Interview: Robbye Ron of Konami on whether Pro Evolution Soccer's popularity in Latin America can extend worldwide

After years of decline, Konami has slowly regained a foothold in the worlds of gaming and football over the past few years thanks to the improvements the company has made in its flagship sports franchise, Pro Evolution Soccer. This year’s edition, PES2018, looks to be the best title yet in the current cycle and the heads at Konami hope to put a larger dent into its competition’s stranglehold on the footie simulation marketplace.

PES, however, has remained insanely popular in Latin America, especially in many countries in South America. I saw this first-hand during the three weeks I spent vacationing in Peru a few years ago. Every Peruvian city I visited had numerous internet/gaming cafes covered in PES posters on every wall and hosted gamers of all ages playing virtual footie courtesy of PES. Even one of the hostels I stayed at had a PlayStation with a copy of PES in the lounge area.

I spent a few minutes speaking with Robbye Ron at Konami’s booth at E3. Ron is a community manager in charge of the company’s Latin American division who got his start as just another insanely passionate PES gamer who designed custom kits on PES as a youngster. We talked about the franchise’s popularity in Latin America, whether it can replicate that popularity worldwide, and how PES League (its e-sports division) has revitalized the franchise.

GameCrate: So, just how popular is PES, really, in Latin America? From my own experience, it appears to be the favorite sports title in that region.

Robbye Ron: As far as popularity goes, we’re doing very well in South America. It’s not surprising, but FIFA has us beat in the market in some ways, especially with their European licenses, but PES has maintained a foothold in South America. You told me about your experience in Peru. Peru is actually one of our strongest gaming communities. It’s very strong and I know a lot of people in that community that do a great job of keeping our competition out of that scene thanks to the various competitions they host using PES all over Peru. We recently wrapped up the PES League final in London, which is the World Cup of e-gaming on PES, and we had a Peruvian player finish in third place. They aren’t just fans, they’re also elite PES players!

GC: Besides Peru, what other countries is PES most popular in?

RR: It’s popular in Argentina, too. PES has been around for 22 years. It started off as International Superstar Soccer and Winning Eleven. Argentinians carry Winning Eleven in their blood. There were more gamers playing our title back then in Argentina, but it’s more divided nowadays. There are still many gamers who play PES though. Those who were weaned on Winning Eleven still play PES. Many PES gamers in Argentina say that they carry Winning Eleven in their DNA. I always see someone new in the gaming community in Argentina with a Pro Evolution Soccer tattoo each time I visit. It’s wild but there are many! I met this kid who played in a PES League tournament and he had the PES League logo tattooed on his forearm.

Football is very popular in South America, as you know, and PES, as you saw on today’s demo, has always focused on providing the best football simulation so, each year, there are more and more football fanatics playing PES. Recently, I took an Uber out here to E3. I told the driver to bring me here to E3. He tells me, “Oh, I used to game back in the day but I didn’t play much except for one game.” I asked him which game and he says “PES.” I’m like “PES?! I work for PES!” I couldn’t believe it!

Honestly, I was surprised because (Electronic Arts’) FIFA has a lot of influence in the American market but now I can also say that there are lots of PES gamers in the US. It’s just like in football. When Real Madrid plays well, they gain a lot of fans and followers. When Barcelona wins, they gain new fans and followers. I think it’s a lot like a “clasico” when it comes to that rivalry even amongst gamers as to what they prefer. Football fanatics will have certainly played both, but it’s safe to say that there are plenty out there who prefer PES.

GC: I’m sure that having the rights to the Copa Libertadores and Copa Sudamericana played a factor in the game’s popularity in Latin America.

RR: It certainly pushed the game into more people’s homes! There will be many surprises as far as licensing goes this year, which we’ll reveal soon and that I’m sure will draw more gamers to PES. It’s interesting because Winning Eleven was popular despite not having any official licenses. It sold well thanks to how well it simulated football and made it fun. I think it’ll be similar this year because, although the game has many modes to play in, it’ll be the fun factor of playing our game that will draw people in.

With these new modes, you can play 3v3 at home on your couch or even three in Mexico vs. three in Peru. Imagine the possibilities! The PES League tournaments are going to improve and become more exciting as well because this year’s winner, a Brazilian gamer, walked away with $200,000. This coming year’s tournament won’t just be one-on-one but also 3v3 so each team can walk away with a good amount of money. It’ll be a great way to keep the fans we have now as well as grow our fanbase.

GC: Listening to all this, the way PES plays makes a lot more sense especially with how the company continues to make it easier to pull off slick dribbles, flair shots, and such. There’s an essence of Latin American football to it.

RR: All the gamers want to play like Neymar, right? It’s a game that grows each year in a way that’s very South American, in that sense. That’s why we try to have commentary teams from numerous regions such as Mexico, Argentina, Chile and that helps our players choose the commentary style they’re more comfortable with when they play.