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Esports pioneer Dino Ying talks to TechCrunch about the next phase of VSPN

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Following the news that China’s esport giant VSPN (Versus Programming Network) has raised close to $100 million in a Series B funding round, led by Tencent Holdings, TechCrunch interviewed founder and CEO Dino Ying via email about his strategy for the company.

Founded in 2016 and headquartered in Shanghai, VSPN was one of the early pioneer in esports tournament organization and content creation out of Asia. It has since expanded into other businesses including offline venue operation.

VSPN began hosting the first large-scale esport event with offline audiences in August, although tournaments now operate under strict COVID-19 prevention measures.

TechCrunch: VSPN has a large content production ecosystem surrounding its esports activity. Can you expand on the detail behind your stated short-form video strategy? Will this involve TikTok?

Ying: VSPN intends to use our world-class video production capabilities and industry insights to create different forms of content. We will give our existing fans and a wider audience a new and vivid esports experience. Kuaishou, as our investors and a strategic partner, will support in all ways as a media platform to help our content reach more users. Short-form video is an important part of our future strategy and we look forward to working with platforms all over the world in this regard.

TC: What is VSPN’s share of the eSports market?

Ying: There is no official estimation of the size of the esports market but VSPN is far the largest esports organization in China, with over 1000+ employees and covering every major esports tournament you’ve ever heard of. By many measures, we are the largest esports organization in the world and will continue to expand.

TC: Why do you think Shanghai has become a center for esports?

Ying: As the biggest and perhaps most international city in China, it has a vibrant and increasingly sophisticated economy. Tech innovation and new industries are actively encouraged to grow here.

The Shanghai government has implemented supportive measures and policies to encourage the growth of esports both domestically and internationally. Thanks to these measures Shanghai has become an international hub for the biggest and best tournaments in the world

VSPN events have returned, despite COVID-19

VSPN events have returned, despite COVID-19

TC: How important is research into eSports for VSPN and why?

Ying: It is vital for VSPN. As an esports total solutions provider aiming to build a sustainable global esports ecosystem, data and R&D allows us to give our fans a richer experience. The research center will allow us to continually improve as a company and develop the industry.

TC: You are the cofounder and chairman and CEO by title. What is the role of cofounder Ethan Teng?

Ying: Ethan Teng is Co-founder and president of VSPN. Ethan as one of the most important partners of VSPN, with his dedicated esports industry experience, he plays a vital role in leading and managing the company’s strategic goal setting and day to day management.

TC: What is the nature of the strategic relationship with Tencent?

Ying: VSPN is a key partner of Tencent in the esports industry. With Tencent’s support, VSPN has built a leading position in esports tournament content production. Since the emergence of esports in China, our deep-rooted industry expertise has helped further develop the esports ecosystem to grow and mature. Alongside Tencent we will continue to generate new opportunities within the industry.

TC: What made you choose these partners and why? What was the strategic thinking behind these decisions?

Ying: Together with Kuaishou, VSPN aims to establish an esports short-form video ecosystem to diversify existing content, and to build the connections between top quality creators and channels. With an extensive portfolio in the consumer and TMT sectors, both Tiantu Capital and SIG will utilize their industry insights and expertise to aid VSPN’s strategic development. With our investors, we will empower esports to be the new sports for the next generation.

TC: In addition to the core esports tournament and content production business, VSPN has branded esports venues. How important are these other businesses – like the venues – to the core offering of VSPN? What sort of growth do you expect in the next few years?

Ying: Regardless of business lines, VSPN’s core mission is to provide the best eSports experiences for our fans. And these experiences include not just online viewing experiences, but also offline ones where fans physically attend. We see our offline business as a natural way to extend our services to our fans; it is an important supplement to our overall offerings. We expect to grow it per our fans’ and partner’s demands.

TC: Mobile esports, especially the KPL and PUBG MOBILE (or Peacekeeper Elite in China), have attracted more and more female audiences. What is the future of eSports among women / girls?
Ying: Mobile gaming has really helped extend eSports’ reach to female participants and audiences. Rightfully so, we see a future of eSports where female participants take a more prominent role than they have done. Not just on stage as athletes, but also off stage as fans and more importantly backstage as top quality producers and decision-makers in the industry. The impact of having more female fans, athletes and professionals is exciting and will be hugely beneficial to the wider industry.

TC: What is the future of esports in Augmented Reality?

Ying: We think eSports in its full form will look and feel a lot different from what we’ve seen so far in sports and entertainment. The possibility of integrating real world gaming and virtual competitions is fascinating. VSPN is only beginning to test the boundaries of new technologies such as AR, VR. The emergence of these technologies will help us create fresher experiences, and the possibilities are endless.

VSPN headquarters

VSPN headquarters

TC: Please tell us more about your personal history?

