Business

TSM parent company’s talent agency explained by ICON managing director

Published: 15/Dec/2020 15:00 Updated: 15/Dec/2020 15:15

by Adam Fitch

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North American esports team TSM recently topped Forbes’ list of most valuable esports organizations and, whether you trust those valuations or otherwise, it’s clear that their parent company Swift are doing well. Now, the company have added a talent agency to their portfolio.

ICON joins TSM and coaching app Blitz under the ownership of Swift, led by managing director Damian Skoczylas, to represent and manage content creators and influencers.

TSM, formerly known as Team SoloMid, houses many prominent creators but if they’re represented by an entity that also owns the company that employs them then there are feasible conflict of interest concerns.

Dexerto spoke with Skoczylas in an exclusive interview to find out the reason for ICON’s launch, how they’re avoiding potential conflicts of interest, and why the current agency landscape will benefit from their arrival.

Damian Skoczylas runs ICON Agency
ICON
Damian Skoczylas has entered esports and gaming for the first time to lead ICON.

The inception of ICON

“ICON is a completely separate legal entity from TSM, we are wholly independent, but it really came about when some of the TSM influencers were looking for more direct deals,” Skoczylas told Dexerto. “TSM was really structured to focus on team deals and so they created ICON to be able to serve influencers and just build a talent agency business to sign talent across the board.”

ICON’s new managing director doesn’t have direct experience in esports and gaming, industries that are underdeveloped in some areas and thriving in others. He does have a breadth of knowledge gained from years of talent management experience, however, and it’s an added benefit that he has worked on deals involving YouTube creators. Swift tapped him to lead their newly-formed agency because of his decade-plus experience in managing talent and delivering solid deals.

“They were looking for someone to come in and lead the business that had more of a talent management agency experience,” he said. “I’ve been in the talent business for quite a while, starting with traditional and then shifting over into digital. At my most recent company, we represented influencers mainly in the tech and family verticals on YouTube. I really had my eye on gaming and esports for quite a while so it was really exciting when this opportunity came up.”

ICON may actually be a bigger operation than you’d imagine for a brand-new venture, already employing nine people. An agency can get a lot done with little, though their workforce will certainly need to scale as their business does.

“We’re structured a little bit more like a sales organization rather than a traditional Hollywood talent agency,” he said. “We have agents, we have account managers who help execute brand deals, and then we have salespeople who go out and find those big deals. Each role participates in some level of sales and then we also have, support staff who help keep the gears moving for us.”

TSM Myth selfie
Instagram: tsm_myth
Myth, who is signed to TSM, got his big break in Fortnite and has become a prominent figure in the gaming community,

With TSM and ICON being held under the same ownership umbrella, there will be questions surrounding their working relationship and just how intertwined they will be. Having good faith and a solid reputation is pivotal for many companies, especially agencies who need trust from clients and major brands alike, so we made it a point to discuss this topic.

“There’s a lot of interaction, but ICON is a totally separate legal entity that operates under a specific California state talent agency license,” Skoczylas assured Dexerto. “We will be negotiating contracts and opportunities that come from TSM but we will also come to heads at certain junctures. Our fiduciary duty is to the talent that we represent and not to TSM, nor to the parent company. We all exist in this ecosystem, but we are separate and we will be negotiating against TSM in some cases.

“From a high-level standpoint, we call it the separation of church and state. TSM is team-oriented, we are talent-oriented. Any ICON influencer is not beholden to be signed over at TSM and vice versa.”

ICON’s roster includes TSM creator Myth, LCS coach Bjergsen, Valorant pro Wardell, Fortnite player ZexRow, 100 Thieves Valorant pro Hiko, and PUBG content creator chocoTaco.

Modus operandi

With a plethora of talent management agencies already occupying esports and the wider gaming space, ICON needs to bring something new to the table to stand out. Loaded already represents many of the top talents who are prominent today, for example, but that doesn’t mean that they’re a complete service. Whether it’s providing new and unparalleled opportunities or simply offering a better experience for talent, there’s plenty of room for growth.

“Our bread and butter is going to be working with influencers but we will also look to represent players where it makes sense,” the agency’s MD said. “A lot of them stream, do YouTube, are active on social media across the board, and also compete. I’ve always been a really big fan of talent development and working with people that we see potential in, though. Given where we are right now, attracting the biggest talent can be a little bit of a challenge. Yes, we’re looking to sign those big names, but we’re really looking to find that sweet spot of people that you truly believe in that we can get behind and help grow.

“At the end of the day, we’re a revenue-driven business so we live and die by the deals coming in but we’re a talent development business as well. I’ve worked with massive influencers but my passion is for mid-tier talent that we can really help grow and develop.”

TSM trophy LCS doublelift retires
LoL Esports
Doublelift recently retired from TSM’s League of Legends roster, spawning questions about his future in esports and gaming.

So, how exactly does Skoczylas envision Swift’s latest venture developing in the coming months? While he has buckets full of ambition, his years of experience in this line of work comes in handy as it allows him to recognize where ICON currently stands in the marketplace. They need to know their model works before attempting to scale the business.

