Grigory Bakunov is the CTO of Parimatch Tech. Founded in 1994, the business started out running several online betting sites. It has since pivoted in an attempt to rebrand itself as an esports platform. The company develops technology and marketing solutions for the gaming industry. As CTO, Bakunov oversees the technology strategy, products and infrastructure of Parimatch Tech.

Esports is a global $221bn industry. The sector is one of the few – so far – in which the much hyped metaverse is genuinely, already important. Facebook has attempted to take the lead on this emerging sector and to drum up new use cases for its virtual reality headsets. To underline this change in focus, the company rebranded itself Meta last year.

Other tech giants are positioning themselves for the possible metaverse future by turning to esports companies. Video games companies understandably have experience in this field. Several of the big deals in the esports sector over the last year, such as Microsoft’s $68.7bn acquisition of gaming studio Activision Blizzard, have been motivated by a desire to tap into that understanding.

The value of venture funding in the esports industry skyrocketed to $2.26bn in the third quarter of 2021, according to deals data from GlobalData. That’s up from the $3m injected into the sector in the first quarter of 2017.

The number of deals dipped from a high of 52 in Q4 2019 to 12 in the last three months of last year.

In this interview, the Parimatch Tech CTO discusses what he loves about online entertainment as well as where his interest in technology comes from.

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Bakunov also discusses Web3, which is the envisioned new iteration of the World Wide Web based on blockchain technology. The phrase may have been coined by cryptocurrency Ethereum founder Gavin Wood in 2014, but only gained traction in 2021.

Business leaders have taken notice of this traction. They do name blockchain when asked what technologies keep them up at night.

Even so, sentiment surveys by GlobalData over the last year indicate that interest in blockchain has basically remained at the same level, with some minor fluctuations. Artificial intelligence, cybersecurity and a range of other tech themes all scored higher than blockchain in those surveys.

In the latest Q&A in our weekly CTO Talk series, Bakunov reveals why he declines to guess what the next tech trends will be in 2022, what would surprise people about his job at Parimatch Tech and what separates hype from genuine innovation.

Eric Johansson: Tell us a bit about yourself – how did you end up in your current role?

Grigory Bakunov: The higher you climb as a professional, the more interesting it is to pursue work in rapidly and actively developing areas. Online entertainment is one such area, with betting and gambling standing out as a worldwide trend as more people realise they are an integral part of human life. This industry touches on what I like the most besides technology – people’s emotions. It is exciting! That’s why I’m at Parimatch Tech.

What’s the biggest technology trend you’re looking at in 2022?

I like to compare predicting tech developments to predicting the weather – saying that tomorrow will be more or less the same as today is safer than relying on typical weather forecasts. It makes no sense to talk about new trends in 2022 since the movements of the last few years are still relevant: the development of automatic decision-making systems and a decrease in human participation.

How do you separate hype from genuine innovation?

Hype creates movement, sets the trend. Innovators run after trends because they want to be on the front line, creating innovations on their way. It is a fine line, but I think they can be separated simply and clearly: innovation is the practical implementation and application of new technologies to improve people’s lives.

Where did your interest in tech come from?

I have a unique past for a CTO, having graduated from a theatre university. But at school I was also interested in mathematics, algorithms, and technology. It might seem like theatre (cinema) and technology are opposite polarities, but that’s not the case. They both change people’s lives for the better, only on different levels: emotional and practical.

What one piece of advice would you offer to other CTOs?

Get enough sleep. The work of a CTO is similar to that of a firefighter: he extinguishes “fires” in teams, technologies and sometimes the minds of people. Sleeping well is essential.

What’s the most surprising thing about your job?

Usually, a СTO joining a new company thinks about how to attract outside professionals to build an effective team and strengthen the business. I was lucky because Parimatch Tech already had such specialists, and I only “highlighted” them. It’s been a delightful discovery.

What’s the biggest technological challenge facing humanity?

The centralisation of corporations. The Internet has fragmented into “islands”: Facebook island, Apple island, Google island, etc. but humanity does not need a complex plug-in design. Getting back to basics with Web3 is a real technological challenge.

What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever done for fun?

I have an art-tech project, an AI system that draws pictures on its own with a plotter. The system supports itself: the robot draws pictures by itself, places the picture in the marketplace, communicates with customers, calls the packer, and pays for the electricity it consumes. It was not a difficult task, so I have moved on, but sooner or later I will show it to the world.

In another life you’d be?

I would still be Grigory Bakunov, but I would have come to my position earlier and not wasted time on some mistakes. That said, it is normal for a person to make mistakes, so I don’t dwell on it.

GlobalData is the parent company of Verdict and its sister publications.