DreamHack VP explains refreshed branding and community approach

Adam Fitch
DreamHack RebrandDreamHack

Founded 26 years ago, DreamHack is a major tournament organizer that has also provided dozens of gaming festivals on a global scale. For the first time, they’ve decided to refresh their visual identity.

Announcing the changes on DreamHack Day — an annual celebration of the company where they usually share what’s up their sleeve — the next evolution of the company includes a “reinvigorated logo, dynamic color palette, bold typeface, and energized graphics.”

The new branding hopes to celebrate the first 25 years of DreamHack and sets them up for their next quarter of a century. This move follows a merger of the company with ESL under the banner of DreamHack, which took place in September 2020.

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Dexerto spoke with Shahin Zarrabi, vice president of brand and corporate marketing at ESL Gaming, to better understand the need for change, what this means for the future of DreamHack, and why now was the perfect time to roll it out.

DreamHack Refreshed LogoDreamHack
DreamHack’s new typeface isn’t a far departure from its predecessor. Old logo (left) and new logo (right).

Defining what DreamHack stands for

In his role at ESL Gaming, Zarrabi is in charge of overseeing the long-term strategy of DreamHack’s communications, marketing, and merchandise — effectively, he takes care of how they’re represented in multiple mediums. With that in mind, he explained that seeing ESL’s rebrand a couple of years his team at DreamHack felt inspired.

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“DreamHack has been around for 25 years now and, throughout that time, there’s never been deliberate attempts to define what DreamHack is,” he said. “How do DreamHack see themselves? After ESL went through their rebrand a couple of years back, we got inspired at DreamHack and we felt like ‘We have this logo and that’s basically all we’ve had in terms of branding.’

“Although, branding is so much more than that so we set out to complement what we knew in our heads with an actual identity and positioning, with design elements but also internal championing of what DreamHack is supposed to be. It’s long overdue but, thanks to some inspiration from a lot of other organizations within esports, we felt like now is the time.”

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Having now clearly defined their position as a company in the ever-crowded esports market, DreamHack will be able to move forward with a set ethos and mission that helps them to further carve their own space. While ESL is strictly a competitive brand, DreamHack are well-known for having cosplay competitions and grassroots competitions that house a larger community.

“Our new brand positioning is where the gaming community comes to life,” explained Zarrabi. “That in itself is fluffy, it doesn’t necessarily reflect the amount of interviews, internally and with customers or consumers, that we did. Given DreamHack’s history starting in school cafeterias, then being commercialized and growing exponentially, and then ultimately joining the bigger MTG family with ESL, those three perimeters guided what we wanted to be.

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“We asked ourselves ‘Are we an esports organization or are we a gaming lifestyle organization? Are we a festival or are we a tournament organizer?” Those questions went into the pot and we decided to not confine ourselves to saying we’re an esports competition organizer. Instead, we are a platform for everything gaming, where cosplay, esports, indies, and big games come together.”

Standing the test of time

Rebranding and changing visual identities is something we’ve seen a lot in esports over the past few years; you’d be remiss to not recall Evil Geniuses’ botched attempt around a year ago. If you’re going to change the emblem that fans have associated with your company for years, even decades in some instances, then you have to be confident that your new look will serve you better than what it’s replacing.

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DreamHack Atlanta CosplayDreamHack
DreamHack embrace every facet of the gaming industry at their events, including cosplayers.

DreamHack’s VP of brand is aware of that and despite not having a clear verdict on how their community would react to the changes, he and his team decided to pull the trigger anyway.

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“You can never really know if this is going to be timeproof, you can only look back after 10 or 20 years or 10 years to see if it was successful,” he told Dexerto. “Internally, we wanted to have a good gut feeling but we didn’t have a quantitative method of seeing whether it be timeproof.”

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“Instead of focusing too much on the visual identity itself, we focused on why we got where we are and how we’ll define the positioning of what DreamHack is. We hope that will guide any visual changes we make, whether it’s in one month when everyone is angry about the new identity or in 10 years when there’s a natural need for change.”

2020 has been strange for the esports industry, either canceling events or at least moving them online. When you’re in the business of hosting events then that can be worrisome, or it can provide you with a much-needed period to reflect and refine your operations and your overall strategy. While DreamHack were already looking to change their branding prior to travel and event restrictions, this year appears to have been a much-needed respite for them to finally sit down and get the wheels in motion.

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“In mid 2019 we said, ‘Hey, we want to do this,'” he explained. “There have always been talks of it, ESL did it and it went great, so let’s look at it ourselves. The plan was to launch it at DreamHack Summer this year, that wasn’t possible but we still wanted to do it. The brand refresh is a moment of celebration of DreamHack and so it fits very well into this year’s timeline where we haven’t been able to host any of our festivals. Now we get a chance, on December 9, to celebrate DreamHack — even in a year like this.”

All part of a larger plan?

In September 2020, DreamHack and ESL were brought together under one banner — namely, ESL Gaming — to “further accelerate their mission to shape the future of esports and gaming.” What this means in simple terms is that fans can expect more collaboration between the two brands, which now have a more streamlined and integrated workforce behind them.

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“The changes we make now won’t come overnight, but we will be able to have a framework that we can filter everything we want to do through,” he said. “The events will become much more focused and more like a tour rather than 10 separate events throughout the year. They will each still have their unique flares but we now have a framework to actually work from.

“With the merger, we’re in a position where we can do that because our operations together, with the operations of the different ESL brands, is in a much better position to find synergy where, two years from now, you might see a big ESL One event inside a DreamHack festival. Regular visitors will still come to a DreamHack festival and recognize all of the components, it may just be that they are called different things than they are today.”

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While bringing the brands under one roof may help the teams who are pulling the strings, it’s imperative that they stand alone as to not compete against each other. Dexerto asked Zarrabi whether the top-tier competitive aspect of ESL would be the differentiator, and we weren’t far off.

“It’s not the competitive element that is differentiating the brands, I would say the style and the level of play are the differences,” he said. “They are serving different levels of esports.”

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As he mentioned in our conversation, the jury is out on whether DreamHack’s new identity and positioning will indeed be a hit with the fans and be a successful milestone in the company’s history. One thing’s for sure though, they are ready to get back on the road and deliver some much-needed fun to the gaming and esports communities.

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About The Author

Based in Lincolnshire, UK, Adam Fitch is a leading business journalist covering the esports industry. Formerly the lead business reporter at Dexerto, he demystified the competitive gaming industry and and spoke to its leaders. He previously served as the editor of Esports Insider.