“I would love by 2021 to sign a couple of really big talent and grow the revenue, but I really see us in a building stage,” he said. “There’s a lot of room to grow but really we’re looking at revenue first and foremost, which is just the kind of tried and true brand deals, but we’re also looking at alternative revenue as well. Maybe there’s some potential crossover into hosting for certain talent where it makes sense, launching products with talent, and so on.”

ICON already have their north star, guiding them towards making the right decisions and taking on the right people. They have a solid vision of how they can provide value to prospective clients, and it’s nothing farfetched: if they ensure talent and brands are happy, results will come.

“We’re really keen to work with brands that our influencers are excited about,” he explained. “Our challenge is to pair the right brand with the right talent so each party wins. I’m sure we’ve all seen the brand deals that just completely flop where you can definitely tell the talent’s heart is not in it. In my past life, I’ve definitely sold a few of those.

“We also don’t want to be beholden to one specific category and in one specific thing. We also lean on our talent to let us know what types of things they haven’t worked with, what brands they like, and so on. It could be a beverage that’s outside of the typical sort gaming beverages and energy drinks.”

To begin with, the biggest challenge for ICON may well be building up a portfolio of work that demonstrates why they’re a good partner for content creators, influencers, and players alike. There may also be some skepticism surrounding their impartiality due to their shared ownership with TSM, but they certainly seem keen to dispel any doubt.

Esports

11 worst esports rebrands: Dignitas, Evil Geniuses, more

Published: 15/Jan/2021 13:33 Updated: 15/Jan/2021 13:52

by Adam Fitch

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One of the most important aspects of a business is its brand, consumers and customers need something to connect to and remember. This is perhaps even more important when it comes to sports and esports, with teams looking to stand out and garner the support of fans.

Esports was birthed early on in the internet’s lifespan and design standards evolve rapidly so, naturally, many esports organizations are updating their branding and ethos to ensure they’re putting their best foot forward and giving themselves the optimum chance to connect with potential fans.

This was even more prevalent in 2020 than years prior, with over a dozen prominent brands in the industry being updated with varied success. While it may take a while for dedicated fans and industry figures to acclimate to a new identity after growing familiar with an old brand over years, some updates simply missed the mark.

To keep track of the less successful attempts, I’ve compiled a list of the brand refreshes we’re not too hot on. Who do you think will take the top spot as my worst esports rebrand?

The 11 worst esports rebrands

11. FunPlus Phoenix

FunPlus Phoenix rebrand
FPX
FunPlus Phoenix’s old logo (left) and new logo (right).

“The vision we want to share is the spirit of Faith, Passion, and Xpossibility,” the organization told fans when it revealed its new logo. What is Xpossibility? It’s the sound of a group of desperate executives reaching to try and make their company’s name mean something.

Choosing to forego a name that’s become a staple in the industry, especially after their victory at the League of Legends World Championship 2019, FunPlus Phoenix decided to adopt the acronym of FPX. The logo is arguably an improvement, but now going by what could seem like a random selection of letters won’t be too effective when it comes to being memorable unless you already knew of the brand prior to the renovation. Good work, PFX, XPF, FPX.

10. DAMWON Gaming

DAMWON Gaming Rebrand
DWG
DAMWON Gaming’s old logo (left) and new logo (right).

What do you do when you cement your brand in the history of the biggest esport to ever exist? You sell your soul to a corporate entity, of course.

There was presumably plenty of commercial interest in the org after they won the 2020 League of Legends World Championship, including from automotive giants KIA. Not happy just selling a spot on the jerseys, DAMWON decided to ditch their new-found legacy by changing their name to DWG KIA. I’ve seen a similar result from my cat walking across my keyboard.

9. Panda Global

Panda Global rebrand
Panda Global
Panda Global’s old logo (left) and new logo (right).

When trying to create a brand that creates an impression, it makes sense to create a name that didn’t exist before. You’ll occasionally see bold entrepreneurs attempt to hijack a name and make it their own, and that’s what Panda Global have done.

Now known as simply Panda, they’ve chosen to be represented by an animal that’s known to be slow, lazy, and clumsy. Fittingly, that last characteristic is exactly how we’d describe this change. You’ll never be able to make people think of your organization over the adorable animal when they see the name ‘Panda,’ so this rebrand seems like a huge misstep. At least they know what animal will be their mascot if esports ever follows in the footsteps of traditional sports.

8. NRG

NRG Rebrand
NRG
NRG’s old logo (left) and new logo (right).

One of the worst-received logo changes to date is undoubtedly that of NRG. It was a bold move considering the organization was starting to become a leading brand in North America, and it fell as flat as the new logo looked.

The icing on the cake for the redesign was that NRG misspelt “unapologetic” on the sleeve of their new merchandise, ironically resulting in another reason that the team should have apologised to their loyal fans.

