Launched in August 2015, Runtime recently raised a seven-digit seed round from a handful of investors that will be used to expand operations, product development and support marketing and sponsorship efforts.
The company's incubator is BITKRAFT Esports Ventures, an early-stage investor company dedicated to growing businesses in the Esports category – a market valued at €406m ($493m) in 2017, set to soar to €1.3bn ($1.65bn) by 2020. The main investor in Runtime is Everblue Management and other significant investors are Dohler Ventures and Food Angels Germany.
Runtime has a range of products available for purchase on its website and Amazon, including 'Next Level Meal' pouches, two 'Performance Drink' products and its recently launched 'Megabite' high-protein snack bar. All of them include a base mix of isomaltulose, branch-chained amino acids (BCAAs) and collagen, specifically designed to provide long-lasting physical endurance, improve wakefulness and increase focus without the sugar rush or crash.
Aleksandrs Zavoloks, CEO and co-founder of Runtime, said there is a huge opportunity to develop nutrition in Esports, not only because of the size and increasing popularity of the category, but also the fact there has never truly been any targeted products developed before.
“The gaming community are very sensitive to, excuse the word, bullshit. There are big companies, drink companies, that say they support Esports but they do not have a product that has been developed for them,” Zavoloks told NutraIngredients.
People in the category are skeptical, he said, because whilst there are plenty of nutrition companies with products for brain health, function and concentration, which can theoretically help gaming, nothing has been exclusively designed for them.
“We're authentically approaching the problem and me having personal experience on what it takes to be a pro-Esports player helps.”
The 'optimal performance zone'
Zavoloks spent 17 years in Esports as a pro-player, competing at events, and a number of years working with pro teams, organising events and covering the sector on his own online website. During his time as a pro-player, he also competed in cycling, and says it was at this point the gap in the Esports market became obvious.
“It was always interesting for me to see Esports growing and the community getting bigger, yet there was nothing changing on the nutrition side. And from my cycling experience, I knew how important nutrition was.”
Nutrition in sports is recognised as having the capacity to alter and improve performance, he said, and the same is true in Esports.
In 2016, Runtime conducted a 10,000-strong survey amongst Esports athletes and professional gamers to identify key performance concerns that it could then use as a starting block for product development.
Findings showed, for example, that sugar spikes and crashes are a major concern among players, Zavoloks said, which is why Runtime works with the novel food isomaltulose, not sugar. This ingredient, he said, raises blood sugar levels slowly, without driving levels too high, enabling players to stay in the “optimal performance zone”, avoiding spikes or crashes.
In its performance drinks, Runtime blends caffeine and green tea extract for a smoother caffeine intake and includes B-vitamins to support healthy cognitive function, he said, particularly important given professional games can last up to four hours and are often played at unusual times in the day. “If you miss a click or make a wrong decision after four hours of playing your opponent, that can seal the deal and you either win €250,000 or €50,000.”
Across all of its products, Runtime includes collagen and BCAAs to support and help the body repair damaged or strained muscle tissue which Zavoloks said can occur from training or playing long games. “People are saying Esports athletes and players aren't really using their bodies and I want to counter that with the fact they're doing at least 100 actions per minute, some of the pro players are doing anything between 200 and 300 a minute at times. Try clicking your keyboard like that and tell me it's not physical exercise.”
Runtime works alongside Dr. Lutz Graumann in Germany, a sports medicine and nutrition expert who assists in product development, testing and consultations with Esports athletes using Runtime products.
Beyond the blue screen
Whilst Runtime targets Esports and gaming, Zavoloks said he hopes the products will also be used outside of sport.
“The idea is to continue building a nutrition company. I want Runtime to not only be helping you game better but also succeed at life, no matter how corny that might sound. In my ideal vision, your whole day gets more productive with Runtime.”
In the coming year, he said the goal is to expand presence in Europe beyond Germany, Austria and Switzerland, focusing on new product development and gaining traction amongst well-respected Esports athletes. In five years time, the aim is to be “top of mind for nutrition in Esports and gaming”, perhaps eventually shifting into mainstream, he said.
“I wouldn't mind if students started to use our products because they have similar needs, for example. Basically, we want to be available, hopefully, in a lot of stores so if you want some Runtime you can get it; you don't have to wait for it.”
As the Esports sector continues to grow, Zavoloks said he welcomes big nutrition players to join: “There's probably enough space for everyone and I guess bigger pharma or nutra companies have bigger R&D teams, but at the end of the day it's about being authentic.
“...If other, bigger companies move into the space then it will prove there is a need and a demand and we were right. So, that's good for me – I don't mind having competition.”