After making headlines for spearheading WME’s foray into esports, where he oversaw a slew of deals that included a partnership with Turner Sports to launch ELEAGUE and the 76ers’ acquisition of Dignitas, Tobias Sherman created waves when he departed the agency over the summer, taking three members of his team with him. The move that led to the launch of Foundry IV, a new game studio, earlier this month. Sherman, along with co-founders Simon Abitbol and Lilia Russo Sherman, is now looking to revamp the esports formula, anchored by seed round investment from MGM Resorts International.
Cynopsis’ Chris Pursell spoke with Sherman about his views on the state of the esports industry, departing WME and what we can expect from his new company.
Sherman on leaving WME: We walked away feeling like we had created something that made WME a key player in the esports industry, but we had come to a crossroads about where we wanted to go from here. We could have easily stayed and collected a big paycheck but felt like we could best serve and forward the industry from a different place. I feel like that opportunity is one I will always value.
On challenges in esports: I never want to sound unappreciative to some of the great publishers who have made these strides, but two things in the marketplace make me nervous. One is the fact that ego suddenly entered into this industry and all of the sudden it was no longer about whether they can sell out a stadium, a terrific game experience or if people were going to watch. It was about who was getting the most money. The polar opposite of that was also a problem, as we’ve talked to publishers who say that they get this esports thing and they want use it just to create buzz for their own titles. We would spend hours creating decks and strategies for these meetings around how to really make games that were fringe esports into super competitive esports where they could land at an ESL or a third-party provider had they wanted to and eventually take it in-house. We’d walk in and be excited and the publisher would say “Oh, we don’t actually want to be an authentic esport, we just want to know how to use the word esports to make the most money.”
On the influx of sports investment: We’ve always advocated for talent and team, including endemic ones, and we don’t feel that there should be a whitewash of new sports teams coming in and taking over without any of the legacy incorporated into their partnerships. That’s what led me to do the first deal between Dignitas and the 76ers. I knew that if I could go ahead and get these dominos falling, more and more sports teams would come in. Little did I know that it would be an avalanche.
On leagues: The teams don’t own that game and that is a problem. It is an inevitability that team owners will want to own the IP. There is a major clash that is about to occur that I think the entire industry sees but the team owners and publishers don’t. I think the progression will look like this… they buy in, then they realize they don’t really know what they bought, and then they wonder why they bought this and finally they wonder how much more money they need to spend to make this profitable. That’s the progression. We figure that IP ownership is something that we can provide. If you look at the traditional sports world, team owners have a big voice at the table and in the NBA, for example, team owners own the league. So we feel like we can create a product roundup that isn’t a marketing vehicle and will instead serve as an esports build as a primary focus.
On Foundry IV’s upcoming title: It is a mixed genre game. We feel the mechanics of the game will provide a very high skill ceiling. In addition, this will be very friendly toward advertising. We don’t feel like violence is a key necessity for any esport. For so many years, we’ve developed a sense of what they want. We are building a game that has a great spectator feature, with the fans serving as the central focal-point while also giving the players a high skill cap and be able to turn into superstars. Being able to feature what they do in a way that is easily understandable by fans is also something we are factoring in.
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