Cam Kelly – compLexity Gaming – From agencies to esports
North American esports organisation compLexity Gaming has been active in esports since the industry’s more humble days so there’s not much it has missed out on, but that doesn’t mean it can’t operate even better within the space.
Recently announcing Cam Kelly as its new Chief Marketing Officer, it’s clear that compLexity has plans to utilise its audience even better and, of course, expose itself to a whole new crowd. Esports Insider spoke to Cam Kelly about his appointment, his past experience, and how esports compares to other industries.
Esports Insider: So this is your first time working directly within the esports industry, right?
Cam Kelly: It’s my first time working directly with an esports team, but I definitely have experience in the industry through agency work. Yeah. With my agency work I handled mostly call pop culture engineering; integrating major brands within the entertainment landscape, primarily. That’s how I got some experience directly working in esports but I’m also a lifelong gamer so it’s just kind of a marriage.
ESI: What made you decide to join the industry?
CK: It was a long time coming. I had done a report at an agency in the past that was kind of identifying key white spaces for sports agencies and just pushing for the better part of an 18 month period to get them to let me explore some opportunities. Finally they got so annoyed with me, they let me do it. That’s when we started the Toyota and Overwatch League partnership, which was the first really notable thing I had done in gaming. I did a couple of smaller things before that as well but that’s what really kind of lit the fire.
ESI: Are you able to give us a little background into your professional career before joining compLexity?
CK: Starting at the beginning, when I had decided what to pursue as a major in college I thought PR was going to be the thing that would, would do it for me. I thought you could become president and change the world with good PR. And then when I started my career, I kind of quickly realized that as a junior staffer in PR, I’d be building a lot of media lists and pitching. And while I had some success in the beginning, it just wasn’t where my passion was.
At the time I was at Matter Inc, which was was Edelman PR’s sports and lifestyle division before they merged with United Talent Agency to create United Entertainment Group. We had Microsoft as a client and they had reached out to us to design their midnight launches for their exclusive releases – everything from Halo and Sunset Overdrive to a couple others that we had done with them.
“I love to see movements in esports to address toxicity, misogyny, and homophobia”
I was able to design those and that was kind of what gave me a taste in new business and brand strategy. I caught the attention of our CSO, was moved from Chicago down to Dallas to work with our strategy division at UEG. And then everyone from SC Johnson and Toyota and others started popping up, which was really awesome and a great experience.
It kind of always felt like I wasn’t, I wasn’t getting the kind of freedom to really push a brand in unique directions. You always got it’s on the media side or it’s on the activation side or something like that. Nothing really came up that was kind of a whole holistic opportunity so I still kind of felt longing.
I ended up leaving and doing some freelance work for a couple of other agencies before, um, before taking the plunge here at compLexity.
ESI: Esports is very much a digital industry. Do you think it’s far behind digital media, music, and other predominantly-digital industries when it comes to marketing?
CK: I think the thing we’re really far behind is in measurement, metrics, and accurate data reporting. Sports, for example, has had decades and decades of trial and error with those things. With the speed of things moving in esports, we’ve really focused on valuation and selling more so than building a strong infrastructure. I think that’s where we’ve really kind of really lacked for the most part.
When we compare esports to other spaces, it’s almost a bit unfair just to expect that level of infrastructure of this early and in the the lifecycle of it. I think a lot of the times people are presenting things that are best guess or an assumption and the hard part as a marketer is really cutting through the bullshit to try to find where the truth is and then make informed decisions off of that.
ESI: On the flip side, do you think there is anything that esports as an industry is doing a lot better than others?
CK: I love to see movements in esports to address toxicity, misogyny, and homophobia. I think we’ve made strides a lot faster, to be honest, then most of these other spaces. It was forever until we saw someone be comfortable enough to be openly gay in the NFL and even still the reaction was so mixed and painful.
“I think we’re light years faster than those other spaces”
I think we’re seeing the opposite end in gaming where having a unique outlook, lifestyle, or perspective is something that provides a level of value to your audience as a gamer, as a pro, as a streamer. I’m really proud of that.
