The overlap between esports and entertainment has grown larger, which makes Jason Moore’s connection all the more interesting. Moore, the president for the Agency for Professional Esports, used to be the brand and talent manager for celebrity Paris Hilton. Now he represents esports athletes, and Slingshot’s Andrew Kim caught up with Moore to talk about his work, differences between the entertainment and esports industries and how he got involved with League of Legends.
Andrew Kim: How did you move from your original line of celebrity representation to esports? What was the process like?
Jason Moore: Well the process was interesting. I lived in Venice Beach for a good amount of time, so watching Santa Monica and Venice Beach sort of turn into Silicon Beach and tech’s influence. I was in a tech company, which I own, and we were working on a project to do with esports a good amount of time ago. Through that process, I was educated and I took time and a lot of months to really educate myself, get to know individuals in the industry and the gaming side of it all, and that sort of introduced me to esports. During the period of time of building relationships that I have that are endemic to my world and sort of not endemic to the industry and vice versa, there was a situation where my colleagues and I were involved with brokering the sale of Team Impulse in the NA LCS to the current owners that created the org Phoenix1. That also had me more involved with the industry and getting me to more understand the dynamics of individuals and organizations.
Seeing this, I recognized that there was really a tremendous void in the individual player representation that much of the traditional sports and entertainment world is very accustomed to, and industries are built around that. Because of the infancy of esports and its massive market growth, there is a lot of endemic influencers, investors and individuals who are coming in, so it’s definitely somewhat a little bit ahead of the market curve with respect to the industry growing as it is. I wanted to be an agency that can service an athlete just like a traditional sports and entertainment agency would do — specifically only represent esports athletes and develop that representation where you handle not only the contracts, but you’re also working on their individual brand: the sponsorship opportunities, the appearances, just publicity and the media crossing over the popular culture. There’s a lot of relationships that I have from past experience, and the dynamics of connecting those dots could really catapult our industry in a very positive way and ensure the growth.
Most importantly, it’s time for the individual players to have a representative that protects them, looks out for their best interest, and really has the experience not only in negotiating, but in being transparent, and being rational and working well at both sides of the table. After that, as they perform, is then looking at the long term. Looking at the ability, the long play of the athlete and how they build their career, how they’re going to build their brand and those opportunities to monetize, and there’s a lot of awareness and a lot of growth and that sort of excites me. It excites the team, the agents that I brought together, and I think it is somewhat new to the industry.
AK: You mentioned that there are a lot of different opportunities for individual brands to monetize and broaden outside their teams. What are some areas where you can easily see players you’re representing to tap into opportunities or individual sponsorships?
JM: I think right now there’s different lower hanging fruit because there is this infancy for the individual player. There is no Stephen Curry or Michael Jordan, let’s say. No one’s kind of taken to that to relatively different leagues and games out there. Each individual player has somewhat of a different personality. Right now you’re looking at the endemics. That’s already sort of customary; there are individual players that are spotlighted by the brand and have an endorsement that is through a collective brand endorsement through a team, and there’s a spotlight (on the team) versus individual. Those are going to be sort of the differences that are going to come as you do have somebody that is spotlighted on the team, but it’s a collective brand endorsement versus one individual has an individual endorsement.
It is still new with the organizations to support that individualism because obviously the money that comes in from the endorsements and to cover everything, it keeps the engine going for the organizations to have these endorsements as an overall. But as the leagues themselves and organizations monetize differently, and everything grows, I think there will be an opportunity — and outside of that you do see the non-endemics very much looking at how these players are also influencers. They have massive social media followings, the fan base following, but they’re also professionals and they have the accolades of winning and championships and that. What it embodies in a way is you have a unique individual that the market now is going to use as marketing tools to the consumers that they’re trying to get a hold of, which is the massive fans of gaming and, obviously, esports.
There’s going to be an awakening, and when that happens, the paradigm will shift to where your next celebrity, your next superstar, your next rock star is going to be a professional esports player. It will be a customary situation where businesses and brand will look at it as a lifestyle play, and there’s a story from around these players and that’s what good marketing is about. Just like how (consumers) switched to reality TV, just like how it switched to all these different situations from extreme sports, skateboarding being accepted. The market will have to pay attention to what the consumer wants. As of now, what we see is the growth of esports and the growth of the younger generations. It’s going to be the future.
AK: Coming from an outside perspective into esports, what were some of the more difficult things you had to adjust to or perhaps change when it comes to representation of esports athletes?
