Grant Paranjape has been doing big things in the Esports scene for awhile. His journey has lead him to Washington where he will help the Justice on the business side while preparing the team to come home in 2020. He was kind enough to take some time and explain his story, plans and even give the fans a look into what is happening next.
First off, let’s take some time to learn about you. Tell us about your journey to becoming the new Vice President of Business for the Justice.
No one really has a traditional path in esports. That’s what makes the industry so unique. You can’t go to college and major in esports for four years and walk out of out of school into a into a career. You can get a degree now, but it is still a little different than going to school for med school or accounting.
My journey starts all the way back in eighth grade. I was introduced to a game called World of Warcraft. I instantly fell in love with it and probably played it more than any 8th grader should and I got really good at it. I ended up joining a pretty successful guild and played professionally in high school. That was my introduction to how video games can bring people together. And really, you know, back then esports was not really an industry, it was kind of just a topic. That was a taste for me for what esports could really turn into.
I have two very traditional parents both Ph.D. economists. They said stop playing video games and go to school. I ended up getting a full ride to Tulane. Like many first-year college students, I really didn’t know what I wanted to study. And I think when you grow up in a certain environment, that’s very academic focused, you have three or four career paths that are offered to you. I was a pre-med student that majored in neuroscience and through a winding path I was able to finish my undergraduate in three years.
By doing so I actually missed the application cycle for med school that year. My credits didn’t finalize in time. So I had a gap year. I was given a lot of advice to go be an intern or volunteer at a hospital. None of those options really appealed to me.
So weirdly enough, on graduation day, I was in my cap and gown and the Tulane business school sent out an email to the entire undergraduate student body and said, you know, we’re starting a new one year Masters of Business. I was like awesome, great. I would get to stay for another year. I applied and then walked into the Dean’s office in my cap and gown and I interviewed for it. It was probably the worst interview of my life. I had a med school CV, it was three pages long, it was in color. Truthfully I knew nothing about business.
So I kind of wrote it off. Then the next day, he called and offered me one of the 10 slots. By the end of the year, only three of us were actually eligible to graduate. For the three of us, it was kind of suggested that there would be an opportunity to stay another year and complete our full MBA. So that was obviously a really exciting opportunity for me and something everyone advised me to jump on. I would never have to go back to school and be locked down with MBA. Actually, I think I was the youngest MBA ever from Tulane.
Around like December people started talking about their plans for after this. Weirdly enough I think I was 21 and I started feeling really old, right? Like, the idea of going to med school for eight more years was a little bit daunting. I wasn’t necessarily sure that was kind of the path that I wanted to be on.
This whole time I am still playing games like League of Legends, not great by any means. LCS was getting bigger and bigger. And esports was starting to become an industry. I had six months off and decided I am going to apply to every and any esports job I can and see if I can get a job. If I get one I can take it and if not I can fall back on med school.
So I started applying to the Blizzards, Riots, you know anywhere and everywhere. I started to get notes right, like having an MBA with no experience was pretty weird. They didn’t really know what this kid would do. I ended up answering a twitter post from Splyce. It was for a community manager role, and I’ll be honest, I’m probably the least qualified person for this role.
But, I applied and Marty, gave me an interview anyways. One of the questions he asked was, “do you really want to do social media?” I am a very honest guy and I said no. Which is not great advice by the way. I said I have a great business background and I really just want to get my foot in the door.
He said, “okay, now we’re still we’re still young company, you know, I’ll make a role for you.” So I started and did a little bit of everything for a little while. I experienced kind of anything and everything you need, in a very short time. During then I noticed that a lot of traditional sports money was flowing into the space. We realized we needed to raise money as an endemic team and I was fortunate enough to be there when we partnered with the Bruins. That was, that was really my introduction to how a sports team can provide value to esports. It’s something as simple as having an HR team or finance team, you know, their approach to selling partnerships and sponsorships.
At this point I was doing well my job, you know, Monumental obviously opened up the director of esports role here in DC. Sure enough, I went through the process with with them and ended up accepting the position here at MSC. It was another great opportunity and the NBA2k League was a really exciting process.
Anytime you’re able to kind of work with, you know, a large organization, that’s really, truly committed to esports it’s a great work environment. And, I was proud of launching the team and developing the branding.
I was there for almost two years. And, I think Overwatch league had always been an interest of mine. So when the DC franchise got announced I had come to be really fond of DC and I wasn’t looking to go too far away from home. I started reaching out to the DC ownership and was interested if there was a way we could work together. Then, sure enough, here I am.
Let’s focus specifically on your job as the Vice President of Business. Can you tell us a little bit about what your job will entail, and what you’re most excited to be doing with Washington?
I really see it as the role, that operates the business holistically on team sides. All of our staff rolls up into me, and then ultimately, I report to our ownership team. From that perspective what I am most excited about, is how we activate the team locally here in DC.
I think Overwatch League has been really progressive in terms of in being the first city-based franchise league. And obviously we’re pushing very hard to have the home games ready for 2020. I think that’s where the real magic happens, right? I think there’s been a reason the NBA, NFL, MLB have ties to their city. There’s no better experience than going to a game on Thursday night with three of your friends, and watching your team.
I’m really excited about the model in general and working to give local fans here a great experience when they come up to meet and watch the Justice.
