Listen in as John Griffin, the CEO of Wildcard Gaming, joins Ryan on the show to talk about esports. The guys talk about John’s career and how he got into esports. They then talk more about Wildcard Gaming and touch on betting surrounding esports.

Video of John Griffin Interview

Show notes from John Griffin Interview

Ryan Knuppel: All right. Welcome back to another episode of the Knup Sports Show. I’m your host, Ryan Knuppel, here with you each and every episode. Hey, thanks so much everybody for listening, taking a little bit of time out of your day. I know you have other places you could be. You choose to be here listening, watching us, thank you so much, appreciate that. We have a very special guest today with us. We have John Griffin, the CEO of Wildcard Gaming. John, thanks for joining me.

John Griffin: Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.

Ryan Knuppel: Hey, definitely any time. I’m super excited for this conversation. I’m super excited to hear more about what you guys have at Wildcard Gaming. More about the Esports industry. It’s not something we always cover here on our show, and I think that can bring a little different angle to what we cover. So, super excited to hear your story and thanks again for being here.

John Griffin: Yeah, absolutely. So, yeah, I’ll go into Wildcard a little bit and what we do, a little bit of my background. I was a former baseball player growing up, went through high school, had an opportunity to go play NAIA ball, decided that really wasn’t for me, went on to start my studies at Texas A&M and got involved one night when I was going out to meet one of my buddies for dinner. Walked into his dorm room, one of his friends said, “Hey man, why don’t you sit down, and not talk, because I need to focus.” I was like, “What are you talking about?” He was sitting there playing a video game and I was like, focus to play video game. What do you need that for?

John Griffin: I got intrigued really quick. I needed something to fill my competitive void from no longer having baseball and what it was, is it was competitive. The game was Counter-Strike. We looked at that and I said, “Hey, that’s really kind of cool.” Got involved with competitive gaming myself, ended up becoming a professional player from 2005 to 2009 inside Dota, which is a modification of Warcraft III. Then for a while, I took a break after that. Met my wife, she said, “Hey, go get a real job.” I said, “All right, fine, I’ll get a real job. That’s not a problem.”

John Griffin: Then 2015 rolls around. One of my former teammates does really, really well on a world stage, makes a couple million dollars doing it. I turned my wife and I said, “That was the guy that I played with. Now he’s a millionaire. What should we do here?” She said, “Well, don’t quit your day job, but try to get back into it.” I tried to get back into it and I wasn’t very good. At that point in time sunk back into a coaching role. When I got into the coaching role, I met one of my business partners and we said, “Hey,” the organization that we were working for at the time, “We can do this better than them. Why not just do it ourselves?” We went out and formed this organization, just as a passion project and ever since then it’s just gotten bigger and bigger and bigger. At this point, last year we were on world final stages for four different games and just having a whole lot of success. Been a lot of fun.

Ryan Knuppel: That’s completely amazing. That’s such an amazing story. Props to you for going down a path and then taking the real job route. I’m sure you were like, well, define real job. What is a real job? Because now when you look at all these jobs that are coming up in the Esports space, that’s the future of jobs, is the professional gamers and just anything in this space. I think you hit on something really important as you were going through that, that I’ve always considered Esports, and a lot of us that have been in the sports world have this competitive drive to us. We have this competitive nature. And so Esports, what a lot of people don’t understand is Esports and gaming and things like that fills that void. You said it perfectly. It fills that because we may not have the knees to go out and run and play basketball anymore.

Ryan Knuppel: We may not have the shoulder to play baseball anymore, but man, we can game, we can still get up there and compete against others. So I think that’s kind of where you see Esports booming. People are competitive and they love that piece of it.

John Griffin: Right, yeah. I completely agree. I mean, that’s one of the biggest pitches that we make is not everybody’s 6’4 and 250, and runs a 4.5 40. You’re not going to run into a middle linebacker running down the street every single day, but you can take a guy that’s 5’2, 110 pounds and he can be the best player in the world, and that just is what it is.

Ryan Knuppel: Yeah, for sure. For sure. So, that’s a great background of how you got started, but give us just a little bit more about Wildcard Gaming in general. For some that may not understand this industry, what are you guys doing in this space? I know you’re forming teams and things of that nature, but give us just a little bit more about what you guys are actually doing as a company.

John Griffin: Yeah. So as a company, the premise of what we do is we formed these teams out of different games. So we try to put our teams across all different types of genres of games, so that we can kind of widen our audience the best that we can. We have teams that are involved in PC gaming and in mobile gaming, because mobile gaming has been one of the hot topics recently here in Esports. So we’ve expanded into mobile. We got teams that are in Australia, in Europe, here in North America, we’ve spread ourselves out. That’s the beautiful thing about Esports is you really can go global with just about anything that you do.

John Griffin: You’re not limited to, let’s take example for the Houston Astros. You’re the Houston Astros, you’ve got your MILB teams and that’s about it, right? Whereas we can expand and go wherever we want, which is the beautiful thing about it. We also have influencers that come through and use their social media platforms to use it as advertising tools, to use it as charity fundraising tools. We’re simple entertainment. That’s what we are.

