“The Growth is Very Humbling” Interview With Paper Crowns Founder, Skyler Johnson & Lead Developer, Ollie Groves

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“The Growth is Very Humbling” Interview With Paper Crowns Founder, Skyler Johnson & Lead Developer, Ollie Groves

Paper Crowns reveal more on their humble beginnings, partnership with the CDL, and much more.

Recently, ESTNN had the opportunity to speak with Paper Crowns Founder & CEO, Skyler Johnson, along with their Lead Developer, Ollie Groves. We spoke about everything from their origins as a company, their recent partnership with the CDL, and what may be in the future.

The full audio of the interview can be found on our YouTube Channel linked below.

ESTNN: For people who may not know, who are Paper Crowns and what do you do?

Skyler: “We are a full-scale creative studio specializing in everything across the board apart from augmented reality. However, we are looking to get into that. We’re a team of 25+ individuals, most of which I’ve known for 5+ years. Key strengths and focuses of Paper Crowns are Brand Development, Brand Identity, Website, and Software Development.

A lot of people don't know this but we actually started the concept of Crowns long before the name and brand came together. It was one of those moments where we were white labeling so many services for companies that we worked for inside of the space. That's why we feel like we've got such a good endemic pulse to focus on how to interact with the community and how to speak in a language in which the people can understand, vs a lot of the outside companies who may not know how to resonate with the mass gaming audience.”

ESTNN: How did your partnership with the Call of Duty League initially come about?

Skyler: “That one’s unique. We got an early message about one of the brackets we’d built for a client of ours and how it could expand into something so much bigger. We originally saw the Warzone community was going crazy and doing a lot of interactive brackets and the development of those in terms of just static and updating on a website or something. So Ollie took it upon himself to really take over that project and turn it into something bigger.”

Ollie: “On the activation side, internally, they are already looking into some kind of bracket challenge and they were working with another agency to kind of get something going. And when they saw our system go out, it was what they were really envisioning from the start. And making that connection, they reached out to us and said, hey, how can we get involved in this?”

ESTNN: Could you go into the creative process and inspiration behind the CDL Pick’em?

Skyler: “We just felt it was missing inside of our space. You see other areas full of competition like the NBA, for example. They have a Pick’em series. March Madness is one of the most explosive things in the United States when it comes to being able to fill out your bracket pick who's going to win. And then we started to see fantasy starting to get paired with a lot of these different items across the board. So that's kind of what started the why and then partnering that with Warzone and how interactive our community is currently, that's what really led to the overall ‘Hey Ollie, Let's dive deeper into this thing and kind of what it can become’.

Ollie: “I think it's just the way that it's trending, different people are putting on Warzone tournaments. I know Vikkstar did one and Envy currently with Jack Links. I think having that fan interaction is becoming like a big sell. It gets people involved, they can get in with their friends and make predictions compete against each other. And then having the sponsor benefits, obviously, they can get involved and provide prizing. It's a not forced way of doing it, they can give back to the community through these events and just really allows for growth in that way.”

ESTNN: Paper Crowns are a very new company, just two years old. But you’ve already worked with some very notable clients such as HusKerrs, Seattle Surge, and most recently, the CDL. Did you expect Paper Crowns to grow this quickly and to win an Esports Award?

Skyler: “Not at all. We're in a position now where the growth is very humbling and we feel blessed. But at the same time, it can be overwhelming at times. People don't ever want to admit that. But for us, we have a lot of trust from clients down to even the partners that we've been able to develop that kind of fall out of that client mode. And they become, hey, we're actually really relying on you. Those type of growth moments are where we realize, hey, this is a lot bigger than us. 

As it scaled from, hey, we're going to make twitch packs for super cheap at the time compared to the competition in the space, we realized, this isn't really about the money for us as much as it is creating solid art and obviously being compensated for that. But also just being able to think outside the box and launch companies. I think that has been one of the bigger things as people come to us and trust us to do their actual brand identities. We're doing a couple right now, a shame that we’re on some NDA’s, but it's phenomenal. And when those get to drop, I think people will really see, wow, there's people from outside the industry really trusting us to get their foot in the door here. I think that that's a big, big thing for us as well. It's just that overall trust.”

ESTNN: Why did you create Paper Crowns?

Skyler: White labeling. I was sick of doing it. I started as a pro player on that side and did the whole envy thing. I found that team and watched that expand. During that expansion, when I was younger, I would see we're bringing on a sponsor. I would see how they would interest in the space. And I didn't think it was always right. They didn't really really think ‘how my peers are going to see us doing this?’ How are they going to see us crossing our arms and doing these goofy shots that I see some of these people do. I'm sure we've done it before in the past as well.

That made me think, we need to figure this out.

Then I took a marketing role inside of an energy drink company in this space. That's when I started developing a bunch of creatives. I started just taking chances on people at the time that were super young. Some went off to other things, but the ones that stayed loyal and stayed true to what we believed in, we actually left the scene to go work for a Sun Rooms and Windows company for about two years to learn how to market outside of the space as well. We felt if we could learn that, then we could come back into space really powerful. 

So, Crowns was just built off of the idea of let's focus on how to speak to people. Let's focus on building identities that matter. And then through that, it was just developing and picking up talent. Maybe people that we thought might not be at the senior level now or, you know, might be juniors or below even. But what will they become? And that's kind of always been our mantra. It’s just forward thought a little bit and then have that same belief in people that I would want to believe in myself personally.

