Dennis Fong knows firsthand that having the inside track on how to play a game makes the difference between winning and losing.
Fong, 39, started playing video games when he was a teenager and got so good he was named the world’s first official professional gamer by the Guinness Book of World Records after racking up wins in a host of games like Doom.
In fact, he was known as “Thresh” because of his seemingly unnatural knack for beating his opponents. He once notched a winning streak of more than 1,500 games over two years.
That’s why it makes sense that Fong, who built gamers.com, once won a red Ferrari and was immortalized with his own trading card, helped create Plays.tv. It’s a social network that gives gamers a place to share short clips (usually around 30 seconds) of their best moments engaged in virtual combat playing the world’s biggest titles, like Riot Games’ League of Legends.
Launched last year, Plays.tv now has more than 10 million people using the service at least once a month. That’s about the same number of people who used Instagram, the wildly popular photo-sharing service owned by Facebook, in its first year.
So how did Plays.tv, a service most of us haven’t heard of, get so popular?
Fong says the secret is multiplayer games like League of Legends, Dota 2 and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. Each has an active following of diehard fans.
There’s also the rise of e-sports, in which professional gamers compete in organized tournaments, just like those that exist for poker, swimming or fencing. Some of those tournaments have drawn more viewers than the finales of top TV shows. E-sports is such a big deal that streaming service Twitch.TV, which lets you watch in real time as other people play, was bought by Amazon.com two years ago for nearly $1 billion.
Cut to video
When a player uploads a video from one of those top games to Plays.tv, the service automatically adds information about who played in the game — you, your teammates, your opponents — and publishes it along with the video. It’s almost like getting tagged in a photo on Facebook. If you’re an avid gamer, your friends and rivals may have already uploaded videos of your awesome wins or losses.
“The cool thing is you can get really granular,” Fong said, adding that for a game like Activision’s military shooter Call of Duty, there can be tags for “headshot” and “double-kill with a grenade.” Users can even create a play-by-play highlight reel.
“We’re the only platform in the world that can actually read what you do in the game,” he said. And Plays.tv is starting to offer tools to help more game makers feed that data into player’s videos.
Whether Plays.tv will keep growing with an Instagram-like trajectory isn’t clear. Other social networks built around gaming, including attempts by the industry’s biggest companies, like Activision’s Call of Duty: Elite, haven’t lived up to expectations.
Michael Pachter, an analyst at Wedbush Securities, said part of that is because not all gamers want to share details about the games they play. And do you really want to watch your friends complete a level on Candy Crush, anyway? “I barely want anyone to know what games I’m playing,” said Pachter, “and I certainly don’t want to brag about my accomplishments.”
But, he said, e-sports is a growing business. And if Plays.tv can grab players’ attention in a big way, it could succeed.
Fong certainly thinks he’s got a winning strategy, particularly by focusing on tagging and data.
“Let’s just say I kill you in a game and I think it’s funny and I upload a clip — you would get notified that I did that,” he said. As a result, highlights of your games can show up in hundreds of people’s videos without you even doing anything. “It can be pretty addicting.”