Careers in Esports, Joy Chao, Director of Marketing, Esports for KSE
Joy Chao is the Director of Marketing, Esports at Kroenke Sports and Entertainment (KSE). If Kroenke sounds familiar, that’s because KSE owns the Los Angeles Rams, Colorado Avalanche, Denver Nuggets, and a few other minor teams.
In 2017, they invested into the Overwatch League as the Los Angeles Gladiators, one of two Los Angeles teams. Then in 2019, they invested once more into esports with the Los Angeles Guerrillas in the Call of Duty League.
I reached out to Joy to talk to her about what a Director of Marketing does for an esports franchise in one of the largest markets in the country. Not to mention the fact that KSE is building a giant complex called Hollywood Park where many of their teams will play, including esports teams.
To begin with, can you tell me how you got involved with esports and Phoenix1 (now Sentinels)?
To make a very long story short, I wanted to go into the NHL but took what I thought was a slight detour and ended up in esports. One of our alumni reached out to my college and asked for people that would be good marketing interns. My professors vouched for me by name, so I woke up to an email introducing me to the world of esports.
Initially, my first response was, “People play video games for a living?” But my life motto is “don’t shut any doors that have been opened to you. Check it out!” So I worked three jobs in my senior year and when I graduated, ended up staying in esports.
What were you planning to do in the NHL?
I wanted to do marketing for them as well.
As the Director of Marketing, Esports, what do you do?
I oversee all the marketing that encompasses KSE Esports: we have the LA Gladiators in Overwatch League and the Guerrillas in Call of Duty League. It’s about our overarching strategy and touches on multiple elements: social media, video content, public relations, branding, and more. I’m a big picture thinker so strategy is most important. Right now, we’re a newer organization so we’re moving more slowly—we currently have a third-party contractor handling the marketing who I work with as I flesh out our big picture plans. Part of that includes building out our own in-house team.
Can you give me an example of something marketing that you have run for the Gladiators that you think worked out really well, and perhaps something that didn’t turn out as planned?
It’s important to me that anything we’re doing is authentic. In LA, the Latinx community is a major part of LA traditional sports fans. We also see a lot of them in our esports fans. So many of our die-hard frontline Gladiators fans are also Latinx. So what we decided to do was to, not just pay homage, but highlight and respect the fact that they are there.
So when Blizzard allowed us to do an alternate jersey design, we wanted to make it part of that homage. I was determined to have it be designed by a Latinx, LA-born and bred artist. There were no other options. Fortunately, we found David Siquieros, who is not only LA-born and bred but also an esports jersey designer by profession. His great uncle, also David Siquieros, was a famous Mexican mural painter.
So beyond creating the jersey, we were able to do some pieces that highlighted the heritage and the process behind the scenes. We had a video and a separate article interview. When everyone saw the jersey and the effort that went into it behind the scenes, the reaction was really strong and positive and I was really proud of it.
Read more about the alternate jersey by Inven Global’s Chris Cuevo
So as the Director of Marketing, you would say you came up with the concept and then helped see it through the whole way?
Yeah, from the marketing perspective, my core direction was that it has to be done authentically. Here are the resources I think we need to make that happen and here are the strategies and different branches we’re going to take to make sure people understand the story of how we did it, that this wasn’t just some random esports designer slapping this on a jersey and calling it a day, that there was an actual story and legacy behind this.
How about something that perhaps didn’t turn out as planned?
One thing I think that was definitely really fun and we put a lot of production effort into, was Hydration’s Holiday Hits.
Basically, we pre-filmed a 45-minute segment of what we called Hydration’s Holiday hits, and then we had it run on a loop on our Twitch channel. We used that to have people buy Hydration’s album to raise money for charity.
You can download this album of Hydration singing Christmas songs. I still stand by it being a hilarious idea, but I think there was more we could have done to broadcast it and reach more viewers.
With the LA Gladiators, you’re one of the teams with investment from traditional sports, has that had any impact on what your bosses expect in regard to marketing since I would say esports marketing and traditional marketing are pretty different.
Honestly, no. The really great thing about KSE—when I talked to them before I joined, I discussed the long-term vision and what their plan was because I wanted to make sure I was aligned with it before I committed to working with them. They’ve come into it with the dedication to esports in the long-term. It’s not just “let’s invest and if it doesn’t pan out we’ll pull out of esports.” There’s also no expectation for us to be just like the Rams.
It’s been me buying into the same vision of Hollywood Park. We’re a city-based franchise, unlike League of Legends. Because of that, there are certain things I was looking at. Like how the Los Angeles Football Club was able to grow through grassroots community and marketing, going through the neighborhoods of LA and winning them over. The LA Galaxy have been here for so long and suddenly LAFC takes their territory. The aspects of traditional sports that I want to emulate are how well certain teams, like the LAFC, have done in terms of community outreach and growth.
