By Anthony Caponiti • 6 min read
Panda is the largest grassroots esports organization in the world and a pillar of the gaming community. With top rosters in games such as Smash Brothers and Street Fighter, as well as heavy-hitting influencers on Twitch and YouTube, Panda is one-of-a-kind in the esports industry.
Josh Marcotte, also known as Jaaahsh, is the lead tournament organizer for the Nintendo-partnered Panda Cup series of Smash Bros. events, as well as the talent manager at Panda Global. In the organization, he supports the team in every way possible, including helping develop its content strategy.
In a chat with Hashtag Sports, Josh shares the ways Panda leverages user-generated content to grow their digital footprint, why every player is a content creator and what technology Panda uses to help players make it easier to make content, and how charitable initiatives have become central to the organization's social media strategy and success.
Describe the Panda Global fan base and why forming fan relationships and expanding esports on social media is important to you.
Our organization was founded from a love of fighting games that our CEO and our General Manager share. At all passes, we aim to celebrate and hold up the communities that we serve, and building and maintaining fan relationships is paramount to that. By connecting with fighting game players on a genuine level through social media and video production, we continue to strengthen the bonds that keep these communities strong and healthy.
Panda Global has seen a fast increase in following and engagement. You passed 150K subscribers on YouTube last year after a focus on improving the channel. Tell us about your digital content goals for 2022.
We've been so excited about the growth of our content here at Panda; while all of our in-person events shut down during lockdown, it brought us so much joy to be reaching hundreds of thousands of our fans across the world with unique, fun, well-produced content. This initiative allowed our players and their personalities to still be present in countless homes and set us up for a stellar return to events in late 2021.
For 2022, it's all about refinement: as the games our players compete in mature, audiences need to be lured with innovation—they don't want to see the same videos over and over again.
In a matter of less than a year, your Super Smash Bros Ultimate star, Marss, grew from just a couple thousand subscribers to 100K on YouTube. How does your player talent fit into your fan engagement and content goals?
Our player talent has always been central to our missions and goals at Panda, and that never rang more true than when our focus switched to content creation at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Marss is a stellar example of a player who recognized that though he is considered one of the best players in Smash Ultimate, those titles don't matter as much when competition isn't happening regularly. As a result, we were overjoyed to partner with him, helping take the cocky, boisterous personality his fans know so well and to bring it to tens of thousands of new potential fans through YouTube. Working remotely for a year and a half, both parties—he and us alike—learned a LOT about how to perfect recording techniques (and how to efficiently communicate processes)!
What were the biggest challenges you had in getting talent involved in your content strategy?
We benefitted, I think, from our standard operating procedure—events running on weekends, scheduled out months ahead of time—getting interrupted decisively, so our player talent was very aware of how long the disruption was going to last. Since it was clear it would be at the very least a few months until events started running again, every single player was excited to tackle this new frontier of content. We experienced very few issues of motivation. Now, issues of proper technology? That's a whole different story. Luckily, all of our players broadcasted on Twitch at least passively before the pandemic, so everyone had at least barebones equipment for remote content creation.
Walk us through your content workflow and how you and your team manage all of the digital media assets you're creating or receiving on a daily basis.
Each talent has their own lifestyle quirks, so our content workflow challenge is defined by the sporadic nature of us receiving the media requested of our talent. Luckily, we work far enough ahead that different members of the team sending in files at 2AM, 7AM, 2PM and 11PM isn't a huge deal; we simply account for this variability in the planning stages of our content creation.
Our YouTube department has also benefited greatly from the tools available to us on Greenfly. Using an easy-to-create Campaign Page, we regularly collect hundreds of high-quality video files from our fans showing off their best plays in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. We've been able to collect around 1,000 clips from fans in only a few months. These clips have been featured all across our social media, and we even have a successful series of videos on our YouTube channel in which our players critique and react to the clips submitted!
How have you encouraged your talent to make their own content, and what has been the result?
