Esports marketing expert Felix LaHaye, Founder and CEO of United Esports, joins host Julie Slater to discuss how to make valuable connections between brands and Esports audiences. You’ll find out why Esports campaigns work and why they might not, and you’ll see how advertising in the Esports market can future-proof your business.
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Julie Slater: Welcome to The Brand Moat, the podcast where each month we bring you inspirational stories from global brand leaders who share how to build your brand and future-proof your business.
I’m Julia Slater. I start every episode with big ideas and wrap up each show with key insights so you can focus on taking action and in case you’re wondering why do we call this show the brand moat?
We’ll just like a castle, your moat protects you from outsiders and the competition. When the idea is applied to your company, it helps you maintain your competitive advantage. Your moat may be a feature, some tech magic or marketing secret sauce, but we think your strongest mote is your brand. This podcast is all about that.
This month, founder and CEO of United e-sports, Felix Lahaye joins me to talk about making valuable connections between brands and esports audiences. Felix has that rare combination of having a fast start as well as a lot of experience. He and his team are veterans of thousands of campaigns and his personal accolades include making Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list, Inc’s 30 Under 30 and being named on Inc 5,000 fastest growing companies in America. He’s known as an innovator and we’re about to find out why.
Here’s my conversation with Felix LaHaye. Hey, thank you so much Felix, for joining me today.
Felix LaHaye: Great to be here. Thank you for having me.
Julie Slater: Can you tell us, I guess just to start about e-sports, what exactly I guess to the general person, you know, what, how would you explain e-sports?
Felix LaHaye: Sure.
Esports is the media and events that surround professional gaming and professional video gaming.
So it is an enormous cultural phenomenon whereby people are getting together and watching and participating in either small or large or very large competitions around video games that have a competitive element, so it can be played and a college, it can be played at your friend’s house, so it can be played at Staples Center in an arena with 80,000 people that fill out in a few hours. So it’s pretty big.
Julie Slater: And when did all this begin? Like the 90s?
Felix LaHaye: Yeah, it’s about 20 years old at this point, but we’re are really much at the inflection point. A few years ago esports really started to sell out stadiums. You know there’s around 400 million people who watch esports in the world right now, but right now we’re at a point where although people have been working in it for the past few years, it’s now finally become more of a buzz word. So esport in its current state, depending on who you ask, it’s either in the bottom of the second or the top of the third inning, so it’s pretty early, but the game already has an identity.
Julie Slater: How did you get involved in esports to begin with?
Felix LaHaye: Oh, I’ve been playing games entire life. I started being involved in esports about 10 years ago, but as a viewer, a game called StarCraft 2.
Julie Slater: Are you very good at it?
Felix LaHaye: I’m probably the best one in this room, but, and the esports world no, I mean I was a diamond, so it’s just a classification of players. I’m okay. Let’s say, but far from being a professional player. But yeah, I started watching it because I was playing it, which is a journey that is extremely common amongst esports fans. They play a game and then they know that there is an existing competitive professional scene and they start watching. So I started watching with StarCraft 2 about 10 years ago and I started my company United Esports about two years ago in 2018. I did all my career in media and marketing and I wanted to bring my skills that I had developed throughout my life through my passion, which is esports and gaming.
Julie Slater: What need is your company filling?
Felix LaHaye: The truth is the esports audience is probably the best audience. From a marketing standpoint, it’s 18 to 34, it’s higher income. It’s extremely engaged, but esports and gaming can seem a little bit opaque from the outside. So we started the company with the mission of helping brands that are not traditionally associated with esports get into e-sports. And I’m proud to say that now we also help brands within gaming and within esports, develop their identities and create that media.
Julie Slater: What would you say for your company was maybe the easiest thing from starting it and the hardest thing?
