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Super league – FIFA chief Infantino: “We need to face the problems in football together”

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Super league - FIFA chief Infantino: "We need to face the problems in football together"
Reading Time: 9 minutes

 

Speaking to AS, the FIFA president offered his thoughts on the Super League, calling for dialogue with the clubs but also saying he understands the potential need for sanctions

In an exclusive interview with AS, FIFA president Gianni Infantino answers questions on the European Super League (ESL) and major clubs’ conflict with UEFA, and discusses the issue of sanctions for the 12 breakaway rebels. He also talks about young people’s waning interest in football, clubs’ multi-million-euro losses and the need to control spending on transfer fees, players’ salaries and agents’ commissions, something he describes as “exploding to unhealthy levels”.

– As the former secretary-general of UEFA, you appear to be the ideal person to mediate in the conflict between European football’s governing body and the major clubs involved in the European Super League breakaway attempt. What can you do to help?

I am the president of FIFA and my responsibility is to defend football as a whole and all around the world. This includes small, medium and big clubs, leagues and federations of all over the world with different levels of development, all the players, coaches, officials and each and every stakeholder, always having in mind the fans, which are and should be at the centre of everything we do. I have been very clear in what is mine and FIFA’s position on this matter. We stand by UEFA in rejecting the Super League. We are against it and we will always be against any competition which is not part of the international structures of football and that threatens the unity and solidarity that should always exist in the football pyramid, which links grassroots and amateur level to the top stars. Having said that, it is also my duty to advocate that all the parties should enter into a profound and hopefully constructive dialogue in search of positive solutions. Our duty as the world governing body is to have our doors open to everyone, we need to face the problems in football together.

– It’s a conflict that has been bubbling away for years, because each side has its arguments: UEFA because it organises the competition, and the clubs because they’re the ones who pay the players. What solutions would you propose?

Our game is so incredibly successful also because there is a bond, a link between the bottom and the top of the pyramid. Between a girl or a boy playing in school or on the streets and a professional player scoring a goal in the final of a big competition. The clubs are an essential part of that pyramid but there are also other structures to ensure that everyone is united and there are solidarity and control mechanisms put in place in order for the less privileged to benefit, even if just partially, from the success and popularity of the most successful and powerful ones. As in everything in life a fair balance needs to be sought so that everyone’s interests is defended. As I said, in FIFA, our interest is the defence of football as a whole, from grassroots to the big stars, and all around the world, not only Europe but also in the Americas, the Caribbean, Africa, Asia and Oceania. We, for example, proposed and have approved a competition which we think fills a gap in this particular context. With a proper new Club World Cup, which will replace two competitions (the current annual Club World Cup and the Confederations Cup) so it won’t be an extra burden to players, and for which several big clubs will qualify, a new revenue stream will exist with benefits not only for the participating clubs but also to all the entire football pyramid. In fact, FIFA will not keep one single dollar from this competition and we will make sure that a percentage goes to non-participating clubs, leagues, federations, youth and women’s football all around the world. Speaking of which, we will be announcing soon the creation of a women’s Club World Cup which I think will be also a great success. We need to find solutions together and I have been proposing an extensive and in-depth debate on where we are today and how we can move forward stronger and better prepared for situations like the one which occurred with the pandemic.

– You have said you prefer dialogue rather than sanctions for the clubs; some have considered this an attack on UEFA and its president.

Let me be very clear on that. FIFA and me personally support UEFA and its president against the Super League. I think we need to think carefully on the next steps because this is a complex matter and goes well beyond a single competition – it is about the entire global football ecosystem. As for the sanctions, there are independent and competent bodies that should analyse what can and should be done in this respect and it is therefore not for me to comment on this. Obviously I don’t exclude therefore that sanctions are implemented at national, continental or a world level. I said it once and I say again very clearly. Either the clubs want to be part of the football structures, or they will have to face the consequences. This is obvious and I am sure they know that. By the way, since we are talking about it, let me clarify that when I said that a leader has to think on why we are where we are, I wasn’t referring to the UEFA president. I was calling on all football administrators to come together and reflect on the context we live in. I would like all the parts to get together and have a constructive dialogue to find the best solutions to everyone. A peaceful solution is always better than a conflict. I repeat, this goes beyond a single competition. This has a global impact as for example there are players from all over the world playing for these clubs and FIFA needs to protect global national team football. In any case, I believe everyone should be entitled to say what he thinks, in the best and most effective format possible with all the stakeholders present, not just a few. Many are willing to enter into a dialogue and of course FIFA’s doors are always open to everyone in football, having always at heart the superior interests of football. One thing has to be very clear though, we won’t accept proposals that represent a contradiction of the values of our game like sporting merit, solidarity, integrity and the fair access to competitions.

