Photo: Leo Zhao, CEO and Co-founder of Tactic Hive Entertainment

Worry less and play more.

That’s the motto Leo Zhao, CEO and co-founder of Tactic Hive, has given his gaming league, and it appears to be catching on with gamers everywhere.

In the process, Zhao, a third-year computer engineering student at the University of Waterloo, is following the classic startup founder’s path of addressing a real-world problem that he faced himself.

Currently, if you’re into video games and you want to play competitively, your experience usually goes a little like this:

It’s a Friday night, it’s been a long week at work and you’re excited to finally sit back and play games with friends. Like any other sport, this involves finding a team, finding competitors at your skill level, and connecting to a game. You really want to show off your skills and enjoy a quick, competitive experience, but where do you go?

It’s a question Zhao faced many times, as he searched for teams through outdated forums, waited online for hours for competitors, and, when finally in a game, was crushed by much better players.

“I was lost,” he says. “Even though the eSports market is growing, amateur players, grassroots players and semi-pro players have nobody really providing for them.”

This realization led Zhao and some University of Waterloo classmates to create a league that would give amateur players an experience previously available only to professionals.

Tactic Hive, a current University of Waterloo Velocity Garage company, was founded in early 2014 and began hosting tournaments in February, with incredible turnouts.

“Our first big tournament was in April for 64 teams with a $500 prize pool. I really didn’t think we would fill the tournament, but over 80 teams signed up and we actually had to reject teams,” Zhao said. “From that experience we learned a lot on the operational side of business. But we found out that the community was engaged and that we were really onto something.”

Tactic Hive offers league tournaments where teams from Europe, North America, China and Southeast Asia can compete weekly for prize money, plus 80 per cent of the proceeds from in-game item sales, where current competitors typically only offer around 25 per cent.

But Zhao emphasizes that the company’s focus isn’t on the winnings.

“Players aren’t in it for the money,” he says. “Only about one per cent of players are winning money anyways, so it’s really about the user experience.”

The Tactic Hive model of being open to all skill levels, with consistent weekly league games and forums where players can find their dream teams and choose opponents, is attracting 15% more users every week.

Zhao says juggling school and running a company has him working constantly, but he’s living the startup dream and is excited to be part of a growing industry.

“This past year, Valve hosted a gaming tournament with a $10.9-million prize pool. Compare that to popular sports tournaments like the PGA Masters tournament’s $8-million prize pool and Le Tour De France’s $3-million prize pool and you realize that the market is getting huge, and it’s getting huge fast.”

Tactic Hive has also seen early success and people are taking notice. Zhao and Tactic Hive have been featured on popular gaming sites such as DotaTalk and JankDota, and have secured a major sponsorship with voice communication company GameVox.

The future possibilities are endless. From expanding into new games, to 24/7 gaming TV, and manufacturing their own line of products, Zhao is open to anything and is keen to build the Tactic Hive brand.

Running the company hasn’t been as easy as setting up a game on his league, but knowing he is improving the experience of gamers like himself all over the world makes his days enjoyable.

“I have this passion for gaming and I have this time after school. Why wouldn’t I create something that I would enjoy as a player?”

About The Author

External Relations Intern

Emmett O'Kane is a Wilfrid Laurier University Business student and brings his passion for marketing and technology to Communitech's External Relations Team. Born and raised in Waterloo Region, he comes from a career in music and now focuses on the connection between business and innovative technology.