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As the esports industry continues to evolve and expand, there is no shortage of innovators to keep an eye on or ways to find inspiration. With a global audience consistently showcasing tremendous growth, especially in the past decade, many are eager to get more involved with esports, including those who may be coming from a traditional sports background. While there are numerous similarities between the two, finding one's footing in the esports industry in order to learn and understand its nuances requires great care and attention.
"The overall experience is super cool because it brings whatever I'm doing or whatever I'm listening to, to another level."
Throughout his career, marketing aficionado Hung Tran found himself gravitating towards esports organically, first building a foundation in traditional sports working with the Philadelphia Flyers and later going on to be recruited to help build the Philadelphia Fusion brand. Over the years, Hung has worked with a variety of teams, leagues and influencers, helping with everything from brand development to content marketing to client relationship management. Whether he is assisting clients with their merchandising strategies or playing an integral role in making high-profile connections with companies looking to expand their business, Hung has established himself as an expert in the space, all while making sure he doesn't lose sight of his underlying passion for gaming and esports.
With an emphasis on cultivating an experience and positively contributing to what makes esports such a vibrant industry, Hung is dedicated to ensuring that each team or individual player he works with has the opportunity to present their story to fans in creative and engaging ways. During a recent conversation with the DropLabs team, Hung shared more about how he collaborates with others on the marketing side, how to support the esports community from a place of authenticity and offers his advice for people looking to see for themselves what the budding industry is all about.
Can you tell me a bit about what you do for a living?
I'm currently the SVP of Marketing for Ultimate. Ultimate is a gaming and lifestyle company based here in Southern California, and it has two main verticals. The first vertical is ULT, which is our consumer apparel side. This is the side that we're probably most known for, and within that, we work with specific teams, leagues and influencers to help create their apparel story. Some of the notable clients that we work with include Overwatch League and Call of Duty League, where we hold a license. We also work with teams like eUnited, Endemic and Spacestation Gaming on their apparel side as well. The other side of our company is the agency side, where we work with companies like Champs and Footlocker and other traditional brands to find their position in gaming and to make sure that they're coming into the space in an authentic way. We also work with certain teams in the leagues to manage their brand and social media production.
What inspired you to gravitate toward the gaming and marketing side of esports?
So prior to ULT, I actually worked for the Philadelphia Fusion, which is one of the teams in the Overwatch League. I was one of the first employees there, so I helped build that brand from scratch as the league was starting in 2017 and '18. Prior to that, I spent about seven years managing the Philadelphia Flyers' brand and advertising. So, I had a pretty decent background in terms of brand building and managing a team's marketing. In 2017, Comcast decided to get into esports and gaming. Comcast owns the Flyers and also owns the Fusion, so I was recruited to help lead the Fusion and build that brand.
In your experience, would you say that the transition from working in traditional sports to esports was an easy one to make?
I wouldn't say it was an easy transition but one of the nice parts about moving from traditional sports to esports is you're kind of selling the same thing. You're selling passion and the fan bases are pretty similar, especially being able to go from the Philadelphia Flyers to the Philadelphia Fusion. I think knowing the audience so well provided me with a decent runway in terms of getting to understand the rest of esports and gaming.
I've been a gamer my whole life, like majority of us have, but becoming an expert in the esports and gaming industry is a whole other level than just being a gamer. There's a whole language that the chat understands that people who aren't on YouTube and who aren't on Twitch will never understand, unless they're seeing it. There's just a whole different side of the community, and a bunch of different nuances that you don't get unless you're really ingrained in all of that. So, knowing the Philadelphia market as well as I did definitely afforded me a little bit of time to understand the rest of gaming and esports. I think I've done a pretty decent job of learning those little nuances. So, while the transition is not an easy one, I think with so many traditional sports people moving into esports, if people keep an open mind and are willing to work and study the audience, then I think it's something that people can pick up pretty quickly.
Given that you're working in such a passion-driven industry, how would you say creativity comes into play in your day-to-day? Would you say the community aspect of your job is the most rewarding part?
In terms of creativity, that plays a big part in my day-to-day as the head of marketing, which is basically storytelling, right? It's gone away from the traditional billboards, TV ads, radio ads and newspaper ads that the generation before us really relied on. So, a lot of marketing now is content storytelling. We compete with so many different brands and influencers, so we have to be super creative in terms of the content that we're putting out, not only on the video side but in artwork as well, and in the way we're positioning a lot of the apparel that we're working on. Everything that we do, it goes through not only me, but the creative team that we work with, from designers to writers, just to make sure that there's a unique perspective that comes from the content and one that matches us as well.