– What do you make of the fact that of the four Champions League semi-finalists this season, three – Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea – have been investigated for Financial Fair Play breaches? You were one of the major champions of FFP – don’t you think that it is no longer effective and that it could be one of the reasons for the creation of the ESL? Because it’s clear that UEFA’s control mechanisms have failed and that the ESL seeks peer oversight.

UEFA has independent bodies to deal with those cases and I shouldn’t comment on them. When FFP was introduced, it was done in agreement with all the clubs and there was a consensus that these rules were necessary. In 2011, European clubs were having a net deficit of 1.7 billion euros and, after the introduction of the FFP, in five years, also thanks to those rules, the losses were reduced to less than 300 million. It’s true that with time, things change, and the covid-19 crisis also showed us that we need to adapt. What was effective and adequate 10 years ago might need to be revisited to see if it still makes sense and if it works, but I think football will always need transparency and control mechanisms at all levels.

– In the UK, many supporters took to the streets to protest against the ESL, but none of the Premier League clubs who signed up are British-owned. Their owners are Arab sheikhs, American billionaires and Russian oligarchs. Does football really belong to the fans?

Fans have to be at the heart of everything we do. Without fans and their passion, football wouldn’t be what it is and we need to keep that in mind all the time. Football is and should be essentially for the fans and we have to find ways to protect their interests. Investments in football should be welcome but, as I said, as long as they are transparent and there are control mechanisms to ensure a competitive balance as well as a healthy and sustainable industry.

– Of the world’s biggest clubs, there are only two that continue to follow the romantic ideal of being exclusively fan-owned: Real Madrid and Barcelona. Do you understand why they feel like Asterix’s village?

There are some other examples like in Germany and other countries, but I understand your question, which should also be put into the context of the legal framework where sport fits. Sports and football have a specificity that everyone needs to understand and respect, including political authorities because we don’t live in a bubble. Football has to respect laws and systems in the different countries and regions where it’s integrated, and those laws should allow that the sports regulations can implement several measures ensuring our industry is solid, transparent and respected.

– What can FIFA do to reverse the trend shown in the latest Global Reach of Football report, which found that almost half of young people between 15 and 24 are losing interest in football?

The world is evolving fast and what was always a formula of success for us might not be the right one for the future. There are some things we can’t and shouldn’t compromise. The beauty of football is also its simplicity. On the other hand, maintaining everything exactly as it is might not attract young audiences as much as in the past and that is why I think a large and frank debate must take place on if we can have less but more meaningful games, maybe new formats of competitions, maybe more play-off stages. I think the huge investment we are making in women’s football will be a great way to bring more fans, for example. I am sure there will be plenty of other good ideas and that football will continue to be a universal source of joy and entertainment for billions of people.

– One of the world’s most prestigious clubs, Liverpool, has announced losses of 50 million euros in the last 12 months. Among the 12 ESL clubs, losses of between 1.5 billion and 2 billion euros are forecast. Not every club has a state behind it to solve its problems. Can you understand where they’re coming from in that sense?

As I said, financial control mechanisms are very important also to ensure a balanced and fair competition. I have been saying a few times that we should think if we can introduce some sort of salary caps, transfer fee and squad size limits and other rules that can help to control a spending spiral which is harmful for the game even if we live in an ever more globalised world. Of course the controversy over the Super League took over the debate but this should really be an opportunity to focus on the key issues of football and its future. Concentration of power and money in fewer and fewer. Competitive imbalance getting worse and worse nationally and even much more internationally. Salaries, transfer fees and agent fees exploding to unhealthy levels. Growing imbalance between national teams and clubs due to the inappropriateness of the international match calendar for the new global football landscape. Women’s football growth.

– You know Spain and UEFA well. In all honesty, what would a Champions League be without Real Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus? How much value would it lose? 50, 60… 80%? UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin also knows that. Isn’t it a bluff when he threatens these clubs with a ban from the competition?