Felix LaHaye: So the company is built on the premise that I started by recruiting people that all had a successful career in media and marketing and a passion for gaming and esports. And honestly it’s a great team, but the easiest thing is to be with people that are all like-minded and you can crack a bunch of jokes about the games, talk about the games all the time. And you know, when we’re working long days sometimes we say “let’s pause for 10 minutes and play a game”. So the fact that we have a shared common passion is excellent. And you know, the cherry on the cake on that side is that we’re playing a part and just a little bit influencing how the industry is, is moving. So that’s probably the best elements to really be completely immersed with people who have that shared passion and something we’re so in love with because I said passionate about seven times and I think that’s what makes us good. You know, the gamer is everything you know. I mean there’s a lot of stereotypes. Most of them false. You know, gamers are 16 year olds living in their parents’ basement. I mean if you look at the statistics of the audience we talk to, just from a numerical standpoint, you can see they’re extremely great and the way they react to marketing and media messages is frankly quite different from the other audiences, having worked in influencer marketing have been worked a little bit in radio.
Julie Slater: How different would you say it is?
The truth of the matter is, with esports when you do well, you do very well. And when you do unwell, there’s a chance to do quite unwell.
The important thing on that second point is what’s led some brands at first to be a bit scared because they don’t want to have the bad rep, etcetera. But there is many brands that have started on the wrong foot in esports and turned it around 180 so it’s just an engaged audience. People are passionate about esports, you know in the same way that a lot of traditional sports fans are passionate about their sports, it becomes a part of their identity.
Julie Slater: So then what is the biggest challenge for your company?
Felix LaHaye: Obviously the challenge is more a challenge that’s for the industry. I’d say the challenge is to combat progressively the negative stereotypes around gaming, around gamers.
Julie Slater: A lot more women getting involved.
Felix LaHaye: Yeah, absolutely. Actually, so the statistic, that’s a really interesting statistic actually. First of all, last year for the first time that I know of a major, esports event was won by a woman. Because most esports are, you know, you can compete uh regardless of your gender and regardless of your size and many things. I mean, a lot of people say it’s a great equalizer, you know, everyone knows and that they will be e-sports superstar that have physical disabilities and so on.
Felix LaHaye: Because it is truly a, again, the great equalizer. It’s fantastic. People find it. I find it amazing.
Julie Slater: That also kind of opens up that people can specifically market to a very like a niche group of people.
Felix LaHaye: Absolutely.
Julie Slater: They’re all so different.
Felix LaHaye: That’s one of the things we do, you know, I’m proud to say every week it’s, we come in and say, okay cool. You want to talk to about an esports audience? Well, first of all, esports is huge, so if you want to blanket the entire esports market you can, it’s going to take a lot of money.
Julie Slater: Well, let’s say a company decides they want to get involved in esports marketing, so what would you like if they come to you, what’s their first step into it seems kind of from an outsider’s point of view, if they don’t know much about it, how do they figure out where they should go with this? Like what areas?
Felix LaHaye: Yeah.
Julie Slater: How do you help them figure that out?
Felix LaHaye: A common mistake is to take content that is playing on national TV, targeting the whole family from 16 to 65 and broadcast at your very particularly sports audience and expect them to react like to general public. They may, they also may not. So that is some problems. We may not problems actually. These are some preexisting conditions we might see in some of our customers and here it’s about reframing. Which aspect of e-sports makes the most sense for them.
Julie Slater: Would you ever tell a client that e-sports just isn’t for them?
Felix LaHaye: Absolutely. I mean generally speaking it’s more like our 18 to 34 is your core. If yes, esports, if no, is it 25 to 45 okay. Esports. But if it’s a bit older, generally no, it’s just that esports, you know the truth of the matter is that 75% of esports fans are between 18 and 34, 10% are over 34 and 15% are below.
Julie Slater: And you’re saying that the 18 to 34, they have a lot more money than people are giving them credit.
Felix LaHaye: Yeah. I mean, so not only this, but e-sports 18 to 34 are richer than non e-sports is 18 to 34. Yeah.
Julie Slater: Now how did the Louis Vuitton partnered with league of legends? To me I would think there’s no way Louis Vuitton fits into esports at all?
Felix LaHaye: I love to talk about that topic actually. That’s literally one of my favorite partnership events in esports of the last few months. We’ve updated our timeline of important events in esports with that actually last week. So all this to say that Louis Vuitton and League of Legends have exactly matching, overlapping demographic and it’s a question that you know, people especially in the US will wonder why it works.
Julie Slater: I mean that seems shocking to me that their demographic is so young.
