Featured Advisory Board Member: John Davidson, GameStop

DISE advisory board member John Davidson leads GameStop’s esports and partnership efforts, identifying brands and developing strategy for opportunities that bring value to customers. He is an expert and thought leader in Esports and also a lifelong skateboarder. We are grateful to have his unique expertise and vision on our advisory board!

We caught up with John to ask him some questions about the industry, his experience, and what advice he has for up-and-coming sports and entertainment professionals in Dallas.

Plus, don’t miss this video feature from The Berrics (below) about his fascinating career path, how he makes time to skate, and how the principles of skateboarding have influenced his approach to business.

Why did you choose to get involved with DISE?

Getting involved with DISE was a great opportunity to align two of my passions: sports and giving back. DISE leadership and members truly have a heart for interests beyond themselves. It's inspiring to be part of an organization of influential people with this perspective.

Tell us more about your career journey. What career path led you to your position at GameStop, and what drew you specifically to the gaming and esports industry? 

I’ve had a unique career path from becoming a sponsored skateboarder at age 14, pursing the skateboarding dream all over the country for about 5 years after high school, working in telemarketing, door-to-door sales and a tax firm, then going back to school to major in marketing at Sacramento State before moving to Dallas to helping to launch a design and animation studio out of a friend’s house, joining The Marketing Arm as a producer, then finally landing at GameStop as Head of Partnerships and developing our esports strategy. The MediaJuice and SportsBiz podcasts [listed below] can provide more detail.

What do you see as the future of the esports industry, and how does that relate to the sports industry at large? Also, how does this apply specifically to the Dallas/Fort Worth market? 

I believe that we’ll continue to see more leagues follow the traditional sports franchise model that Overwatch League has pioneered. Through watch parties and events like the Dallas Homestand, it’s clear that gamers identify with their geographic location the way traditional sports fans do. This also creates great rivalries and enables local brands to partner with teams. Dallas is the home of major esports organizations, including Complexity, Team Envy and Infinite Esports and Entertainment (all GameStop partners), who have already started tapping into local fandom through the Overwatch League and the GameStop Performance Center at The Star in Frisco.

Secondly, I think there’s plenty of room for growth for data analytics in esports. Not just tracking and reporting, but identifying valuable and relevant metrics outside of sales, since financial ROI has been more difficult to achieve in the space. Dallas agencies are positioned well to take on this challenge with multiple major teams in the area.

Lastly, I think it’s important that the esports space mature with professional expertise from outside of our industry, but, most importantly, guided by gamers to keep our space pure and focused on the gamers. This will make partnerships, events and planning more effective, while keeping the interests of fans and players at the forefront. I am helping with this effort as the President of the Esports Trade Association. We are planning a conference in Q3 of this year that will hopefully help our industry take big steps towards sustainable growth. I’m excited to announce more details soon!

What advice would you give an up-and-coming professional looking to break into the fast-growing esports industry? Are there any specific high-demand areas that the esports industry is hiring for right now? 

I would encourage young professionals to volunteer at events to make personal connections with teams. A unique opportunity that young professionals have in this space is that they understand the consumer much better than experienced professionals, which is rarely the case in other industries. I happened to meet a few college kids who volunteered at the Dallas Homestand event and I’m planning to have them back for future events and focus groups to help refine our strategy. Business is all about who you know and that’s a great way to get your foot in the door.

What advice would you give your younger self?

I would give myself two pieces of advice: Learn complimentary skills beyond your specific interest: If you're in marketing, gain a working knowledge of photoshop to be able to express your ideas and give creatives a starting point. Learn to interpret data, so you have an understanding of what your consumer wants and can accurately analyze the results post-campaign.... etc. Focus on humility and contentment: Don't think of yourself as more important than others. Be kind and generous to every single person. Being pleasant to work with is a competitive advantage. Success doesn't come through one person's efforts. Teamwork makes the dream work! Be ambitious, but not discontent. Count your blessings and realize how fortunate you really are. Focus on positives over the negatives: Having a reliable car over a long commute, making enough to meet your needs over wishing for a large salary, the opportunity to learn new disciplines over the difficulty of 'drinking from the firehose'. Perspective is everything.

Are there any specific career skills that you think the esports industry requires that are different from working in traditional sports, entertainment, or media? 

Whether different or not, I believe this space requires extra attention to the needs and values of the audience. Gamers have, what I call, a healthy skepticism when it comes to brands in their space; specifically non-endemics. The gaming subculture requires brands to engage in the space in a way that adds value to the community. Brands who activate without much thought or purpose towards the audience are shunned, and often in brutal fashion (see Reddit). However, brands who put the gamer first and take the time and effort to activate in a way that is meaningful and improves the experience of the commnity are embraced and championed by its members.

Read and watch more about John Davidson at the links below:

Lauren Allison