Pictured: Won Chung, OGN North American GM. Credit: OGN
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After nearly two decades of running esports leagues and competitions in South Korea dating back to the days of the original StarCraft , OGN is looking to the West. Last October, the company announced plans to invest at least $100M USD into North American operations, partnering with PUBG Corp. to operate the National PUBG League (NPL) for PLAYERUNKNOWN’S BATTLEGROUNDS and opening its battle royale-ready OGN Super Arena in Manhattan Beach, California, in December.
OGN added the newly consolidated Clash Royale League’s CRL West division to its local production plate and recently appointed Electronic Arts and NCSoft veteran Won Chung as its North American general manager and senior vice president.
Chung has only been in the role for a few weeks, but while recently speaking with The Esports Observer at the OGN Super Arena, he detailed plans to bridge the gap between OGN’s South Korean operations and its budding North American team, and how league and intellectual property partnerships can help aid in its continued American expansion.
First Western Steps
“We’ve been doing this for 19 years, and we are very familiar with Asia and Korea, obviously. The United States has, just in the last few years, sort of opened up for esports,” said Chung. “We want to be part of that, and we want to bring our experience from Korea and put our footprint here with that level of quality.”
Producing the CRL West (along with CRL Asia and the World Finals) and partnering with Supercell gives OGN an established property to align with as it attempts to grow mobile esports interest in the West.
“Clash Royale is a very popular mobile game. It’s unique as a player in the mobile space, because mobile esports—there are only a few that you can count,” said Chung. “It provides us a real IP to work with, also. As OGN, we don’t have our own IP, so we have these strong partnerships with IPs and we’re trying to work with other game companies to provide us with partnerships.”
OGN North America has also already been through two phases of the NPL season so far, and it was the first league to utilize the Super Arena for regular play. Gary Kim, executive producer and head of OGN production, sat in on the interview and said that they “feel very special about NPL” as a result. And over the two phases to date, Kim believes that the level of play and satisfaction of the players and teams have only improved.
“We see that the gameplay is getting better and better, and we see more exciting games as the league progresses,” said Kim, via a translator. “The reactions and responses from the players are getting better too. They’re getting more invested—they’re excited, and they’re happy overall with OGN’s operation, so we’re really proud to see that.”
The OGN Super Arena itself is a key part of the company’s North American plans, with the large studio featuring a modular design that can be tweaked and transformed for any game or competitive format. When in the CRL format, elements of the NPL set are repurposed, removed, or hidden as needed to suit the different set design and approach. Chung said that the facility helps with wooing potential partners.
“I can really make an impact and help OGN culturally get into America, because I know both cultures.”
“Every time we have visitors, they light up when they see the quality,” he said, pointing to OGN’s long history of producing broadcast esports content for a linear cable channel in Korea. “It’s definitely got a lot of people’s attention, and it’s easier to talk to our potential partners and IP holders. It definitely helps. And it also shows how serious we are about doing business in North America.”
Chung himself is new to working in esports. His last long-term position was at Electronic Arts, where he was a senior director of business development and also executive produced games from 2011-2017 in the Bay Area. Prior to that, he had been a vice president of business development at Trion Worlds from 2007-2010, and also a general manager of business development at NCSoft in Seoul, Korea, from 2002-2005.
Given his experience on the IP side of the gaming business, what made him an ideal fit to lead an esports division? Chung cited a decade of experience working in Korea and being bilingual, and said that he is well-versed in OGN’s history from attending live events during his time there.
“I grew up with OGN, watching the StarCraft league and all of that. I was familiar with esports before anyone was here [in North America],” he said. “I was always interested in getting into this business, and when there was an opportunity open, I was like, ‘Oh, OK. I can really make an impact and help OGN culturally get into America, because I know both cultures.”
Chung said that it’s too early in his OGN stead to be sure of how he’ll help bridge the gap between the company’s Korean home base of operations and this growing North American endeavor. However, he believes that he’ll be able to support the veteran Korean members of the North American staff as they work to further establish best practices and educate their new colleagues.
“There’s definitely a cultural gap. [Gary Kim] has been here for almost a year, and he’s been actually doing a really good job of getting that gap smaller and smaller. I’ll come in and really support him and the rest of the team to basically bridge the gap,” said Chung. “We have expats here who bring an enormous amount of experience. [Kim] joined the company in 2002, so that’s like 17 years, right? We have a ton of experience here, but we want to hire a lot of local people, which we already did, and then also get everybody up to speed on our quality and our level of experience.”
“We have two big games in the space: one really big in the PC space and one really big in the mobile space. “
OGN has worked with a wide array of partners and games over the years, but on the North American front, PUBG and Clash Royale are both young esports potentially on the rise. Chung said that they aren’t necessarily focused on producing up-and-coming esports, but that it does potentially position them well for the future. “We are trying to especially be at the tip of the spear of whatever comes next. We want to be prepared and help whoever is willing to partner with us,” he said. “We’re talking to everybody, and we’ll work with whoever could be a good partner with us.”
With significant investment and a glossy arena space already enabling multiple leagues, Chung is optimistic about OGN’s North American ambitions. However, it’s early days still—not only for OGN in the region, but also for Chung’s own role as the regional head. He envisions more partners, more productions, and eventually more North American facilities on the horizon.
“We have two big games in the space: one really big in the PC space and one really big in the mobile space. We want to continue to grow this, and hopefully in the next few years, we will have multiple arenas and multiple partners, and grow more content—because we’re a content company too, not just doing esports matches. We’re doing more than that,” said Chung. “The future looks bright in the four weeks that I’ve been here. But ask me that question again in a few months, and I’ll probably have a better answer.”