Felix LaHaye: Yeah. I mean their demographic is almost an exact match why they created in game assets that talk directly to their young customer. Louis Vuitton was a fairly young customer base. And that’s the main difference between the people who buy Louis Vuitton and what they see as new markets. And their traditional markets is their age. So it’s a young brand in those markets. And so is League of Legends, so they created an endgame assets but also, a physical collection, a fashion items around league of legends and they sold it out in less than 24 hours. Wow. So it’s an extremely successful partnership and it’s very intelligent because it just matching audiences are almost exactly the same to start with and giving them what they want.
Julie Slater: So I think it’s for companies or people listening that you may be surprised at how much the East ports community could be a part of your market.
Felix LaHaye: Yeah. What’s so smart about that collaboration is, you know, they didn’t even ma only make a, you know, X amount of thousand dollars handbag. They also made an, I don’t remember the price, but it’s a couple of dollars, you know, in game assets. So your character in league of legends can be dressed and we’ve, we don’t. So basically anyone can participate. It’s not only for, you know, the, the, the richest that can afford, Luis Vuitton everything. It’s really fantastic in the sense that it’s a true full integration over the market. So yeah. Well done Luis Vuitton. That was really good.
Julie Slater: Are there other campaigns or things you’ve seen in e-sports that you’re like, Oh I wish I was a part pf that.
Felix LaHaye: I love that one honestly that one. The Luis Vuitton one is the most interesting one. We’d like to do a lot of things that target new demographics as you were mentioning earlier. I think that, you just a little outside of the question. One thing that I saw that I was not involved in, that United wasn’t involved in that was really important for us is when Bud Light heavily invested in e-sports. Why? Because we keep on talking about the, and rightfully so, the stereotype of the gamer being 16 in his basement, Alcohol companies are pretty strict on who they advertise to and you know anyone here listening that works in marketing knows that there’s usually I think. It’s 71.6% or something or 0.9 needs to be above 21 to be advertised to so by Bud Lght’s saying, Cool. We’re investing in e-sports. It shows that they know and they show everyone that they know it’s an old enough audience that it confirms those statistics that we’ve been saying about their age and their and how valuable they are and it allowed us to unlock a great amount of conversations and partnerships simply because people have, okay cool, Bud Light is going to take the risk that their legal team, it’s probably extremely well buckled up. We’re good, let’s go. So I think that’s was another key event for us, although it was a not as a sensational as then we veto league of legends partnership from a marketer send point. It held an enormous amount of value and unlocking possibilities.
Julie Slater: Have there been any campaigns that you’ve seen that really you thought maybe would be great but tanked that you learned from?
Felix LaHaye: I mean, yes, I’m not here to go and say these guys, but
Julie Slater: Well I guess could you say without saying camp certain campaigns, but can you say what was the fail of something?
Felix LaHaye: Sure. The term we like to use around the office is a based around a meme called hello fellow kids. But it’s the idea that people try to talk to the kids down to them. So the meme is Steve Buschemi with a backwards hat, a skateboard on his, on his shoulder and it says hello fellow kids. It’s about, you know, people are out of touch trying to pretend they’re in touch with the youth and failing to do so. And it’s not only a youth referred to as non youth thing here, but it is trying to speak gamer without being a gamer. The entire premise behind our team is that we are actual gamers and we are actually e-sports fan. And I think most of us are comfortable in saying that we are nerds and geeks. Like we are, although a lot of these sports, I mean the truth of the matter, and I shouldn’t say this because a lot of e-sports fans are not nerds and geeks.
There’s an enormous proportion of people who watch esports without being nerds and geeks.
It’s just an of culture and media now that transcends nerd numb, but the campaigns that fail are the ones that, it’s an interesting thing actually. It fails less sometimes to just take an ad from TV and say, okay, this is the ad. We show everyone and we show it to you guys. That’s all right. What has failed the most is obviously the things that try to be connected to the culture and are so completely off –that fails. I mean that’s not, you know, only in e-sports. I’m sure you see that in everything, but anything, again that is close to the chest for its audience, getting it right is quite important
Julie Slater: And I would imagine even generically in marketing, it’s really knowing your audience. But I would say an e-sports because it’s such a passionate, very specific type of community that you really need to either know what you’re doing or hire somebody who knows exactly where you’re taking your message.