Ryan Knuppel: So tell me a little bit of about why… Educate me here now, educate me. Why would an individual who’s good at playing Esports, why would they need a team? Isn’t it an individual thing? Tell me why they need a team or why they come to you guys and how that necessarily works, what the benefits of that is for them.

John Griffin: Sure. So in certain Esports, it is kind of an individual thing, but more and more Esports are moving towards a team format. Everything that we participate in is in a team format, outside of the fighting game genre, which is typically a one versus one. So what we do is we provide a lot of backend staff. We have analysts, coaches, just like anything that you’re going to see in a regular sports scene. We have guys in one of the games that we compete in, which is Rainbow Six Siege, and there’s an offense side and there’s a defense side in which we play. So we essentially have an offensive coordinator and we have a defensive coordinator. A lot of this is really we pick and choose the best part of sports that we see, that we’re aware of or that we’ve been a part of, and put that into Esports here and be able to put this across a internet platform to turn it global.

Ryan Knuppel: Sure, totally makes sense. It totally makes sense. So, getting into a little bit more, I guess, the direction of this show and the audience that’s here is really a sports betting focused audience, very heavily into that space. One of the things that we’re seeing a lot of is a lot of these, “Esports embedding is coming. This is coming. This is going to be a big thing.” Give us your, and I know you’re not an expert in sports betting and that’s not something that you’re… But you have to have at least an opinion or a thought on how Esports and sports betting are either going to mix or are they going to collide and it’s just not going to work. Give us a little bit of your thoughts on that.

John Griffin: Yeah. So from my understanding, and I’m not a huge betting guy, but my understanding is a lot of betting is algorithm based, or you have your trends that you go out and you determine. The same thing can happen in Esports. You can build these algorithms, you build these trends. I think it’s something that’s synonymous. I think that’s something that can really work hand in hand together. I think that you can go out and you can develop your own system by watching these games, as long as you take the time to understand the games. It is a learning curve, and just as well as anything, when you get into sports gambling, not everybody grows up a horse racing fan, you have to go out and you have to understand which horses are good, which tracks to pay attention to et cetera, et

cetera. Same thing here, you pick and choose what interests you, you become an expert in that field and then move forward from there.

Ryan Knuppel: Yeah. I think that’s good advice for anything we do, right? I mean, whatever we spend our time doing is what we get good at. I always tell my kids the same thing. I’m like, “Hey, whatever you’re spending your time on is probably what you’re going to end up being good at in the future. So, if you want to be at Rocket League, well, you’re spending five hours playing Rocket League every day, you’re probably going to become pretty good at it.” So, my wife and I always argue about that because she’s always like, “Well, I don’t want them playing so many video games.” I’m like, “Well, listen, maybe that’s going to be their future. They’re spending a lot of time, they’re getting pretty good at it. Who knows?” It’s just an interesting time where we’re spending a lot of time playing that type of thing in those games.

Ryan Knuppel: Hey, one other question regarding somebody joining your team.

John Griffin: Sure.

Ryan Knuppel: So give me an idea, can anybody just come and say, “Hey, I want to be on your team.” Or I’m assuming, just like a major league sports organization or something like that, you guys have some sort of a tryout or audit or something to make sure that the person is legit and fits the qualifications of the your team. Tell me how that works.

John Griffin: Yeah. So we operate as a normal business. We’re going to do your background checks or whatever, anybody that comes to us. We do have an open email for anybody that says, “Hey, I want to join.” We look through the email, and the majority of the time, it’s just random people that are good, but may not [inaudible 00:10:01] what we need them to do. But every once in a while we get an email that peaks our interest. Normally we have our game plan set that says, this is the game that we want to go into, and we have our particular reasons why. We have our scouting lists built out, a lot of the in depth analytics of the players that go along with it. Because there’s a lot of websites out there that provide a lot of detailed statistics. That’s kind of how we build our teams, is we build our teams with spreadsheets.

Ryan Knuppel: Do these players get contracts like you would imagine a sports player getting?

John Griffin: Yeah, absolutely.

Ryan Knuppel: So they’re getting some sort of a contract to be a part of your team and play for you guys. Wow, wow.

John Griffin: Base salary, they get majority of winnings, they get everything that goes along with… Benefits, everything.

Ryan Knuppel: Very, very cool. Very cool. So those of you out there that maybe they didn’t have this vision of what this team Esports looks like, Wildcard Gaming’s doing it right. John is heading up that charge there at Wildcard. What’s next for you guys? What’s on the horizon for Wildcard? What kind of deals do you have in place? What kind of things are you looking maybe to get out of the betting community, even since we have a lot of betting people here listening. What do you guys need? What’s next for Wildcard Gaming?

John Griffin: Yeah. I mean, it’s just continuing to expand. We have a footprint right now, it’s always expansion based. I always say that Esports right now is in that Wild Wild West type scenario. It is a gold rush, and whoever’s going to go out there and grab the most land is going to have the most chance for success. Our goal is to expand, we have a lot of focus on the Australian market. We have a lot of focus here on the mobile market here inside North America as well. We think that both are expanding at a rapid pace, and we think that it’s pretty easy for us to get into both markets and we’ve had success in both. So, we think that that’s really where we’re headed next.

