New Astralis CMO explains why she left VICE’s Refinery29 for esports

Samantha Yu joins Astralis Group as CMOAstralis

Astralis have bolstered their ranks outside of the server with a new hire, bringing in Samantha Yu as the new chief marketing officer of their parent company.

The publicly-listed esports organization, much like other major companies in the industry, are placing importance on building their brand to stand out to fans and commercial partners alike even when they’re not competing.

Yu’s experience in content and media aligns perfectly with this objective as in her role as chief marketing officer she will help Astralis Group with their commercial efforts, partnerships, and establishing a deeper connection with fans.

She previously served as the vice president of brand and marketing at Refinery29, a publication owned by VICE Media, leading a team of creatives to deliver value to brands by effectively connecting them with the site’s readership.

Astralis strengthened their brand in September 2020 by consolidating their teams under the one banner.

“I’ve been aware of the power and appeal of esports and its ability to bring people together since I was a teenager,” Yu told Dexerto in an exclusive interview. “I remember one summer, when I was visiting my grandparents in Seoul, one of the major malls had an area along a main walkway for people to play StarCraft. Big screens, gaming chairs, everything. I had been learning to play with my cousins, who were all obsessed, in the local PC bangs… but I was such a newbie. I was in awe of the crowds gathering to watch the competitions. There was a real buzz!

“More recently, though, I’ve been curious about esports as a way to connect with audiences and about gaming as a way for people to find entertainment, self-expression, and community. Esports has been a hot topic of conversation for anyone interested in innovation, content, and connection. As a marketer, I’m always thinking about new ways of telling stories and serving audiences. News of exciting developments in gaming and esports, from brand campaigns to trend reports to partnerships, came across my desk regularly at Refinery29. So I was naturally intrigued.”

Having been aware of esports for quite some time, the next question is why she chose to make the leap from a senior position in a major media group to Astralis Group. There are dozens of prominent organizations in esports that could benefit from her expertise.

“Astralis is already a strong brand with a clear mission to champion the positive power of gaming and esports,” she said. “It’s an organisation that’s helped esports reach new audiences and shaped the landscape. I’m coming in with a genuine curiosity and respect for what’s been accomplished both in the esports industry and by Astralis Group.”

Esports is gaining traction in the mainstream but it’s still a young industry that changes frequently. There are no best practices due to its infancy so creative leaders with fresh ideas have a lot of room to innovate. The media industry is similar in that its landscape is always changing as companies look for the best methods to monetize their audience without alienating them. With Yu’s nine years of experience at Refinery29, working her way up from an editorial associate to a VP, she’ll bring over a unique perspective from an industry that’s well-established yet full of challenges.

Astralis Garmin PartnershipAstralis
Tech brand Garmin entered esports in October 2020 through an innovative partnership with Astralis.

“When I first started at Refinery29, my focus was on creating great content and building a mission-driven brand that our audience would love,” she said. “Eventually, I also added a commercial layer, thinking about how we could introduce brand partners into conversations in a genuine way.

“Not only am I passionate about building brands and finding creative ways to connect with and engage global audiences, I also put a lot of care into the team that makes such incredible work possible. Creating an operation and a culture that enables the ambitions of the organisation to be met and the skilled people who are a part to feel fulfilled is extremely important to me. It’s not just about what we do but how we do it.”

There are real challenges that must be overcome in esports for companies to thrive. It’s hard to monetize the act of competing and that’s why we’re seeing organizations act more like media groups. Just look at FaZe Clan and 100 Thieves to see this in action.

Astralis Group understand the importance of building a robust and fruitful commercial arm, having already forged successful partnerships with major brands Garmin, Logitech, hummel, HP, and Bang & Olufsen. Adding Yu to their ranks will likely to see things taken up a notch but there’s no blueprint on how best for them to move forward. Their future is in their hands.

Astralis Bang Olufsen partnershipAstralis
Through a three-year deal with Astralis, Danish audio brand Bang & Olufsen made their first move in esports back in September 2020.

“Part of what got me so excited about the esports and gaming industry was the creativity and the personality that shone through the marketing and brand activations, from game releases to fashion partnerships to in-game activations,” Yu told Dexerto. “That creativity invites more fun and surprising thinking.

“My main focus when it comes to partnerships will be to identify and create experiences that delight our fans where brands can play a genuine role. I’m always looking for that sweet spot where Astralis, our fans, and our partners can share in something greater than the sum of its parts.

“We’re working — and eager to work — with partners who want to create engaging and memorable experiences for audiences old and new. Who are eager to be a part of culture through esports and, especially if they are new to the industry, trust Astralis as their guides for connecting with gamers and esports fans. Who think creatively and aren’t afraid to experiment and try something new. And who are interested in building long-term relationships not just with Astralis, but with the esports and gaming community.”

Yu starts with Astralis Group on February 1 and will report to CEO Anders Hørsholt while working closely with other company leadership members chief revenue officer Jakob Lund Kristensen, director of communications Steen Laursen, and recently-announced commercial director Kasper Sindt.