PariMatch CEO on Esports and Mobile Gaming’s Future
PariMatch CEO Sergey Portnov is an insightful leader in the esports industry. The London-based graduate of the University of Salford has 22 years of executive experience in the international gambling industry, but the last few years have been about remaking a company from the ground up.
In his long and successful career, Portnov’s motto has been: “People are the main fund and driver to the company’s success.”
Gambling Insider sat down in an exclusive interview with Sergey Portnov. In the talk, he discussed moving from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) region to a wider portfolio. He also discussed the switch from offline gambling to online gambling and what challenges it has posed.
Portnov, who joined Parimatch in 2011, adapted to much different jurisdictions and demographics. He went from the relatively staid and stable land-based casino industry to the ever-evolving online and mobile gaming niche. He knows the gaming landscape.
Sergey Portnov does not hold back his opinions. During his interview in Central London, he talked about the company’s journey from offline to online, and the challenges in the CIS region. He even discussed MMA betting. The Ukrainian knew that making changes would be a risk.
Sergey Portnov on Experimentation
When asked about moving into the online and mobile gaming industry, Portnov said, “You have a chance to experiment; I’m an entrepreneur, which means I have commercial sense and an appetite for risk Online is a good match for this.”
“Once I entered the company, I brought in people who are like me and we started identifying the assets in the company which we can enhance by moving it online. At that point, the online sphere in 2011 required trust. Nowadays, you trust online more than retail because of the power of online brands, such as Amazon and Ebay.”
Portnov said life at Parimatch is not as simple as 9 to 5, but is a much bigger commitment than that. Making changes and having a constantly moving company does not allow you to just shut it all off at the end of the day. but instead requires round the clock attention.
PariMatch’s Corporate Culture
According to Portnov, Parimatch is a culture that you join, not just a job, and you have to be fully committed to it. It is not on one person to put in the time — it is everyone. Portnov said that this hardworking and full time involvement is not taken lightly. It is fully supported with proper pay and constant “emotional motivation”, so as to not result in burned out employees and management.
The Ukrainian CEO sounds like a workaholic. He said, “Here [at PariMatch], I’m implying you do not distinguish between life and work. In the UK, I know people who work in the gambling industry; CEOs of big gambling firms or marketing managers in solid companies have this mindset of 9am-6pm and we’ll figure it out tomorrow. This approach is only viable if the company is fully stable and tomorrow is predictable.”
“When you know that the parameters constantly change, it requires 24/7 vigilance. Always be alert; there is no way to delegate tasks. You have to work extra. Management at Parimatch works weekends, when our best meetings are. Everyone works, works, works and hardly has holidays. But it’s a culture. If someone introduced this in the UK, people would leave the company. If you make a sudden shift, there will be a crisis.”
Parimatch Gaming Platform the Key Challenge
Changing systems entirely is bound to bring issues. Portnov explains it as changing from a train into a boat. That analogy could not be clearer as to the challenge they hit and are continuing to deal with. They have essentially taken one thing and built it into a completely different entity.
Portnov said this was their most difficult task to overcome and as the company continues to shift, this challenge will most likely stay with them. He added, “There were multiple challenges. The key challenge was and still is the platform. Once you start thinking digital, it means you need to take a completely different angle with your IT.”
“It [the gaming platform] needs to be scalable, agile and stable. We were running on a legacy platform which was built for retail needs. Essentially, as our train moved, we needed to rebuild it into a boat. We had to do this on the move, which makes it 10 times harder. Now, we’re on a boat but, trust me, half the boat is still a train. The process of cutting out ‘legacy’ and replacing it with something new was by far the biggest challenge.”
Differences in Generations
The generational divide remains an issue. Whereas young people these days have grown up with technology at their fingertips day and night, the older generation have a huge gap when it comes to understanding technology. According to Portnov, this posed a big problem when it came to staffing and developing their new found system.
A change in personnel and a change in mindset was needed. Portnov said, “The second challenge was the people running the business being retail-oriented. Changing the mindset of people is the most difficult thing you can do. If someone is young, it’s possible. But if people are 45 or 50 and you have to say please stop dealing with the past and think of the future, it’s hard. We spent a year or two trying to rebuild the business mindset. Unfortunately, we wasted our time; we should have agreed to split with some top managers, which is what eventually happened.”
“A new breed of people came in and replaced the existing team on all levels of management. The challenge was agreeing [to] a split in the nicest possible way. These people were at the company for several years but were unfit to run the company and continue growth anymore. Emotionally, this was the toughest challenge; business-wise, it was the biggest challenge.”
Betting on Esports
Their biggest risk, according to Portnov, might be betting on esports to makes big moves in the future. Age is not only playing a part behind the scenes of the company, but really into the future of it as well.
Parimatch is putting a lot into esports and — though it is not close to being a bigger market than live football betting itself — Portnov hopes that as the new technology-loving generation grows in wealth and demographic dominance, their love for gaming and esports grows with them.
The Ukrainian esports executive said, “Now, it’s in the top six sports and is 5% of our turnover. I believe next year it could be 8%. In five years, it could easily be 20%. Will it beat football? In 10 years, if I had to bet blindly, I would say if esports progresses and becomes even more immersive for players and spectators – like in the film Ready Player One – young audiences will always favor it over traditional sports when they are old enough to bet. Today, youngsters prefer esports to football. So, in 10 years’ time, it has a chance to beat football.”
“Basically, we’re betting on the prediction that young people will not jump into traditional sports. It’s a static whale; it’s huge but do they innovate? What do clubs currently do to attract youngsters? Esports invests a lot digitally and football cannot compete in the online world; only in the physical world.”