Home Tournaments The HomeStory Cup Tale – Founder Dennis Gehlen Talks Origins, Challenges, and Brand Activations

The HomeStory Cup Tale – Founder Dennis Gehlen Talks Origins, Challenges, and Brand Activations

by Tobias Seck

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Beginning yesterday, several of the best StarCraft II players in the world have come together to compete at the 20th edition of the HomeStory Cup, which will take place in the Tropical Islands, a resort near Berlin, Germany. The format was brought to life by former Warcraft III pro player and StarCraft competitor Dennis “TaKe” Gehlen, who explains, “the HomeStory Cup is a community-driven esports event from the very early times.”

Nine years ago, Gehlen invited eight of his friends, who also were some of the top European StarCraft II players at the time, into his house in Krefeld, Germany, to play for a small prize pool. The HomeStory Cup was born when the first edition took place in September 2010. Since the following year, the tournament was held bi-annually (except 2012, when three HomeStory Cups took place). 

“We just wanted to show the community how we celebrate the game and our time together while presenting them with some cool games,” remembered Gehlen about the motivation to initiate the first tournament. “A unique thing about the HomeStory Cup is that everything is streamed from a couch. We had people cooking in the back and still had the best games in the world with the top Koreans, Americans, and Europeans playing on the very highest level of esports.”

Further underlining the casual format, is the tournament’s tradition of integrating the players into its broadcast as co-commentators as Gehlen pointed out. “We even had four Koreans on the couch, who barely spoke English, and they were commentating a professional game you would usually see at the world finals of a StarCraft tournament hosted by Blizzard, to get the view of the pro on the game and players. They have all the behind-the-scenes stories.”

Credit: TakeTV

While the tournament became a welcome part of the esports calendar for StarCraft pro players thanks to its appealing format (which eventually outgrew Gehlen’s living room and was moved to the TaKe TV gaming bar, run by Gehlen’s esports production company TaKe TV), its organizers faced a few challenges as the format’s footprint scaled up. 

“There was stuff that we did in the past we would not do anymore. We understand that we, the players, and the commentators are role models,” reflected Gehlen looking back at some of the activities accompanying the HomeStory Cups, which led to Blizzard Entertainment, the StarCraft II publisher, demanding changes. “We had a few challenges to keep our license. Subsequently, we had a few discussions on a very high level with the publisher and we had to understand that we’re not going to show StarCraft games on a competitive level anymore if we don’t comply with their terms.”

Nevertheless, the casual setting of the HomeStory Cup isn’t hindering the competitiveness of the tournament. “There is a group stage in the beginning, so there might be some upsets, but whenever we go to the playoffs, the mindset is switching, and everyone is taking it very seriously.”

In a stream during HomeStory Cup XIX, Gehlen mentioned that they were trying to bring the 20th edition of the HomeStory Cup to Las Vegas. Indeed, terms for a deal with a casino hotel to host the event were already negotiated, but eventually (mostly due to costs) that plan was canceled.

Credit: TakeTV

Instead, another venue Gehlen wanted to go to was chosen to host the upcoming event, the Tropical Islands near Berlin, an indoor resort in a former airship hangar.

Not only the venue and the €25K EUR ($27.7K USD) prize pool make the HomeStory Cup one of the most relevant tournaments in the StarCraft calendar after all these years. “We still have the very best players out there. We have the top Global StarCraft II League (GSL) players; there will be about ten top Koreans coming to our event, which is more than you ever see, even on Blizzard events, as long as it’s not the GSL,” said Gehlen. According to GosuGamers StarCraft II player rankings, eight out of the top ten players are Korean. Six of those top ten players will participate in the upcoming event.

When the HomeStory Cup XX was announced during the final day stream of the 19th HomeStory Cup edition five months ago, TaKe TV collected €10K ($11K) in donations to support the upcoming tournament within 40 minutes of the announcement of the tournament’s location. At that point in the stream, the community already raised just over €30K ($33K).

Other than the community’s contribution to the tournament, like almost any esports tournament, the HomeStory Cup relies on partners and sponsors to finance the events. Gehlen illustrated that “most of the partners primarily look at the services and the numbers. We’re in a lower budget category of events, where you usually have more freedom to present them some cool content ideas and how we could implement them.”

Credit: TakeTV

Most of the time, we get the feedback that our conversion is way higher than partners usually get. Especially compared to higher budget events, the turnout is better for them most of the time,” he continued. The event finds success in delivering value to partners “because we’re very authentic, we can make partners understand that they are supporting the event in a big way and the community understands it as well. This is one of the unique selling points for us.”

In addition to packaging branding in a way that gets the community engaged, the tournament repetitively caters to a large audience, keeping the format attractive for sponsors. “We still drive approximately 4M to 5M video sessions on our live-stream within the four days of a HomeStory Cup with peaks to 70K concurrent,” summarized Gehlen concerning the reach of the HomeStory Cup format.

Gehlen calculates that “if you look into that, you understand that with an investment of €10K [$11K] to €50K [$55K], you can get way more outcome as a partner than with other tournaments, where you get a smaller integration and conversion rate.”

Looking back at the history of the event and at the community that grew around the HomeStory Cup format, Gehlen concluded that “I love this very unique and authentic format that was created by the community. There are no big investments behind it and it’s still a community-driven tournament. I think this is theoretically possible with every game and I would love to have this out there forever for many, many games.”

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