FaZe Nickmercs does a squat has teammates Lebron “FaZe Bronny” James Jr., FaZe Rug, FaZe Temperrr, Kyler "FaZe K1" Murray and FaZe Swagg cheer him on.Sports Illustrated
In the modern internet age, brands have been forced to adopt new strategies to reach the next generation. Gen Z’s celebrities aren’t the film and television juggernauts of yesteryear; they’re YouTubers and professional gamers. Recognizing this, United Talent Agency (established in 1991) dove into gaming in 2018 by acquiring talent agency Press X, and with it, the company’s new head of esports: Damon Lau.
Lau has led UTA’s esports and gaming efforts through a time of rapid growth for the industry, particularly in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. The agency's esports division has more than 110 clients, including the likes of NickMercs, Pokimane, Scump, Valkyrae, and Lululuvely. “I think in this industry ... there's obviously been a lot of challenges from the pandemic, but ... those moments have also just poured rocket fuel on the way you think about gaming and gaming culture,” he told Sports Business Journal. “The direct result of that at the end of the day is viewership.”
He also noted that gaming has increasingly become a feature of the cultural zeitgeist. 2018 saw the rise of Fortnite, which brought together popular musicians, sports figures, and elite gamers in an unprecedented fashion. Video game livestreaming saw another surge in 2020 amid global lockdowns, with streaming service and analytics company StreamElements reporting a 101% year-over-year growth in Twitch viewership that April. Lau said that with this rise, streamers and gaming organizations have expanded the scope of how they view themselves in the market, growing beyond pure gaming entities to adopt a broader media and entertainment approach. The Newzoo 2022 esports report also noted that sports are looking to gaming influencers to grow their audience through co-streaming, as in the case of the NBA’s partnership with popular Brazilian channel Gaules.
Lau singled out FaZe Clan as a prime example of this strategy. The company has always emphasized content over a pure focus on esports, but in recent years, FaZe has drawn professional athletes, musicians, and other celebrities to its talent roster, such as Kyler Murray, Bronny James, and Snoop Dogg.
UTA signed FaZe Clan in early 2021 and quickly built on the organization’s established relationship with the NFL. FaZe had collaborated on merchandise and activities for the 2019 NFL Draft, and UTA worked to expand that partnership with another Draft engagement this year as well as featuring multiple FaZe creators in a pickup game at the Super Bowl.
“That was unique in a way where I think the NFL recognized the audience and affinity that FaZe Clan has and the affinity that FaZe Clan has and what that can bring to the NFL,” Dau said. “On the flipside, the way that we activated with the NFL was so unique.”
The 2022 Super Bowl broadcast saw another landmark cultural moment for FaZe Clan as Snoop Dogg performed during the halftime show wearing a chain featuring the organization’s logo. According to Lau, that promotion was entirely organic, highlighting the cultural relevance of the FaZe brand.
Damon LauUnited Talent Agency
“A lot of athletes and musicians have reached out to FaZe Clan purely out of affinity. The relationship with Snoop Dogg was something completely organic. He loved the brand, he loved the way they operated, and I think his association with them is a win-win.” Soon after, Snoop Dogg would join FaZe Clan’s board of directors.
While many esports organizations are working to expand their brand beyond competitive gaming, Lau said that FaZe is uniquely positioned to excel in this area because the company was not born out of esports. Originally, FaZe was a group of Call of Duty YouTubers who then expanded into the competitive side of the industry. Content has always come first.
“Because they were not necessarily born and raised in esports but got a lot of visibility in their market, there's all these other sides to the business that have evolved right now,” Lau said. “And that's why the NFL saw such an obvious connection with them. There is a massive audience that is essentially untapped that is consuming content at a very high level that's not necessarily on linear channels, but that does not mean that they don't love sports like football.”
Now, UTA is hoping to replicate the success of its work with FaZe Clan with an organization in Brazil that has taken a similar approach to gaming content. Loud, which signed its deal with UTA last month, first established its popularity in Brazil through gaming content akin to FaZe Clan, though its popularity came largely from Garena’s mobile shooter Free Fire rather than Call of Duty. Like FaZe, Loud then expanded into esports, soon joining Brazil’s premier League of Legends series. Last month, it become the first Brazilian team to reach the finals of an international Valorant championship.
“We've known the founders of Loud for a number of years and have seen them build their business in a really meaningful way,” Lau said. “For them, it was a media-first approach ... seeing them develop that business in their market with the velocity they had was just something we really admired.”
Brazil is considered an emerging market in the broader game industry, but Lau noted that the region is already a force to be reckoned with in many titles. “When you match the data parallel to the way you think about the global games market, consistently Brazil as an international market consistently ranks in the top three or four among a lot of the leading games.”
Lau added that the passion of the Brazilian fanbase makes it particularly exciting for the agency, as gaming celebrity and pop culture relevance is already strong there. “I would match the fandom level in Brazil to the way you thought about Korea three years ago — it is a dominant force out there.”
In the most recent Twitter Gaming report, not only did Loud rank as the most tweeted about esports team globally, but three other Brazilian organizations also ranked in the top 10.
Looking forward, Lau expects the broader market and culture to continue embracing esports and gaming. “I think as you see more brands not just enter the space by doing a single partnership but [also make] a meaningful commitment to the ecosystem in many different ways. That's a really positive testament to the way the overall brand market is embracing it. ... Whether you're playing Bejeweled or a dedicated esports game, there's gamers everywhere, and there's a different cultural recognition to what a gamer is now.”