Everyone in football knows how important are those big clubs that make so many millions of fans in their home countries and around the world vibrate but we also need to take care of the not so big clubs, leagues and federations which are not at the top of the pyramid but ensure that football is played and promoted all around the world. UEFA will decide what is the most suitable action to take on its competitions. Of course, we need to be strict and ready to take firm actions not losing sight of the possibility to try and find common solutions for common problems.

– What real chance is there of holding the men’s World Cup every two years instead of every four years? Far from putting a strain on the fixture schedule, don’t you think it would lighten it by putting an end to many less prestigious continental competitions that attract less interest?

I think you are referring to Arsène Wenger’s idea of having the World Cup and the Euros more frequently. I’ve been reading with interest several opinions about the international match calendar and I think football should reflect on why so many people, namely the fans, consider that in many parts of the world, the qualifying phases are not exciting and interesting. Is it worth interrupting the domestic season so many times? Are we really using national team football the best way we can? Again, I think all the stakeholders, including players, coaches and fans, should come forward and bring their ideas to see if there is a better option for everyone.

– What do you have to say to those who say FIFA can’t be impartial in the conflict between UEFA and the ESL because it’s working with Qatar, the World Cup 2022 hosts, and the emir of Qatar is the owner of PSG?

It’s the first time I hear that but it’s interesting because I saw a few persons, including here in Spain, saying the opposite… that I was benevolent with the clubs who were promoting the Super League. My interest and FIFA’s interest is that football develops sustainably and in a healthy way all around the world – not only in Europe. We need to have an overall perspective and we will only manage to achieve something better than we have now if everyone in good faith is ready to discuss openly with no taboos but having as first priority the interest for our game, not only their own interest. I understand for example that the big leagues defend their competitions as they are the biggest, and I want them to become even bigger. But at the same time I want other leagues all over the world to grow as well and become real competitors to these big leagues, so that everyone wins at the end because we would have a much healthier and more sustainable global football ecosystem. And because ultimately – and this is the most important element in the equation – the fans, all the fans from all over the world, are everyone’s most important stakeholders. And we need to work in the interest of the four billion football fans all over the world. I’ve just come back from a trip to Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia and Sierra Leone. I’ve visited schools there and witnessed the extreme needs but also the hope and dignity that football can bring to millions of children.

 

This article was originally published in Spanish newspaper Diario AS. The author of that article is Joaquín Maroto (@AS_Maroto)

Interviews

Exclusive Q&A with Phil Hubner Chief Business Development Officer at Challengermode

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Reading Time: 8 minutes

 

Retired players become media commentators, or selectors, or coaches, or the sports administrators. That is the trend in most sports.

What about esports? What do esports players do once they retire?

We have with us here Phil Hubner, the Chief Business Development Officer at Challengermode, who was a successful esports player too.

He talks about his esports playing days, his struggles to build a career, his company and the career options available of esports players in the industry.

Q. We shall begin with your esports career. How did your attention turn to esports and how it developed?

A. Like a lot of people in the industry, my introduction to gaming and esports began at a very young age. My first memory of gaming was in 1996. I was 4 years old, sitting in my 21 year old uncle’s lap, watching a screen light up with flash rockets, lasers and machine guns in Quake. And then playing my first ever casual match against my brother and my uncle’s best friend.

By 2005 I’d spent almost all of my free time playing video games, with the whole of 2004 spent perfecting my craft in DotA. That meant watching videos of the best players in the game, spending my days on IRC networks chatting with some of the top players and getting tips and tricks from them. I was part of the professional German esports organization “mousesports” which accounted for my first real experience with esports. There I managed the team’s scrimmage and tournament schedule and substituted as a player on the roster; primarily in practice matches.

A short 4 years later, Heroes of Newerth was released – the first real successor and stand-alone version of DotA. I spent my days playing at a top level, there didn’t seem to be much of a chance of making a living from esports in either game. Teams weren’t very supportive, there were no actual salaries being paid out, and the prize money wasn’t enough to sustain competitors unless they won every single tournament that ran. This was the point I decided that playing, whilst an important part of my free time, wasn’t going to be the career choice for me. I wanted to do something bigger, more impactful, and most importantly something that would allow me to pursue a full-time, paying career within this industry.

Q. Could you narrate your transition from an esports player to an industry professional? What are the challenges that you faced?

