Mentioned in this article
The Esports Observer continues its series of interviews aimed at increasing the visibility of women working within the esports industry. You can read June’s edition here.
This month, The Esports Observer spoke with five women from endemic esports brand partners to learn how they got involved in the industry, how esports differs from their other experiences, and how their initial perceptions of esports varied, if at all, from reality.
Julie Craft, head of strategic partnerships at Razer says that video games have always been a part of her life.
“I grew up in a gaming household and I now have two teenage boys, so at our home we don’t have a living room and family room—we have a Fortnite room and a Call of Duty room,” Craft told The Esports Observer.
Craft has been a tech executive at several start-ups over the past 15+ years, with the last 10 years focusing on the videogame industry including Offerpal (now TapJoy) and Heyzap (now Fyber). There, she helped game developers monetize and grow their userbases.
For five years, Craft served as the chief revenue officer for Rixty, a global payments and virtual currency platform for free-to-play games. Rixty’s parent company, MOL Global, was acquired by Razer in May of 2018 and became Razer Gold.
“My current role at Razer is to manage strategic partnerships for the services division working with AAA publishers like Valve, Riot, and Blizzard,” said Craft, adding that working in esports is different because previously, she could only provide “one piece of the puzzle” whereas Razer provides products and services for the “entire gaming ecosystem.”
Craft says she has been impressed with esports on multiple levels from gender equality efforts to athlete training regimens and the industry’s growth.
“Esports puts all athletes on the same playing field, independent of gender, which is vastly different from my own and even the general audience’s preconceived notion of competitive sports,” said Craft. “I’m happy to be a female leader who can showcase this equality and give females an equal opportunity to compete.”
Brittany Williams is a business development specialist on Intel’s gaming and esports team. Prior to that, she was an investment banker covering technology, media, and telecom companies for CitiBank and Goldman Sachs.
“I was responsible for driving any deal execution as it related to those companies—from building out financial models to recognizing how much exposure the bank should have from specific clients,” said Williams. “While I really enjoyed being on the financial services side, I craved the in-house experience. I wanted to be on the operational side and drive the strategy for a specific company.”
This desire led Williams to earn her MBA at Harvard Business School and pivot over to Intel’s gaming and esports team in June of 2018.
“What drove me to esports specifically is the fact that the industry is in its nascent stages,” said Williams. “There was so much growth potential as it relates to esports that I thought it dovetailed with my prior experience and it’s really exciting for me.”
Williams is able to use her business analytical skills to drive return on investment (ROI) on Intel’s esports partnerships across the Olympics, NBA 2K, and ESL.
“I found a unique opportunity to determine what our strategy in esports is, how we monetize, and how esports is going to intersect with so many forward-thinking technologies,” Williams explained, stressing the importance of authenticity in her work. “Gamers and esports enthusiasts can sense when a brand is coming in and trying to monetize the industry as opposed to truly understanding the sector. That’s key as you think about esports and brands thinking about entering the space.”
Intel’s efforts around womens’ esports competition have impressed Williams, citing studies where women, despite playing videogames regularly, are more hesitant than their male counterparts to identify as a “gamer.”
“What I’ve come to realize is that there actually are a large population of women gamers,” said Williams. “Activations [like the Intel Challenge] are so necessary to actually get more young girls to feel comfortable raising their hand and identifying as gamers.”
Neela Dass, business development specialist on Intel’s gaming and esports team, started playing DOS text-based adventure games with her brother as a tween. She became “fascinated” with the transition from text to 3D game graphics and turned that passion into a career. Her first job in the industry was as a 3D graphics designer at an indie game developer. She would later become the manager of distribution and strategic partnerships for Electronic Arts (EA).
“Once you get into the games industry, you can’t get out,” Dass laughed. “There are so many nice people, innovation, and creativity and that’s why I love the games industry.”
Dass joined Intel in 2008 and in 2012 began working with developers to optimize gameplay experiences on Intel hardware. She recently joined the gaming and esports team. Having worked on “both sides” of the game development process, Dass marvels at how united the esports community continues to be despite its massive growth.
“Yes, it’s a changing [industry] but one thing that doesn’t change is that it’s a tight-knit community and all the players in this community have to work together really, really well,” said Dass. “That includes the hardware manufacturers, the developers, the content pieces, and the changing business models as well.”
Yugina Yun, esports collegiate program specialist at CORSAIR was the president of the Boston University PC Gaming Club and volunteered at every gaming event she could “get her hands on,” she said.
“After university, I spent some time with Tespa helping to build their programming as well as continuing to freelance as an event manager and doing tournament ops in the esports space,” said Yun. “When I heard that CORSAIR was interested in building a student program I wanted to help and tossed my hat into the ring.”
Yun draws a parallel between her work in esports and her study of elasmobranchii, a group of animals that includes sharks, rays, and skates.
“I expected to learn everything there is to know about little skates get really granular about their feeding habits for the next five years. Instead I pivoted and jumped into esports,” said Yun. “The work I did in that field was extremely research-focused, but not quite dissimilar to the work I’m doing today. Both require me to learn how to work with groups of people, be methodical in getting data, and find ways to make information digestible for everyone!”
Working in CORSAIR’s collegiate esports program, Yun observes that having diverse knowledge is more beneficial to esports players.
“In lots of fields you’re expected to become an expert on a single thing,” Yun said. “Esports is wildly different where the students that I see succeed are the ones who are ‘jacks-of-all-trades.’ You’ll be expected to know a lot about Dota, League of Legends, Fortnite, and have experience in social media, events, and influencer management. It’s important that you have a strong understanding of the ecosystem as a whole.”
Shizuka “Shiz” Suzuki, assistant vice president of sponsorships & experiential marketing at AT&T Communications played videogames growing up but they did not become a part of her career until recently.
Suzuki has worked in a variety of roles within AT&T over the past 12 years. When she took on the company’s sponsorship portfolio two years ago, she saw esports as an opportunity for the brand to connect with its young customer base.
“So many [AT&T] members already use our ultra-high-speed internet at home and on the go to elevate their game—so it made sense for us, starting in June 2018 with our ESL agreement to be a bigger part of the community,” said Suzuki.
Working in esports is different from Suzuki’s work in other markets mainly because of the travel and in-person interaction involved.
“I’d say that unlike any other sport’s fanbase, esports fans have come to expect that being part of the esports community isn’t limited to ‘watching people play the game,’” said Suzuki. “Sure, that drives everything. But the connections people make with each other, the entertainment aspect of watching players play or consuming other content that gamers and fans create, and the role that technology plays—it’s a rich universe. Our expanding relationships with ESL and DreamHack are all about playing a deeper role in this community.”
Suzuki admits that she probably had a “monolithic view” of gaming until she delved into her esports role at AT&T.
“What I quickly grew to appreciate and value is that there’s no singular archetype when it comes to the members of this community. Traditional markers like race, class, education background, job role, citizenship, location, gender, sexual orientation, religion, etc. that can often silo us are there. But these get homogenized thanks to everyone’s shared passion for gameplay.
“The reality of gaming and esports today is nothing I ever imagined growing up, back in the day when I was fighting to save Zelda.”
Images provided by Intel, AT&T, Razer, and CORSAIR. Used with permission.
Credit: Source link