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Volume 23 No. 28
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Veteran execs join Damage esports agency

Engine Shop co-founder Ed Kiernan and former Blizzard Entertainment Chief Operating Officer Paul Sams have joined Damage, a small esports agency that opened two years ago but is now relaunching with new capital to expand.

Both Kiernan and Sams are equity-holding partners, and Sams also has been granted the title of co-founder because of his informal role since the founding, said managing partner Johnny Ward. A third new entity, which Ward declined to disclose, provided additional financial backing.


Sams, who is a minority shareholder in the Pittsburgh Steelers, said he was looking for ways to further develop the esports industry, which he helped create as a Blizzard executive in the earliest days of online gaming.


“It’s an area of real passion and love of mine, and one of the ways you do that is to get it in front of more people,” Sams said. “You need to find ways to bring in endemic and nonendemic brands, because it adds credibility.”


The new Damage will go to market as a full-service esports marketing agency, offering brand consulting on team sponsorships, influencer relationships, experiential marketing at live tournaments and league development. It will consider entering the esports team ownership space, Sams said, though the agency is still developing a strategy.


It is entering a rapidly growing and competitive space.


Ward said they’ll sell themselves as esports specialists, contrasting with larger general-purpose competitors. Damage’s work includes a Subaru-titled “Counter-Strike: Global Offensive” tournament, a partnership between Linksys and the University of California, Irvine, esports program and representation of Gen.G esports, which runs the Seoul Dynasty Overwatch League team.


“It’s evident with the thousands of calls we’ve made directly to brands that they’re confused on how to intelligently enter esports and engage the male millennial,” Ward said. “And one of the reasons they’re confused is they have non-esports agencies falsely claiming they have esports knowledge with no past accomplishments, and that’s exacerbating that confusion.”


Kiernan, a 2014 SportsBusiness Journal Forty Under 40 honoree, left Engine Shop in April 2017. He said he thinks Damage has a chance to replicate Engine Shop’s success because of the diverse range of contacts and experience its founders and executives have.


“I think we’re going to have similar success here, because we’ve got a lot of people with a lot of connections and a lot of access,” Kiernan said. “That’s the key word: We have amazing access to everything we need to be successful.”


Other original co-founders and equity partners include William Wu, Brian Kim and Tyrone Wang, all of whom played elite esports before their business careers. Based in downtown Los Angeles, the agency has 12 employees, not including Kiernan and Sams.

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