A. The first step towards making a career outside of being a player involved turning my industry knowledge into a stint in journalism. In 2010 I wrote an email to the up-and-coming esports publication ESFIWorld (now sadly defunct), arguing they should consider reporting on MOBA games like Heroes of Newerth and League of Legends. The CEO welcomed the idea and I joined the team there as a Content Director – an unpaid position – whilst finishing high school.

In 2011 I covered my first industry events – “The International”, and CeBIT, where the Intel Extreme Masters World Championship took place. I threw myself into these events, striking up conversations with the tournament operators, commentators, hosts, players and more. I recorded interviews, wrote articles, and attended after-parties – producing over 130 content pieces in a span of just 5 days. But this still fell short of “making a living” in esports. Like many people who want to turn their passion into their career, the main challenge was finding a role that could support me financially. In 2011 I was still a broke student with hardly enough money to buy food at these events. One night, our hotel room got cancelled, forcing us to go back to the hostel we had stayed the night before, who allowed us to sleep on the floor in their storage room – not the best example of a successful esports career!

But this experience did allow me to make a name for myself within the European esports industry. I wasn’t famous by any means, but I knew people. One of these people was Michal Blicharz (as of my writing this the VP of Pro Gaming at ESL Gaming) who was the man with the plan on the Intel Extreme Masters. I asked whether there were any openings for internships or junior positions within their company. Within a week I got an offer, quit school and in March 2012 – exactly a year after my first ever live esports event – I attended my first event as an intern under Michal, where I would soon become a Junior Product Manager. With a paying role under my belt, the main challenge became embedding myself fully in the rapidly growing and constantly changing industry, an industry at the forefront of digital marketing.

Moving away from the editorial side of the esports industry – In 2015 I started working with Ben Goldhaber at the time Content Director at Twitch, handling content marketing for Twitch in Europe and managing their mighty social media accounts with millions of followers. I moved to London, and shortly after pitched a new role and department to the current VP of Marketing at Twitch: International Marketing. Following this I saw many opportunities in both the rising esports industry, and the newly discovered land of opportunities that was influencer marketing – managing half a dozen streamers and influencers. This led me to my first role in Business Development in helping build up the Italian esports organization QLASH.

Q. Let’s now move to your career at Challengermode. What exactly does Challengermode offer and what’s your role as Chief Business Development Officer?

A. Challengermode is an esports platform with a big focus on the grassroots levels of competitive gaming, and a vision to make esports as accessible as possible. In effect, that means we build technology that makes playing in and offering esports competitions seamless. I joined Challengermode in 2017 as Head of Business Development, where I was largely responsible for onboarding the very first partners at the company, as well as devising the company’s partnerships and business strategy. I came to this after working in a wider variety of positions around esports, from marketing and communications to product management to business development and strategy. In my current role as CBDO I draw on a lot of that experience to translate greater accessibility in esports into greater value for stakeholders all across the esports ecosystem. I also manage two key departments within the company that deal with acquiring and then supporting partners such as game developers, tournament organizers, esports teams and brands.

Q. A number of young people become esports wizards. Could you tell us the career options available to them once they hit the esports peak and start the downhill journey?

A. I wouldn’t call it a downhill journey. I think it’s more of a natural evolution to go from player to industry professional. Hopefully my previous answer goes some way to highlighting the breadth of roles that are available in the industry away from the bright lights of being a competitor!

My experiences may be a few years old now, but if you look at the esports industry today, there are a few obvious steps one can take after putting down the mouse and keyboard (or controller) and wanting to fulfill a role within the industry with the background of being a professional player. There are many living examples of players that have turned to commentary and analysis for example. Using their in-depth knowledge of their game to dissect other players’ performances.

Another route that many have gone is to become a coach. Much like in traditional sports – years and years of playing will have honed your understanding of the game, problems for individual players to overcome and will have given you a keen read on other teams, their strategies, and their weaknesses. Similarly though, this is only the correct path for the few players that in their playing careers tend to be actively engaged in strategy and tactical choices.

For those with a more entrepreneurial nature, a common trend you’ll see is the formation of a new esports team or a company within esports that solves a problem they may have uncovered during their days as a player. You’ll find many, many such examples dating all the way back even to some of the oldest esports organizations such as SK Gaming or Ninjas in Pyjamas, but even more so in newcomers such as TSM, G2 Esports or 100 Thieves.

