In the first edition of our new Insights section: ‘Behind The Scenes’, we have an exclusive interview with the principle of product development at ZOWIE, Xanver Tseng.
Editor’s Note: We actually did an exclusive video interview with Xanver when we met in Shanghai last week for the DIVINA event. But after returning to Taiwan, Xanver felt that he hadn’t answered the questions as clearly as he wanted, so he sent me the follow-up answers through a document.
CSGO2ASIA: Hi Xanver. Firstly, tell us briefly who you are and what you do at ZOWIE?
Xanver: Hello everyone, I’m Xanver Tseng and I am mainly responsible for product development and marketing at ZOWIE.
CSGO2ASIA: Generally speaking, in almost all companies, the role of product development and marketing is not given to the same person. Why is this the case here?
Xanver: Just looking at the style of the brand and its products, one can tell immediately tell that ZOWIE only wants to make professional esports products. ZOWIE’s products are not based on specifications or eye-catching appearances. Because of this, being able to effectively communicate with consumers is something only the original product developer can do. At the same time, my background is that of an esports athlete (WCG 2002 – 2004 Taiwan Representative). This is why I will have two different roles within one company.
CSGO2ASIA: So, what led to you becoming interested in developing gaming equipment?
Xanver: When I was still a player, the ZOWIE founder, Vincent, worked for another European brand that was my sponsor. After returning from the WCG finals in 2004, there were not many opportunities to find work within esports. Vincent saw that I had the passion and determination when it came to esports. He also felt that the development of gaming equipment required a players know-how and because of this, he asked me to join his team. While I had an idea of what to expect, it was still an entirely new field for me. I was continuously learning new things and this is what helped develop my strong interest.
CSGO2ASIA: Right, gotcha. When you are designing a new product, where do you get your design inspiration from?
Xanver: I would say three different areas. Firstly, experience. 18 years ago, the shape of the IE3.0 was well loved by many but I was unable to use it because it was too big for me. I felt then that such a comfortable shape should have 2 sizes. This was the source of inspiration for the two different sizes EC1 and EC2.
Secondly, observation. In addition to my own playing habits, I started observing the playing habits of other players. I also worked with several American and European players and was able to understand their different personal needs in the game. Because we all spoke the common language of Counter-Strike, I was able to quickly find out what features they wanted to see in a product. And lastly, learning. I am not someone with a product design background. I am still learning every day and it’s this learning of new things that continue to inspire me.
CSGO2ASIA: Nice. Is there a specific process you go through when coming up with new products? Walk us through that if you may.
Xanver: When I get an idea for a new mouse shape, the first thing I’ll do is use clay and make a model of it. Once I’m sure that this is the shape I want, I’ll discuss it with my teammates because some of them have different playing habits from me. Once we have come to an agreement on the shape, we will make a plaster mold of it. At this point, we will confirm again that this is the shape we want and only after this will I make a working model. Often at this stage, I will have to go back to the drawing board. With some shapes, it feels comfortable when holding them and using them outside of the game. However, when using it in-game, it is lacking something.
CSGO2ASIA: When coming up with a new product, do you tend to work with existing technology first or do you try to create something new?
Xanver: ZOWIE has always used the concept of sports equipment, and not computer peripherals, to develop products. Sometimes the latest technology is not necessarily suitable for use in esports. For example, a mouse with extremely high DPI is completely unnecessary for esports athletes.
I think that innovation in esports comes from using existing technology to find ways to provide players with the stability, comfort, and durability that they care about. For example, the shaft of a mechanical keyboard is known for its durability. This is the technology that has existed for a long time however it is only in recent years that is has started to be more widely used. It’s just like how old FPS players such as myself had always been using CRT monitors with a 100hz refresh rate. It is because of the thin LCD’s that such high refresh rates disappeared for a few years. In recent years, however, we see refresh rates like 144hz and 240hz making a return.
CSGO2ASIA: Your colleagues speak very highly about your attention to detail. Is this something you think you naturally have or was it something you realized you wanted to develop?
Xanver: When it comes to the product, there is an area of product design and also the area of production. I think my strength lies in product design while my team has members who each have special skills in the area of production. In addition to mice, ZOWIE’s mouse pads are another product that has a high rate of usage amongst players. These mouse pads are 100% flat and so we have a team that specially focuses on this to ensure quality. We also have other members that focus on experimentation and inspection of finished products before shipment. Another colleague oversees all of this. So, it’s not just me but the entire ZOWIE team that is working hard to follow our brand spirit – Strive for Perfection.
CSGO2ASIA: It is a known fact that a high percentage of professional CSGO players use mice made by ZOWIE. How does that make you feel?
Xanver: Of course I am very happy. This is the result of our continued passion for Counter-Strike. 2011 was the darkest year for CS and many people move to League of Legends instead. However, ZOWIE stayed focused on CS and never left. This is one of the reasons why members of the ZOWIE team have such good relations with professional players.
CSGO2ASIA: Was it ever your goal to make a product that only caters to FPS gamers?
Xanver: In addition to myself, a retired CS 1.6 players, there are 6 other people on the team who have competed in 1.6 till CS:GO before retiring. Our founder Vincent loves watching CS and often tries to play however he is so bad at the game and always gets made fun of by us. As you can see, from top to bottom we are a team that loves CS. So I think it is only natural that we ended up designing products that cater to FPS gamers.
CSGO2ASIA: Finally, what does ZOWIE DIVINA mean to you?
Xanver: In this tournament that just ended, the Chinese team 7PM.fe mentioned in their winning interview that they got to this stage through their own ability; without a coach or any additional resources. This reminds me of what CS was like 20 years ago when my team had no resources and we were training while working day jobs at the same time. These days, the men’s CS scene has matured greatly while the women’s scene is very much like how it was for me 20 years ago.
I am no longer a player but now as a member of the DIVINA team, I am very grateful to be able to provide, through this competition, a platform for more people to pay attention to these women. Also, in 2011-2012, we did a ZOWIE DIVINA tournament for StarCraft 2. Our team has always had a great passion for supporting women’s esports.