Felix LaHaye: Sure. And it’s a great place to have fun. Honestly. The cool thing is e-sports are built around competition and fun. So from a content standpoint, it’s a great place to have fun. And so I think a lot of people have a good time when they get into e-sports because you can really explore new possibilities.
Julie Slater: You can have fun with your marketing.
Felix LaHaye: Yeah, absolutely. Which in all fairness, you should in most types of marketing. You know, I did none e-sports marketing for awhile and the one that’s fun is usually better.
Julie Slater: Where do you see esports going? Like it’s expanding so quickly. So where do you see, I mean I’ve even seen things saying, you know, Netflix and Amazon are going to have to, you know, they’ve, they’ve captured so much off people streaming their stuff that e-sports is actually becoming a competitor to even them.
Felix LaHaye: But that’s actually a great quote. And what started with that quote from the Netflix shareholder. It is, we compete and lose to fortnight more than HBO. And I’m paraphrasing. Gaming is honestly one of the most legitimate forms of entertainment in the world, if not the most. I talk about it quite frequently. Living in Hollywood socially, you know, you meet a lot of people. I say, Whoa, gaming, it’s, you know, when don’t they go play outside, et cetera, things like that. And it’s a ridiculous opinion. I mean, first of all, e-sports and gaming’s really, which incorporates these sports and certain elements is bigger than music and Hollywood combined. And it’s safe. And as we mentioned, it’s the great equalizer. Everyone can enjoy. It’s a truly social experience. And from an esports as an entertainment medium, I think, you know, it’s going to reach very soon a point where it is on par, if not bigger than traditional sports.
In our office, we frequently talk about the fact that people that have kids nowadays now watch esports, so their kids grow up watching esports more or exclusively compared to traditional sports.
So you know, I was born in Montreal, Canadians fan, three generations if not four. You know from the day I was born I was a Canadians fan. But this exact concept is happening now at e-sports. There’s millions of people right now. They’re relatively small but were born in e-sports and when they are adults it will have an equal, if not more important place in our psyche than traditional sports.
Julie Slater: What would be comparable to the Superbowl of e-sports?
Felix LaHaye: So league of legends world final is bigger than the Superbowl. While the wide, the beauty when in e-sports and similarly true traditional sports is that there is a bunch of them. So you’ll also have the international, which is a different game that has an extremely viewed by tens of millions, if not hundreds of million. You have all these elements. So a personal belief, and I don’t know how shared it as in the sports industry, is that the abs e-sports doesn’t exist yet. I think that our games or a game or a coupled in games that are going to come out in the next few years are going to really Trump everything else that exists in e-sports through their unifying power. The only challenge in my opinion to e-sports growth or the main challenge is that some of them not all are fairly complicated to understand if you don’t play the game. Not all of them but that is if you watch soccer for example, the world’s most popular sport, it’s pretty easy. Guys run after the ball, they kick it and the goals and you understand what the winning events are and some e-sports, it’s not quite the case and there are some that are extremely simple but they’re not very, they’re not as deep in terms of strategy and skill and enjoyment and then you have the ones that are extremely deep that are much harder as a spectator sport. I see no reason why they will not soon be an Esports that couples both of these elements — ease of watching and very deep game complexity but at several level.
Julie Slater: And is your whole life surrounded by esports? Is your girlfriend involved in any sports?
Felix LaHaye: She is not involved in any sports but she watches a lot of e-sports. Probably a mix of against her will and and willingly. But at the office we, we, we watched about 12 hours of e-sports a day. So
Julie Slater: Wow. How do you get any work done?
Felix LaHaye: I mean we leave, you know, it’s like going to a bar and you have 17 TVs playing three or four or seven different games, you know, they get the games play and we, and and we do our work and you know, sometimes you know, people are typing away or having a discussion and someone will be like, wow, that was great. And the beauty of Twitch and our platform is that we go in, we rewind it and say, Oh yeah, that was pretty good. And then we all go back to what we’re doing.