If none of those are the right way to go, luckily the rise of Twitch and the continued success of YouTube have provided any retiring player with an outlet and opportunity to continue their careers even beyond their competitive days. For many viewers, there’s little more entertaining (and educational) than watching players who play at the top level of their game. What’s better than getting an opportunity to directly engage with, chat, and ask questions to a retired star player?

Q. From a personal point of view, what are the advantages an esports player looking for a career in the gaming industry has, compared to a non-player?

A. Put simply – industry knowledge. Esports is still a very young industry and every year more companies enter the sector than there is talent available to staff them. Professional players, retired or not, will have some of the keenest eyes when it comes to authentically speaking to the esports audience. It’s not just an audience for them after all, it will have been their life for the past few years. This means there will always be in-roads for these individuals when looking to move into the business of esports.

Many of them however will experience a heavy reality check when starting this next step of their journey: while they may have a keen understanding of the audience, they might not have many skills directly applicable to their new roles. Be these in marketing, operations, recruiting or what have you. There’s good news though: their diligence, discipline and ability to become the best at something will easily translate into other fields outside of the games they played for so long. Besides from the industry knowledge, the soft skills are easily transferable.

Q. Again from a personal perspective, is the industry welcoming enough to the esports players? Any comments on that?

A. Whenever a professional player retires, that person should be seen as a top candidate not necessarily to join your executive team and lead the charge, but at the very least someone that will no doubt be a fast learner and someone that can intently focus on whatever is put in front of them. It is up to the universities, colleges and companies in the space to provide these paths for these players; but likewise up to these players to identify and accept where they stand within a professional context, how applicable their skills are, and where they may be lacking.

I have no doubt that anybody capable of being the best out of millions of players in any given game will likewise be capable of being the best at many other jobs and tasks thrown at them; that they will learn them quickly and learn how to excel at them, and if we do a good enough job at telling the stories of former professional players and their careers, we can give hope and inspiration to current and future pro players, whilst reassuring companies that former professional players are likely to be top-tier hires if provided the right guidance and opportunity.

Q. What are the potential roles and positions in the gaming industry that particularly suit esports players?

A. Using some of the roles I mentioned previously as examples, commentators and analyst roles lend themselves well to the kind of esports competitors that are naturally charismatic and have an ability to speak concisely. Players choosing to go down this path are often at the mercy of the audience. When it comes to coach roles oftentimes this is a natural fit for team captains, those who have been on the frontline in leadership positions before have an understanding of what different team members need and how to handle group dynamics.

Many retired players have found ways into game balance and later game design teams either for the very same games that they were once competitive in, or for new games in the same, unexplored genre. After all, who understands MOBAs better than someone who has played one for tens of thousands of hours?

Ultimately what roles in the games industry that suit esports players depends greatly on the player themselves. What skills they have and what interests them. There are myriad roles out there for players with a solid industry knowledge base to get involved across art, design, marketing, communications, business, finance etc. It all comes down to what they want to do.

Q. Finally, as someone who has experienced it from both ends of the spectrum – as a player and then as an industry professional – what are the changes you would like to have in the esports vertical in the future?

A. What may be missing today is a safety net catching and training those players that don’t fall into the categories I’ve mentioned above. Those that aren’t as entrepreneurial or self-driven, and those that maybe want to step one further step away from the game itself than a role as a commentator, analyst, coach or game designer would allow them to. I’d like to see more organisations taking responsibility for the futures of their current talent. Not just for the sake of the competitors themselves, but for the sake of the industry as a whole.

 

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Interviews

SIS interview: Breathing new life into the 49’s offering

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SIS interview: Breathing new life into the 49's offering
Reading Time: 4 minutes

 

Jess Mills, Head of Product Proposition at SIS, caught up with European Gaming to discuss how the company has revamped the popular 49’s draw and the huge potential to grow the numbers product globally.

Why did SIS acquire the 49’s brand and how does its addition fit within the wider SIS strategy?

SIS’s strategy for a number of years has been to diversify further online and internationally and this has proved to be successful as we have made significant inroads into new markets across the world. It is important however to ensure you have a diverse portfolio of products as each territory has different needs due to customers wanting to bet on various things in different ways. 49’s therefore allows us to broaden our product portfolio in other verticals – numbers and virtuals – enabling us to target additional territories and help expand our international footprint.

49’s was a product and business that we knew inside out as we had been a strategic partner for 25 years, broadcasting the 49’s live draws out of our studios in Manchester and we had supplied the products to our customers in a number of key territories, so the acquisition seemed like a natural next step for us. In addition to this we felt we had the right skills and experience to develop the business and further expand the product internationally.

