, playoffs for the most popular video game in the world, the first time it’s been to Canada.
“Canada is the last to catch on to this stuff and I'm saying that with respect,” says Heather Anne Ritchie, co-founder of Repable, a data insights and analytics platform for the competitive eSports gaming and streaming industries. “The fact they're bringing it to Canada this soon – it's a cool phenomenon.”
Two years ago, gaming was a backseat to Ritchie’s career, something she enjoyed on the side when she wasn’t busy running Onboardly, a marketing firm focused on venture funded startups that she co-founded in 2012. She divided her time between Moncton and Toronto. But along the way she met Sean Power, a serial entrepreneur who’d flirted with competitive gaming but ultimately built his career amongst startups.
“We hit it off… ended up speaking at some of the same events,” says Ritchie. There was this lingering feeling they should be working together, one they both felt, but they didn’t really have a plan. And then gaming came up, a shared interest. They started looking at it through their respective lens: marketing and data analytics.
“Gamers were the original adopters of live, there are 2.5 million people actively streaming on Twitch and there are two million-plus active audience members,” says Ritchie. “That’s a huge market, it's already a billion dollar market and we see the anticipated growth of the industry and the money brands are putting in – not just Logitech (but) Geico and Buffalo Wild Wings and Dominos and Bud Light and Coca Cola.”
They’d found their opportunity. They incorporated Repable in September 2015, and built a platform that would put them at the forefront of data analytics in the sphere providing insight to brands.
The concept is relatively simple:
“If I sponsor 20 people, I want them all on a dashboard which shows me exactly what I’m getting back, how much reach, how much attention, how much interest and basically what I’m buying when I give them money or product,” says Ritchie.
While there’s a steep education curve, she admits, especially in North America where eSports is really only starting to gain momentum, if the fervour surrounding the League of Legends tournament at the ACC is any indicator, Toronto makes for an idyllic space to grow as a company. And the ecosystem has propped up Repable.
“Everyone jokes on the East Coast about ‘Upper Canadians’ being a little full of themselves or not being the most collaborative Canadians but I'm not actually sure where that comes from,” says Ritchie, a self-proclaimed Toronto newbie. “I have not experienced that for a minute, everyone in the city has been so welcoming to me.”
When asked about the future of eSports in Canada, especially given that the scene is only gaining traction in Canada now, Ritchie says both her and Sean are convinced the appetite is there.
“Most people scratch their heads and wonder, is this actually real? I know my kids play games but how big is it? – (Repable) gives some clarity,” she says adding. “What does it take for the Raptors to sell out a game?”