Esports Evangelist Imari Oliver On Why Gaming Needs To Be More Than Just ‘A Box That You Check’

Social Distancing With FriendsImari Oliver has treated his career like a video game.

“The goal is to level up and keep reaching new levels,” says Imari, founder and CEO of Bond & Play, a consultancy and holding company for media, tech and entertainment IP with a focus on esports and video gaming.

After realizing that banking wasn’t for him, Imari pivoted into what became a 20-plus-year career in Agency Land with stints at Havas, AKQA, McGarryBowen and Omnicom-owned sparks & honey.

It was while at sparks & honey circa 2014 that Imari, a gamer since childhood – 1980s-era arcade game Defender was one of his first loves – realized that esports was a major opportunity for brands, but no one on Madison Avenue was paying much attention at the time.

Imari Oliver, CEO & founder of Bond & Play, at samurai school in Japan.“People were playing games, but no one was talking about it,” he says. “It was like the biggest sport you never heard of.”

Imari banged the drum about esports to his clients, which included AT&T and Pepsi, at every opportunity. Today, both brands are big supporters of esports, which plays a major role in their respective marketing strategies.

Although esports audiences and concurrent interest from advertisers have grown rapidly for the past few years, the pandemic has seriously accelerated that momentum. People still crave the return of traditional live sports, but Imari considers esports “the heir apparent.”

But he has some advice for brands: Don’t treat esports as a one-off. “Esports and video games shouldn’t be a box that you check,” he says.

Also in this episode: What agencies need to consider as part of their diversity initiatives, why getting into gaming can’t just be about meeting KPIs, how we’re already living in the “multiverse” and we don’t even know it and that time Imari went to Samurai school in Japan.

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