Wim Stocks has been a progressive leader in the online gaming and esports businesses since 1990. From 2001 to 2006, Wim was executive vice president of the “new” Atari Inc. (a roll-up and amalgam of Hasbro Interactive, Infogrames, and GT Interactive), leading and managing one of the broadest-reaching interactive entertainment publishing networks in the world. In 2006, Wim started an entrepreneurial online gaming publishing business named Elephant Entertainment, assuming the role of president and COO. In March 2008, the leading games publisher THQ purchased Elephant and Wim assumed the role of EVP and leader of the online gaming division and related digital gaming initiatives. In 2010, Wim was recruited to join the executive management team of Virgin Gaming (now WorldGaming) as Executive Vice President. In this role, Wim helped launch the company and platform in 2010, as well as developed strategic investor, technology, game publisher, retailer, and other brand partnerships. In April 2016, Wim was named CEO of WorldGaming & Collegiate StarLeague, which was acquired by Cineplex in the fall of 2015, a leading movie theater operator with diversification into gaming, location-based entertainment, and other aligned entertainment and digital media businesses. As of July 2020, Wim led the acquisition of Collegiate StarLeague & WorldGaming Network by Playfly Sports, a combined traditional sports, esports, and broadcast management/rights management company, and was responsible as chairman for leading the esports business, strategy, sponsorship/partnership sales, and cultivation, and other investor and partner relations for the company. Recently, Wim joined the executive management team of Vindex & Belong Gaming (founded in 2019 by esports industry pioneers and leaders Sundance DiGiovanni, Mike Sepso, and Martyn Gibbs), leading all commercial, partnerships, sponsorships, and business development initiatives.
Wim currently serves as an advisor to the Special Olympics International; an advisor to Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (MLSE) and Ryerson University’s ‘Future of Sports Lab’; advisor and part of the ownership group of Andbox, (parent company of the New York Excelsior, the professional NYC-based franchise in the Overwatch League, and the NY Subliners, professional NYC-based franchise in the Call of Duty League); strategic advisor to GG Group and Team Chaos; is a board member of National Public Radio’s ‘Marketplace’ programming; and is also a trustee and on the board of directors of the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. Wim has also served on the boards of Allina/Abbott Northwestern Hospital, the Sister Kenny Rehabilitation Institute in Minneapolis.
You have been in the games industry for some time. And you have seen many trends come and go. From the beginning of your career to today: What has changed most positively in the industry, and what bothers you about the current situation?
Gaming is now the largest entertainment and engagement dynamic in the world, but in my earlier days associations with gaming had negative perceptions largely through being mis-understood by parents, educators, brands, the media, and other influences. Now gaming is an integral part of social and family life, prevailing contemporary culture, and lifestyles, etc., integrated and supported scholastically and educationally, in many regards provides the connection and nucleus as the new “family room”. So much of this enlightenment for gaming has come about through esports the last 5-7 years, which has elevated gaming in amazing ways, not only through the ranks of professional players (a newfound respect given the large spotlights and paychecks professional players and teams are garnering) but also illuminating the huge opportunities for careers and involvement outside that of competitive participation. I am thrilled to see gaming and esports becoming more and more equated with positive attributes promoting inclusivity, accessibility, diversity, and the abilities to build communities, though I still am troubled by the levels of toxicity which continue to permeate gaming, this behavior I cannot grasp at all. The good news is those negative elements and sources can be identified pretty quickly and shouted down, again the power and unification of community forces so helpful and influential here.
Which key learnings in marketing can other industries draw from the games industry?
No question the games industry has elevated the notion and critical importance of influencers in the realm of marketing, the communities, and followings they have built, as well as the effectiveness of well-conceived & executed content that is central to any of an influencer’s reach and following. Additionally, gaming has highlighted learnings and a truism from which all brands are benefitting: Never, ever ‘f’ with the community; if you do, the retribution will be swift, pervasive, and potentially terminally damaging.
Who are your role models in the industry?