JM: I’m so old (laughs). I don’t feel like I’m old. I think my experience is a definite positive, but I feel old in this industry. I prepared by establishing partners in the agency that have assets and have influence and have relationships, experience, to cover all the pieces that I don’t have. I come from an entertainment background, agent background — Hollywood, licensing branding, media, everything as Paris Hilton’s talent manager and brand manager for a decade. But at the same time I brought in Alberto (“Crumbz” Rengifo). Crumbz. Obviously, his experience of being a professional player and how he can communicate and what is necessary to communicate in the scene (is good), and there’s an understanding and that trust that another pro player can see that, “Oh, Crumbz has a tremendous amount of respect in the industry.” He has a vision, there’s that trust connection, and there’s that communication and comfort that the language is spoken easier.
From there, I need a lawyer, so I got one of the top esports attorneys, fortunate to have him come on board, and esports is a sport, and it is an industry, and there’s going to be a lot of adoption from tradition industries and sports. So I thought it was necessary to bring in an individual who had that experience, so I brought in a traditional NFL agent, NBA agent. He has a decade of experience working with NFL league, players, organizations, NBA, international, all that good stuff. To me it felt like a full-circle opportunity to service clients on all sort of levels and also understand the industry, understand where it’s going, and really have more elements to secure that we have not only the experience, but we have the passion — and I’m the old one. I ended up playing DOOM, Dragon Slayer, and all the other old school consoles, but all my partners are very young and they all game all the time. I’m not on their level as well, but the passion, just loving the industry and wanting to sort of help provide and bring some outside experience on a good, positive level being a part of the growth of it.
One of the things that was very interesting about what I like to say about the low hanging fruit of complication with this is, I guess the different ways of communication. There are so many different platforms that these players are accustomed to. You have international players who use their platforms to communicate on, and then you have domestic that have multiple different platforms. It’s very interesting to say “I’m available” through a Twitter DM. That’s just not how it works in the traditional world. There is a little bit of that adoption of understanding that’s how the industry works as of now, and you do need to track information differently, and communication is on different platforms. Obviously schedules. They scrim a lot and business gets done at a later time of the day than normal, which is customary. I’m used to clients who like to get work and discuss work more in an after-hours environment, so you do have long days because not only are you waking up for a normal day, you extend those hours. You have international hours that you have to accustomed to. All of that is really irrelevant to me because I’m already used to it having dealt with a global brand, and obviously being the person that everything came through.
I had a great team that worked around me when I worked with Paris, but I handled everything and it was 24/7 for a decade straight. So international hours, different sorts of platforms for communication, different languages and whatnot (have been challenges), but the ease of it all is esports is global. That’s the beauty of it as a representative is having to go out and pitch and talk to people about your client and what they do, and their power, and why it would be really beneficial to have a relationship with them. You don’t have to have different conversations about different aspects of the globe in the world. They all know League of Legends, Counter Strike, Overwatch, Dota — they already know it. So that right there is a little bit of ease versus what you would see in traditional sports or entertainment. Different regions of the world have different cultural differences, and this one is universal, so that’s great.
AK: Something that not a lot of esports fans know much about is what goes behind the scene in terms of contract signings and how players negotiate with teams about salary or whatnot. Are these negotiations really as crazy as it seems?
JM: Well I mean contracts are contracts (laughs). So I think it’s really as of now the esports industry doesn’t really have a template of union-based contracts that are somewhat universal. The publishers of the leagues have the league contracts, but when it comes to the orgs and the players, I think you still see the Wild West approach to these contracts, and that being said, when the organization produces these contracts and more or less present them to the player, the player is fundamentally not in a position to really go through that contract and understand what it is. It’s an unfortunate position for the player to be in if they don’t have the appropriate representation to go through it because the organizations are willing to carve up contracts because they understand that there is a balance, and they’re willing to find that balance.
I think that working with the contracts and the organizations is going to become — it is evolving, really. I think there’s an onus on both sides to get through this initial period of this sort of Wild West. These contracts are somewhat all over the place, or controlling, or it’s way too one-sided. So you work through that and break it down and find what is going to be protecting the client as well as understanding the needs of the organization to keep the engines running. In a way, both sides have to work together. The player and the team, it’s only for their benefit that it’s not one-sided.
So getting through the contracts is obviously very interesting, but you still have to understand that there’s an infancy right now that’s going on and there hasn’t been any collective bargaining agreements or any unions established or anything like that, that allow more of the basic floor environment where you have mandatory minimums and those type of situations where there’s insurance across the board. Even before you get into the initial discussion, you know that the protection is already been put in place, and you can move forward past that and get into other things to discuss.
AK: What’s something that you would say would make your job a lot easier that the players or organizations could do to find that equilibrium of making sure the engine is running for the organization and the the players getting proper representation?
