Ted Owen, the founder of PlayAPI and the Global Gaming League, is regarded as a “father of eSports.” To him, gaming is not just a way to pass the time; it is, in every sense, a lifestyle.
Between 1993 and 2017, Owen launched several innovative companies, including Owen, Diaz & Actshul, Game Dealer, and Professional Interactive Entertainment Inc. These groundbreaking ventures have made him one of the trailblazers behind the now multi-billion-dollar industry of eSports.
Deciding at an early age that he would dedicate his life to increasing the awareness (and credibility) of video games as a spectator sport, Ted has spent nearly 25 years in the industry, financing various ventures and achieving major successes such as inclusion in the Gravity Games. Though his goal of getting eSports into the 2008 Beijing Olympics was initially met with derision, the prospect of eSports making it to the 2024 Paris Games as a “demonstration sport” looks increasingly brighter.
Learn more about Ted Owen and eSport in this week’s Q&A.
Portrait of Ted Owen; Photo by ©Patrick McMullan /PatrickMcMullan.com
1. How and when did you first realize you wanted to work in your current industry?
It was always my chosen form of entertainment—over television and movies—because it was interactive, not passive. I knew I needed to understand it from every point of view. At first, I started with financing, to understand the industry from a due diligence standpoint. I always knew, I just had to create a plan to go about it, which has led me to where I am today.
2. What is your biggest career highlight to date?
I think for any entrepreneur, failing is the biggest career highlight; you learn from it, and you can pick yourself back up from it and not make that mistake in the future. It’s important for it to happen early in your career.
3. Any celebrity clients or memorable stories related to your business that you want to share?
I formed a hip-hop gaming league with Snoop Dogg and Method Man, and a baseball league with several pros playing at that time; we actually had Johnny Damon play Snoop Dogg, the winners in their respective leagues, for MTV in Florida. We also opened for Jane’s Addiction at the Gravity Games; some of these guys are still my friends. I’ve got lots of memorable stories, especially from Snoop Dogg, who is incredibly gifted on his own, but who also helped us make video games seem mainstream and cool. I use celebrities to bring gaming into the mainstream.
4. How would you describe your personal style?
Different; I always wear suits, but I wear them with sneakers and rolled up sleeves. I don’t like fitting in completely, but I don’t like standing out completely, either. My personal style is one of conformity and lack of conformity, all mixed in to one jumbled mess.
5. What is a typical day in your life like?
A typical day in my life is lighting fires and putting out fires! The fires are normally contained … if there are fires that are uncontained, I can normally put them out.
6. What are three never-miss events on your calendar?
Waking up, eating, and surrounding myself with people who are even more intelligent than I am.
7. What are your three favorite locations in New York?
All locations in New York are my favorite; it’s such an incredible place. If I had to pick, the new Guggenheim, for me, is pretty amazing… solely because it’s art that I can’t do!
8. What are your three favorite restaurants in the city?
Jack’s Wife Freda, Fiat Café, and any place where the company’s good.
9. What about your three favorite bars?
I can’t name just three! Temple Bar, Baby Grand, and Public.
10. What has been your best New York moment? What about the worst?
My best New York moment was when I came back to New York from L.A.; my worst New York moment was when I left to move to L.A.
PlayAPI Logo; Courtesy of PlayAPI
11. Name your go-to:
a. Outfit — I’m tall, so I have things handmade. I have a handmade cool, suede jacket that I always wear with a white t-shirt, Levis, and a pair of retro Keds.
b. Fragrance — I smell great!
c. Movie — Blade Runner, by far.
d. Book — There are so many! But I have to say my favorite is the Lord of the Rings series by J.R.R Tolkien.
e. TV show — Star Trek
12. Name your favorite vacation spot, and the hotel you stay at while there. What makes these spots special?
Bangkok, the Oriental Hotel. It’s special because it’s one of the most mysterious places on the planet; it holds so many secrets, and the hotel is just as magnificent as the city, so there’s never a letdown.
13. What are your three most played songs?
Amy Mann’s “Voices Carry,” “Halcycon Days” by Orbital, and “Sympathy For the Devil” by the Rolling Stones.
14. What are three items you couldn’t live without?
My dog, my work, and making everyone around me understand that they are a really big part in making me become successful; sharing the credit with those people who have gotten me to where I am.
15. If you could meet anyone in the world, who would it be and why?
I’d love to see the first human was who wasn’t afraid of fire, who picked it up and harnessed it because he knew it could help him. I’d love to be a fly on the wall when that happened! It can only have been once, and it changed the entire history of our existence.
16. What is something people might not know about you?
I’m a pretty open book, but … what I do, I really care about, and I do it because it’s not just for me—it’s because our team wants to make things better, we want video gaming to be even more special than it was when we were kids. We care deeply about what we do, and just want to make it better. It’s not about fame or fortune—we just want to make our chosen form of entertainment more fun for everybody.
17. When did you feel like you had “made it” professionally?
I guess it was when my partner and I created eSports and took it to the Olympics, and they told us we were crazy; I told them we would see them in ten years, and sure enough, we did.
18. Do you have any advice for those aspiring to work in your industry?
Without passion, perseverance, and tenacity, any industry you work in as an entrepreneur, you will fail. It’s not about intelligence or great ideas. If you have these three things, you will succeed.
19. What changes do you think your industry will undergo in the next 5-10 years?
We’re at the tip of the iceberg in terms of technology; The Matrix is 5-10 years away. The virtual world will become almost as important as the physical world, and people will have to decide how much time they want to spend in each. The virtual world will also become more and more real, with its own rules and regulations. Video gaming went from a sofa to creating a whole separate world, which is where we’re headed. We provide permanent escape, whereas film and TV just give you a few hours.
20. Is there anything else you’d like to share, discuss or promote?
I think that what I’ve learned building successful companies in this space is that you must hire smart people—smart people that you get along with, because unless you’re Steve Jobs, you’re going to need help along the way, and you’re going to need people that can fill in your weaknesses. Don’t try to take all the credit, look for people as smart as or smarter than you that fill your weaknesses, and you’ll find that life will become easier and you’ll achieve your goals a lot quicker.
* Lead-In Image Courtesy of venimo / Shutterstock.com
* Portrait of Ted Owen; Photo by ©Patrick McMullan /PatrickMcMullan.com
* PlayAPI Logo Courtesy of PlayAPI