Politics & Governance, ESports & Digital Sport, Baseball, North America

‘We want to be different’: Why Gen.G’s Chris Park swapped baseball for gaming

Chris Park became the latest executive to make the leap from traditional sport into esports when he left MLB for Gen.G recently. Here, he tells SportsPro why he jumped ship, and outlines his priorities upon entering the dynamic gaming space.

by Michael Long
‘We want to be different’: Why Gen.G’s Chris Park swapped baseball for gaming

A graduate of the Harvard College law school, Chris Park was widely seen as a rising star of the Major League Baseball (MLB) front office. 

But last month, Park left his role with MLB to join the Gen.G esports organisation as its new chief executive. The move saw the former Facebook executive relocate from New York City to Gen.G’s new headquarters in Los Angeles, where he now oversees the day-to-day operations of Gen.G alongside co-founder Kevin Chou, who has assumed the role of executive chairman.

Having returned to MLB for a second stint in 2015, when he took on the role of senior vice president of growth, strategy and international operations, the 39-year-old was soon promoted to the influential position of executive vice president of product and marketing. In joining Gen.G, which owns Overwatch League franchise Seoul Dynasty and fields an eponymous side in League of Legends Champions Korea, Park becomes one of only a handful of executives who have made the leap from traditional sport into esports. 

Here, he tells SportsPro why he jumped ship, and outlines his priorities upon entering the dynamic gaming space.

In January Chris Park left his job as MLB's senior vice president of growth, strategy and international operations to join esports organisation Gen.G as its chief executive

What attracted you to your new role?

I was incredibly lucky to work for MLB in a variety of roles over cumulatively ten years. And like many folks in traditional sports, I studied esports with increasing interest over the last few years - as a potential competitor and source of inspiration.

I came to realise that esports is uniquely bringing together the main forces that are driving seismic change in media and marketing today: it was born on digital media, it’s been international almost from inception, and it blurs the lines among fans, competitors, and celebrities. I think the future of sports entertainment will be defined by those forces.

But I believe that all roles hinge on the people you’re surrounded by, and it wasn’t until I met Kevin Chou that I seriously considered making a move. Kevin is a singularly impressive person and every successive conversation I had with the Gen.G founding team left me more excited about the opportunity we have to lead the growth of esports. 

We share a vision for global sports community development that is informed by a diverse array of complementary experiences that I had never seen combined in one place like this — esports, game development, technology, media, and traditional sports.

What are your top priorities going into the role?

Gen.G’s teams won five world championships in the first 18 months, all while the company established credible operations in Seoul, Shanghai, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. That’s a blistering pace at which to have set up an industry-leading infrastructure.

We will now build atop that infrastructure to deepen our relationship with our community of fans and corporate partners around the world, define our brand and voice in the US, and of course continue to compete for franchise and team opportunities in the top-tier leagues. 

What is the biggest challenge you expect to face?

Kevin and I believe that esports is in the very early stages of an almost Cambrian period of explosive growth. The next stages are likely to go in a variety of different directions. It’s a huge benefit to work in a space that has so much potential opportunity, as well as resources behind them.

Our mission is to be selective among the available opportunities and pursue our particular priorities with the necessary energised, intelligent focus. We want to be different, and we want to serve our fans in a differentiated way.

How will you draw on your past experience?

I think the future of esports is going to draw on a lot of adjacent frames of reference, and my time at MLB and Facebook in particular will help Gen.G build from the right mental models along the way. But our aim at Gen.G is to go beyond even our most relevant past experiences and reimagine what’s been done in traditional contexts whose origins were largely pre-digital. 

The best ideas, of course, are still only as good as the execution behind them. And I also hope to draw on prior years of having worked with multinational teams to market sports and entertainment brands outside of designated home markets. It’s almost de rigueur nowadays for companies to say they want to be global or international, but that aspiration requires a lot of firsthand knowhow. I think our organisation is very deep with people who have it.

What was your dream job growing up?

I’ve been a rabid sports fan for as long as I can remember. I’m six months older than ESPN, I largely came of age alongside the emergence of sports media, and it was a dream to be involved with sports in any capacity.

Sports entertainment has grown so much bigger than what I understood growing up, so virtually every day of my professional life in this business has exceeded what I had imagined.

Where do you see yourself in three years’ time?

Helping Gen.G design the future of sports entertainment. A lot will happen in the next three years, and I’m beyond excited to get to work on the details.