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A TikTok talent group and esports team are betting that gaming will be the app's next break-out category. Here's their plan to connect video game brands with TikTok's Gen-Z audience.

Members of Rogue R6

  • As TikTok surges in popularity — the platform recently passed two billion downloads globally — esports organizations, gaming creators, and video game brands are looking for new opportunities to reach users on the app.
  • This week, the esports and gaming company ReKTGlobal announced a partnership with the TikTok-focused talent management company TalentX Entertainment in order to build a new roster of gaming talent for TikTok and other social-media apps.
  • The companies hope to capitalize on a new wave of esports and video game fans as more consumers tune into video game streaming while social distancing.
  • While esports organizations have dipped their toes into TikTok in recent months, it's still early days for gaming creators on the platform who are far more invested in incumbent streaming apps like Twitch, YouTube, and Microsoft's Mixer.
  • Business Insider spoke to RekTGlobal's chairman and the CEO of TalentX Gaming to learn more about their strategy for growing gaming talent on TikTok. 
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TikTok has entered the cultural mainstream for music and entertainment in recent months as its creators have helped shape the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart and made appearances on late-night TV talk shows. 

Is gaming next?

Video game content is gradually taking up more of TikTok's content recommendation landing page ("For You") as major esports organizations FaZe Clan, Team SoloMid (TSM) and 100 Thieves have created official "verified" accounts, and other creators have been using the platform's livestreaming feature to film themselves playing games while sheltered in place during the coronavirus pandemic.

Gaming companies and esports competition organizers like ESL and Riot Games have recently set up branded hashtags on the app, with the latter inviting TikTok creators to the League of Legends World Championships finals last year, according to The Esports Observer. TikTok partnered with Epic Games in January for a Fortnite dance moves challenge, and on May 9, the company is launching the TikTok Cup, an esports tournament for college students set up in partnership with the Collegiate StarLeague (notably, the tournament will be streaming on CSL's Twitch account).

Some of TikTok's most popular creators have featured gaming in their content. This week, the platform's top creator Charli D'Amelio (who has 54 million followers) posted a video of herself playing Fortnite with another top TikTok user.

"A lot of TikTokkers are massive gamers," said Jason Wilhelm, cofounder at TalentX Entertainment, a talent management company with over 60 TikTok and YouTube creator clients (including all members of the popular TikTok content house, Sway LA). "We actually have a few people on our roster that used to play professionally. A lot of them want to be involved in the gaming side of things."

Wilhelm is leading TalentX's first foray into esports and gaming talent management with the launch of TalentX Gaming (TXG) this week. As a YouTube creator with a gaming background, he previously worked with the NBA's Sacramento Kings to help launch its NBA 2K esports team. He later served as the gaming content lead at the creator production company Studio71 before joining with fellow YouTuber Tal Fishman to found TalentX in December 2019.

TalentX is partnering with ReKTGlobal, an international gaming and esports organization that runs the esports clubs Rogue and the London Royal Ravens. The company has financial backing from a variety of celebrity investors like Steve Aoki, Nicky Romero, and Imagine Dragons.

"Some of the teams are starting to dabble into [TikTok]," said Amish Shah, founder and chairman of ReKTGlobal. "No one's really gotten the full-fledged strategy. There are some influencers obviously who are dipping into it and celebrities that play esports a little bit, but I think this is the big opportunity." 

"For TikTok, they haven't really found what is the best way forward for gaming yet," Wilhelm said. "You need a lot of requirements in order to stream video games. TikTok obviously is not set up for that right now, but that's something that we're going to be figuring out."

TikTok's parent company ByteDance has had its sights set on the gaming industry for a while. The company has recently been acquiring gaming studios and exclusive title distribution rights with an eye to competing with China's mobile gaming incumbent Tencent, according to Bloomberg.

But TikTok is still a newcomer in the esports and gaming space in the US, where streaming platforms like Twitch, YouTube, and Microsoft's Mixer have recently been fighting it out for exclusive deals with top streamers like Ninja and PewDiePie. The company's path to relevance hinges on its ability to draw the attention of Gen-Z users that video game brands covet from other social-media apps like YouTube that have spent years building out products to support the needs of gamers.

