The entertainment industry has changed a lot in the last few years. Newer mediums like esports, streaming channels, and influencer content are challenging more traditional outlets like film and TV for fans’ limited attention spans. Professional gamers are making millions while achieving levels of fame previously reserved for Hollywood celebrities — which means they also need similar career guidance.
United Talent Agency bills itself as a “leading global talent and entertainment company.” Based in Beverly Hills, Calif., UTA has represented some of the biggest names in show biz for almost 30 years, among them Harrison Ford, Mariah Carey, and Wes Anderson. According to its website, UTA “capitalizes on a rapidly changing entertainment, media and business landscape,” which, as of last year, includes some of the most influential names in gaming.
In June 2018, the United Talent made a major push into the gaming industry by acquiring agencies Press X and Everyday Influencers, both of which offered representation to esports players and gaming streamers. That makes UTA “the only talent and entertainment company to represent esports talent, streamers, and game developers,” according to its Head of Esports Damon Lau.
As the former CEO of Everyday Influencers, Lau is well aware of the evolving nature of entertainment, particularly where video games are concerned. “The gaming industry is going through an exciting stage of hypergrowth and it’s changing almost every day,” he told Variety. “The union between my team alongside the rest of the agency allows us to service our clients in a comprehensive and organic fashion — introducing talent to the world of professional gaming and professional gamers to opportunities across the traditional and emerging entertainment landscape.” In other words, by repping gamers just as one would actors or musicians, United Talent Agency can connect streamers and esports stars with gigs to further their own careers while bringing these clients to new levels of visibility.
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Ophir Lupu, UTA’s Head of Gaming, echoes Lau’s sentiments about the industry’s changing nature. As a Partner at United Talent Agency with clients like “BioShock” creator Ken Levine, BioWare alum Casey Hudson, and “Rick and Morty” co-creator Justin Roiland’s studio Squanch Games, Lupu isn’t exactly new to the gaming world. However, he recognizes that the more recent rise of esports and influencers has created a seismic shift in the industry. “What we’ve witnessed is hyper-growth in terms of our gaming influencers’ relevancy across the broader cultural landscape. Gaming has moved out of a niche bucket and is firmly entrenched in mainstream culture,” Lupu said.
So why have other agencies been so slow to react? According to Lupu, “I can confidently say it’s because it’s difficult to gain access and credibility.” With Lau and his team already representing well-known influencers like Pokimane, whose Twitch channel boasts over three million followers, UTA’s acquisition of Everyday Influencers and Press X was vital to getting that access. Lau adds, “I think a lack of familiarity within the space affects efforts and progress, as there is a large pool of undiscovered talent.”
Being ahead of the curve when it comes to representing new media stars comes with its own set of challenges. “The methods of monetization and potential business diverges from what most agents are used to,” Lau said. Streamers are different from other types of celebrities in that they engage with fans in real time, performing live “upwards of 50 hours a week” in some cases. Esports athletes also face a different environment than other sports stars; while athletes will likely focus on one sport and one position for their entire careers, “unique obstacles arise in the digital space, as games are consistently undergoing infrastructure updates and new title launches.” In many cases, streamers decide what’s popular, like in the case of EA’s “Apex Legends” launch; other times, they need to adapt to want viewers want to see, which could mean learning a whole new game or style of play.
On the other hand, that challenging, ever-changing environment also leads to some creative endeavors that wouldn’t work in any other medium. “We’ve seen an incredible client crossover with other departments,” Lupu told us. “Earlier this year, we played a key role in Marshmello’s live set in Fortnite, which is a true testament to the convergence of games and pop culture.” A major recording star holding a live in-game concert might have been unheard of a decade ago, but earlier this year, the event drew 10.7 million players.
Lau was happy to share other success stories from United Talent Agency’s venture into gaming: “We helped arranged for Nick ‘NICKMERCS’ Kolcheff to stream ‘Fortnite Battle Royale’ with NFL superstars live from the 2019 NFL Draft,” which helped amplify its record-setting 47.5 million viewers. His team was also instrumental in projecting Pokimane into the stratosphere; the 23-year-old streamer now has an Amazon Prime Video series about her life, and she made an appearance at the Teen Choice Awards among other beloved young stars.
As far as the future of gaming, Lau has a clear idea of where the industry is going. “Moving forward, we will capitalize on opportunities in the fast-growing global esports economy, which is expected to top $1 billion this year and is forecasted to reach $3.2 billion by 2022.” And while they already represent a number of high-profile streamers and esports pros, they’re always looking for untapped talent, taking “followers, total wins, their target audience, and perspective into consideration when bringing on new clients.”
While “video game superstar” may not have been a viable career path when you were a kid, your own children are growing up in a much different landscape. There will always be a place in entertainment for actors, musicians, and other creatives, but United Talent Agency is making sure there’s room at the table for gamers, too. With each passing year, as dismissive statements like “adults don’t play video games” and “games are bad for kids” are repeatedly disproven, prolific gamers earn more money and gain more fans simply doing what they love. “Streamers engage with their audience in real time, creating unique, meaningful relationships with their communities,” Lau explains. With follower counts and salaries in the range of millions, it shouldn’t be long before more major agencies take note.
(Pictured: Damon Lau, Ophir Lupu)