Ryan Knuppel: Very cool. Very cool. So give me a little bit about… I’ll wrap this up. I know you’re a busy man, got a lot going on, but I’m just so intrigued by this space and my questions just keep popping in. I told you I’d be all over the place and I am. As far as games that are out there, you hear a lot about the same core four or five, six games that are out there. What’s the chances that new games come in, similar to like what Fortnite did a couple of years ago or whatever, and just took over. I kept thinking like, something else is going to come and take over. What are really the chances of something like that happening, or are we pretty much planted with our games that we’re playing? Or they’re monopolizing this space, I guess

John Griffin: Sure. From a betting perspective, you look at the top four games for betting right now, everybody that’s looking at it is essentially Counter-Strike Dota 2, League of Legends and Rainbow Six. Those are the top four that you’re going to see. A little bit of Rocket League sprinkled in as well. But what’s really intriguing, and what’s caught I think just about every organization in the world’s eyes is Valorant, which is the new game that Riot Games is producing. It’s in the same vein as Counter-Strike, except the fact that it kind of takes the next step, which is adding abilities to these characters that you play in game.

John Griffin: I think that’s really the next thing. If I was speaking to somebody that says, “I want to get into gambling into Esports, and I want to get into a new scene where there’s not as much competition or information out there,” Valorant is definitely the one to pay attention to, in my opinion. There’s going to be a lot of action around that game.

Ryan Knuppel: Awesome. That’s amazing. That’s amazing. So speaking of betting again on these games, what’s your thought on, I guess, manipulating the odds and the lines and things like that, and maybe having some… Because you’re always worried about, even in sports you’re worried about people throwing games. You’re worried about people throwing matches. I could see that being a thing in Esports, but as these teams form, and as these guys are making money as a profession doing this, you’re probably going to see less and less of that. What are your thoughts around fraudulent activity going on when there’s betting money on the line?

John Griffin: Yeah, sure. There’s definitely been teams that had essentially gone through that whole situation already. Essentially whenever that actually is proven that it’s happening, they’ve been banned from competition indefinitely. So, in my opinion it’s a lot like, you look at Pete Rose, can’t get into the hall, right? These guys, they literally can’t play anymore.

Ryan Knuppel: Tarnished.

John Griffin: And so you think about it as… Previously people were like, “Well, I can just hide behind anonymity of the internet and I can just change my alias, change an IP address here or there, or whatever the case may be is and they’ll never be able to find me,” but now with the way that the Esports industry has evolved, and we’ve got to the point where we are actually showing up to in person events on a regular basis for every single game, you can’t do that anymore. So in my opinion, there should be less and less of that just because you can’t hide.

Ryan Knuppel: Yeah. And your name, your brand around yourself and your team is such a big part of it. The influencer model is such a big part of it. And so I think to tarnish that, you just wouldn’t want to risk that on something like that. So I tend to agree with you. It’s amazing that we have shifted from this anonymous gaming to this, like, hey, I’m a gamer and here I am and here’s who I am, and showing up and signing autographs and all of that. So it’s pretty cool to see that shift. Well, cool, John. Well, what are the last words? Any last words? Any last thoughts for the audience here before I let you go? Anything that’s on your mind?

John Griffin: I mean, nothing crazy. What I would always say is give us a chance. It’s fun. I didn’t think that it would be as fun as it is. A lot of people look at video games and they still think of somebody that’s trapped in mom’s basement that doesn’t come out and see the light of day.

Ryan Knuppel: Sure.

John Griffin: That’s not the case. That’s not what Esports is. Esports is a bunch of guys that are, we’re social, out there all the time, we’re in front of the spotlight a lot. In terms of our spotlight, at least. It’s something that had a negative stigma for so long and I think that right now we’re working really, really hard to change that. Give it a chance, come in and see how competitive and how intense some of these things can get if you take the time to learn it. And if you take the time to learn it, it’s really fun.

Ryan Knuppel: Well, I give you props on where you’ve been and congrats on all the success in business. If anybody was interested in talking more or learning more about what you guys do, how do they get ahold of you, yourself, or your business in general?

John Griffin: Yeah, sure. So our website is Wildcard.gg and my personal email, if you want to reach out to me for whatever reason is [email protected] I would love to hear from you and answer any questions you have.

Ryan Knuppel: Amazing. I’ll put all those in the show notes so you guys don’t have to jot them all down. They’ll be in the show notes. You can click them and get to John. Very approachable guy, super nice guy in the industry. John, I really appreciate you being here, giving me a little bit of your time and if I can ever do anything in return don’t hesitate to reach out.

John Griffin: Awesome, Ryan. I appreciate it so much. And thank you for giving us the opportunity to come on and talk.

Ryan Knuppel: Sure thing. Thanks for being here, John. Thanks to all you listeners for being here as well. We’ll be back for another episode here shortly. Until then, everybody stay safe and have a great day. Bye bye John.

John Griffin: Bye bye.

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