In our sector, every player is, even if in a tiny way, a content creator. Through their stage presence, their broadcasting on Twitch, and their presence on social media, each player has their own core audience already identified. It didn't take much to start the rock rolling down the hill in this regard. There are countless examples of players in fighting games—both on our team and outside of our team—who enjoy success both competitively and in the content sphere, so our players were easily motivated to follow in their footsteps.
How do sponsored integrations factor into your talent social program?
Sponsors and sponsored integrations have been a core part of our business model since the inception of Panda, so it hardly feels like it HAS to factor in anymore. The expectation is that we have regular work to do on behalf of sponsors, and we integrate into our workflow as if it were work for our own organization.
How are you reaching out to fans to bring them into the esports experience through content?
Our communities live and thrive on Twitter and Discord, so it's no surprise that the bulk of our emphasis goes into those two platforms with regard to fan outreach. Using Greenfly, we can wield our Twitter audience to submit their best Smash Ultimate plays, for instance, for our pros to critique. Additionally, now that we're back at events, we always make sure to film content on the floor of events that involve the fans.
Any notable surprises or things you didn't expect with your talent social program?
It wasn't necessarily a surprise to us as an organization, but many of our players have been surprised at how warmly their content creation has been received by the larger communities they're a part of. At nearly every in-person event these days, each of our talent gets told at least half a dozen times by different folks how much they enjoy their video content. It's shocking to the players who see it as just part of their week-to-week work, but it's no surprise to us that their magnetic personalities are appealing to viewers.
How are you measuring success against your goals?
We have definitely had to learn to be adaptive. Our organization has so many branches—competitive, content, merchandise, community initiatives—that it often means that "success" has to be interpreted and reinterpreted frequently based on how the esports we work in are changing. As it stands right now, many of the standard measurements of success (engagement on social media, subscribers on YouTube, sales numbers) all have to be taken into account in a fun dance.
What have been some of the biggest impacts your organization has seen with social media this year?
We've found, entirely unsurprisingly, that our communities respond strongest to initiatives that allow them to take part in giving back to those in need. Charitable events, like our Nickvitational in October 2021, inspire our fans to take part of charitable outreach. Otherwise, we find our viewers and readers respond strongly whenever they can see themselves reflected in the content we put out, whether it be directly (them taking place in content) or indirectly (polls and data collection they've seen happening about them).
As Panda has grown and our desire to engage with our communities has developed, we've begun bringing on more community artists to help develop unique merch lines. Greenfly has been incredibly important to helping us empower our talent to celebrate these artists, by allowing us to distribute different shirt designs for our talent to talk about on social media, meaning our fans that follow multiple of our talent end up seeing a variety of designs instead of seeing all the same ones through a single retweet.
What other types of content or initiatives are you focusing on to amplify the Panda Global brand and connect to fans?
Our next big frontier is live broadcasting. We've held online events for Smash Ultimate and Guilty Gear Strive for over a year now, and we've now felt like we have learned enough to start refining it productively. As YouTube turns more towards live content, as well, we'll be exploring the possibility of what live broadcasts at events looks like, bringing the experience of being at an esports tournament to those at home who maybe have never had the chance to go to one themselves.
What’s next for Panda Global as you look ahead to the rest of 2022?
We recently announced the launch of the Nintendo-partnered Panda Cup, the first-ever officially licensed circuit for Smash Ultimate and Melee, which we're incredibly excited to execute. Otherwise, we're enthusiastic about continuing to refine our production style and to continue innovating in the content world.
Looking out 18 months, how do you think digital content and fan engagement in esports will evolve?
The impact of lockdown and the focusing in on content and influencers across the esports sphere is going to have an extremely large impact over the next 18 months, I feel. With esports athletes now able to go back into competition, we're going to see a new hybrid style of competitor-content creator emerge. I anticipate we'll see more esports events embracing players streaming to their personal channels, finding ways to involve talents' social media platforms in new ways, and opening up experiences at events to viewers at home in unique ways.
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