TalentX said it's taking a multiplatform approach for developing gaming and esports talent at TXG, following the same playbook it's given to its existing TikTok talent who have developed audiences on other social-media apps like YouTube, Instagram, and Snapchat. The company plans to quickly build up a roster of gamer and esports influencers while also tapping into its existing talent pool of TikTok creators who already have an interest in video games. 

"We signed over 60 of the top TikTokkers in a span of four to five months," Wilhelm said of TalentX's initial launch. "Unheard of growth in this industry. And we're going to do the same thing on the TXG side of things."

ReKTGlobal esports team

The time is now

The timing looks favorable for TalentX and ReKTGlobal to build out a gaming and esports-focused creator business as the video game industry as a whole has been outperforming many other parts of the economy during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Interest in video games — including everything from Animal Crossing and Fortnite to sports games like FIFA and Madden NFL 20 — has jumped in recent weeks as at-home consumers look for alternative forms of entertainment. Companies like Activision Blizzard and Electronic Arts (EA) reported strong financial results last quarter, and both companies are actively hiring to meet growing demand for video games. 

"We actually just came off our best revenue month in our career in three-and-half years for April," Shah said. "Our phones are ringing off the hook right now with brands and investors."

TalentX and ReKTGlobal said they're looking to capitalize on increased interest in video games by tapping into existing advertiser relationships to get sponsors for esports and gaming talent on streaming platforms like YouTube and Twitch.

The company also hopes to grow talent across other non-gaming-centric platforms, encouraging creators to do livestreams on TikTok and to post video game highlights from earlier streams (including "funny moments") on TikTok, Snapchat, and Twitter. 

"Those are the day one immediates that you can do," Wilhelm said. "And then in terms of the long-term strategy for TikTok specifically, we're still going to build that out and obviously discuss with TikTok what their plans are for the future of gaming."

Through its partnership with TXG, ReKTGlobal is offering in-house talent management options to the dozens of esports competitors it works with on games like League of Legends' LEC, Fortnite, Rainbow Six, Rocket League, and Call of Duty.

"We're looking at HusKerrs, who's the top war zone Battle Royale player," Shah said, referring to the Twitch streamer who plays Call of Duty on RekTGlobal's team Rogue. "He has no representation. He's been with Rogue for four years. He has a conversation with Jason and the [TalentX] crew later this week."

In addition to tapping into sponsorship deals for streams on platforms like Twitch and YouTube — a format in which top gamers have previously earned tens of thousands of dollars an hour — the companies see potential in pitching their non-gaming TikTok creators to video game brands who are looking to reach a new audience on the fast-growing app.

"I have streaming companies trying to bang my door down trying to get a deal with a bunch of our TikTokkers because they really want to bridge that gap between TikTok and gaming, and that's the best way to do it," Wilhelm said.

TalentX told Business Insider that it has six current TikTok clients who are leaning into gaming, with many posting livestreams of them playing video games for fans in recent weeks. 

"Just looking at Sway, for example, they're all streaming almost every single day," Wilhelm said. "Anthony Reeves is streaming Fortnite. Kio is streaming a variety of games. Griffin is an avid Call of Duty player. And so for us, it's how do we take that and combine that with all of the gaming and esports and marketing power that Rekt has and all the connections that I have in the industry. That's something that we're going to really be homing in on."

When asked about potential sponsors for creators at TXG, the companies pointed to brands that they're currently working with or have partnered with in the past, including State Farm, HyperX, Ubisoft, Amazon, Squarespace, Old Spice, and Electronic Arts.

"We just did a massive campaign with Epic Games with House Party, for example." Wilhelm said. "There's going to be a ton of crossover from the TalentX side, from the ReKTGlobal side, and all across the board."

"We have clients that pay us on retainer, we have clients that pay us on project, we have clients that pay us per spec, and then obviously there's influencer deals where we'll take a percentage," Shah said. "So everything you would think of that gets done in the agency world on the brand side, that's how we operate. The deal size might be smaller at first, and might build into something bigger."

Wilhelm said TalentX's competitive advantage stems from its experience helping creators build audiences across platforms, rather than focusing on a single app.  

"A lot of Twitch streamers are really good on Twitch," he said. "They know how to do Twitch like the back of their hand. But when it comes to branching them to other platforms, a lot of times it's just stream highlights — that's really it. I know what we're going to do better than anyone else in the space is branching creators to other platforms."

For more stories on how media companies, advertisers, and marketers are engaging with TikTok, check out these other Business Insider Prime posts:

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