There are so many unbelievable minds and personalities in gaming, I admire very much those who have eschewed the status quo, disregarded sacred cows (perceived and real) and conventional thinking, followed, and articulated their very personal experiences and beliefs to advance gaming & esports in hugely material ways. If I listed all who have inspired me, you’d be reading my list for hours, best to say I am so fortunate to have had so many of these people as my mentors, advisors, guides, friends, associates, and confidantes. However, I will highlight one of these inspirations who interestingly enough is not out of the gaming realm and reflect the basis for my admiration: I had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet with David Fincher, the renown and Academy Award winning producer, director, filmmaker because he wanted to learn from me the essence of gaming (this meeting occurred during the emergence and heyday of MMOs…). Over the course of the next 2 hours as I sat there with my lower jaw on my chest, he painted for me his vision for gaming, how it provides unparalleled immersive interactive story-telling dynamics, he also had fleshed out (largely in his head) and described for me a game concept of the most epic of scale and proportions, safe to say if/when it comes to life will be one of the most provocative games in history (and I can’t reveal any more than that…). This was an interaction I will remember vividly and furthered my admiration for those whose lives and careers in gaming (and beyond) embody ‘the road less (or never) traveled’.
How did the marketing & promotion of Games change in recent years? Where are we headed in games marketing in the next years to come? Which social media channels do you see as key for the Games industry?
Aside from the now rather conventional means of invoking and building presence via Twitter Insta and FB followings (and depending on what it is a publisher or a platform or an events operator are attempting to accomplish), key outreach engagement and community channels that have grown dramatically are of course Discord (as targeted as it gets for engaging the gamer realm), TikTok (now leaning in heavily on illuminating gaming and esports content), Reddit (we’ve seen their impact via the recent Gamestop stock run & the impact on market disintermediation), and eFuse, now reaching over 500K players and again 100% gaming targeted. Gaining a very big following though still quite early is Clubhouse, I am impressed with how readily viral the platform is proving to be and doing so via a broad base of engagement ie music, entertainment, fashion, film, etc. as well as gaming…) though I’d classify their value as largely B2B and still unproven as to how sticky it will be; also proving very effective for B2B engagement for gaming & esports is LinkedIn, such a large gaming industry community has been built. Of course, we’d be neglect to talk about other contemporary gaming marketing platforms and models such as PSN, Xbox Live; obviously key games like Fortnite are not only great and targeted marketing platforms but are becoming full blown entertainment platforms well beyond that of pure gaming.
About the current trend on creators and influencer marketing: The trend towards more micro and macro influencers with a smaller reach and less fans, but more authenticity and engagement: How can the Games industry leverage that trend in your opinion?
The trend of more impact coming from micro influencers aligns perfectly (on some levels) with the trends for esports and gaming to become much more locally/regionally based and influenced. Ninja or Tfue or Dr Disrespect are making the large dollars as macro/global influencers and content producers, and have tremendous value for certain appropriate applications, but are now priced out of the market for involvement with many brands (and frankly aren’t right for very targeted needs, targeted activations). Thus, the trends for micro influencers emerging has the potential for being hugely beneficial enables more brands, more companies, and more localized/targeted marketing and awareness initiatives to get integrated with gaming and esports.
The media landscape has changed massively in the last ten years. However, PR is still one of the most important communications tools in the games sector. Where do you see PR in the next five years, what will the challenges be?
PR (and effective PR) is evolving in very cool ways, a major partnership announcement, or game and activation launch, no matter how they are executed still carry critical importance and value, and of course can vary widely as dictated by the desired goals and be multi-layered. Yet the means by which execution is accomplished also vary (again depending on desired outcomes) through influencer involvement or via content creation and integration or social amplification (as noted above, many platforms to strategize and invoke). It is clear launching with a press or media release is still a valuable component (largely when that announcement is being positioned for optimal B2B optics and broader awareness) but beyond that so many other assets, tools, vehicles, platforms, and content integrations now coming to bear for more contemporary audiences who don’t engage with more conventional reach, all of which need to be strategized and considered for any PR/media announcements in our current time.
Bonus question: Which project / topic in your career are you particularly proud of?
So many great things I am proud of from my involvement of gaming and esports, two are top of my list:
Just this past year we (CSL) helped a number of HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) get involved in gaming and esports through the formation of leagues and competitions for the affiliated schools, helping the administrations of those schools understand the value and power for recruitment and engagement for their students well beyond that of pure participation, spanning curriculum development, career pathing opportunities, industry affiliations, events, additional revenue initiatives, and more.
When the Overwatch League was in its pre-launch months, I was part of a team that built the identity, positioning, creative and logo’ing, and voice for the NY Excelsior, still stands up and stands out as one the best net new team brands in all of esports (and no question I am completely biased in this opinion…).