Interview: Robin McCammon on esports' growth and moving from adidas

18 Nov 2020

By: Sport Industry Group

The rise of esports was one of the main trends of the first coronavirus lockdown. During the second, British outfit EXCEL announced a brand refresh, simplifying its logo and pledging to become a more purpose-driven organisation. Sport Industry Group chatted to CCO Robin McCammon about the move, as well as his first year in esports after spending almost two decades at adidas.

EXCEL Esports welcomed two senior hires as well as a main sponsor in BT back in January. As the British esports organisation geared up for growth, everyone expected a rise in popularity of professional gaming - but no one expected it to happen like this.

The sector was already on a growth footing, evidenced by the arrival of a host of non-endemic - even luxury - brands into the space, but by the end of March 2020, the coronavirus pandemic ensured that gaming, whether competitive or not, was one of the few sources of entertainment left open. 

Robin McCammon joined EXCEL as CMO from adidas in January after 18 years at the global sportswear brand, most recently as Director, Global Sports Marketing. He joined up with Wouter Sleijffers - formerly of Fnatic - who joined as CEO.

Despite the challenges presented to everyone over the initial coronavirus lockdown, it was perhaps a good time to be getting into esports. But there are still challenges in the space - marketing budgets may be smaller than they were before, and just because esports can take place online doesn’t mean there weren’t already major events taking place in auditoriums filled with thousands of spectators.

“As awful as it sounds, there's a silver lining to everything,” said McCammon. “So I think one of the things the pandemic and lockdowns have done is allow people to educate themselves with the gaming and esports industry. You've got a lot of parents gaming with their kids and understanding the space. 

“But it's also given a message out to the world of what an opportunity there is in esports. It's a massive space - and when you just scratch the surface as I was doing when I first started - it becomes very apparent how structured and how large this space is.

“Of course, the world is in a very different place now, and if you're looking at it from a business opportunity, or from an investment point of view, people are still facing tremendous other issues that will dictate their marketing budgets.

“It's not an easy time for anybody at the moment.”

EXCEL recently announced a brand refresh, pushing the organisation in a more ‘purposeful’ direction and simplifying its logo and launching a series of white papers to educate others - with the first focused on health, fitness and well-being, an important topic for those spending most of their time indoors.

“What we’ve shifted to is much more about purpose and a bit about becoming a ‘power brand’. We believe we have much more of a role in terms of purpose and focus to dictate to to drive our own plans moving forward. So that's why we're taking this much more purpose-driven approach to what we do, not ever forgetting that we are a performance organisation: we are in professional esports. 

“But we will go out and we will talk about subjects and topics that are heavy, or that mean something. I don't believe that you should just shy away and rather not make a statement and just let the world go on. I think that these are key topics that must be addressed. We can't fix the world, but we certainly have a voice within the space.”

McCammon’s career history brings him to the world of esports from a brand that has become known for its purposeful stance over the last number of years, prioritising areas like sustainability. 

That experience is something McCammon will dissipate into the esports sector - but what has he brought to the role?

“I suppose the age average went up a little bit…

“Having dealt with some very large, politically-minded organisations in the past, and now to be able to take this knowledge and impart some of this into EXCEL is extremely valuable for me. And no doubt when it comes to strategy, those years of experience are helping as well. 

“Within adidas, everybody lives and breathes the three stripes. That’s stuck with me for many years. At EXCEL we want to make sure that those messages about being better in the performance side of things, but also around how we drive beyond competitive esports to that purpose-driven approach.”

Before the pandemic forced cancellations en masse and drove everyone into their homes, esports was already on most people’s list of future trends. Now it’s often found right up at the top.

“All eyes are on gaming, and we're in a prime position,” said McCammon.

“In terms of the professional side of things, it's only getting better with things like our performance philosophy or focusing on nutrition, sleep, and wellness. 

“We have a story to tell, whether that's what the release of white papers that people can continue to improve upon themselves. This is an ever-expanding space and we're moving very quickly, probably a lot quicker than other other historical sports did, just given the virtue of innovation and the digital space that we're in.”