June 12, 2018 wasn’t just the first day of E3, it was a huge day for KontrolFreek, manufacturer of performance thumbsticks and other controller accessories for gamers. Going into E3 this year, KontrolFreek knew they wanted to be a part of that conversation, but how do you cut through the noise where hundreds of games are being shown? That was the question the company began brainstorming late last year.
KontrolFreek has been making performance thumbsticks for just over a decade. While they’ve got their own line of products that sell quite well, they found success in partnering with Activision to make licensed Call of Duty performance thumbsticks. That success extended to Destiny and Overwatch, two more Activision Blizzard first-person shooters that helped elevate an awareness around how performance thumbsticks are more than just thumbstick covers. KontrolFreek wants everyone to know that they actually change the way you play.
In May, KontrolFreek launched yet another pair of licensed products, one partnering with Call of Duty: Black Ops 4’s reveal, and the other with Overwatch’s continued dominance as a hero shooter. The company knew they wanted to have a presence at E3, but didn’t want to cannibalize the launch or attention of either of those licensed May products. At some point they landed on gaming’s biggest modern trend, Battle Royale.
Popularized by free-to-play titles Fortnite and PUBG, Battle Royale is a frantic last-man-standing shooter genre where precision aiming can mean the difference between assured victory and a paltry second place. It made perfect sense to theme performance thumbsticks around the mode that everyone seems to be playing. Casting them in a bright purple that evokes Fortnite, the high-rise thumbsticks were initially produced in a limited edition run of 2000 units, including special edition black and green loot chest packaging.
KontrolFreek’s Very Big Day
Ready to join the E3 conversation, KontrolFreek had prepared to launch these new thumbsticks with some viral pre-marketing through social media and influencers. The company was ready to see the 2000 units last for a few months–perhaps through the end of the year–but they underestimated the popularity and demand that their community would bring to the product. On June 12, KontrolFreek sold through every single one of the Battle Royale thumbsticks in just 21 hours.
With half of the office at E3 meetings preparing for potential future products, the other half was handling the launch of the Battle Royale thumbsticks and a sudden influx of traffic that nearly brought the KontrolFreek site to its knees. They saw this moment as a fun challenge and a good problem to have. Extra servers were brought online to keep up with demand, and there were clear positive impacts to other thumbsticks and products on the site too.
June 12 was KontrolFreek’s biggest day since they launched the limited edition Call of Duty: Black Ops III Jugger-Nog performance thumbsticks back in 2016. Director of Communications Brandon Masters told me that the Jugger-Nog thumbsticks in 2016 set a benchmark for the company, but June 12, 2018 “crushed it.”
That massive success is only considering direct sales and traffic to the KontrolFreek website. Just in the last couple of days, the company also surpassed one million lifetime units sold in GameStop stores, and they are planning to celebrate the milestone by giving away one million PowerUp Rewards Points in collaboration with GameStop.
Thumbs Up to the Future
KontrolFreek was only looking to be a part of the conversation, but they found themselves hurtling out of a battle bus into an all-new era for performance thumbsticks. It wasn’t partnering with a specific brand that gave them their biggest day ever, it was partnering with an idea. Battle Royale is taking the world by storm and KontrolFreek made its bid as a crucial part of that experience. That investment paid off more than the team could have ever imagined.
On June 27, two weeks after that initial surge of Battle Royale thumbstick sales, KontrolFreek relaunched the product with updated branding on their site and far more than the limited numbers they had originally planned. They no longer come with the limited edition packaging, but fans who missed out on the bright purple thumbsticks at launch can now get a pair of their own. Bright purple not your thing? There’s a whole line of products that might be more stylistically suited to your tastes.
The success of a single day bled over into other products and sales for the rest of the month. June and July are looking similar to the company’s usual holiday months in terms of sales. The servers have been bolstered to better handle the increased traffic. They are looking at what they can do to not only maintain the surge in interest, but grow from here. Not content with simply catching lightning in a bottle once, they want to be on the frontlines of trends in the gaming industry, making themselves a part of the zeitgeist. What’s coming next, and how fast can they adapt to it?
One of the biggest benefits KontrolFreek has right now is their relationship with evergreen games. Destiny, Overwatch, Call of Duty, and now Fortnite and the Battle Royale genre help them to remain a part of the conversation long term. It’s not the same as partnering with a game that somebody might put 10-15 hours into before moving on. These are games that people will play for that long in any given week, for years to come (Editor’s Note: KontrolFreek is not actually partnered with Fortnite or Epic Games directly. The Battle Royale sticks are FPS Freek branding suggestive of Fortnite).
What’s next? The company will continue to spread the message about performance thumbsticks and how they can help players with their games. Comfort, grip, and precision are each scientifically backed selling points proven by the basic physics of adding height and grip to your thumbsticks. Personally, I can’t get enough of the Destiny 2 Ghost thumbsticks, a mid-height stick that both enhances my performance in fast shooter games, and allows for comfort and control in general use.
A flash of success isn’t enough to get KontrolFreek to rest on its laurels. They’ve got a big year ahead of them. June 12, 2018 only served to fortify the company’s mission and ongoing commitment to thumbs everywhere.
We’d like to thank KontrolFreek’s Brandon Masters for taking the time to talk with us about this story, and Mason Moreau for facilitating the conversation!