As esports grows in terms of commercial opportunities, so does the amount of people who want a piece of the pie – or at least to work in an industry that’s in its formative years and provides a new challenge. One trend that’s emerging as part of that growth is one in which those from traditional sports are making the jump over to esports.
Milly Preston is a testament to that, having left her five-year tenure at conference and content platform Leaders in Sport to join British organisation Excel Esports. Transitioning from serving as a Head of Marketing at a sports company to the same role within an esports organisation, there’s some potential insight to be gained from finding out the reasoning for such a move.
“I studied sports marketing at university, my A-levels were sport, media, and business, so when we were looking at degrees that might fit – I had no clue what I wanted to do, I didn’t really know what marketing was at the time – but I looked into it and thought, “Oh, that’s up my street,” Preston told Esports Insider of her beginnings in sports marketing.
“I joined Perform Group, which is now called Stats Perform, and had been working in the sports space ever since,” she explained. “It really just comes from a passion of mine.”
While marketing is now commonplace in every company, no matter the size, it wasn’t as popular in academic spaces when Preston was studying at university over a decade ago. “I didn’t really know much about what was meant by marketing,” Preston said. “I’m a creative person and I love understanding how something can be communicated to an audience, I took it at university on a whim but I really enjoyed understanding the theory and learning about it.”
Having worked in marketing on the side of traditional sports for years, it’s no surprise that Preston witnessed the prominence of esports growing rapidly outside of its own ecosystem.
“I first discovered esports when working at Leaders in Sport, I had never played games or watched esports,” explained Preston. “I didn’t know of it in my personal life but at Leaders in Sport there was understanding that there was a lot of talk in the industry about esports. So what we tried to do as a business was to provide a platform to help people understand how to maximize that space and help those in traditional sports to understand what was going on.”
Taking advantage of an up-and-coming industry – one in which many consider a sport in its own right – Preston and her team at Leaders in Sport began working within esports. “Initially we did small events and so my knowledge originally was around the ecosystem of esports, the major players, and who was doing what in the industry – less so the game side,” she said. “It was more how the industry was set up and the opportunities from a commercial standpoint.”
So, how does one decide to leave a job they’re passionate about for a role in an industry they discovered just years prior? As a marketer, delving into new opportunities and identifying the potential there is pretty common. Pinpointing esports as an interesting prospect, once an opportunity came up at Excel Esports, Preston decided to make the leap.
“I’d been at Leaders in Sport for five years, seeing that grow and left that in a place that I felt happy with,” she explained. “This opportunity came about and I always knew that my next role would be going into something where I felt like I could make a difference. The excitement for me around the esports industry at the moment is that they’re doing some things brilliantly – there are certain elements that esports is doing better than traditional sports – but there’s also a lot of opportunity and a lot of areas that are still being carved out and are infant. I want to be a part of that and I want to see that grow, so it was exciting to me to be part of it.”
The conversation instantly switched to what Preston makes of Excel Esports’ marketing and branding efforts prior to her appointment. Having assessed her future employer and recognising the opportunities, she already had a firm grasp on what the organisation had been working towards.
“I think the history of Excel means that the brand and the narrative of the brand is traditionally British,” said Preston. “They’re in a space that isn’t necessarily being done at the moment, especially in League of Legends, but generally across esports; they’ve marketed as the British brand which I think is a really big opportunity and something that we can take forward.”
Esports is more popular in some regions than others, there’s no denying that, but as an industry it’s growing on a global basis. Latin America and Oceania are following the lead of the United States, Europe, and some of Asia. So, making your brand explicitly British could be a limiting factor, surely?
“I hear what you’re saying,” Preston assured us. “I’m going to get my head round it all in the next few months, but I think it is safe for me to say that we are going to stick with British story and roots of the organisation. In my mind, it’s very much British roots with a global view.”
“If you imagine in other entertainment industries you might have the likes of a James Bond or The Beatles, where there’s someone who’s proud to be British, or a product that’s proud to be British, but has a view and exposure in the rest of the world as well,” she continued. “It’s definitely not that we just want our fan base and audience to be British because that’s not the case, it’s more that we want to be proud of the brand that we are and proud to be British. I’ve been here a week so I can’t speak too much about what the future holds, but I think that’s a strong story to tell.”
The conversation steered towards the aforementioned trend in which sports executives are moving over to esports, and Preston explained that she sees some familiar aspects in both industries. With that in mind, it becomes obvious as to why the transition isn’t as daunting as it could be when changing industries.
“I think there’s a really fine line, the esports industry has some real similarities to traditional sports so knowledge and expertise can be transferred very easily,” she said. “I think that’s why you might see a lot of these moves over the next however many years.
“The excitement around the industry is that there is such an opportunity and those that bought into it and can see that potential for growth are probably wanting to be part of it. I can’t speak for Robin [McCammon, who recently joined Excel Esports as its CCO] but I assume that he has a similar sort of thinking to that.”
While it’ll take some time to see Preston’s major effects on Excel Esports’ marketing efforts, it’s clear that her experience in traditional sports will bleed over into esports – possibly combining the best of both industries. Also considering the recent hires of McCammon and new CEO Wouter Sleijffers, Excel Esports seemingly has one thing in mind: growth.