Interview: Konami’s Jonas Lygaard talks PES League, football esports and his dream job

This weekend saw the second Pro Evolution Soccer (PES) regional final take place in Anfield, with 16 players coming together to compete for one of four qualifying places at the Cardiff final of the year’s PES esports calendar, which will award the winner £200,000.

We spent the weekend at Anfield, and we’ll have more throughout the weekend, but to start with, we spoke to Jonas Lygaard, the senior director of brand & business development at Konami. Lygaard primarily works on PES, and I spoke to him shortly after the news that only one of the two british competitors had a chance at getting through the group stage.

I was the one to break the news to him, and it was immediately clear how much he cared about the tournament and the players competing. After a few minutes of disbelief at how the qualifying event running in the UK could now be proceeding without any UK players, he smiled: “British football, eh?”. He knows the pain, he’s a Chelsea fan and described last year’s season as “very painful”

Esports Pro: Could we get an overview of how your role intersects with PES esports?

Lygaard: So in the past, PES League was, I would say, successful, but to a smaller degree. It was less exposure, less fanfare. These were smaller events.

You could take the room we are sitting in right now (he motions here at the modest sized room we’re sitting in, which looks like it could fit 50-60 people comfortably) and you would set up and play there. Maybe you had some streaming of that, not really high quality.

My role has been here this year to help the team push PES league to become a bigger event, to make sure we are getting as much exposure as possible for these events. We’re trying to make sure that we create a much more professional environment for the players.

Esports Pro: Why do you think PES is such an exciting esport? Is the link to real football the key?

Lygaard: It’s very closely related to real football. The draw of PES is that, when you watch it in TV or on a stream, you can already kind of understand what’s going on. It’s not like when… I don’t want to mention any other esports games, but when you watch certain esports games and you kind of have very limited understanding of what’s going on, especially as a non-player.

It’s really hard to understand what’s going on in that game and It’s really hard to be passionate about it without knowing what’s going on there. The beauty of PES is it’s a simple game; it’s 11 v. 11, one football, and the standard football rules. Most people know that when you’re playing, the one after 90 minutes with the most goals win the game

It’s a worldwide known game that everyone loves.

Esports Pro: So you think the literacy helps? That anyone can look at the top of the screen and say, “oh, this person’s winning?”

Lygaard: Exactly. But there are things that needs to be better to make it even more fun in the future and we’re very well aware of that. But, it’s a game that is easy for people to get into and to watch and enjoy.

Esports Pro: How do you guys as a team set about getting the community involved with the PES league?

Lygaard: So, we do a lot of work on our community sites. So, it’s really important for us that the community team is involving our community, especially on our social channels. We spend a lot of energy on that.

We’ve improved that heavily with the people that we’ve brought on board within the team to make sure that we have created more interesting content. We’re listening to them, we’re taking their feedback and we have definitely listened to them from last year’s Pes league. What worked, what didn’t work. We’re listening to them during the season as well. When they tell us about certain things that happen in the game, when they tell us about certain things that are not great, that might could be optimised, we listen to that. Of course we can not make everyone happy, but we’re getting them involved, we listen to their feedback, and we’re improving based on that.

We’ve also tried a lot to get an even closer relationship to our players, our fans. You can see it if you have been here for the last couple of days in Liverpool, at Anfield, that this community here of players, they’re very tied to each other. They’re close, they know each other. You can see the top 4 guys from Barcelona, they’re actually here in a much more relaxed, I would say, attitude than they had in Barcelona because they are already qualified for the finals. Having them here, and being close to the community with the other people, them using their channels to reach out and talk about it helps us a lot.

Esports Pro: What is it that excites you about working with PES esports? Like, and bringing the brand to recognition?

Lygaard: Konami is a fantastic company; it’s a fantastic brand. We’re working with some really intelligent game developers and we … that are creating amazing games. And what excites me with Pes as a, as one of the games, the close link to the football world, a world that I enjoy a lot myself. I’m very passionate, a football fan.

I played football myself on a decent level. I played in the first division in Denmark. I love the sport. It’s a part of my life. I’m bringing that into my family; my son is now a passionate football fan too. So, working with Pes, working with clubs, kind of combine a passion for gaming, for football, for competitiveness, very close to each other. So, for me, all of these things with Konami, with PES football…. It’s a perfect job.

Of course you have days that are challenging; that’s how it is. but it’s a great opportunity. I enjoy it a lot. I have worked with strong, intelligent people, work with brilliant clubs, that want to move forward, that want to innovate, that want to do new stuff, and that’s key for us.

Esports Pro: So, working with all these clubs for you is very fulfilling, but what do you think the involvement of Barcelona and Liverpool adds to the Pes League for the players?

I think having that opportunity for us to bring players closer to that dream, most of them probably have probably played with, becoming a real footballer, in their other life. That dream that got killed because they didn’t have the talent, we’re now kind of bringing that dream to life again.

We’re making it possible for them to again compete at the biggest stages, to go to Anfield, compete there, as a player, as a professional. Competing for big money. So, I think that relationship we have created with these partner clubs have a huge value for us, huge value for the players. The players, just arriving to the stadium, getting around the stadium, being treated like footballers, see stuff that the normal public will never see.

Esports Pro: What would you like to see next from PES E-sports?

Lygaard: I want to see even more people competing and participating. We have done multiple initiatives this year that have helped a lot like it’s free to play, and bringing in more people. We want to give more people the opportunity to play the game because with the market situation we are in right now, we have a lot of people that haven’t even tried our game and we really want them to try our game because when they try it, they will realise how fantastic this game is.

The game itself is evolving every year, getting better and better. But you can also see with Pes league, we are taking very seriously. We are investing a lot of money. (There’s a $200,000 prize pool) I mean, you think about it yourself, if you had that opportunity to win that amount of money in a game that you are actually good at. It’s a great opportunity and that promise we gave last year to the players that we want to make it better this year, I’m really happy with where we have gone from like the Milan event to where we are today. How much we have evolved as a league, how much exposure it’s getting, how well received it is from the fans, but also how the clubs are now keen on getting involved with and interested in having events like this.

Esports Pro: So does this mean we should expect to see PES League grow even more next year?

I can’t talk about next year yet. I would love to, I think you should just stay tuned for more information in the future and we can definitely talk more about that later.

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