Can you tell us more about the revamp of 49’s and why this is so important to furthering the brand?

49’s has been a popular part of the SIS retail service for nearly 25 years. Operators and their customers really trust the brand, it’s reliable and is invigilated by a third-party auditor, which gives customers and operators a huge amount of reassurance and confidence in the product. That said, when we looked at the brand, it was clear to us that it required a refresh and there was room for improvement. The important thing was to modernise the product and bring it up to the present day but without alienating the existing loyal customer base in the process.

We redesigned the graphics and logos to be more modern, for example. They’re brighter and there’s more colour, which makes it look more engaging. We’ve also given the presenters a slightly new look, but they’re still the same presenters that everybody knows and loves, while the music has also been modernised, though you can still tell it’s the 49’s draw. We wanted to maintain all the best things about 49’s but bring the product up to date so it has a modern look and feel.

 

Key to the revamp has been the addition of the new 39’s and Fast 15’s draws. What was the thinking behind their development?

The 49’s brand is a very popular and trusted brand and we felt that it had the opportunity to expand the product portfolio. The new 39’s draw is a very similar format to the original 49’s draw but it involves 39 balls, and you pick five balls from there. It runs every 15 minutes, so it occurs much more frequently than our 49’s draws, which currently run twice a day. It’s also a slightly more streamlined product than the daily 49’s draws and is pre-recorded with our presenters. While it’s a slightly shorter product, you’ve still got a good chance of winning attractive cash prizes so there are some similarities.

As for Fast 15’s, we’ve gone in a completely different direction. There are only 15 balls, and you pick three out. While the chances of you winning are far greater, the chances of you winning life-changing amounts aren’t as high as with the other draws. It’s about reinvesting your winnings for future bets. It runs very frequently – every two minutes which means you never have to wait that long before the next draw.

Where is the 49’s product most popular and which new territories are you planning on targeting moving forwards?

49’s is an established product in the UK, Ireland, and South Africa with strong customer engagement, so there are plenty of opportunities within our existing territories to cross promote the new products. But there are other territories where customers like to bet on numbers, such as South America and Europe. We’ve got a great opportunity to take our new product portfolio to these territories where there are keen numbers bettors, but initially we are looking to build on the brand in the existing regions where we know we’ve got that core following.

What further changes have you got planned for the brand for the future?

Acquiring the 49’s brand really is the start of our journey, which is exciting for us as there are lots of opportunities to build on the product. As well as rebranding 49’s and getting the new 39’s and Fast 15’s draws up and running, we have also invested in a new 49’s website, which allows us to showcase the refreshed brand, put the presenters at the heart of it, and add our new products when they go live.

It also enables us to generate greater affiliate opportunities. Our new website will allow us to develop even more affiliate relationships with other operators that start to partner with 49’s going forward.

There are also additional opportunities for other live numbers products which don’t have to be draws. The 49’s portfolio also includes virtual horse and greyhound racing and we’ll be exploring different ways to enhance our virtuals offering too.

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Interviews

Exclusive Q and A with Tamas Kadar, Founder and CEO of SEON

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“The sun literally never sets on SEON”, proudly declares Tamas Kadar while talking about the rapid growth of his company over the last few years.

There is more in this interview than such eye-catching slogans. He talks here about SEON’s origin, what exactly they do and how they do it. He concludes with insightful comments on fraud detection in the gambling industry and new developments.

Jump straight to the interview more such gems of quotes after the following appetizer about the tech start-up space:

“We have also been a profitable company since 2019, which is rarer than you’d think in the tech start-up space, where so many companies rely on rounds of investment rather than solid business fundamentals.”

Q. Let us start from the origin of SEON. Like Google, Facebook and many others, SEON too was founded at a university. While there is a brief intro about it on your website, could you narrate what exactly led to the founding of SEON?

A. Bence Jendruszák and I met at Corvinus University in Budapest and we instantly found that we had a shared interest in cryptocurrency. We saw that there was a gap in the market for a crypto exchange that served Central and Eastern Europe (CEE). When it went live, we were immediately bombarded by fraud attempts, but when we looked at what was currently on the market from legacy anti-fraud companies we found that nothing was really as good as what we knew was possible.

