Theorycraft is a creative and strategic advisory firm that works within gaming and esports. Launched in September, it’s early days for the agency but, founded by prominent figures in both esports and entertainment, the future looks bright.
To better understand how they joined forces and what they’re looking to do together, Esports Insider spoke with Lauren Gaba Flanagan, Founder and Partner of Theorycraft.
Esports Insider: Can you tell us about your professional background?
Lauren Gaba Flanagan: I’m born and raised in Los Angeles, raised in entertainment. I went to college in Boston and studied marketing, I really wanted to go into toy and game marketing at like a Hasbro or a Mattel. I ended up going the agency route – I didn’t want to go to business school right then – and bounced around a couple of small agencies. I spent about a year at each.
Then, in February 2014, I ended up at CAA in the corporate marketing department. The group was pushing clients beyond interruptive advertising and really meaningfully integrating them in entertainment. We were working across film and television and music and all sorts of different entertainment verticals.
I said to my boss at the time, “why aren’t we doing anything in gaming and esports?” He trusted me and let me pursue it. We ended up signing Blizzard, working on the launch campaign and promotional strategy of the first season of Overwatch League. I worked creatively on that project, there was a very small core team and it was a really exciting milestone for me personally in terms of my actual produced work in esports.
Our group ended up being divested and sold to an equity firm. I went to an agency called United Entertainment Group, my predecessor at the agency had brought Toyota to the Overwatch League for the first season. I worked on Toyota’s relationship with Overwatch League, on Frito-Lay, and a couple things for Kellogg’s. I worked with a couple more clients and then left, I had been working freelance for about a year before we launched Theorycraft.
ESI: Why does Theorycraft exist? What gap does it fill in the industry?
LGF: The reason that it exists is because we felt like there was a gap in the market for firms that had really strong creative chops as we do, plus the strategic side of the business which we also have a lot of expertise in as well.
What we are really looking to do is combine those, plus we have a lot of connectivity within Los Angeles and within the traditional media landscape. Part of what we do is provide that sort of cultural connectivity of entertainment agencies as well.
“The nascency of the industry leaves room for people who really care to have an influence.”
ESI: How did you come together with Bryce Blum, Christopher “MonteCristo” Mykles, and Nathen McVittie?
LGF: I met MonteCristo when I was at CAA and we were shooting the Overwatch League launch campaign. We met on that and he had introduced me to Bryce at some point because he thought perhaps there was some we could do together. That was a relationship that continued and we found ourselves all doing individual consulting.
We said “Why not combine forces? We can offer a really robust set of services.” Our other partner, Nathen, founded a creative studio for soccer with a high school classmate of mine. He’s always been incredibly interested in these esports, he really wanted to do some work in this space, so we brought him on as our fourth partner and Creative Director.
ESI: When did you decide to come together and how long can it kind of take from concept to seeing it through to launching?
LGF: I would say we started conversations, seriously, in spring or early summer, and we officially launched in September.
ESI: What makes the esports industry desirable for you to work in?
LGF: I think I got my first console when I was five and my first PC when I was seven. I’ve always just been really passionate about anything that gets people to play, whether it’s video games or jigsaw puzzles or the New York times crossword, which I probably spend 10 hours a week doing. I like anything that sort of channels that human urge to solve problems through imagination. I wanted to go into traditional toy game marketing, but esports and interactive entertainment ended up being the path that I went down instead.
The timing of the industry and my career dovetailed in a really nice way. In addition to just being a fan personally and loving video games, it’s entertainment, it’s technology, it’s highly interactive. It’s very fandom-driven. There’s a lot about it that really excites me. I think the nascency of the industry leaves room for people who really care to have an influence, which is what I’m hoping to do.
“We’ve assembled a service offering based off of our skill sets that is reflective of the very different things that we do individually.”
ESI: What would you say other consultant agencies and firms in esports have gotten wrong?
LGF: I think it’s just a matter of the specific skill sets that exist within our team are very unique. Anything content and production, Monte – having been on-camera talent for well over a decade – is really well suited to address those needs. Anything brand strategy and helping non-endemic brands enter the space really sits squarely within my wheelhouse. Anything that’s art and design and identity-driven is very much Nathen. Anything investment, monetisation, business strategy, advising on capital raises, and so on, is really where Bryce sits.
We’ve assembled a service offering based off of our skill sets that is reflective of the very different things that we do individually, which I think is what sets us apart.
ESI: Can you tell us anybody that you’ve worked with through Theorycraft so far?
LGF: I cannot! My sincere hope is that once we have produced work, we’ll be able to talk about it and I can’t wait for that.
ESI: What’s the ultimate goal with Theorycraft?
LGF: I would say the ultimate goal is twofold. First and foremost, we’re really driven by sustainability and this is our version of reinvesting in the ecosystem and helping to make it more stable. We’re looking to help teams and leagues and companies that are endemic to the industry. We really want to make sure that valuations are always aligned with what’s actually happening within an organisation and how they’re monetising.
I would say the second is creativity, we want to create the work that we would like to see in the industry. We’re very early in esports in terms of where people are at but we would really like to creatively raise the bar, making work that resonates outside of the industry and really starts to make waves.
“A lot of the assets that are available in traditional sports are not available to esports in the same way.”
ESI: What do you think of the current of the current state of sponsorships and marketing in esports compared to other industries?
LGF: We’re a lot younger than most and a lot of the assets that are available in traditional sports are not available to esports in the same way. You’re not going to get big stadium deals, they don’t really exist yet. The inventory is not exactly an apples-to-apples comparison. I would say that esports is on a really good growth trajectory in this area. Obviously, brand sponsorships – because of limitations with other forms of revenue – become a much more important piece of the puzzle within esports versus other industries.
That being said, some of the brands that have gotten into this space are doing amazing work. I love what Cloud9 has done with Puma. There are many great examples of brands coming into the space and there are forward-thinking, creative people within organisations and leagues that are thinking about how to push esports forward.