JM: I don’t think a lot of that all has to be on the organization’s shoulders. The leagues have a lot to do, and the publishers have a lot to do with the vertical of esports and that is sort of a trickle down, which is necessary to happen. A lot of these moving parts that are going on in the different leagues, once they get in place, it will trickle to the organizations and trickle to the athletes in a way that is more positive and gives more allowances, and there are more growth opportunities. You are looking at leagues being more of marketing advertisement for the publishing games. There is very much a shift that will happen that will pull out of that and you’ll start to see the growth of the industry change because of that. But as of now, you do see that this is a marketing tool to push the game and the end game monetization for the publishers. We still are looking at some moving pieces going on in the leagues and once they come in place, it will be very entertaining to see that move forward and see how much growth will happen because of that.
AK: With your background in entertainment, are you still doing that along with esports?
JM: 100 percent esports. My agency does consulting. There are a lot of businesses that are curious about the industry and want to know how to get in, and what’s the proper way of getting in, so there’s consulting on that side. But no, it’s 100 percent esports representation agency.
AK: In that case I’m rather curious why a person with your resume, a decade with Paris Hilton and one of the best-known managers in western entertainment, why you decided to move to esports. I think a lot of readers would assume that your original industry would net you more money.
JM: I can’t say that I have a kid that plays League and says “dad check this out.” That’s not the case. I think it’s just I have always had this kind of eye, and I’m a natural individual at representation and managing, and it just comes natural to me. Having a vision and knowing how to build. To take something shiny and make it really shinier, that’s just kind of my gift.
Looking at this industry, half of it is yes, this is an industry that is emerging and the numbers don’t lie. The other half is they really do need someone like me to go in without an agenda, establish a relationship with the industry and bring something that everybody else is bringing. There’s a lot of unique individuals coming into the industry that are not endemic, but they bring something. Not only something, but a positive energy, a positive investment, allowing the growth to happen and supporting it. I want a piece of that. I believe I can bring a positive element to the industry and as you said based on my experience, based on my resume, and based on all of that I felt like there wouldn’t be anybody out there who had more experience or more abilities.
I just looked around and I just don’t see anybody of my level that is going to get into this industry. I felt it was necessary. I was happy to (do it) because it was an amazing industry. Gaming is great. Representing a professional gamer is the future, and I’m proud to say that I work with some amazing athletes that play games professionally, at a level higher than anybody else, having that opportunity to make a living out of it, and being able to invest in that, and being able to help that. I love that. I love that synergy. My team does as well, and I believe everybody who’s getting involved in esports feels the same way. I would hope that’s the way because really this is the only way to make it grow and make it move forward. As other industries and popular culture in a way looks at esports, they don’t understand it. They’re not sure if it’s a fleeting situation, “How do I get involved? Is it necessary to get involved? Where is this going?” kind of thing. My goal is to really hit hard in popular culture and show that is the future and create a rock star out of a player.
Can you imagine a red carpet opportunity where you have one of my clients, one of my esports clients, on the red carpet hanging out with TV actors or film actors. You got TMZ that’s like, “Hey who are you?” and it’s like “Oh, I’m a professional gamer” and they look. Good looking, stylish, and they’re like “Whoa you play professional video games?” That’s going to hit and then all of the sudden you have that same change when it came to media accepting reality TV and these “celebrities.” These guys actually do something. They are professionals. They have responsibilities. They are at a caliber of any other professional out there, and that respect needs to be given.
But at the same time, it hasn’t hit that level with pop culture and I’d love to be a part of breaking that pop culture bubble. I’ve done it already before with Paris, and the opportunity of doing it is there. When it happens, a lot of people are going to stand up and look at it, and obviously that kind of shift will happen. I’d love to be the person who puts the client in a Carl’s Jr. commercial and next thing you know you got an esports athlete chomping on a burger, and you look at it and it hits home to popular culture that this is the future. This is where it’s at. It’s necessary in a way, to jump start it, and I work on it everyday and to connect that dot is going to be very exciting.
When it happens, I see it as a positive and I see it as a necessary jumpstart to get in and to make it, as I say it again, more popular culture, more covered by media. Yahoo’s doing great. ESPN is getting involved. You have the endemic media coverage already. But there’s no Rolling Stone (Editor’s note: Rolling Stone has a gaming and esports-themed publication called Glixel), not to say that magazines are where they were now. But there’s no People magazine, Us Weekly, TMZ, or Perez Hilton, everything that sort of drives the current celebrity culture. It’s not on the tip of their tongue, so it’s not being sort of driven into popular culture that way. It’s a kind of food for thought.
Cover photo courtesy of Jason Moore/illustration by Slingshot