I think we do a much better job with the ‘GG’ mentality. It took a long time to get kids to even shake hands at sporting events! So I think from a cultural perspective, from a tolerance and acceptance perspective, I think we’re light years faster than those other spaces.
ESI: Can you walk us through about how the opportunity to join compLexity as its CMO came about?
CK: I’ve been a big fan of gaming for a long time and someone like Jason Lake and compLexity being around for 16 years, you see those old school, original productions. What I was always fond is an innovative vision that they had had with content and with their fanbase. You look at things like Redemption and Generations and some of those other pieces of content and seeing how far ahead of their time it really was to do like really in depth, day in the life pieces
So I’d always been a really big fan. We had had mutual friends through the Toyota deal, the FUT Champions League, and the Kiwi shoe cleaning brand. They had been reaching out to a former colleague of mine and exploring the potential for him to take the role and it just kind of not being a cultural fit, but in departing he had recommended that they speak with me. So we had started talking about mid last year when I was freelancing and I had just recently taken on about six or seven contracts.
So we started the conversation early and it never really felt like an interview. I think that’s one of the beautiful things about this company as it always felt more of like an invitation to kind of have a joint conversation around: What’s the right vision? What’s your perspective on esports? What are we doing right? What are we doing wrong?
There was just such a shared belief system between me and Jason, but also with Kyle Bautista and Daniel Herz. When they brought more and more people from the team in to engage in the conversation, it felt a whole lot more like brainstorms and work sessions than it did an interview process. So that’s kind of what I knew.
“There were several things that we were passionate about getting on the same page and developing a brand narrative”
When you talk about other organisations and other opportunities that I had had at the time you become a spoke in a wheel that’s already moving in a very specific direction, whereas this felt like I was kind of a more invited to be part of where that direction is headed, not just forced to do my best within those confines.
So when it came time to pull the trigger and in November in 2018, it was just something that I just really couldn’t say no to – to really create something special. We have a really transformative period for us in 2019, it’s really going to be the biggest year for us in the history of the organization.
We wanted to be patient with the announcement and I’m not in a hurry to do anything from a personal branding standpoint. There were several things that we were passionate about getting on the same page and developing a brand narrative and a brand vision that we’re all on the same page with.
ESI: Have you got any set goals for your first year working in the organization?
CK: The important thing for me is carrying through what’s made compLexity special: the legacy and the heritage, and really making that available to the next generation.
We’re all on the cusp of Gen Z taking over the world and the previous generation and even the generation before it, right? It’s really unique to have an esports organisation that’s going on its second generation. How are we taking everything that was and is really special and unique about compLexity and introducing it in new and unique ways to this younger demographic?
We like to think that there are more strategic pillars in esports than purely just competition and culture. Astralis for example, in CS:GO, has such a really heavy focus on competition and then so it’s awarded them tremendous success. It kind of holds them to competitive success, whereas someone like FaZe Clan has a really heavy focus on being culturally relevant from a lifestyle perspective.
“The important thing for me is carrying through what’s made compLexity special”
Now as we look at 2019 and beyond, the community’s demanding that we do more. So what are we doing from a community perspective? What are we doing from a cause perspective to create impact that’s on a much deeper level and to make sure we’re leaving something behind that leaves the space more positive than before?
ESI: Is there any pressure that come with being owned by somebody involved in traditional sports at all or do you have a clean slate to innovate and do as you wish?
CK: Honestly, I don’t think in the entire esports landscape, I don’t think there’s a more warm and really loving owner ownership group. There are expectations, it is a business and we’re all trying to get to a bottom line. Their objective is the same as ours in terms of being competitively relevant and creating something new.
They’ve really done a great job of integrating us within the larger Dallas Cowboys ecosystem. Our players work out in their facilities, they receive nutritional guidance from training table.
So yes, there are expectations, but there’s also a really strong familial vibe that they’re really looking out for us. This isn’t like a two or three year plan. They’re not looking to cash out on us or anything like that. This is a long-term play for us and we’re really, really blessed and privileged to have the ownership model we do with the most valuable sports organization.