My name is Sung, and I work on the Brand Partnerships team for one of the oldest and largest esports companies in the world, ESL Gaming. As I write this and reflect, I can’t help but think about how fortunate I am to have been able to grow my career in industries that I loved growing up - sports and now esports. Hopefully by the end of this piece, you’ll be able to see that esports is a very real movement and it can be a great opportunity to grow your career.
To give you some background, before moving to NYC and working for ESL, I lived in Philadelphia and worked for the 76ers for over 4 years, in ticket sales. I’ll be honest...before I joined, working in ticket sales was the furthest thing I ever imagined doing after graduating college. I had internships in PR, sponsorship and marketing and wanted to start my career in one of those areas. However, I can look back now and say that sales and business development skills are among the most desired in business and starting my career in ticket sales helped me understand and embrace that.
In 2016, the 76ers, were one of the first sports companies to invest into esports when they acquired Team Dignitas. I didn’t realize how big of a headline that was until other investors and teams started to follow. The Warriors, Robert Kraft, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Drake, etc. all started to announce investment deals shortly thereafter. I reached out to Paul Brewer, who I had met during my time at Turner Sports when he was working on Bleacher Report. He had previous experience in esports during his time at Samsung, and now he was back in it as the SVP of Brand Partnerships at ESL. What started as an informational interview turned into a job opportunity to work under him in sponsorship sales.
I was fortunate to understand the esports space a bit from having grown up as a fan, but more importantly, I understood how a major franchise operates. I was able to leverage my skills and experiences from the 76ers and bring that to ESL. Having almost a year’s worth of experience in esports now, I can say that selling esports is not that different than selling tickets (and I’m not the only one who says that). The team that I work with daily has impressive backgrounds in the traditional sports and media spaces, having worked for brands such as Turner Sports, Nike, ESPN, NBC, PAC-12, FOX and more. They have executed countless marketing campaigns and partnerships and they also echo my thoughts on the similarities between esports and traditional ticket selling.
When selling into brands and agencies, one of the things we emphasize is focusing on the audience and the reach that esports can provide. In this case, it’s an opportunity to tap into a loyal audience that’s educated and tech-savvy. Yes, there are nuances to each game title, and the messaging must be altered slightly from how you talk to a basketball fan, but at the end of the day, sports and esports are both entertainment platforms which generate a lot of interest and eyeballs.
That isn’t to say selling it is easy, there is still so much work and education to be done to help people become more familiar with esports and how it all works. Looking ahead, there has been so much progress in commercializing esports and there have been some amazing partnerships with brands that have historically been active in traditional sports such as the LCS with Mastercard and Honda, or Overwatch with Bud Light and Coca-Cola, or ESL with Intel, Pepsi and Mercedes-Benz.
Before I go, I want to quickly share that our newest partnership with LG happened because of a skill I learned in ticket sales... cold calling! In sales, getting ghosted and not receiving a response is all part of the game, whether you’re trying to sell group tickets or the naming rights to a stadium. But that’s okay, don’t be afraid of it! Be kind to everyone, stay connected and relevant and take time to reflect and be grateful for what you get to do.
If you have any questions about esports, ticket sales, or anything in between, never hesitate to reach out!
Sunghwan Kim is a Jr. Account Executive at ESL Gaming focused on selling esports partnerships. Prior to that he spent years in ticket sales with the Philadelphia 76ers. He’s a graduate of Syracuse University and had internships with NASCAR, Turner Sports, and the Louisville Bats. He has a diverse background and is a great resource for all. He’s also a mentor in theClubhouse and you can reach out and connect with him here.