In terms of community, that's absolutely my favorite part about this whole thing. I think the gaming community is a lot more fun for me to speak to than a traditional sports community. Not because they have different levels of passion; I think both have intense passions for the teams and the brands they love. But I think there's a better understanding; a higher acumen when it comes to the gaming community. Just because not only are these fans watching their favorite streamers and pro esports athletes, but then they're also playing the games. So, there's a whole other level of understanding that esports and gaming fans have because they get to participate in what they're watching as much as they want. So, they can go and play and practice a game. You can do that for traditional basketball and football, of course, but after a certain level, majority of the audience stops playing in an organized way.
Out of curiosity, how has your company been adapting to the current coronavirus situation?
So right now, with everything happening with the coronavirus, we really had to adapt a lot of what we're doing in the gaming space. Just because a lot of our production is shifting to help making masks and help making products for the front line and hospital employees. We've had to kind of reroute and rework what we're doing. So, it's actually an interesting time because a lot of professional sports athletes are getting into gaming and live streaming. So very recently, we've been helping out people like Paul George from the LA Clippers, Yogi Ferrell from the Sacramento Kings and a few other professional athletes. We helped them set up their streams, connect them with professional Call of Duty players to show them the difference in terms of skill level. It's been exciting to see the connection between traditional sports athletes and pro sports athletes in the last few months alone, and being able to do our part to helping become ingrained in the community.
On the ULT side, we have a 22,000-square foot studio that we work out of in Huntington Beach, and we host community events there. We work with production companies to shoot commercials and content there as well, so not being able to use that space has definitely been a hindrance on our business. And then with our partners in the Overwatch League and the Call of Duty League, these leagues have been preparing to take esports and gaming to whole markets and play in front of live audiences for the last two years. Now, that's not really a possibility and I don't think it's going to be a possibility for quite some time. So, over the last few weeks, the leagues have been converting back from live in-person to online. Everyone is adjusting well to the world we live in now, but the eventual goal, once can return to whatever sense of normalcy we have, is to go back to live events.
What surprised you the most about trying out DropLabs EP 01 for the first time?
When we did a test run with the shoes, I absolutely fell in love with them. I love that the design is super cool and fashionable and that you can wear out them wherever. For me, working as a creative especially, music is a really big part of my day-to-day. When I do need to get a creative space, I put on headphones or my AirPods and I stand at a whiteboard and listen to music, throwing a bunch of different ideas together. First impressions of the shoes really helped take that experience of me listening to music, and working on designs or stories or scripts to another level because I felt like I was at an event or I felt like I was at a concert, instead of standing in my office. I'm big into standing desks and I'm pretty much on my feet eight hours a day at the office. Because of this, I tend to walk around a little bit in my office anyway and the shoes really elevate that experience.
How would you describe the DropLabs experience to a friend?
It's kind of like a massage for your feet as you're standing there; definitely hard to explain though. The overall experience is super cool because it brings whatever I'm doing or whatever I'm listening to, to another level.
On the gaming side, did you notice right away how it could be a productive tool, or do you feel like the advantages may become clearer over time?
I think there's definitely potential on the gaming side, especially when you're getting into fully immersive games. I don't have any VR games personally but the way I can see the shoes really helping is if you were to use it with a VR headset, where you're really fully immersed in the world that you're playing in. It's something I haven't tried yet but am really interested in. In terms of the way I use the shoes now, it definitely brings everything to another level. I play a lot of first-person shooters, so when my feet are vibrating with the shots, it definitely heightens my alertness and helps me pay attention a little bit more than if just my controller was rumbling.
What would your advice be for someone who wants to get involved with esports?
I think the most important thing about esports and gaming for people trying to get involved is to really understand and learn the space. The community in gaming is really intelligent and they can smell someone who's not real to the space in a heartbeat. Learn about the community, learn about the events, learn about the players and the teams, and really come into it in an authentic way. For people who are traditional sports fans, my best recommendation is keep an open mind. I've seen a lot of situations where people from other industries, whether it be sports or music, come into this industry and think they know everything. But like I said, it's a whole 'nother world that you have to learn. Keeping an open mind and listening to the people in the community is the best way to go about it.
As innovators by design, the team behind DropLabs Technology is dedicated to supporting and elevating members of the creative community.Together, we aim to serve as a platform highlighting different creators as they work towards achieving visionary excellence and inspiring others along their path.To nominate a creative leader you’d like to see highlighted on our website, please contact email@example.com.
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