Six months on as GEF chief and with a first in-person event in the bag, Paul J. Foster takes stock of the journey so far
It has already been six months that Paul J. Foster has served as CEO of the Global Esports Federation. Time flies. He was appointed in March 2021, after being Chief Operating Officer for a year, and before that having overseen the launch of the Singapore-based organization in December 2019.
In a wide-ranging conversation upon reaching his six-month mark as chief, the 51-year-old takes stock of the GEF’s milestones and looks ahead to far-reaching plans. The native Australian, now based in Southern California, covered topics from running the GEF in a global pandemic, the GEF’s proudest achievements so far, as well as projects, initiatives and where he envisions the future-facing organization.
You played an integral part in the creation, and now helm the operation of the Global Esports Federation amid an unprecedented global pandemic. What are the benefits and burdens of steering a ship through such a storm?
What’s clear to me after six months as CEO is that this has been a pivotal moment in our collective history. We don’t build a community at a time like this without significant effort that has come about during unprecedented circumstances. It has made us resilient, connected and stronger — together.
It has taken a lot of energy, grit and grind. We love the GEF and we know that it is worth the effort, and our community tells us so. What we’re building, we’re building for the people who will come after us and we feel the responsibility and excitement that comes with that pioneering spirit. It is a lot of fun.
We start every single meeting thinking about our 5 universal values, our mission and our vision. When we move, we move with mindfulness and purpose. As the organization develops, we’re also conscious of not only what we do, but how we do it, the impact that is derived and the consequences of our actions.
Your sixth month as CEO coincided with the GEF’s first in-person event, the Global Esports Tour (GET) in Los Angeles, which took place two weeks ago. As the world takes a cautious approach to live events, what were the challenges and significance of successfully running the GET?
It was great to convene our US-based GEF Board and Commission colleagues together in LA, but I couldn’t have the rest of my team there. They were spread out all over the world. We couldn’t be physically together, and we also couldn’t celebrate together. I believe empathy is what distinguishes us as human beings and there’s nothing like human connection when meeting live. It’s harder now, but not impossible to do remotely. The pandemic hasn’t held us back, but it certainly has challenged us because of our ambition to do more. We’ve proven our ability to operate successfully despite the physical separation and distance. The GET LA set a powerful benchmark for live events in this new era. Our performance across our digital platforms exceeded our expectations and that was very rewarding. To physically be with players and see them win and lose together was incredibly uplifting and inspiring. To see the pride on their faces, returning to tough competition in a prestigious LA setting — one of the world’s centers of entertainment — gave us big-time chills. To hear players say we have selected global hot spot cities for esports made us super happy and humble.
The GEF’s flagship event, the Global Esports Games (GEG), is set to take place in just over two months in Singapore. What is progress like so far and what can the world expect come December? Not even two years has passed since we were founded, and we’re about to see the first GEG — Singapore 2021 Global Esports Games — take flight. It feels right that we will return to Singapore, where we launched and where our global headquarters are, for the inaugural event. In true Singapore style — as we saw during the 2010 YOG — a whole-of-government approach and united community are leaning in to support the goal. The Organizing Committee, IMG and the complex web of delivery partners are supported by an experienced superstar GEF Coordination Commission. The teams are deep into the precise details now and no stone is left unturned in terms of detailed planning. We want it to feel unique, powerful and human in terms of scale. A few surprises are on the horizon. The GEG is constructed to be hyper-inclusive and offers parallel programming — something for everyone. In addition to fantastic esports competition, we will see the whole Singaporean community come together to celebrate GEFestival: our art, music, culture, food and fashion showcase highlighting the diverse esports culture, and some of the world’s leading voices at GEFcon, our global thought leader exchange and ideation convention. Our motto says it best when it comes to what to expect: #worldconnected. We want people to feel human connection. The epic power of esports provides that opportunity. It is real, authentic and so is the community that live it and love it. What are the areas that you want the GEF to put more focus into next? We are completely focused on our community. We will do more — much more. More resources, more knowledge exchange and limitless opportunities. You will see some of the world’s most innovative esports events in remarkable global cities. These events will manifest the power and potential of esports in their communities and light up the entire ecosystem. New meaningful jobs, new communities will rise. New opportunities for education and economic potential yet unseen. New opportunities for the most underserved populations, not just those that already enjoy success. A lot of our strategic partners are guiding our work with our Global Social Impact Initiatives that interweave our values, immerse communities and propel systemic change and growth. As global citizens, we are contributing to delivering on the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals via our signature #Elevate2030 program and Performance+ initiative launched with Thomson X and football star Cristiano Ronaldo. Where do you see the GEF a year from now? What role do you want the GEF to play, and what do you envision and hope for the organization? We know a year from now will be very different for us. For starters, we will be deep into planning for Istanbul 2022 GEG. What we are focused on — what we are consciously, mindfully building every day with our 104 Member Federations, Partners and more than 200 colleagues across the world — is the building of an inclusive community where we all want to live and dwell. An esports community with strong foundations and where every single human, finds joy, fun and feels welcome.