As pro gaming takes off, so do esports careers
Not all of us can make a living as professional gamers in the Overwatch League. But Justin Choy’s gig may be the next best thing. He’s the content marketing manager in charge of videos and social media for Gen.G, the esports organization that operates multiple teams — such as the Seoul Dynasty, one of the franchises in Activision Blizzard’s new Overwatch League.
It’s the kind of job that didn’t exist a generation ago, and the 28-year-old Choy is one of the few people who could do something like this, according to his boss, Arnold Hur, chief growth officer at Gen.G, which was formerly known as KSV eSports. As esports grows from $906 million in 2018 to $1.65 billion by 2021(according to market researcher Newzoo), new kinds of jobs are being born in its ecosystem.
I think of it as the Leisure Economy, where we all will eventually get paid to play games. Besides people like Choy and Hur, the Leisure Economy already includes people like esports athletes, cosplayers, influencers, YouTubers, livestreamers, shoutcasters, and modders. There’s a broader group of accountants, lawyers, and other professionals who work for esports and game companies, and they’re also using their knowledge of games to prosper. The parents of these people probably cursed their obsession with video games, but that obsession has paid off handsomely for those who use it to become celebrities in our attention-based society.
People like Choy are still a rare group. Hur said it hasn’t been easy scouting for people in Los Angeles — the epicenter of esports, or playing games for money — who have the combination of skills that Choy has: online video skills, social media savvy, and a deep interest in games and esports. These weren’t the kinds of skills that Choy could pick up in college.
Rather, he developed the skills based on his own passions. Before he took the job at Gen.G, Choy was an online game fan and music-marketing expert. He is now in charge of managing a team of videographers and editors who shoot video footage of the Seoul Dynasty team. Their job is to capture amazing, cool, or funny gameplay and lifestyle videos of the pro gamers. They edit them down into snippets, share them on social media, and hope that they go viral.
“My job is less about video editing and more ideation on content pieces that will go viral,” said Choy in an interview with GamesBeat. “We try to tell the story of the team.”
For Gen.G, it’s all about generating a new revenue stream. Every week, the Seoul Dynasty plays competitive esports tournaments for the Overwatch League, which draws millions of views every week. Those viewers are mostly millennials who have a lot of disposable income but aren’t easy to find on traditional media channels, such as television.
Nielsen recently compared the esports demographic — about 70 percent male, ages 13 to 40 — to soccer fans, and it said they are “irresistible” to brand advertisers. But they’re hard for advertisers to target, as they only watch about four hours of TV per week. They spend twice as much time playing games.
But esports is still looking for its big revenue stream. Players, team owners, game publishers, investors, venues, and startups alike are looking for revenue from sponsorships, merchandise sales, media rights fees, game-publisher fees, advertising, and ticket sales. And if they can accumulate enough of an audience — one of the goals that Hur and Choy have been hired to make happen — the revenues will likely come.
“With traditional sports, an average fan spends about $50 per year,” Kent Wakeford, cofounder of Gen.G, said during a fireside chat at the GamesBeat Summit in Mill Valley, California, today. “With esports, it’s an average of $5. There’s this big gap, and if you can come in and close it. It’s this 10x opportunity.”
The video crew captures film in mini-documentary style so that fans can see what it’s like to be a competitive gamer at the highest level. The five-member starting squad plays every day at a team house, but they consume so much bandwidth that Choy can’t upload videos from the house. They go through roughly a terabyte of data in a week. And yes, they spend a lot of their time uploading and editing. That’s because they have to go through that sea of data and whittle it down to digestible bites.
Choy disperses the video team to their home locations, and they upload video to the cloud so that he can review it. Then, he offers his editing tips for finding the funniest videos and directs the video editors to chop down and edit the videos for publication. Once everything’s done, the team uploads the video to the social media sites, and Choy shares it as widely as possible on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Twitch, and Instagram.
The social media sites can magnify the awareness and influence of the team at relatively little cost. SuperData estimated that Twitch had more than 666 million viewers in 2017, more than Netflix or HBO.
The videos feature in-game coverage, lifestyle features on the players, matches, and match previews. The idea is to get fans exposed to the behind-the-scenes views of the players and their personalities.
“We try not to make it like reality TV, so it is as organic as possible, and the players are comfortable,” Choy said. “The common view is the players tend to be hermits. We need to tap into the personality that the internal staff knows that they have. They are funny and can spark up the room, and you need the right videographer to do that.”
It may seem like a bizarre subculture, but Choy was already part of it. Finding people like that with the talent to bring great attention to the sport is difficult, Hur said.
“There are a lot of people who say they love esports, but the rest of the resume has nothing,” Hur said. “For things like handling Twitch payments, there is almost zero experience in this field. It’s a huge challenge hiring people. We look for people who are good at what they are do and are super passionate. In L.A., there are talented video editors, but do they know what to show the audience? They aren’t teaching people how to do this in school.”
It helps that Hur speaks Korean, and Choy speaks some as well, as all of the star players are Korean on the team. South Korea is known as the birthplace of esports, and it’s the rare place where esports players are known as media superstars. The Overwatch League’s player base is about 40 percent Korean.
The videographers shoot the team in their own team house where they practice. Those videographers have to be in sync with the team on an emotional level, as they don’t want to air videos that make the team members upset and throw them off their game.
If the videos are captured while the players are speaking Korean, then the team has to write subtitles. Multitasking is a valuable skill. The pay could start at $50,000 for good editors, and then, it ramps up from there.
Choy tries to capture what the team is really like, and his gamer background helps with that. He has also applied his music background, getting the players to put out their own playlists for gaming music on Spotify.
“I understand the struggle where they start out low, grind through it to make it to the pros,” he said. “It’s not all about making a direct return on video investments. I want to make engaging content that the fans can connect with and show a different side of the players that the fans don’t see.”
Choy is part of a team that has about seven full-time and part-time people. There are other jobs coming. Gen.G is building an esports center in Seoul, and it is looking for people like interior designers, and it will likely have to figure out how to shoot videos of its other esports teams as well.
“Every big game or intellectual property will [need] its own social media manager and production team,” Hur said.
Eventually, sponsors will come into the picture, and that adds a layer of complexity to the “authenticity” of the social sharing, as brands don’t always like gamer footage that is too raw.
Overall, Choy and Hur like what they’re doing because they are pushing the edge of social media by embracing technology.
“We know there’s some interesting technology out there to identify highlights in videos,” Hur said. “New industries can be born. You have to be adept at the latest tech platform.”
Choy added, “It’s part of a passion. It doesn’t [feel] like work.”