Sponsorship, Europe, Global

After 18 years at Adidas, Robin McCammon wants to turn Excel Esports into a top entertainment brand

Adidas’ former director of global marketing discusses making the jump into esports and his plans for evolution at Excel.

by Ed Dixon
After 18 years at Adidas, Robin McCammon wants to turn Excel Esports into a top entertainment brand

Boasting more than two decades of brand-building experience, it is a fair assumption to make that Robin McCammon has probably seen it all. But there is a marked excitement to Excel Esports’ new chief commercial officer as he chats to SportsPro about his new role.

McCammon had just ended his 18-year tenure at Adidas, most recently as director of global sports marketing, to link up with the UK-based esports organisation, joining a growing list of high-profile industry figures moving from traditional sports into a competitive gaming hotseat.

With esports sector growth showing no signs of abating, gamers and executives alike now have the chance to blaze a trail as they embrace the unknown and establish a foothold in an area that embraces innovation seamlessly.

For McCammon (pictured right), the move comes as Excel inked a major partnership deal with telecommunications giant BT, further highlighting competitive gaming’s growing commercial appeal for big brands. With expansion a priority for Excel, the stage looks set for its next chapter.

To uncover more, McCammon spoke to SportsPro about his switch and what lies ahead for Excel and the wider industry.

Why did you decide to join Excel?

When you’re given a blank canvas to work with alongside an extremely ambitious, dynamic executive team it’s almost a dream job to come into. Of course, you also can’t ignore that it sits in esports, which any common sense marketer should be keeping an eye on at all times. Having spoken to Kieran and Joel [Holmes-Darby, the brothers who founded and run Excel] and the backers, and seeing the vision and the plans we’re already putting in place, it became clear that we were a good fit for each other.

Aside from getting set up on the IT system, what will be your initial focus? 

To build partnerships and market Excel as a disruptive organisation that is the boldest British esports brand. Yes, we’ve got some great neighbours in London but we want to set the bedrock for the future and explore titles that we’d like to engage in beyond League of Legends.

The other area is the professional gaming side, which has made some big strides in the offseason. We’ve signed clear targets in terms of performance and coaching, as well as solid additions to the squad. There’s a lot of growth foreseen and it’s really kicking off nicely.

Where do you expect your biggest challenges to be?

Within the industry as a whole, I think it has overcome the biggest hurdle of all which is educating those that are potentially coming in that can make changes and add strengths to esports. They are taking notice and I think that it’s amazing as I scratch the surface of esports how structured and organised everything already is. This is maybe the awful stereotype or cliché coming in from the cold a little bit but you don’t take as much notice of the new kid on the block as you should.

I don’t see the challenges per say as being very problematic, I think it’s more about education to the wider world and the non-endemic brands that we’re speaking to. BT is a fantastic example of this. Whilst they are in the digital sphere they have a very different catchment and consumer community that we want to be speaking to as well. There’s really good opportunity.

Of course, there are topics that aren’t just present in esports that are problematic but you hear about these all the time, such as online bullying and so forth, which you have to be aware of. But we foster a very healthy mindset within Excel and you see that in the work that we do with our community. From a gaming point of view, we are very respectful and disciplined in regards to behavior and suchlike. So there are common threads that’ll you’ll read about in the industry but when you’re actually inside it then it’s quite different to what the general perception is.

Excel has teamed up with BT, which sees the telecoms giant become their exclusive lead partner

Do you anticipate more non-endemic brands getting involved with esports teams?

The feeling is there that a lot more of the traditional sports partners and marketing heads are taking a look at this major opportunity. And why wouldn’t you? You’re talking to a young but very savvy, very loyal and authentic catchment group so without doubt it’s an opportunity for those non-endemic brands.

At the same time, esports shouldn’t be just treated as a totally different environment. As I dive deeper into this world, it becomes very clear how much structure there is, how many set visions and targets there are. You have a lot of teams and organisations that have clear goals, not just from a business side but they know how to build their brands exceptionally well. There’s a lot of synergy to be brought.

It’s very clear traditional sports also has a lot to learn from esports in terms of forward thinking and future visions. I was lucky to be present in Paris for the League of Legends World Championship final in November and it’s incredible to see a show that they turned around just in the live audience alone, featuring non-endemic brands such as Louis Vuitton. They turned it around in a really healthy manner and talked to a consumer group that you would clearly not identify in the first instance as one that Louis Vuitton would resonate with. It’s amazing how that’s gone down as a benchmark for partnerships.

How will you refer to your time at Adidas in your new role?

I’ve been very fortunate with Adidas to be involved with a very dynamic business in football. It’s always been everchanging and one of the things you simply have to be wary of is that you lead from the front. Our former chief marketing officer at Adidas had a simple catchphrase which is ‘if you move forward with speed you fail, but you fail fast and you move on’. I think this is the right attitude, everybody’s going to make mistakes, you’re not going to learn unless you do, and I think this is one of the ways I will employ this mindset within Excel.

In terms of timelines, planning, putting a structure in place and identifying the weaker areas from Excel, and there aren’t many, it’s more about reshaping or restructuring rather than resurfacing. What we already have is a fantastic foundation.

McCammon says he wants Excel to branch out from League of Legends into other titles

How does Excel plan to elevate itself within the esports sector? 

The more you engage and the more you have that dialogue then the quicker and easier it is for any brand, any potential partner or any outside organisation to be educated. Excel sit in a very privileged position. We’re not very established, we can rewrite the rulebook for whatever it might be and that’s very unusual. It’s a great opportunity for us to step into territory that we can shape probably a lot quicker.

If you look at football leagues, which have been around for more than a hundred years, it’s challenging for them to navigate in a very different direction. You see that with the video assistant referee (VAR) in the Premier League this season.

Some of the perceived smaller traditional sports have rewritten that rulebook. The PDC darts is a great example. In cricket, the focus has been on introducing new concepts and ideas which definitely resonate with the consumer, and again within esports it’s at your fingertips. You’re not going to break the rules deliberately but you’re in a very good position to reshape and rework on a seasonal basis which is quite different from traditional sports. 

Another area is the mindset within the industry. Everyone is prepared to learn from each other. I’m not saying that isn’t the case from more established traditional sports. But I think there’s a very healthy approach to the understanding that esports teams are growing the industry at a pace that is almost unfathomable. The speed at which we’re moving is quite something. You have a much younger workforce within in this industry and we’re learning as we go along.

 

Where do you see the biggest changes in esports over the next few years?

I think it’s just going to get better. You’re going to see that evolution of opportunity for teams and organisations like Excel to grow into global brands. We’re taking the steps of turning ourselves into an entertainment brand versus just a gaming organisation. In three to five years you’re going to see even more growth.

I would love for dinosaurs in the sports industry, I suppose I probably fall into that category too, and the general public’s perception of what esports and gaming actually represent to change. If you see how Excel plans, performs and works on mental health and performance nutrition, for example, the professionalism of it is astounding. We’re not alone there, we know that, and I think you’ll see wonderful growth there and probably more acceptance as result. Those competing are actually high performance athletes and there’s no two ways about it. Watch this space.