The esports award was just a bonus. It was cool to get recognition and we hope that many more of those can come, but really it was just an extra bonus on top of the hard work and the partnerships that we’re building.”

ESTNN: Ollie, what interested you about Paper Crowns, and how did you become the Lead Developer?

Ollie: “I got connected with Sky through a few friends of mine that were in Crowns at the time. Early on,I thought ‘this guy is really great at sharing the vision of where he wants to go’. And at the time, some of the gigs weren't that great. It was not that well paid, much lower tier clients type of thing. But I definitely believed in why we could go, although it was nothing like where we have gone. And then becoming like the lead, I took on a lot of the pressure of trying to push the web side of things. And I think part of that's why we've done quite well. Having some of these higher tier clients, like Sky said, unfortunately, we were not able to talk on some of them, especially some of the big ones we've got going on. But it's gone from strength to strength really.”

Skyler: “All praise to his work ethic too. To say, like he's not up twenty-two hours out of the day is an understatement. So it does come down to the hard work and seeing where we're at now versus where we wanted to be. It's been it's just been crazy growth.

Ollie: “That resonates throughout the team. From the outside, I'm not sure how Crowns comes across to people, but I think to some extent we seem like a swan. It's quite calm from the outside, but certainly, on the inside, everybody is just full tilt. And the work ethic from everybody is insane. So it's super driving to be a part of that machine. I think where we’ve gone and taken it from it's just credit to everybody really.

ESTNN: What’s next for Paper Crowns in 2021?

Skyler: “That's such an exciting question. We just keep building and I think keep developing our talent internally. I think we try to break it down into having pillars and core principles. One of them is developing the talent internally, as well as making sure we're taking care of people from a mental health standpoint, as that's been more of a pressing topic over the past year, year, and a half. And then also focusing on talent development in terms of actual skill sets. If you're a motion designer and you're currently focusing on things that don't involve the Red Shift or Houdini, pay for them to be able to dive into that. Sometimes we pay for courses for people because we think that's what sets people apart. 

We've thought about dabbling a little bit into the premade’s, but that’s not really our realm. So we might have fun there. But in terms of clients, it's just to show people that we're here for them. And I think I have that passion in and that's what I'm here for personally. So it's just really just develop as artists all across the board.

ESTNN: As a co-founder of Envy and a former professional COD player, was it a dream of yours to work with Call of Duty, one of the games that really brought you into this space?

Skyler: “I used to sit in my basement of the house way back when and game with my friends for hours and hours on end. And then that turned into, I really think I could turn this into a pro career. And then that just started catapulting. The whole way across the board it’s phenomenal. It’s a classic moment of, I could have never imagined that in my wildest dreams. Right. And honestly, I never even knew we would really get into the software as a service provider. I always had a niche for creativity, but it never really jumped into software until I met Ollie and then all praise to him for developing.”

ESTNN: We’re just at the start of the CDL season, but can we expect another collaboration around Champs such as the $100K Bracket Challenge from last year?

Skyler: “Hopefully we could talk them into bigger prizing. But in terms of those discussions, openly haven't even happened yet. It's more so just been focused on getting this one right, making sure this experience is solid and then see where else it can go across the Activision Blizzard family. Then hopefully try to dial it in and see what we can do towards Champs.

Ollie: “There's obviously nothing set in stone yet, it’s all just in the air at the moment. But, what I can say is that Activision are very passionate about giving back to the fans, and that's a core sentiment internally. So I think anything's open at the minute.”

ESTNN: Finally, what are your thoughts on the Call of Duty League for this season?

Ollie: “I'm a massive Cod League fan. It was a dream for me to be able to work on this with Skyler. As a developer, I wanted to kid create things that were fan-driven. So this really puts me in the opportunity to be able to do that.  It's nice to see OpTic back together. It's nice to see the Thieves. back on the scene. I think there's going to be a ton of storylines this year. I don't know who I've got taking it at the moment, but it's definitely going to be a great year of COD.

Skyler: “I put it on in the background like it's a podcast sometimes. If I'm working, I'll hear nameless rattling things out or, Pac or Maven and just any of those people. They're just friends first. So it's like it's cool just to see their success. It's cool to see people that I used to play GB's or Scrim or even just trash talk to you 24/7 on forums or whatever it was. It's cool to see their success and just what they're doing now. And then to the players, it's cool to see them growing up. It's cool to see all that, because to me that's that's progression. Right. And that's that's life. And that's how it works. 

I've seen people come and go, and a lot of these people deserve everything that they're getting. It's been a long time, and when I saw some of these salaries these players are getting, I still don't know if some of them are enough and some of them I'd be too much. Who knows? But that viewpoint isn't for me to decide. It's just for me to be so happy for these guys.

Empire are ridiculous, right? They're coming off some big wins in terms of scrims from what I've seen. Yeah, I think that they're going to do really well.

I obviously always root for Faze, Rokkr because of Attach, Methodz and Ultra, SiLLY. Honestly, everyone, I could literally name everyone across the board. And a lot of that just has to do with knowing the people first. Openly, I don't really care about the teams. I just care about the people, I care about the friends.

Avatar of Charlie Cater
Charlie Cater
Charlie "MiniTates" Cater has been an esports writer since May 2020, specialising in Call of Duty. He is also a University Student studying esports.