And I think, you know, on the, on the other side, being expansion team is hard, right? I think people severely underestimate some of the challenges expansion teams face. I’ll be the first to admit that our spot in the standings is not where we want to be. It’s not what I think is really representative of some of the work that that’s gone into the team and I want to work really hard to fix that.
For me, a lot of my work over the next couple couple weeks, couple months, is going to be kind of laying the groundwork for the kids come home in 2020. And really solidifying the franchise for the future in terms of building out a core business staff and a core team staff. Also looking at how we approach player development and player acquisitions for 2020 and the future. So I’m really excited about all of it.
Are you able to talk about geolocation a little bit more? You’ve already kind of laid out your hopes for it. But what’s your plan?
I can give you a little. Truthfully I have to start by giving huge credit to the staff here. They have done an amazing job, scouting venues and planning college experiences at some of the different places. Basically what I can say is that a lot has gone into how how we’re going to approach home matches for 2020. And really how we turn them into an experience rather than just going to watch an Overwatch League match.
Back when I was a young college kid if someone pulled over projector that was a watch party, right? Nowadays, it really is more about giving fans a reason to come out and be with each other. It’s not just that you’re all there to watch a team. You’re there to be with your friends, win some awesome prizes, meet influencers, etc.
With the team coming back I want to give the players a look at what their life’s gonna be like. I think, especially, transitioning from LA to DC can be very different for these players. One of my goals is to make sure that the staff and the players are really excited about the move. It is a great chance to give them a little taste of where they’re going, and ultimately let them know the fanbase is behind them.
Can you talk about the perception of business in esports, and kind of how it’s changed over the last couple years since you’ve gotten involved?
Yeah, I think that’s a really great topic that doesn’t get talked about all that often. I think you really started seeing it at the league level a few years ago. You look at some of the hires that the OWL made like Brandon Snow from the NBA. You know, there’s a lot of value in individuals who have traditional business background, or some marketing background who have done it for brands or teams before, and who have kind of the innovative mind, or innovative spirit to translate that into work in esports.
It’s less about were you a player when you when you were in high school or college, I think that’s been a major shift. From my perspective there’s a world where you know endemic esports talent. There’s people that you know, that you’ve played with, people that you have seen playing on professional teams and what not.
Now I think we are starting to value that experience less and starting to value the kind of traditional experience working in a major organization or company before. Also your educational background is more important. Like what have you actually done, while also being able to demonstrate your passion for esports.
I’m not saying that corporate America, has it all figured out and I’m not saying that endemic esports is the solution either. There’s a happy medium that esports brands, teams and leagues are going to need to find. Right now, I think more corporate is probably the trend.
Are you able to tell us how the search for a new GM is going for the Justice?
First off, I would be remiss not to give Kate a tremendous shout out for for her work in launching the team and being a part of finding players for the first half of the season. I think, anytime, somebody is jumping into an expansion team and is building a new roster for the first time, it’s a lot of work. So I obviously, appreciate all of her hard work.
In general there will be news about the GM search soon. We are looking at the org holistically. My priority right now is finding a great GM for the franchise, and we’re exploring a few different avenues right now. But, fans can expect some more details coming soon.
Lastly, can you give us a hint of what some of the next steps you and the organization will be taking as we head into the second half and into the offseason?
So my theme for the rest of the season, is to get things done. There are a few major milestones that are good for that. One is really amplifying our ability to produce great content. We recently brought on a dedicated agency to cover the team full-time. Last week was the first time that they were actually working with us, and I think fans saw a bit of their content in terms of the recap video we posted. I think Justice fans have been underserved in terms of how much content that we’ve been able to put out there. So that’s something that I really want to focus on for the rest of the season.
Second is activating locally. I think we’ve already done a great job by putting on a number of watch parties, and we have an incredible fan club here in the Washington Justice League. They have been doing a lot of great work. On the to-do list is certainly figuring out a way to better support them, and then also having our events get bigger and better and cooler. I think, Ashley Nicollette has done a great job of laying a roadmap for the rest of the season. We hope to share that very soon and ultimately give fans more advanced notice about kind of the events that are that are happening locally giving them more time to plan.
Third, obviously we talked about the GM hunt a little bit. But realistically, I think you know, it’s just about supporting our players and making them feel like they are the superstars that they are. From a certain standpoint I’m actually really proud of the roster that we’ve assembled. So I think more of it will be focused on how we support those players both on and off the stage.
You know, the directive I gave our coaching staff when I came in and our goal for the rest of the season, it certainly wont be easy, is to make play-ins. It is a goal and we will all be working really hard to make that happen.
Do you have anything you want to say to the Washington justice fans before we conclude this?
In general, you know, thank you guys for being so supportive of the team and really the franchise. Obviously I am new here but, I hope to have a really great relationship with all the fans as well. I’m a pretty simple person, I am about as transparent as they come, probably too transparent.
But, thank you all for supporting me and oh my god, Overwatch League fans, the welcome I received yesterday was incredible. Honestly, I certainly didn’t expect that. So thank you everyone for the warm wishes.
I’m excited to get the work and ultimately build a franchise that you guys can be proud of.
We want to thank Grant so much for taking the time so quickly after stepping into the position and we wish him nothing but the best in the future.
“From Our Haus to Yours”