The appointment of adidas’ former director of global marketing Robin McCammon to the role of chief commercial officer at UK-based esports organisation Excel Esports, announced in January, appeared to be another milestone in the esports industry’s relentless march towards the mainstream.
McCammon joined the company at the same time as former Fnatic chief executive Wouter Sleijffers was appointed its new chief executive, serving notice of the esports company’s ambitions to become a globally-recognised lifestyle brand.
No sooner had McCammon’s recruitment been announced, the team signed a major multi-year agreement with BT under which Excel’s esport team was renamed BTXL and the UK telco agreed to provide connectivity services for players.
Founded in 2014 by brothers Joel Holmes-Darby and Kieran Holmes-Darby, Excel Esports runs several different esports teams competing in events like the popular League of Legends series and is one of ten founding partners of the League of Legends European Championship (LEC). The company manages a roster of players competing in LEC and other esports events and has a high-performance training centre at Twickenham Stadium in London.
McCammon speaks to SportBusiness about the BT deal and his ambitions for Excel Esports.
It seems like a coup for Excel Esports to make these appointments. What was it that attracted you to the company?
To be honest, the coup is all on my side. Having spoken to the founders of the organisation and its backers who have a tremendous vision, it’s a wonderful start into an industry which is of course quite unfamiliar when it comes to the minutiae of things. However, having dealt with the [EA Sports] game within adidas, and esports as a whole, the growth and the dynamic of it is not totally foreign.
Were you involved in the BT deal, or was it signed before you joined?
I became involved in the negotiation of the deal when I joined Excel on December 1, 2019. The structure and rights negotiations all materialised in the timeframe following my joining, but BT had already spent many months of ‘discovery’ in the esports space prior to starting the conversation and negotiations with Excel.
How many years is the deal for and how does the monetary value of the deal compare with some of the deals in traditional team sports?
This is a multi-year deal with long-term scope where together we will aim to develop an organisation that will represent the pinnacle of global esports. The partnership will also create tremendous opportunity to develop and support grassroots talent and create content that will excite the UK esports community.
What assets and inventory does BT get from the deal?
The partnership means BT is the Lead Partner of Excel Esports. Our UKLC [UK League of Legends domestic league] team is now BTXL and will feature the BT logo on their jersey. The brand is visible in assets within our online presence and across our social media channels, and has access to both our UKLC and LEC teams. BT also has constant access to Excel’s unrivalled knowledge of the esports and gaming space, as well as our substantial fanbase.
What are the opportunities at Excel Esports? There appears to be an ambition to build the business globally and there’s a suggestion that Wouter Seijffers’ experience of turning Fnatics into a global lifestyle business can be applied to Excel.
We are very new as a fully professional organisation which allows us to turn the page and almost rewrite our brand. That’s not to say that the brand isn’t already a strong one – we’re in the LEC and competing. We have obviously made a lot of changes to the team over the close season which is very key for us.
I think we want to position ourselves as a truly British product, with one brand and one vision. So, as we grow and build – and we certainly are looking to expand into different titles – this will remain constant. But as everybody knows, Britain exports very well as a product, so we will look to take advantage of that from a marketing point of view and from a storytelling point of view.
What are the big markets that you’re going to be targeting with this British identity?
Our digital activity lives and breathes with our brand, so we’ll look to grow our community in North America and Asia in areas that are very clearly driven by League of Legends, but also, of course, within Europe. We can position ourselves [by taking] a more disruptive approach and less of a squeaky-clean approach. I think there’s a lot of fun to be had in that regard. We’ve definitely got a bit of brand building and repositioning to do.
Your teams mainly compete in the League of Legends series and the League of Legends European Championship. Are there any plans to compete in any new titles?
Excel competes in the UKLC and the LEC. There are going to be potential changes to the titles that we enter into – this is something that we’re exploring very actively. From a partner point of view, we are also looking at how we will sell space on the jerseys.
What titles is Excel looking to expand into?
It’s too early to say but needless to say we are exploring all opportunities. It would need to make financial sense first of all – whether you make the large investment and what you can derive out of it. At this stage I can’t say much more, but there are definitely a couple of titles that we are thinking about.
What inventory is available to sponsors? Is front-of shirt advertising the main marketing revenue stream for Excel?
No, not at all. The most publicly visible inventory from a traditional sports perspective, is the front and back of jersey. There are other league-regulated positions within the product where you can place sponsorships. So, compared to football, there are a couple of other opportunities – on the collar bone and on the sleeve. What we see as the additional value that we add from an organisational point of view is how our content drives the visibility and the partnership model.
So your plan is to build out those content capabilities?
Beyond where they already are, and they are already very well established. From an Excel point of view, and certainly what I’m hearing is we already have a lot of respect from the industry in that sphere, which is wonderful and we want to build that up. And as we invite and encourage brands to become part of our world, those will obviously be considered into how we make the most of the marketing and exploitation of that partnership to grow that even more.
Are there any untapped opportunities? What can you bring from adidas that isn’t already being applied?
Quite a lot and I wouldn’t say I’m only bringing that from my experience at adidas. I think what’s very clear is that esports is not simply esports and that’s it. We do see ourselves as a larger industry – an entertainment industry – and if you look at some of the numbers, some of the wonderful soundbites that are coming out, there are a lot more eyeballs in the esports industry than a lot of other areas. If you were to compare, and we like to compare a little bit, with the music industry, the fashion industry, we see a tremendous opportunity in that whole influencer piece where you really are getting that creative content drive.
What do you think the real strengths of esports are versus traditional sports?
There is an acknowledgment that the games need to evolve, and they tend to do this rapidly. Another strength is the way the industry encourages communication from its fans. They’ve had to do this in a very short space of time of course compared to the traditional sports. You’ve got sports that are over one hundred years old compared to esports but that have only really matured to the point that esports has over the last 5-10 years. I think that my own experience has told me that in traditional sports people are significantly more cautious about change. That doesn’t need to be wholesale change, but I believe in some cases things can be done with a lot more youthful and dynamic mindset.
Tell us about the changes you’ve made to your playing staff for this season.
We’ve made some substitutions. We’ve brought in the most winning coach in Europe, Joey ‘Youngbuck’ Steltenpool; we’ve brought in a performance coach. The intent is there for us to take this as seriously as it needs to be taken. There are many patterns of training that need to be focused on. And we will take into account logistical issues, the travel between Berlin and the UK where the players compete – all of which we’re factoring into the robust performance team that is now in place. We’re based in Twickenham Stadium and we take advantage of the gym at the ground and the [players’] houses are near the stadium. We’re putting players on the highest pedestal in terms of how they need to sleep and how they need to train and eat.