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The Revisionists: Ed Tomasi, Big Block

The Revisionists is a series looking at the minds that shape the world we see: TV veterans, agency leaders, innovators in content.

Today, we meet esports luminary Ed Tomasi, from Big Block.

Los Angeles-based Big Block was looking to build out its esports practice last year, in order to jump out ahead of an exploding industry. The man to lead the way for the creative services and production provider for brands like the NFL, ESPN and Under Armour (among others)? ESL Gaming veteran Ed Tomasi.

Originally coming up in advertising, marketing and production, Tomasi jumped into the esports field in 2001 with a startup division of Samsung. That five-year experience led him to co-founding New York-based ESS Agency, which produced tournaments for global esports leagues and executed experiential marketing activations for brands targeting the gaming audiences. In 2014, ESS was acquired by Turtle Entertainment GmbH, the company behind ESL, and Tomasi became the Vice President for their Americas group, helping build the largest esports production studio in the industry at the time, and working brands connect with consumers through esports and meaningful activations.

Since July of last year, he’s been with Big Block on a similar mission, educating brands and organizations on the growing esports marketplace, developing focused strategies, and helping them execute with discipline and authenticity.

After a rounded career that toured him through Chicago and San Francisco, this Hudson County, N.J. native now calls Raleigh, N.C. home. Ed recently joined us for a quick chat around the industry, adding to the expert commentary he provided to this week’s TV[R]EV ESPORTS SNAPSHOT.

What inspires you?

Passion, good old-fashioned hard work and dedication.

What are you doing now?

Right now, I’m educating brands on esports and developing unique strategies for them to market, advertise and activate with relevance in the gaming ecosystem.

What’s the biggest change you’re focused on?

I would say it’s in the way brands approach esports… to consider a bottom-up approach versus top-down in order to make that connection with these audiences. That’s a sizable shift in how all marketers need to approach gaming and esports, because applying past formulas can spell an instant and epic fail for a brand.

I’ve watched many brands look at esports and want to get involved, but until an agency like Big Block came along, the “how to” manual for esports did not exist. Early adopter brands looked at what was familiar to them and applied their standard practices, like buying into a static sponsorship package, placing a pre-existing commercial ad on a Twitch or tournament live stream, and maybe getting a logo displayed on a shirt. What was delivered to them would often result in unmeasured visibility and ROI. So many opportunities to connect with the audience and players in an authentic was were missed or ignored. Advertisers have evolved, but many are still entertaining that top-down approach.

Part of my mission at Big Block is to think and act at the core community level. See gaming and esports from their lens, and build a foundation of support for the gaming and esports communities. I feel brands and agencies are starting to understand that a little bit and aren’t just embracing what could be perceived as “cool.”

The bottom-up approach is developing customized pieces of content that entertains and relates to this passionate audience. If you’re not endemic to the gaming community, there’s still ways to be relevant and create content that audiences will find valuable. For example, rather than run a generic ad during an esports broadcast, a life insurance company can use customized content that shows the ways gamers will want to be protected in their everyday life.

When fans are watching a live stream, and a hyper-relevant ad comes on, they’re much more accepting of it. Most are conscious and accepting of the fact that leagues and events need advertising support to deliver high-quality content and attractive prize pools, so they’re appreciative when a brand tells a story relates to their tangible and digital lives.

Where is the puck going?

I see publishers taking an even larger role in developing leagues and funding content programs in partnership with brands that are non-endemic to gaming and esports.

What kinds of challenges and opportunities do you see for non-endemic brands in terms of esports?

The challenges I see for them is adjusting that top-down approach, as mentioned, and shifting it to bottom-up. Finding that custom element or angle that shows you “get it.” While there is significant ROI in activating around video game-related entertainment, brands must not get hypnotized by the “build it and they will come” (to quote “Field of Dreams”) offerings. Just because the name or offering has “esports” in it, doesn’t mean it’s a golden ticket. Many brands and agencies will struggle to build the right esports strategy, and must change the way they look at esports compared to anything else they market around. Money can’t buy you love in esports… you need to show the love.

What the fuck?

Metrics; understanding how the esports market and media within it is valued feels a little bit like the Wild West. Media departments, as they should, challenge and question everything… from value and reach, to measurement and methodology. We all need to do a better job at working with each other to find and standardize the metrics. If you’re calling out bullshit, be prepared to offer a solution.

Funny story

So my youngest son — I don’t think he realizes who I am in the industry. He knows that I’ve been working with video games and producing events his whole life, but what’s funny is that he doesn’t know the many small degrees of separation I have with the games he plays or influencers he worships. He often thinks I’m a n00b, but my answers are 1337. I always like to joke around with him using some of the lingo, especially when his friends come over for a Fortnite LAN sleepover party at my house, I often sit down (in my ESL hoodie, of course) and don’t get kicked out immediately because I can at least talk the talk.