Ying: Firstly, thank you for having me – it is a real pleasure to speak to TechCrunch and be able to announce our fundraise to the world. I have been working in the gaming and esports industry all my life and I’m excited about the future. With the team at VSPN we are proud to be pioneers in the esports industry.

I live between Beijing and Shanghai, but I spend a lot of my time travelling to other Chinese cities like Xi’an, Chengdu, Guangzhou and Shenzhen where we have esports arenas and business interests. Usually I travel internationally to some of our overseas operations and competitions, so I look forward to that when travel becomes easier.

I am a fan of traditional sports too and an avid football fan. I follow some of the European leagues – whenever I can, I go to matches to enjoy the atmosphere; I went to Stamford Bridge early this year and loved it, but seeing the AC vs Inter Derby live is hard to beat…

TC: Why did you get into this business and how?

Ying: Mostly because I am a HUGE gaming fan! I’ve been playing computer games since I was a teenager and enjoy playing all types. Earlier this year I played COD Warzone as soon as it came out and often play PUBG Mobile; I’m extremely lucky to be in an industry which I’ve loved since I was very young. It’s a great way to connect with friends and I am proud to have worked in game development and publishing for my whole career. 5 years ago, esports seemed like the obvious next step because of the competitive element. We saw the beginnings of a trend and founded VSPN with a world-class team to make that potential a reality.

VSPN is very proud to be leading the world in a relatively new industry. We think esports will continue to grow exponentially and will be an incredibly important part of the entertainment industry in years to come. To lead a Chinese company with a global future is really exciting.

TC: What motivates you as a businessman?

Ying: Bringing new forms of entertainment to millions of people around the world and building a global business.

TC: Who inspires you most in the business world?

There are so many fantastic businessmen in China who are doing some really innovative things at the moment. For example, the live-streaming industry has become enormous in 2020 due to the pandemic and has offered entrepreneurs a new way to sell products and engage with new audiences.

If I had to name one it would be Mark Ren (COO at Tencent Holdings) – he is an exceptional businessman. The way he has helped create sustainable ecosystems in the entertainment space and captured trends is something every businessman should aspire to. This is something VSPN works hard at and we are very proud to be such close partners of Tencent.

TC: What is your opinion of Silicon Valley?

Ying: It’s an amazing place and has shown the world how technology can improve lives all over the world. For many years it has led the world as a centre for creativity and innovation and continues to be an inspiration to entrepreneurs around the world. In China, we have lots of Silicon Valleys!

TC: Is there anything else you’d like to say to TechCrunch readers?

Ying: This has been a challenging year for many businesses and the esports industry has had to adapt, but I think the world has seen how big esports is and how it can bring communities and cultures together. As the industry grows there will bigger and bigger online and offline tournaments across the world, especially with 5G and mobile gaming becoming even more popular. We look forward to being at the forefront of esports for competitors all over the world and hopefully some of your readers will enjoy watching our original content and tournaments.

Finally, with celebrities and big brands seeing live streaming and casual gaming as a new way to engage with a wider audience, the future for VSPN is very, very bright.

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LightStrike’s virus-killing robot zaps airport viruses amid pandemic travel

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As air travel gains some steam and coronavirus-related shutdowns return in pockets of the country, one of the latest iterations of virus-fighting tech at the airport is a germ-zapping robot at San Antonio International Airport in Texas. It’s called LightStrike, and other airports are considering whether to invest in the $125,000 device that has been shown to be effective against the coronavirus. Some airports are watching to see whether travel improves over the coming weeks, according to officials at Xenex, the company behind the device.

“When you bring something like SARS-CoV-2 into focus, institutions like hotels, airlines, professional sports teams, they’re looking for what’s best-in-class to kill it,” said Morris Miller, CEO of Xenex.

Xenex says that its robot business has increased 600 percent amid the pandemic. Most of the increase is related to the health-care industry, but the robot also has entered new markets such as hotels, professional sports facilities and police stations.

Initially developed for use in hospitals and recently picked up by a local school district in Texas, LightStrike is 43 inches tall, about the size of a wheelchair, and has to be pushed along by an operator to reach targeted areas.

The high-tech plug-in pushcart uses powerful bursts of UV light to combat viruses on surfaces within a seven-foot radius in each direction, according to Mark Stibich, an infectious-diseases epidemiologist and chief scientific officer at Xenex.

It’s been known for decades that UV radiation can destroy viruses by chemically altering their genetic material. However, different pathogens are susceptible to UV light at varying wavelengths. Many traditional UV devices use low-intensity mercury bulbs, which means they may take longer to kill organic material such as viruses. By contrast, LightStrike robots have a powerful xenon UV-C light source capable of damaging the DNA and RNA of viruses in a matter of minutes.