We created our own homebrew anti-fraud solution, and it was so good that other companies asked to use it. We saw that we had a business idea that had far more potential than the crypto exchange, re-focused our efforts, and now four years later here we are.

Q. Talk to us about the growth of the company over the years? Could you provide some statistics?

A. The most important stat is always going to be customer growth: we now have over 5,000 clients ranging from SMEs and start-ups to major international companies. We have also been a profitable company since 2019, which is rarer than you’d think in the tech start-up space, where so many companies rely on rounds of investment rather than solid business fundamentals. Most recently, we hired our hundredth employee, and we’re still growing.

Q. What are the recent developments and expansions? How did the company perform in a pandemic-induced world?

A. We’ve opened offices in four countries now: Budapest, London, the US and Indonesia – the sun literally never sets on SEON.

We also broke a record for the largest ever investment in a Hungarian company when we were funded by Creandum, who were also early investors in Spotify, Klarna and Depop. Their investment and mentorship are already allowing us to create new products and bring them to a much greater audience.

What’s more, we adapted well during the pandemic because we have always worked across multiple offices – changing to home working wasn’t a major challenge to us. The only difficulty was dealing with the sheer quantity of fraud during the past 18 months, but we have been able to continue to support our clients just as well as we had before the pandemic.

Q. SEON offers two products: Intelligence Tool and Sense Platform. Could you describe how SEON’s solution evolved into its present version?

A. The ideas were there from the start, but the technology behind them has gotten more sophisticated. We continually work on increasing speed to detect fraud even faster whilst reducing as much friction as possible for the end customer. At the same time, we build on depth for accuracy to reduce false positives. The more layering and data points we can check gives customers more certainty in each risk score. We also expand our breadth to cover more social signals and digital data points – an all-seeing eye to identify fraud quickly.

Q. How does SEON reduce friction for customers onboarding new users and accounts?

A. We know that customers want a fast, seamless sign-up process. If signing up for a new gaming site takes too long or requires too much work on the part of the player then they will go elsewhere. However, in gaming, as with other high-stakes industries like banking, there are regulatory demands that increase the ‘friction’ that new players are going to feel before they can start playing. It’s also very easy for anyone, whether they are a professional fraudster or just an unscrupulous player, to use throwaway emails, ‘burner’ phones and easy to obtain fake IDs and synthetic identities.

SEON can run a light and invisible customer profiling system in real time during customer signup that can assign risk scores to each customer – those with high scores will be given extra checks while the majority that are fine will go through with less friction. Since it is running in the background, customers will never know that they are being checked.

Q. What are the major types of fraud that SEON encounters and tackles? What sort of fraud do you think will affect the gaming and gambling industry in particular?

A. There are new forms of fraud emerging every day, so this list is going to be by no means extensive, but in iGaming we tend to see a larger number of low-stakes forms of fraud than in other industries. We find that because many gaming platforms give free bets or credit for new signups there is a lot of multi-accounting, which is fairly easy to find because there’s no incentive to create foolproof synthetic identities for a $10 bonus.

We also see a lot of ‘friendly’ fraud from players as opposed to criminals – players who have been banned creating new identities or unsuccessful players starting chargebacks to get back their losses. It’s a very fast-moving space compared to some of the other industries we work with, which is why it’s ideally suited for an AI-based system that can keep up.

Q. How does SEON ensure that it does not breach the user data protection and privacy regulations and protocols?

A. We always only use publicly available sources such as open data from social networks when we collect information—things like your browser, your screen resolution and hundreds of other device features.

We don’t store this information long-term in all cases – it is deleted after 12 months and not stored in a central database. We are fully compliant with GDPR and the relevant privacy regulations in the areas we operate. More importantly, we are always thinking about the balance between privacy and security in our work.

Q. Could you reveal the expansion plans and product launches in the near future?

A. We have just significantly upgraded our device fingerprinting capabilities based on our research on the kind of setups that fraudsters use to hide their tracks, and this will greatly increase our ability to not just detect fraud but prevent false positives and thereby increase the number of customers.

We also recently rolled out a revenue widget, designed to allow iGaming customers to easily see a snapshot of how much a user has deposited and withdrawn within the past year. Fraudsters usually have high revenue with low deposits as they abuse bonuses and loopholes.

Product updates and improvements are always ongoing as we develop more features that better support our customers and solve real fraud problems that they face.

To learn more about SEON, visit: https://seon.io/

 

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