Last month, one of sports' fastest-rising stars swapped his safe MLB suite for a risky, but potentially very lucrative, stake in an esports organization.
In December, Chris Park left his post as executive vice president in charge of product and marketing at Major League Baseball to become CEO of Gen.G, as confirmed today by the 18-month-old outfit.
Park, a 39-year-old graduate of Harvard College and its law school, joined MLB in 2105 as a senior vice president overseeing growth, strategy and international operations before being promoted in December 2017 to his executive role. It was his second stint with the league. He previously worked for four years as deputy general counsel and vice president for labor economics, playing a major role in the 2011 collective bargaining agreement with the MLB Players Association. In between, he spent time at Facebook, growing its sports content business.
What would entice someone with Park’s pedigree, on the fast track at a 150-year-old professional sports league that generated $10.3 billion in revenue last year, to leave for a startup that generated 1% of that in a nascent industry that resembles the Wild West?
“When Gen.G reached out to me about their CEO search, I mentioned it in passing to my wife, Michelle. I figured she would dismiss it out of hand since it would be a big change for both of us, moving us cross-country and away from our folks,” said Park, who will relocate from New York to Los Angeles after Gen. G’s headquarters there is completed this year.
Instead, his wife, an internal medicine doctor, advised him to take a careful look. “Her view is always that a well-thought-out adventure is almost always worth pursuing. She was and is right; that tends to be how things work in our family.”
He added: “We happen to be living in a unique moment in the history of sports business—it won't always change this fast, this dynamically. We will all look back 20 years from now marveling at the pace of change, and I want to do more than watch it unfold.”
Kevin Chou, Gen.G's founder and now its chairman, also played a big part.
“We met at an investor conference about a year ago over coffee that ended up lasting a few hours,” Park said of Chou. “It just became clear that we shared a precise vision for what we think sports and technology could be for fans.”
Chou, a game maker who sold his mobile company Kabam to South Korean gaming publisher Netmarble for $700 million in 2017 before founding Gen.G as its CEO, was looking for someone from traditional sports with international experience in sponsorship and media deals and with some technology or entrepreneurial background. By his count, the executives fitting those criteria can be counted on one hand.
“(Chris) has worked in virtually every major operational area in sports, including a stint at Facebook to help them grow their sports content business, and has a wealth of recent experience working in many Asian markets that are critical to the future of esports,” Chou said.
Is there risk? Sure. But Chou helped balance that with measured reward by restructuring the company so that Park now has an ownership stake in it. He joins those ranks alongside Chou; Kent Wakeford, who assumed the role of vice chairman; co-founders Michael Li and Philip Hyun; and Arnold Hur, the company's chief growth officer and manager of South Korea operations.
In Forbes' inaugural ranking of the world's most valuable esports companies, Gen.G was estimated to be worth $110 million, ranking No. 7.
"There’s easily an argument that esports surpasses traditional sports in audience and revenues in 10 years, but there’s also many valid points that the status quo will persist," Chou said of how he was able to lure Park to his organization. "That’s exciting for people in traditional sports that have an entrepreneurial bent and want to try new business models.
"So it’s less about the current size of esports, but rather it’s about growth. At the end of the day, talented, forward-looking executives like Chris will get more excited about growing business 100%, not 10% or -10%. Chris has aligned with our founding team and me from the outset in that regard."
In his new role as chairman of Gen.G, Chou will shift his focus to relationships with game publishers. The company is working on several new leagues that are emerging with a franchise model. He is also working on several industry-wide initiatives with 11 other top team owners to help grow and sustain esports audiences.