Last week we introduced you to Alpha Star Gaming, a gaming company striving to create an outstanding and far-reaching brand identity for themselves. During the interview, their CEO noted that they’ve “noticed a very poor representation of players’ personal branding and imaging”, and we couldn’t agree more: Most South African gaming personalities have a bit of a branding problem.
To help save their souls from their own self-sabotage, we decided it would be helpful to share some advice from a man who has painstakingly crafted, polished and evolved his personal and professional brand over the years, Michael ‘axtremes’ Harmse. We said polished because of his shiny dome.
Ex-CS:GO player turned shoutcaster, analyst, desk host and interviewer, axtremes not only has a bit of an inappropriate relationship with his hat, but he also has a very appropriate relationship with his employers, his affiliate sponsors and his fanbase – something he couldn’t have done without paying attention to his image.
“Building your brand is extremely important. Players particularly seem to neglect building their own brands. If you’re a player, you want MGO owners to think of your name first when they’re looking for a new player for their team.
The same applies as a broadcast personality when tournament organisers are hiring or for a streamer when sponsors are shopping for a new brand ambassador.
If you’re not in the public consciousness of the community, you’re not in the game. You’ll miss out on opportunities that would have been great for you simply because you’re not a name. No matter what you achieved in the past, you can just as easily be forgotten and overlooked.”
Some say axtremes got so worried about being overlooked that he ended up shaving his head down to a reflective sheen, to serve as a bright, constant reminder to event organisers to pick him for their hosting line-up. But he didn’t just rely on his smooth dome and casting skills to get noticed.
“It’s become increasingly important for esports personalities to do things outside of their chosen speciality in esports. You can’t effectively grow your brand if you only cast an event every few months. Streaming, content creation for Youtube, writing – there are so many outlets if you’re willing to put in the work and you have something to say.
For players, streaming is a natural progression and relatively easy to get into if you have decent internet. You’re going to be playing anyway, so why not stream and allow fans to get to know you?”
A lot of local players do seem to be realising the importance of streaming and fibre internet is becoming increasingly accessible to the many. Hopefully this trend continues to grow, because as ax says, streaming is free publicity if you’re going to be jamming anyway. And can be the source of many great memes.
As a player ax did not put much of a priority on growing his own personal brand, but that quickly changed when he moved into the realms of broadcasting.
“Once I more seriously started pursuing commentary as a possible career, I became very conscious of how my personal brand is perceived.
I’ve been learning the whole way and have made more than a few adjustments to my approach and the kinds of things I put out, as well as the style of delivery, as I’ve traveled the esports road. You need to always be focused on improving whatever you do.
Besides the obvious points of creating a logo and social media banners, you should try to create a consistent voice for yourself on social media and engage with other community figures. People can’t follow you or be invested in what you’re doing if they don’t care about you and what you have to say.
For them to care, you need to be saying something that they can engage with – whether it be agreeing with you or vehemently opposed. Both are equally valid. Conversation and engagement are key. Don’t try to be popular for popularity’s sake. Find your own voice.”
Consider CS:GO personality Duncan ‘Thorin’ Shields, a man who literally describes himself as the “#1 CS:GO expert” and the purveyor of “the most important opinions in esports”. Many people may hate on him, but he certainly has made a name for himself. It’s the same story all over: Not everyone loves Kobe Bryant or Luis Suarez, but you know who they are.
While the concept of creating your own logo and banners may seem obvious to some, not everyone can be a graphic design whizz on the fly, and ax is no exception. Which is why he wasn’t afraid to ask for help – but only as much as he absolutely needed.
“My graphic designer (who happens to be my sister) was instrumental in helping me create a cohesive brand image in terms of look and feel across all my social media and content platforms. Top tip: Get a good designer to help you. That’s been an absolutely key component. Outside of that, it’s all on me.”
Know your limitations, and don’t try do things that are clearly outside of your skillset. There’s a reason marketers, writers and designers get paid to do what they do. And yes, those kinds of services do cost money, but if you’re serious about your career, try think of it more as an investment in your long-term success. (GLHF: Another top tip: don’t ask your creative friends for too much free work. They won’t be your friends much longer if you do.)
Another, more figurative investment in success that helped axtremes get to where he is was figuring out exactly who he wanted to be in the public eye, and holding himself to that standard at all times.
“Depending on the voice you’re going for and your style of delivery, maintaining a professional standard of public behaviour across all media channels can be hugely important.
If you’re styling yourself as an anarchist I guess you can just have at it. Just don’t be surprised when you get significant pushback from people. It is very difficult though to quantify exactly what constitutes professional behaviour. Everyone has a different internal metric for it.
For myself, I think of it as: Keep it to the point (even if it is unpopular sometimes), don’t engage in personal attacks on social media, and the age-old adage of “don’t be an asshole”. Always try to keep in mind the brands/MGOs/tournament organisers you’re connected to and how what you say might hurt them and therefore your chances in future before you get stuck into an argument.”
While ax has styled himself as lawful good, even he knows there’s a place for the chaotic (GLHF: Old school Dungeons & Dragons reference there for the gaming veterans.). Much like a party made up of lawful Bards, the internet in general would be a pretty boring place without someone to start an efight in the spacebar.
But enough with the jokes and D&D references, it’s time to speak to axtremes about something very, very important. Something he always keeps top of mind. Something he places above all else. Something that might go over many people’s heads. It’s become as iconic as the white motor racing helmet worn by the Stig; we are of course making terrible puns about his infamous hat.
“I’ve always been into baseball caps, so when I first shaved my head early last year, for practical reasons, I was looking for a hat that wouldn’t leave my newly-shiny dome covered in marks ahead of meetings. I came upon this style of hat, loved the comfort and old-world looks and decided to make it part of my brand.
It’s turned out to be a very recognisable part of the axtremes name. And I get to pass incognito at events when taking it off. Bald eagle is a surprisingly effective disguise! 😛
The hats have lead to a lot of chance meet and greets with fans at esports events. I struggled to walk anywhere with the hat on at rAge and not get stopped to say hello or take a pic. Guess it’s working? Generally speaking most people I meet for the first time connected to esports tend to know who I am before I introduce myself or have a clue who they are.
The hat is a brand unto itself. At this point, if it gains sentience we’re all screwed.”
A hat can be a very powerful tool, but don’t go trying to jack ax’s steez now, the hat trick is already taken. But there are many other elements successful professionals in esports have as part of their brands which you can take inspiration from, like Bruno with his multicoloured suits; or the Unicorns of Love, a LoL team who adorn themselves in fluffy pink unicorn outfits while they play. Look, we didn’t say they were all great ideas, they are recognisable though.
Lastly, ax has some advice for all you local esports players and personalities who are now convinced you need to start working on your personal brand. As he said earlier, you need to find your own voice. He doesn’t literally mean you need to start speaking in a weird voice (GLHF: Or does he?), but once you do find your voice, you do need use it, and use it often.
“Engage more with your fans on Twitter and Facebook. That’s right, you do very likely have fans. Tell them about what you’re doing. Retweet the links to your match streams so they can watch you play and follow your progress. Tweet results and pictures of what you’re up to.
Treat them like fans and not adversaries. People want to interact. So interact. And do it consistently and often.”
Well, there you have it, folks and folkettes. Straight from the fingertips of a man who created and nurtured his own brand, but surprisingly still doesn’t have a hat sponsor.
Now it’s your turn to build yours. In fact, the local esports scene needs you to build yours.