Hollywood Park echoes that, where they are continually connecting with the community and making sure they’re involved. So one of my main guiding thoughts is, “How are we able to connect with that local community?”
For students who are looking to get into marketing and esports, what would you say the most important things for them to know are?
If you want to get into esports, you need to know your strengths. There’s a lot of people who just want to be in esports, but the problem is there are so many different things you can do: marketing, video content, social media, be a player agent, or more.
There’s a lot of things to do and the important thing is to know your personal strengths and study them. If law interests you, go into law school. If you’re good at negotiation, look at being an agent. There’s a great need for lawyers and agents in the space. Whatever the field is, you’ll bring the experience of that field into esports and have the passion and knowledge to apply that.
Now here at NASEF, we’re about building the pipeline and showing how esports can be educational. One thing I caught in your panel appearance at the Inven Global Esports Conference was that you pointed out the LA Kings and the Ducks support all of the local hockey rinks in LA. Can you expand on why that’s important?
This is super key. I’m a personal fan of hockey, but it’s the least popular of the major North American sports. Because of that, they have to do a lot more to continue their outreach and to continue growing their audience. I like to look at what those teams do, particularly in the regions where hockey isn’t as popular, like South Carolina.
One of the things Southern California has done particularly well is the creation of their junior and little teams program. I think it’s adopted across the NHL now, but the second team to create it was the LA Kings. They set up a week-long boot camp with free equipment and it’s like $150. The kids get to come and try out hockey and that’s how you get them interested in the first place.
The thing a lot of people criticize about the sport is that it’s really expensive. Padding and ice time is expensive. Soccer and basketball are really easy to pick up, you just go to a park and play a game with your friends. So they had to make it accessible to people.
I know the LA Kings recently donated a bunch of money to the YMCA to help set them up for ball and stick hockey/street hockey because you have to get that interest while they’re young. It works as a big pipeline because as you grow the number of people interested in your sport, then they’re going to grow up and become viewers, first off, and second off, the ones who are talented enough to enter the talent pipeline are going to grow up and become players.
The chances of that are a lot lower, but a great example is Arizona. The Arizona Coyotes arrived in Arizona in ’96, and Auston Matthews was born in ’97. He is literally the product of the NHL’s success. His uncle took him to a game when he was young and that’s where he fell in love with the game. He started playing because the Coyotes had set that up.
He was drafted as the #1 pick in 2016 by the Toronto Maple Leafs and is now a star in the NHL. He is a product of that pipeline.
How would you envision that transferring to esports? The interest is there, but the opportunity is not always there.
Yeah, and this is a little off-topic, but I think there’s something to be said for income disparity when it comes to consoles being more accessible than PC gaming for a lot of households. I think it’s worth investigating, but I haven’t looked into it enough.
Going back to what you said, esports faces a couple more challenges. The first is people still saying video games are a waste of time. We have to have that educational process of letting people know this is a viable career for players and as part of the industry.
That’s part of what we want to do with KSE and Hollywood Park. We want to have that first step of community engagement where you begin the education of the parents, that this is an actual and viable job option. This is something I want to do in the future. Career fairs at the local high school level. Show them the people that work for studios, for teams, even freelancers. Show them all the viable career paths in this industry.
That will help people understand that their kids can make money from this hobby that they disapprove of. That’s the first step, the educational process. That’s why when people complain about those mainstream media pieces, “People get paid to play video games? Can you believe that?”, I think having those pieces is good for that education. You’re slowly teaching them that this is a viable career.
The second part would be, I think, going into the younger levels. There are college scholarship programs, but beyond that, a high school level. Los Angeles is interesting because it’s such an esports hub, but you want to introduce this at a young age. Hockey has three different levels: They have under eight, junior high, and high school level. At each step, you want to be able to introduce this to people.
The accessibility of PCs that can play, do you think that’s one reason South Korea has a higher conversion rate because they have all the PC bangs whereas U.S. culture doesn’t have those?
Absolutely, and there’s a couple of things to that, too. It’s shown as a viable career there. You can get delay going into the military if you’re an esports pro. They’re officially recognized by the government, which I think is a big deal.
Finally, what do you love most about esports?
I think my favorite thing is the accessibility. Anytime on the weekend, I can just open YouTube and something is going to be on. Now that they’re pushing the live streams for all the leagues, there’s so many things to watch. Almost anyone, anywhere in the world, who has access to the internet and a working phone could watch them. With traditional sports, there’s a lot of blackout dates. It’s just not as accessible to watch and I think esports really is.