After some 14 years at BBH, Singapore managing director David Webster is leaving agencies altogether to take on a new challenge in eSports, and he is taking fellow BBHer Tim Lindley with him.
The pair are emboldened by the opportunity to mature the eSports market, a task they believe can only be done outside the traditional agency model at this nascent stage.
While the numbers stacked against the eSports opportunity and scale seem alluring, the maturity of the industry is holding back greater investment from brands. Webster and Lindley are taking a leap of faith by leaving BBH in Asia Pacific, to bring commercial and marketing expertise to the nascent eSports world.
Webster, formerly BBH Singapore’s managing director, and Lindley, who was BBH’s global content lead and managing partner at Black Sheep Studios in APAC, are joining eSports marketplace Yup.gg as chief commercial officer and chief experience officer, respectively.
For Webster, the move is significant as it comes after spending 14 years at BBH. Speaking to The Drum, he explains that while he’ll miss the agency world, he was cognizant that he didn’t want to start an eSports agency, as he wanted to be a part of a new business model and pioneer a new way.
“I love the agency world. I love the creative world. What I'll miss the most is not being as close to the creative product as I've been. Having worked with and set up Nike over the last six to seven years, we've done some of the most famous work from this region. That's exciting. And I will miss a lot of that” he says.
“There are concerns I had with regard to things like scalability. How do we scale this? How do we explore new ways of working with brands? How do we bring value to brands in slightly different ways beyond it being a function of the time I invest in work on your brand alone? How do we create more longevity? This is why, when we decided to move in to make the sweep into the gaming space, we did not start an agency. It's really about the study of what can technology bring to the table. How can we be an enabler for agencies, for brands, to bring in through data, in part, providing greater transparency by nature of being a platform?”
With Yup.gg, the pair believe that a marketplace or platform model can help create more trust in the eSports space because it allows greater transparency and data to the brands that want to invest in the space.
“In brand marketing, where there are fifty years worth of research and best practice, a lot of things are implied. In an emerging category, if we don't bring the trust and the trustworthiness to the marketplace very early that will slow down the development of everything,” adds Webster.
He compares the early days of social media to the rise of eSports, explaining that it took a long time for brands to put significant budgets into the likes of Facebook. With greater transparency baked in from the start, platforms stand to gain the trust of brands faster.
For Lindley, who previously worked at Red Bull, the move brings him back to a familiar space with gaming, but a chance to link closely with technology product development. For Lindley, the data also offers a chance to really segment gaming audiences in an interesting way that brands aren’t currently aware of, partly due to stereotypes about gamers.
“One of the big challenges is breaking those stereotypes because gamers are more than a gamer. Splitting that up and helping brands understand what the landscape looks like is exciting. It is an audience they'd like to reach but it is an audience which, because they've been in this environment for so long without brands, they don't want to let people into it to ruin it. Brands are quite famous for going in and ruining things if they don't quite understand it,” says Lindley.
Lindley says the barrier for a lot of brands is not knowing where to start. He uses the example of a brand wanting to start an esports team, which is only one way of getting involved. The brand would need to decide on questions such as “Who? Which country? Which game? Which ones have got the most ability? Should we reach out to people who are winning, or should we be sponsoring people who are up and coming?”
Drawing a parallel to Red Bull’s entry into Formula 1 and racing, they opted for feeder teams from go-karting upwards. Investing in grass-roots sometimes helps to buy credibility for entry, he explains, particularly when a brand may not be the most suited.
“Endemic brands [such as hardware tech brands or telcos] are easier because they've already got certain credibility in the scene. But maybe there are other brands out there in categories that have a level of credibility, and they fit better. How you balance that out with very authentic activities that create value for the community is key, otherwise, you risk going in, slapping a logo on something and being rejected,” he says.
Webster and Lindley are joining a team that comprises of tech and gaming experts, including co-founder Nicholas Khoo, who is an adviser to the Global Esports Federation. While both Webster and Lindley have experience in marketing for gaming brands, they believe not being from the gaming world offers a fresh perspective.
“It's almost positive that we are not gaming industry veterans. We will naturally skew towards asking, ‘Yeah, but what does it do for the fans and the players?’ If gaming doesn't expand to what it does for the brand, then that involvement in the system will end. The value brands can bring, can be hugely positive. If we look at the value brands have brought into sports, sports are better, it's bigger, it's more exciting, and it's more accessible. For fans, for players, for viewers, everywhere. Because brands came in and made that possible. How do we do that now in the world of gaming, and eSports? Starting with e-sports because it's the most accessible in the short term, but actually the broader game. How do we make gaming accessible to the masses?” asks Webster.
With all eyes on eSports and gaming, many brands and agencies will be asking the same questions. While it wasn't the route Webster and Lindley wanted to take, there are specialist eSports agencies springing up all over the world.
The pair think this is healthy for the industry and will help to scale the investment in the long-term, as brands will need experts to guide them through and execute on creative.
While the future looks bright, it isn’t certain, but bridging the gap between the industry and marketers though the platform/marketplace model should make sure it isn’t game over for a long time.