North American esports team TSM recently topped Forbes’ list of most valuable esports organizations and, whether you trust those valuations or otherwise, it’s clear that their parent company Swift are doing well. Now, the company have added a talent agency to their portfolio.
ICON joins TSM and coaching app Blitz under the ownership of Swift, led by managing director Damian Skoczylas, to represent and manage content creators and influencers.
TSM, formerly known as Team SoloMid, houses many prominent creators but if they’re represented by an entity that also owns the company that employs them then there are feasible conflict of interest concerns.
Dexerto spoke with Skoczylas in an exclusive interview to find out the reason for ICON’s launch, how they’re avoiding potential conflicts of interest, and why the current agency landscape will benefit from their arrival.
The inception of ICON
“ICON is a completely separate legal entity from TSM, we are wholly independent, but it really came about when some of the TSM influencers were looking for more direct deals,” Skoczylas told Dexerto. “TSM was really structured to focus on team deals and so they created ICON to be able to serve influencers and just build a talent agency business to sign talent across the board.”
ICON’s new managing director doesn’t have direct experience in esports and gaming, industries that are underdeveloped in some areas and thriving in others. He does have a breadth of knowledge gained from years of talent management experience, however, and it’s an added benefit that he has worked on deals involving YouTube creators. Swift tapped him to lead their newly-formed agency because of his decade-plus experience in managing talent and delivering solid deals.
“They were looking for someone to come in and lead the business that had more of a talent management agency experience,” he said. “I’ve been in the talent business for quite a while, starting with traditional and then shifting over into digital. At my most recent company, we represented influencers mainly in the tech and family verticals on YouTube. I really had my eye on gaming and esports for quite a while so it was really exciting when this opportunity came up.”
ICON may actually be a bigger operation than you’d imagine for a brand-new venture, already employing nine people. An agency can get a lot done with little, though their workforce will certainly need to scale as their business does.
“We’re structured a little bit more like a sales organization rather than a traditional Hollywood talent agency,” he said. “We have agents, we have account managers who help execute brand deals, and then we have salespeople who go out and find those big deals. Each role participates in some level of sales and then we also have, support staff who help keep the gears moving for us.”
With TSM and ICON being held under the same ownership umbrella, there will be questions surrounding their working relationship and just how intertwined they will be. Having good faith and a solid reputation is pivotal for many companies, especially agencies who need trust from clients and major brands alike, so we made it a point to discuss this topic.
“There’s a lot of interaction, but ICON is a totally separate legal entity that operates under a specific California state talent agency license,” Skoczylas assured Dexerto. “We will be negotiating contracts and opportunities that come from TSM but we will also come to heads at certain junctures. Our fiduciary duty is to the talent that we represent and not to TSM, nor to the parent company. We all exist in this ecosystem, but we are separate and we will be negotiating against TSM in some cases.
“From a high-level standpoint, we call it the separation of church and state. TSM is team-oriented, we are talent-oriented. Any ICON influencer is not beholden to be signed over at TSM and vice versa.”
With a plethora of talent management agencies already occupying esports and the wider gaming space, ICON needs to bring something new to the table to stand out. Loaded already represents many of the top talents who are prominent today, for example, but that doesn’t mean that they’re a complete service. Whether it’s providing new and unparalleled opportunities or simply offering a better experience for talent, there’s plenty of room for growth.
“Our bread and butter is going to be working with influencers but we will also look to represent players where it makes sense,” the agency’s MD said. “A lot of them stream, do YouTube, are active on social media across the board, and also compete. I’ve always been a really big fan of talent development and working with people that we see potential in, though. Given where we are right now, attracting the biggest talent can be a little bit of a challenge. Yes, we’re looking to sign those big names, but we’re really looking to find that sweet spot of people that you truly believe in that we can get behind and help grow.
“At the end of the day, we’re a revenue-driven business so we live and die by the deals coming in but we’re a talent development business as well. I’ve worked with massive influencers but my passion is for mid-tier talent that we can really help grow and develop.”
So, how exactly does Skoczylas envision Swift’s latest venture developing in the coming months? While he has buckets full of ambition, his years of experience in this line of work comes in handy as it allows him to recognize where ICON currently stands in the marketplace. They need to know their model works before attempting to scale the business.
“I would love by 2021 to sign a couple of really big talent and grow the revenue, but I really see us in a building stage,” he said. “There’s a lot of room to grow but really we’re looking at revenue first and foremost, which is just the kind of tried and true brand deals, but we’re also looking at alternative revenue as well. Maybe there’s some potential crossover into hosting for certain talent where it makes sense, launching products with talent, and so on.”
ICON already have their north star, guiding them towards making the right decisions and taking on the right people. They have a solid vision of how they can provide value to prospective clients, and it’s nothing farfetched: if they ensure talent and brands are happy, results will come.
“We’re really keen to work with brands that our influencers are excited about,” he explained. “Our challenge is to pair the right brand with the right talent so each party wins. I’m sure we’ve all seen the brand deals that just completely flop where you can definitely tell the talent’s heart is not in it. In my past life, I’ve definitely sold a few of those.
“We also don’t want to be beholden to one specific category and in one specific thing. We also lean on our talent to let us know what types of things they haven’t worked with, what brands they like, and so on. It could be a beverage that’s outside of the typical sort gaming beverages and energy drinks.”
To begin with, the biggest challenge for ICON may well be building up a portfolio of work that demonstrates why they’re a good partner for content creators, influencers, and players alike. There may also be some skepticism surrounding their impartiality due to their shared ownership with TSM, but they certainly seem keen to dispel any doubt.