Duncan Ironmonger is a popular figure in the Call of Duty scene.
As the Co-Founder and CEO of Scuf Gaming, he’s experienced and contributed to the growth of console esports first-hand by bringing SCUF’s competitive-grade controller to the market.
Frequently appearing at top events, he’s also built close relationships with many of the top pros in the industry after years of supporting players through Scuf Gaming sponsorships.
Dexerto spoke to Duncan about entering the space as an established business person, what attracted him to gaming, and the initial barriers to entry before building Scuf Gaming into the eSports goliath it is today:
Spotting the Gap
I’d been in technology, software and telecommunications for about 15 years before we started Scuf Gaming so was very familiar with emerging technologies and market trends – in the Telecommunications industry, you get the advantage of early insight into what’s likely to emerge through advances of the communications highway.
I had been involved with many innovative technologies that helped support telecommunication advances, including bandwidth management and 3G. This early visibility to what would be available, helped me identify likely trends and as I witnessed the increased data usage, several clear early adopters emerged, to include online gaming, video content like YouTube and social media – all the things that connect what we do today.
As I looked to start a business in the technology space, I identified three main drivers that could increase the likelihood of success; One of them was browsing the internet, another was video, and the other was gaming. Identifying a need in the gaming space was the next challenge so when Simon and I reconnected (we were old childhood friends), his smart idea of paddles on the back of a controller made so much sense and filled the product gap.
The above coupled with product and gaming were the things that appealed to me and connected some of the areas where I had a huge amount of experience and skill. When we started Scuf Gaming, it just seemed like a perfect opportunity to start a business with a community that was already connected on social media and a community that depended on the Internet, i.e. Xbox Live, but also, something that had huge growth potential with Gaming growing exponentially.
It was a way to enter in a business in an effective way, utilising social media because you didn’t need huge budgets in a traditional sense, as you might require by entering another industry.
Ultimately, the key value of SCUF starts with functionality, followed by comfort and design.
Functionality is number one. The SCUF allows gamers to improve their game play and increase dexterity by using more of their hand in a safe and comfortable way.
The reality is, if you’ve got functionality that differentiates your product, you have a good vehicle to build on. A split second at the top level is going to make a difference so the natural starting point for us was to approach the professional gamers. Especially with no marketing budget, starting this thing with my own limited funds it had to be a true grass roots approach. We had to go in at the top with the people who were going to get the advantage.
The primary feature we initially came up with, the paddles, was a big change to how people traditionally used controllers, but it is a differentiator that made a big difference. One of the initial challenges was the education part of the business – it was a long uphill struggle. I started attending all the professional gaming events, the EGLs and the MLG events. I went to pretty much every event for the first three years all around the world.
A New Market
In the early days of SCUF, we were basically creating a new market space. Before SCUF existed, there was no real market space for a professional feature rich, customised gaming controllers. There were controllers that had mods like rapid fire, turbo buttons and macro functions, but they were cheat controllers and that was something that we were violently against and we had no intention of ever moving into that field.
We were about mechanical enhancement that allowed you to improve your gameplay by using your hands in a more comfortable and ergonomic way.
There was a connotation about what we did that initially got blended in with that modding world of macro controllers, and it probably took a few years to re-educate people to say that wasn’t really what we did and in fact what we were doing was evolving how a controller was used.
By bio-mechanically introducing the usage of the whole hand, it was just good for the gaming community and was going to allow individuals to use more of their hand.
It also prevented people from having to use CLAW technique, which we all know can cause damage to the hand through Carpal Tunnel or nerve damage, so it was something that we believe was kind of a revolutionary way to use the controller.
Having started the company in early 2011, I had been to many events but COD XP in 2011 was the first really big gaming event for Call of Duty, with $1M on the line! This is where I first met Fwiz and Hastr0 when they were casting, but also where I met Hector (optich3cz) – It was a really big deal, especially back then when maximum prize pools were around $20-30k.
I went along to COD XP, where the top 32 Teams were playing, with the intention of talking to the pro’s and trying to get them to understand the benefits of the SCUF controller. At the time, no one knew what SCUF was, or at least very, very few people, and most of those were centered around Europe.
When I went along, I offered to send the teams SCUF controllers while trying to explain the benefits – at the time very few people were interested in the idea. In the early days, it was a lot of grinding, trying to explain the product to players who could really benefit from it. Finally a few got it and loved it, in fact as people started to use it they couldn’t manage without it.
I remember getting on a live stream in 2012 – there was controversy on whether the SCUF should be allowed in competition at that time. I explained that we were mechanically enhancing the controller to improve hand use and that this was a good thing. Evolving the way a controller is used was necessary to keep up with the modern day demands of complex games with dozens of functions. As the conversation continued more people started to come on board and realized innovation was key to market advances and the success of console gaming. The SCUF makes gameplay faster, more fun and display more dexterity of the hand without compromising techniques that can cause hand injuries like CLAW.
Who wouldn’t want technology and product evolution? Otherwise we would still be using wooden tennis rackets for example. The SCUF is a tool that allows people to take their skills to the next level without playing dangerous techniques like CLAW which, after extended play, can cause major discomfort and trouble gaming for extended times, especially as you move into your twenties – we know as we have many older gamers that suffered hand injuries!
At the end of the day, we want to evolve and if this evolution actually helps people to have a better gaming experience and use more of their hand in a safe, ergonomic way, then surely that’s a good thing.
The funny part is that about a year later, a number of these professional players came back to me, asking to be sponsored and to have a SCUF controller.”
The Perfect Match
Having spent so much time attending the events and connecting with the Professional Gamers and the Community, it all started to fall into place. By furnishing those relationships, understanding that community in great detail and starting the affiliate program we gained some meaningful traction to raise awareness of SCUF. I really enjoying those days and those experiences – this got us keyed into the professional gamers and influencers in a natural and fun way.
At the time, they were earning a very small amount of money, so any money we made, we ploughed back into our teams and players to fund them and help them do what they loved. I firmly believe we had a meaningful impact on the growth of esports in the console space when travel and budgets were very restricted.
Ultimately we became a meaningful part of their income, or at least increased their ability to travel.
Patents and Innovation for the Future
Today we continue this journey and continue to innovate with new features and products to expand the brand and customer base. We have 29 issued patents and another 68 pending and that number is growing by the month. This is core to our DNA and what we love to do – we’re extremely excited to show the World what we have coming in the next 12 months!