7. EXCEL ESPORTS

EXCEL ESPORTS Rebrand
EXCEL
EXCEL’s old logo (left), rebranded logo (middle) and new logo (right).

If you have to release a video to explain how the hell your new logo makes any sense in relation to your overall brand, then you’ve probably made a bad decision. EXCEL ESPORTS revealed a refreshed identity (pictured, middle) as they became one of 10 teams in Riot Games’ LEC and it simply neglected the obvious opportunities that are available with their ‘XL’ identity.

I should have put together a PowerPoint for Excel to explain why this was a bad idea, it may have given them a different Outlook and caused them to have a Word with the designer behind the concept. They’ve since updated their logo once again (pictured, right) and it’s much better, thankfully, but that doesn’t mean I’ll soon forget what once was.

6. CR4ZY

Valiance CR4ZY Rebrand
CR4ZY
Valiance’s logo (left) and CR4ZY’s logo (right).

Valiance & Co decided to change their entire brand and, seemingly inspired by the mental state of the branding ‘expert’ they consulted, they landed on CR4ZY.

I’m used to seeing players have interesting in-game names combining random words with numbers in esports, but a professional organization that wants to be taken seriously? It definitely requires valiance to think this was a good move.

5. Dignitas

Dignitas Rebrand
Dignitas
Dignitas’ old logo (left), rebranded logo (middle) and new logo (right).

Dignitas have been around for almost two decades, it’s a name that’s been around for as long as esports has received investment and interest from the outside world. Ditching their iconic logo in October 2018, their new owners Philadelphia 76ers decided that the team was best represented by an… owl? (Pictured, middle).

Inspired by the owl logo (which was recently changed, thankfully, as seen on the right of the above image) I have one question for those who made the decision: hoo the hell are you and why are you in a position of power?

4. Evil Geniuses

Evil Geniuses Rebrand
Evil Geniuses
Evil Geniuses’ old logo (left), rebranded logo (middle) and new logo (right).

When Evil Geniuses was taken over by investment firm PEAK6, I had no idea that they would take the name seriously. EG had what was possibly the most iconic logo in the entirety of esports but the new owners felt they had to make a statement.

The evilest plan was disposing of the iconic crest altogether in favor of a poor font choice with no discernible identity (pictured, middle). The fan response made the organization seem more like Austin Powers’ Dr. Evil than James Bond’s Ernst Stavro Blofeld, however. They’ve since changed again (pictured, right), adapting the original crest and restoring some sort of faith in those behind the company.

3. HellRaisers

HellRaisers rebrand
HellRaisers
HellRaiser’s old logo (left) and new logo (right).

Nothing has made an entire industry raise their eyebrows quite like HellRaisers’ new logo. Moving away from their demonic emblem is an inspired choice, especially considering the apt name of the organization.

I’m not sure what the new logo is supposed to represent and it appears those behind the change aren’t willing to try and explain it. Let’s not forget that, in their announcement, they said that they had been around for 10 years despite the organization being launched in 2014. When it comes to what HellRaisers are smoking, your guess is as good as mine.

2. North

North rebrand
North
North’s old logo (left) and new logo (right).

It’s hard for me to sum up the hilarious rebrand that North undertook better than what Dexerto’s own Richard Lewis did at the time of the announcement. “Not all dragons are equal,” he wrote. “I was thinking Nidhogg. They’ve gone for Puff. Inexplicably toothy, goofy and about as intimidating as a chicken korma, maybe it’s actually an appropriate logo given how the Counter-Strike team has performed lately.”

In a press release explaining the organizational changes, the org explained that they wanted to “create a ‘why’ to follow North, not just by doing what everyone else is doing.” If you want to support a team which is represented by a dragon that’s prone to forget how to fly mid-flight and can never find the glasses on top of its head, they did their job perfectly with this rebrand.

1. Black Devils

Kinguin Black Devils Rebrand
Kinguin
Team Kinguin’s logo (left), Black Devils’ logo (middle), and devils.one’s logo (right).

The rebrand from Team Kinguin to Black Devils was so short-lived that a normal logo file doesn’t exist anywhere on the internet for the ill-informed brand, I’ve had to use a promotional image from their announcement.

I actually spoke to Kinguin’s CEO Viktor Wanli about the rebrand at the time and he assured that they didn’t mean to upset anybody. The naming was inspired by the heritage and history of Poland, as an armoured division of the Polish army had a nickname of the ‘black devils.’

They wanted to keep the ‘devils’ aspect of the name without invoking any racial connotations and these devils.one was birthed, but Black Devils definitely left a bad taste in the industry’s mouth. That’s the danger of a non-English speaking organization choosing a name in English, but it’s shocking all the same.

The status of rebrands in 2021

2021 doesn’t appear to be slowing down in the rebrand department and it’s off to a good start. The likes of Korean League of Legends competition LCK, North America’s premier LoL league LCS, LEC team Rogue, and Dignitas have all made changes to their visual identities.

Keep an eye on Dexerto throughout the year to stay on top of the latest changes as esports continues to evolve and adapt!