Julie Slater: How do you make an ad or marketing campaign that is as fun to watch as the game?
Felix LaHaye: The truth of the matter is that you do one that resonates well with the audience. What we really like to do, and you know, I think we’re, we don’t have the monopoly and making good gaming or e-sports content, but what like to do is to actually create something real, you know, their, their stories and so on. But we like to create events. We like to create experiences, we like to create encounters and we use that as a, a basis for our ideation and sometimes even content creation. So it has a true connection to, to the real. That’s honestly the thing we do frequently and we’re quite known for.
Julie Slater: I feel like in some ways people could overthink what they need to do to get involved in these sports.
Felix LaHaye: Absolutely. I completely agree with you and that’s, that’s a great point. I mean, the idea is that yes, there are different communities and yes, you’d need to do it correctly. Yes, you need do and the right place. But there are many codes of, you know, most of us, a lot of us that work at United e-sports are marketers or people from Hollywood or content production. And so there’s many codes that apply. It’s not, you know, voodoo is just doing content, doing great ditch digital ads for people in a different market. Granted, there’s a few other things. They exist only in e-sports, but the rest has really mastering the community and just having fun with it. Honestly, he’s, boards are made for fun. I mean they’re based on games, so
Julie Slater: There’s a lot of passion there.
Felix LaHaye: It’s a topic I’ve been passionate about my entire life. And the truth is we talk about it a few of us in the office owner early or mid thirties and it wasn’t cool to be a gamer when we grew up and now it’s pretty damn cool. So it’s super interesting for us, especially to see in gen Z the extreme positive. Like people are starting to catch on to the positivity of gaming. We’re happy to be in it.
Julie Slater: We all want to stay ahead of the marketing curve. So we want a future proof our businesses. So what should we be looking out for any sports marketing and media?
Felix LaHaye: I have to answer this a little bit philosopically, but the truth of the matter is I generally don’t believe whether it might be an e-sports and I support that as a perfect future-proofing of to any business. Most things are meant to go away. Overall, I’d say that what’s important is to maximize the time whereby a business is relevant. So I think the closest thing to this, any sports, and it’s not only any sports, it’s anything that is culturally significant, is to be associated as a brand. Would that culture right now it’s still possible to get in and get a semi or a leaf foothold in the market because there’s a lot that’s already been done by semi early foothold and be associated with the values and the lifestyle that has East ports and gaming for as long as possible.
But ultimately a brand that does very well sticks for one generation, few are the ones that stick for more. So as marketers we have to be okay with that and you know, we should all probably retire really quickly to keep relevant.
Julie Slater: How should our listeners use e-sports marketing to build their brand?
Felix LaHaye: The cool thing in esports , and we said a lot has been done already, but there’s really a lot of e-sports communities and some are less served from a marketing standpoint and others and like any other marketing, sometimes it’s better to be by far the biggest fish in a smaller pond than the smallest fish in a smaller pond.
Julie Slater: You’ve been considered an innovator. Do you have any tee shirts that say I am an innovator. What do you think made you that? Like what has brought you to where you are now? How have you thought differently than others?
Felix LaHaye: I don’t know if I, you know, I might answer this slightly to the side. I think what keeps us good at what we do, as the fact that we think about it all the time, I think that we try and change it. I think as a marketer, if you’re offering is the same than it was six months ago, you’re not doing it right. So it’s a matter of really keeping in touch with what’s, what’s new and what could be interesting. I mean you have to take an amount of calculated risk, try things out. But ultimately as marketer, if we’re not also making trends, if we’re just trying to, to follow what’s going on, we’re not doing our jobs correctly. I think innovation in our spaces comes from a place of need. So ultimately innovation should come from need rather than, in my opinion, at least in my life, I think there’s better innovators than me by far, far, far, but in my life it’s always come from a position of from need and trying to do things just, just 1% better every day.
Julie Slater: From a marketing standpoint then, what would you say is the best content for e-sports?
