Funbo’s story begins with ITMO’s Future Technologies accelerator. The team applied to the program with an idea of organizing games in which amateurs would be able to play with accomplished cyberathletes (you can read more about it here). At the early stages of their project, the developers polled gamers to learn whether they really wanted a chance to play with professionals and whether they experienced any difficulties in organizing such games. It turned out that about 80% of gamers would’ve liked such an experience, but only 15% ever did it.
“The results looked interesting, and so we decided to try and organize the first few games with cyberathletes. We sent proposals to almost every more or less famous Dota 2 player in Russia and CIS and launched a VK community to search for incentivized gamers. By the time we’d conducted 10 games, we faced a number of problems that made us think about changing the project’s format. The first was that cyberathletes were just not interested in playing with common gamers: they believed that it would take a toll on their reputation, and were generally skeptical about the whole idea, so arranging games had become a difficult task. The other problem had to do with the games’ results. Gamers who played with professionals had high expectations. We decided to conduct a detailed study on their reasons for wanting to play with professionals, and learned that their main motivation was to learn something new, improve their skills and get valuable advice. Naturally, one can’t reach these goals in a single game, as the cyberathletes focused on playing and didn’t pay much attention to their teammates,” comments Nikolai Golos, Master’s student at the Department of Computer Technology and Design.
Having analyzed the players’ feedback, Funbo’s developers decided to renounce the idea of organizing games with topline cyberathletes (though it still remained as an additional service) and focus on offering training to amateur gamers. A poll showed that 60% of Dota 2 players want to become professionals, but they don’t know how to do that, i.e. how to improve their skills, find a team, and win at tournaments. Right now it’s almost impossible for an amateur player to find someone to teach them these things. The only existing solution are online sessions with a personal coach, or training at offline schools. Still, both services are too expensive for most gamers. There are also different videos on YouTube, but according to Nikolai Golos, these are often made by people who are not experts in the field of cybersports and have no real experience of playing on a professional level.
Funbo is currently developing its own service that aims to help players of any level become professionals and participate in tournaments. Founders of the startup collaborated with professional cyberathletes and coaches to develop a course that can help players better understand Dota 2 and improve their skill level. The course’s unique feature is in that players get to study real cases from coaches that have previously worked with different professional and amateur teams.
“We’ve already been working on the course for about a month. My task is to unscramble everything that has to do with Dota 2 from the very basics to things that concern top-tier professionals only. It is very important that all information in our course is finely organized - nowadays, you won’t easily find such a good overview of Dota 2. As part of the course, I will provide players with the knowledge they need on every particular stage. There are no counterparts to this project in Russia. English-speaking players can use the service GameLeap, but its lessons are pre-recorded by professional players and analysts, while our lectures are online streams, and after each lesson I give out practical assignments that are then evaluated by the whole team. Best students also get prizes from our partners,” explains Daniil Gilev, one of the developers of the educational course, a professional Dota 2 player and a coach of several teams.
Still, the startup has more to offer than just an educational course. The more experienced players who possess basic knowledge of the game and good individual skills will be assembled into teams, receive training on team playing, macro play and drafts, and sent to their first tournaments. In the final stage, the most promising teams will be selected and promoted to semi-professional and professional levels. Such teams will be helped in organizing their training process and finding sponsors. This way, Funbo will become a platform that gives any player an opportunity to become a professional and build a career in eSports.
“I am interested in eSports for many reasons: as far as I can remember, I’ve always been fond of video games. Every person would’ve liked to turn their favourite activity into their profession. What is more, I believe that cybersport will become as popular as other kinds of sports such as hockey and football. This means that professional cyberathletes will become popular, sought-after and highly paid. Also, video games are great as a workout for your brain, a pleasant pastime, and they are beautiful. I’m not interested in sports like hockey, football or volleyball - in comparison with cybersport tournaments, they are a lot less diverse or spectacular. On the other hand, I like powerlifting, which I do professionally, but it’s not a team sport, and I see it as some sort of competition with myself. I decided to sign up for this course because I was interested in what I could learn from professional players, as well as the opportunity to make it into professional tournaments - for an amateur, that is no easy feat. I have experience of playing with a team, but forming one that will not fall apart for a considerable amount of time can be hard due to lack of motivation among members,” comments Aleksey Zhdanov, student at ITMO’s Department of Computer System Design and Security and one of Funbo’s first students.
The project’s developers are currently collaborating with professional players and managers on developing the educational material and structuring the program. The course is expected to launch on June 17, 2018.