When plugged in, the machine stores up a charge and releases the UV light in quick, pulsating bursts that also happen to be gentler on surfaces than continuous UV rays generated by mercury, according to Xenex. The device is not safe for use on humans, and the company built in a motion sensor, so the robot automatically turns off if a person comes within a certain range.

In a test run at San Antonio-based Texas Biomedical Research Institute, the robot destroyed the coronavirus in two minutes. It has also been effective at obliterating some superbugs such as C. diff, a bacterium that causes severe diarrhea and is resistant to many disinfectants.

To combat the coronavirus, which causes the disease covid-19, Xenex encourages operators to leave the UV-C light in reach of highly touched surfaces for at least two minutes to maximize efficiency. The surfaces are immediately safe to use and touch after the disinfecting cycle is complete. The number of cycles required to disinfect a room depends on the size of the space, the company says.

While robot cleaners can provide an additional layer of protection against spreading the virus, their value is questionable at airports, according to some epidemiologists. Sure, the technology represents a way of disinfecting surfaces such as handrails, kiosks, water fountains and bathrooms, but that’s not the primary way for the virus to travel. Also, disinfecting points of physical contact has little effect on circulating air that might transport respiratory illnesses, experts say.

Still, the devices may help the struggling travel industry motivate some people to start moving again.

“Surface transmission is one of the least likely ways that an individual would catch coronavirus,” said Mercedes Carnethon, professor of epidemiology at Northwestern University. “Perhaps robots are a measure that’s reassuring to individuals, but it’s not really going to have a large-scale impact.”

Hand-washing is still encouraged if you come in contact with highly touched or unclean surfaces, which may pose a small risk if you touch your face.

Despite innovative tech and the latest talk of possible vaccines, the U.S. air travel industry still has a long way to go to reach pre-coronavirus levels. In the seven days ending Nov. 17, air travel was down 63 percent compared to the same period last year. That represented a modest improvement over a 66 percent drop tallied a week earlier.

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YouTube, under pressure over election falsehoods, suspends OAN for Covid-19 misinformation.

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YouTube suspended One America News Network, one of the right-wing channels aggressively pushing false claims about widespread election fraud, for violating its policies on misinformation.

But the misinformation that got OAN in trouble on Tuesday had nothing to do with the election. YouTube removed a video that violated its policies against content claiming that there is a guaranteed cure for Covid-19. YouTube said it issued a strike against the channel as part of its three-strike policy. That meant OAN is not permitted to upload new videos or livestream on the platform for one week.

The move came on the same day that a group of Democratic senators urged YouTube to reverse its policy of allowing videos containing election outcome misinformation and pushed the company to adopt more aggressive steps to curb the spread of false content and manipulated media ahead of crucial runoff elections for Georgia’s two Senate seats in January.

In the weeks after the election, OAN has published articles challenging the integrity of the vote and pushing President Trump’s false claims that he won the election.

YouTube has said OAN is not an authoritative news source and stripped advertising from a few of its videos for undermining confidence in elections with “demonstrably false” information. However, the videos remained available on the platform, helping OAN to gain share among right-wing channels.

In addition to the one-week suspension, YouTube said it kicked OAN out of a program that allows partner channels to generate advertising revenue from videos for repeated violations of its COVID-19 misinformation policy and other infractions. One America News’s YouTube channel will remain up during the suspension.

OAN representatives could not immediately be reached for comment on Tuesday.

YouTube, which is owned by Google, has come under criticism for allowing videos spreading false claims of widespread election fraud under a policy that permits videos that comment on the outcome of an election.

“Like other companies, we allow discussions of this election’s results and the process of counting votes, and are continuing to closely monitor new developments,” Ivy Choi, a YouTube spokeswoman, said in a statement. “Our teams are working around the clock to quickly remove content that violates our policies and ensure that we are connecting people with authoritative information about elections.”

YouTube said it had surfaced videos from what it deemed to be authoritative news sources in search results and recommendations, while affixing a label to videos discussing election results. That label states that The Associated Press has called the election for Joseph R. Biden Jr. with a link to a results page on Google.

In a letter sent Tuesday to Susan Wojcicki, YouTube’s chief executive, four Democratic senators — Robert Menendez of New Jersey, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, Gary Peters of Michigan and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota — said they had “deep concern with the proliferation of misinformation” on the platform. The letter pointed to how one YouTube video with the baseless claim of voter fraud in Michigan had five million views.

“These videos seek to undermine our democracy and cast doubt on the legitimacy of President-elect Biden’s incoming administration,” the senators wrote. “Moreover, because the current president has not committed to a peaceful transition of power, misinformation and manipulated media content on your platform may fuel civil unrest.”

The senators also expressed concern about the runoff elections for the two Georgia Senate seats, because those races will garner “significant national interest.” In a series of questions to Ms. Wojcicki, the senators asked if YouTube would commit to removing false or misleading information about the 2020 election and the Georgia races. They asked the company to respond by Dec. 8.

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