Felix LaHaye: Esports is super rich. There is extremely talented streamers and gamers. I’m sure that, you know, I’ll have people read about them all the time. So you can create content that is immediately connected to the audience. And with them and have the immediate response for what they call the chat on the streaming services. So you know, you broadcast something and everyone’s like, wow, that’s cool. Oh my God, that sucked. So that’s one of the number one feedback loop and e-sports is that the audience is always there. There is a, an a opportunity to create a AAA content when you talk about, you know, we make content that will be served as pre-rolls on Twitch or pre-rolls on mixer, YouTube gaming, et cetera. This is more similar to what you would seen as a preroll than anything else. But here we’re really using our team’s expertise to create content that will resonate well with those audiences. There is content that is event based content and to sense that dirt, I mean these are sporting events, right? You’re going to have 20,000 people show up, what are you going to do? They can, they can sit and watch and you can also entertain them and a really rich manner. And we do that a lot in our campaigns. Echoes a feeling of games in general, like jumping and hitting a box. You know, and a coin comes up, everyone knows what game it’s about, but you can also have a wizard and it’s potions and so on. So generally speaking, creating that high touch content is something we’d like to do a lot.
Julie Slater: Do you think that with Facebook streaming, do you think that they are going to be a competitor to Twitch?
Felix LaHaye: Yeah, absolutely. The idea is this is that Twitch was for a bit of time, kind of the uncontested gaming streaming platform. And now there’s been a few others like Caffine and there’s brands in Asia, et cetera. But let’s say in North America, domain three competitors right now would be Facebook gaming, YouTube gaming and mixer, Twitch is still growing because streaming is growing. So Twitch’s relative market share is decreasing, but their actual numbers are still, from what I’m told increasing. So I believe that it will reach a point. I’d be surprised if in the very foreseeable future, Twitch loses market dominance. But I think it’s actually really good that there is entrance. I mean you know, I think.
Julie Slater: Competition is always great.
Felix LaHaye: Exactly.
Julie Slater: Everybody step up. Absolutely.
Felix LaHaye: And for us on top of it for marketers, for you know, we do media buying for a lot of our clients, gaming, media buying. It’s great that we have four places to buy instead of one.
Julie Slater: How should our listeners use e-sports marketing to build their brand and also for Esports marketing to be used as a brand moat? As we the title of this podcast that we want to defend the brand,.
Felix LaHaye: The first thing that comes to mind is a differentiator. If none of your competitors are targeting e-sports audiences and by capturing that audience, have a great leg up your competition. If all of your competitors are targeting e-sports, first of all, if a de varied marketing managers of these brands are doing their jobs, okay, they would segmentify e-sports and pick their hero segments that are most relevant to their brand identity. There’s some industries where everyone’s quite the same, but in most goods there’s a level of of brand differentiation, so they would pick the right brands that are appropriate to their, their brand, the right e-sports and communities are appropriate to their brand and leverage that.
And obviously right now, one thing we’re seeing is a huge land grab. There’s really smart marketers that you know, capitalize on the fact that they were the only ones in their category and e-sports and they bought a ton of inventory. So that is, I don’t know if it’s a moat, but it’s at least a catapult or a trebuchet over taking that market’s very offensive strategy, a writer in defensive. I’m assuming that these marketers are start very aggressively by taking as much as possible and then might create product skews when then the games product skews that are related to gaming and eSports and so on. And that would be more of a mode because they have a, I mean, intrinsic, I guess association between that e-sports and there are Breton. So right now I think it’s time to be aggressive. Once your aggressive strategy goes, I mean, there’ll be time to build a moat, but as, as we mentioned early in the beginning, it’s not the first stage of e-sports, but it’s really not that far down. Maybe bottom the second top of the third.
So it’s time to be aggressive, capture a good segment of the Esports markets. And then we’ll build a good moat. But first mover advantage means a lot.
Julie Slater: Right? Be an innovator. Well, thank you so much for coming by Felix LaHaye from United East sports.
Felix LaHaye: Thank you so much. I appreciate you listening to my passion about esports. I hope I was remotely interesting.
Julie Slater: That’s our show. Hope you enjoyed it. Listen to us on Apple podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. This podcast is brought to you by Loomly, the Brand Success Platform that helps your team collaborate, publish, and succeed all in one place. Check out Loomly.com and start your 15-day free trial now. Thanks for listening. I’m Julie Slater.