Mitchell Smith

Chief Content Officer, NYXL

Understanding Content in the World of Gaming with Mitchell Smith 

Gaming is a completely different world in its own right. And marketing content for this industry is so far removed from what we consider 'contemporary content marketing' that it takes us a while to understand how to do so. 

That’s why this interview with Mitchell Smith, Chief Content Officer, NYXL is so important because he gives us the low down on how he and his team work on content in the world of gaming. He tells Aditi Ramnath, Director - US Business Development at Pepper Content, all about this and more. 

Here are some excerpts. 

1. Do tell us a little about yourself. 

I'm the Chief Content Officer of NYXL, an entertainment brand that creates content and experiences for esports, gaming, etc. The brand represents New York in esports leagues like the NY Subliners (Call of Duty League), and NY Excelsior (Overwatch League). 

We do a lot with these teams because while the teams are amazing assets, the value is derived from what you do with those teams and how you program to that audience and that fandom.

I, on the other hand, come from a more traditional film and television Hollywood background. I spent 10 years in Los Angeles making movies, television shows, and digital series, and at my last gig over there, I ran development and production for a company called Three Black Dots, which also had a large YouTube creator roster of gamers.

That was when I got my first taste of the power of that audience. We worked with a ton of YouTubers there, and so then when I came to NYXL, I continued the same 360-degree content strategy, programming content to a specific audience with the help of digital development and consumer products. And handling these gamers is a different ballgame altogether. Gamers are a much sought-after demographic. We have a creator roster that all the brands want to target. This demographic is young, affluent, spends money on passion, and has a brand affinity. And so we do a lot of content for our owned and operated channels here.

We use YouTube, Twitch, TikTok, Twitter, and Instagram to build a direct-to-consumer relationship with the fans of our teams. We launched the first-ever young creator program based in New York, where we searched for the next generation of rising creators. We have 10 winners who are each gonna get a $50,000 contract with the organization for 2023.

Essentially, in addition to working with teams and big influencers, we are also going on the ground and looking for rising creators - a kind of top-down approach. And because we have authority in this space, we use it to speak to a broader audience and not limit ourselves just to what we have going on with the teams. 

2. What kind of content do you create and how do you decide which to create and when? 

For us lately, TikTok has been the main area of growth. We've built out a pretty robust content business there. And I think just in general, vertical video is the hot trend because you can use that content on TikTok, Instagram reels, and YouTube Shorts.

It's about figuring out which part of your audience engages on which platform. For example, the team's most endemic audience probably lives a little bit more on Twitter and Instagram, but we still have a team channel on TikTok.

I'll give you an example. For Call of Duty, our TikTok followers are fans of the game but may know nothing about the team, whereas our Twitter and Instagram handle for the same brand is much more endemic, kind of like the sports side of it. Some of it is trial and error, seeing what hits where, and then some of it comes from a desire. We want to program to the super endemic fans that we have. But the idea is to use that passionate core to build out a broader audience. 

We use YouTube for longer-form documentary series. We also keep vertical content separate. We don’t use a wide-screen asset and try to reproduce it for short form, but actually, shoot original content that is intended to be vertical for that platform.

Our goal is to bring the energy, attitude, and diversity of New York City to the gaming space. That doesn't mean we're a hyper-local brand, it's just that we feel that that point of view is unique and natural to who we are as a company.

3. Do you also leverage a lot of written content and in what forms do you use that? Or do you feel that things are slowly fading out in favor of video content, which could potentially be more easily consumable?

We're not an editorial company from a written content standpoint. Any copy we write is going to be more original and may be living on say Twitter. We're much more interested in video because we look at things as an IP factory; we're launching different franchisable content experiences, even if that's a static image or a vertical video.

These things are repeatable and scalable. It's not just random, one-off videos. We always look at how we can franchise everything that we're doing so that people know that they're coming to us for these specific content experiences. 

4. Let's talk a little bit about the creators. How do you discover creator talent and keep them engaged? 

We do a lot of research. We look for people on TikTok, that have proven engagement on their channels and a bit of an overlapping voice or point of view with us as a company and or the titles that we operate in. And then we don't tell them to stop doing what they're doing on their channels, but work with them to create content that overlaps with our brand but in their voice. It's perfectly in line with the type of content that we're looking to do. And so it's their original voice and point of view combined with ours.  

We usually have multiple creators per channel and brand. And it gets tougher with the bigger creators. One of the biggest war zone creators in the world is on our roster. So we have to figure out a way that's mutually beneficial where, we are helping the creators and providing them with something, while they help grow our brand as well. We try not to make it like a transactional relationship; it always has to be about us working on things together that both parties are excited about. We also need to be aware that they have their talents, and their network and possibly know their audience well and may be better than us at times.

5. Now a lot of the stuff that you spoke about is a very creative process, right? Where do the numbers meet the creative process? What metrics do you chase? 

I think it varies with the project and platform. You want to be able to make data-driven creative decisions to help inform it. We have a marketing and analytics group that helps us do so. But you also don't want to prevent the creative team from taking risks at the same time, because it may take a minute for something to hit. 

Our marketing team also has a few programs that help them determine what will be trending before it does to be able to prepare us in terms of content to be created. Or we can also comment on something in a more timely fashion than our competitors.

In terms of creators, we are looking at their average concurrent views over a long period of time. While subscribers and followers are important, we're looking a lot more at views and likes because what you want is engagement.

6. What's your brainstorming process like? 

We have weekly content meetings where we go over our development slate, but then we set brainstorms for specific initiatives. We also go by our owned and operated platforms. We have different teams for Call of Duty, Overwatch, parent organization brand, and other IPs. 

We then look at the marketing and analytics and the ideal distribution calendar. We decide on whether we need five pieces of content per week on Instagram; eight on TikTok, and so on. Then we look at it as a content group, what our desired output, and then map it from platform to platform like a television network. We match it against the calendar. And then assess what worked last month and what didn’t. And then we figure out a new format. So I'd say we have a pretty fluid process and are big enough that we have multiple departments working together and still small and nimble enough that we're in it together.

7. What do you predict the next big development in the content space is likely to be?

You will continue to see more and more brands looking to be organically built into the content you're doing. Content will be built into your brand in a fun and interactive way so that it doesn't feel manufactured and contrived to the audience consuming it.

The younger audience is savvier than ever. They know when they're being pitched to and monetized, but at the same time, they don’t mind being programmed.

They understand their favorite creator. That's how they make a living, right? So they're not going to not take these brand deals. But I think being able to pitch sponsorship deals in ways that are fun and compelling and organically developed into creative concepts is going to be something that happens more and more often so that it doesn't feel just like a commercial or an ad.

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