Team Secret CEO: Others can copy our strategy but won't get same success

Team Secret's CEO John Yao had a plan in mind when he took over the business reins at Team Secret in 2017.

Having spent most of his career as a strategy consultant, Yao was looking for a change and opportunity presented itself after meeting Team Secret's co-owner Clement "Puppey" Ivanov.

The organisation had run into issues on the business side of things, and Yao was in the "right place, right time" with a plan to turn things around.

"I turn to Puppey for advice on a lot of things, especially when it comes to talent manager because he's a pro player. He understands how they think and what they need better than I would. On the business side of things, he lets me do my thing," said Yao.

Since joining, he has built the organisation up into a powerhouse, with teams on both sides of the world, Europe and Southeast Asia, in six different games. In Europe, Secret has teams in Dota 2 and Rainbow Six Siege, while in SEA, the org has a Vietnamese LoL squad, a Malaysian PUBG Mobile team, Filipino Wild Rift and VALORANT squads. The org also previously had a Fortnite and Counterstrike: Global Offensive teams.

"Everything we have done up to today has been four years in the making. We haven't really done things randomly. We built a strategy four years ago and have been fulfilling that strategy," said Yao.

Adding that while Secret had a very strong European roots when he joined, Yao felt that he could increase the fan base by 10 times. He also said that Secret's vision wasn't just to be a single team focused in a single country or region like some orgs – he wanted Secret to be a global brand.

With plenty of fans in Southeast Asia due to the success of the Dota 2 squad, Yao felt that the region was a good base to build off on.

"The growth rate and the engagement of fans in Southeast Asia was really strong, so we said, in the west, we will focus in Europe, and in the east, SEA. And that's how we came about, building all of these pieces in SEA to what we are today."

Can't copy success

One thing Yao stressed in his interview with Yahoo Esports SEA was that his plans were something that other orgs could copy, but they wouldn't be able to execute to the same success that Secret has.

"You watch somebody else do this item build, and it's a winning item build but if you don't have a concept of why he did that item build, or when it is appropriate to use or how to counter or the weaknesses, then even by having the same item build, you won't necessarily achieve the same results with the same success," said Yao.

For example, for games such as Wild Rift and PUBG Mobile, Yao first looked at the player base. It had to have an exciting player base, and had to be a growing game that could sustain.

After all, Yao pointed out that just because everyone was playing a game doesn't mean they would watch the esports of said game.

Secondly, another thing he considered important was that the esports of a game has to be watchable and fun. "There are some games where it's extremely fun to play, but really terrible to watch."

Thirdly, games that Secret invested in had to have global presence with high viewership – PUBG Mobile has Tencent backing, with multiple tournaments around the world – even with a 2020 PUBG Mobile Global Championship hosted in Dubai.

Yao also pointed out games from Riot – Secret has Wild Rift, League of Legends, and VALORANT squads.

Team Secret CEO John Yao (Photo: Yahoo Esports SEA)
Team Secret CEO John Yao (Photo: Yahoo Esports SEA)


Interestingly, Secret have no Mobile Legends: Bang Bang team despite the widespread popularity of the Moonton game in the region.

After all, the game does quite fit Yao's criteria of having an exciting and sustainable player base, it's watchable and fun, and does quite have a high viewership – admittedly not a global one, though things are likely changing with the announcement of a Middle East and North Africa league.

In fact, Yao says that the lack of a global presence is one reason why the org has yet to invest into MLBB.

"That's actually one of the reasons why we have not yet chosen MLBB to get into. A lot of people think we have something against them (Moonton), but that's not true," said Yao.

"I made a statement before that I think it's a fair one that if you're an organisation that is focused on Southeast Asia, and in particular, the Philippines and Indonesia, you need to have a MLBB team. There's no way around it. It's the biggest esport in those two countries, with the biggest viewership and everything."

Yao also added that as a global brand, it didn't quite make sense for them at this point of time. He further clarified that while the viewership numbers looked good, there wasn't enough diverse engagement and global potential at this point.

But that's not to say Secret is ruling out ever joining the MLBB esports battleground.

"It doesn't mean we will never get into it. It just means that for right now, it's not a good fit for what we want."

Singapore base

Having moved to Singapore two years ago, Yao has plans to build a small HQ for Team Secret here.

However, it won't be a typical setup with an office building.

"Our philosophy is not to have heavy infrastructure because we are a digital business. There's no reason to burden ourselves with a lot of heavy infrastructure, right. It will only slow us down and only increase our carrying costs from a business standpoint," said Yao.

Yao added that Secret's staff here will probably work from home and that the org will hire as much staff as needed.

"I'm looking forward to expanding our presence here and hiring people and continuing to build out our presence in Southeast Asia from our Singapore HQ."

Aloysius Low is an ex-CNET editor with more than 15 years of experience. He's really into cats and is currently reviewing products at

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