Richard Huggan: The growing trend of senior role appointments in esports

It takes more than liking the product of an industry to get a job within the sector, anyone will tell you that. This especially applies to the esports industry.

However, the same can be said in reverse. Having years of professional experience without an understanding of esports’ culture won’t likely guarantee a job in the industry either.

While other entertainment industries have remained relatively quiet, the esports industry has ebbed and flowed through the summer, rising with the windfalls of streaming and gaming’s enormous uptick of user activity since the pandemic, despite being hamstrung by the lack of event revenue. The digitally native and market savvy industry has skillfully transitioned many operations online and offered digital experiences to fans.

Esports Insider caught up with Richard Huggan, Managing Director of Hitmarker, to discuss the job board’s reflections on having weathered the pandemic summer, the firm counting its one-millionth lifetime user, and also what is the industry’s current employment trends.

Top-down trends

Browsing through more than 10,000 active job opportunities on the site at the time of writing, Huggan explained that Hitmarker feels they’ve yet to return to the number of open jobs they expected to have considering the global reach of the platform. Nevertheless, he sees these numbers growing further towards the end of the year, considering the gaming industry has felt a boon during the summer and the number of opportunities is continuing to rise.

Huggan shared: “Esports job opportunities are still below where they were last year, largely because esports is/was so reliant on the live events side of things.” He continued that the team was expecting esports opportunities to rise alongside the gaming sector’s numbers, but without events to employ staff, there are only so many jobs available in the industry.

When asked about whether there have been any noticeable trends on the candidate side of things Huggan stated: “It’s definitely an increasing theme that at senior levels, [at 100 Thieves, for example] they’re pulling in some of their exec team from music, entertainment and sport. They aren’t necessarily going out and hiring a bunch of esports people to lead the company. Across the space, we are seeing this [trend] more and more.”

100 Thieves Executive Team
Image credit: 100 Thieves

He continued: “The challenge is that to get the requisite amount of experience that some of these jobs ask for, which can be eight, ten, or twelve years. Twelve years of experience being a partnership manager, [within the esports industry] – the pool is so, so small. Organisations are fishing in a very small pond where everybody knows everybody.”

“So we are definitely seeing the trend of bigger orgs looking to draw talent from entertainment definitely, and also from sport. The pandemic is another big driver behind that because as we speak live sport is still decimated because of ticket [sales] and entertainment is much the same because there are no large scale events or gigs happening. That means more and more [professionals] are looking at esports and gaming because it appears to be a ‘pandemic-proof’ industry, and maybe now’s the time to make the jump in there because they’ll be in a more secure position than they are now.”

Huggan concluded: “There’s a lot more openness from people who are from the sports fields and different entertainment fields, to see gaming and esports as a legitimate opportunity now. The more and more of those kinds of people you get making themselves available to recruitment agencies and the people who are doing the headhunting, the bigger impact this is likely to have on our industry..”

The risks of appointing non-endemic experts

Whilst it’s a positive sign that other industry experts from different sectors are transitioning into esports, there are some drawbacks. Huggan believes that bringing in those non-endemic experts to the industry could create a lack of a relevant network, and this pain point would be felt on a sliding scale depending on the placement of the individual.

For example, someone being brought in to establish a revenue-generating aspect of an organisation without an esports network or a familiarity of the players in the space. While the individual may be able to do the job on a functional level, so many aspects of business still rely on knowing the right people and being able to make the right calls.

Hitmarker Expanded Team
Image credit: Hitmarker

“Obviously, not everybody naturally ‘gets’ esports even if they’ve been here for a year, year-and-a-half. I still think people can lack a fundamental understanding of the overall industry and the people that make up the scene at each level.” Huggan elaborated. “The big thing that still we hear from hiring companies, at all levels, is that esports experience is ‘preferred’ and knowledge [of the industry] is ‘preferred.’ It still tends to be number one or number two in terms of [employers’] priorities.”

When asked about whether he feels the tech or gaming industries have set their sights on the esports industry yet, Huggan replied: “With tech, the problem we’ve got is that the salaries in our industry don’t always come close to those you could get in tech. There’s no doubt some companies can pay market rates, but that tends to be the exception rather than the rule. More often than not, you’ll be hiring somebody where the money is a secondary consideration because they’ve already made enough – or know they can make enough in the future – and just want to work on something they’re interested in. An increasing number of people have been long time gamers, and that pull to work on something you love can be strong.”

Concerning gaming professionals, he added: “There’s so much natural overlap there in terms of publishers that might not have interests in esports but have a lot of overlap in terms of the roles they support, like software engineering, business development, or community management. You can do most of the jobs that are now available in esports for any gaming company, whether they’re directly involved in esports or not.

“Again, I think salary and security probably play a big part. Even though the video game industry isn’t ‘old’ by any stretch of the imagination, and still isn’t always all that secure – we all read about the layoffs, the crunch, and the churn  – it’s still a heck of a lot further down the line than esports is.”

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