When the COVID-19 pandemic caused Cirque du Soleil to lay off 95% of its workforce, it left merchandising veteran Terrence Turner looking for a new opportunity. Eventually he came across a job posting from esports organization Panda Global, which was looking for a merchandising lead. After researching the organization he felt the team’s philosophy and unique approach in the esports space aligned with his own views, so he decided to apply.
Earlier this week, Turner was announced as Panda Global’s new lead merchandise strategist, spearheading a group of new hires overseeing the organization’s merchandising initiatives.
While Turner’s experience is largely in themed merchandise for major brands like Hallmark Cards and Disney Parks, he had a brush with esports during his time at Hershey Entertainment & Resorts. “I was part of a group that looked at esports as a possible opportunity to add to the experience in the park that they were developing,” Turner said. “So I did a lot of research on [esports] and got a general idea of the industry…and more to the point, it gave me a window into how passionate people were about it, not only from a player standpoint but also from a viewer standpoint – and what the potential opportunities were for merchandising.”
Now moving into esports, Turner has found himself with a rather unique organization. Rather than invest in large franchise esports like League of Legends and Overwatch, Panda Global focuses entirely on 1v1 games such as Street Fighter, Hearthstone, and Super Smash Bros. The organization has carved out a niche unlike any other team brand, and as such has established itself as a part of several large but deeply insular communities that other organizations have struggled to penetrate. “That point of difference from the rest of esports was attractive to me,” Turner said.
Turner emphasized the importance of not only leveraging what makes Panda Global’s brand unique, but going even further to understand the differences in the organization’s fans across different game titles.
“One of the things that I would try to avoid is that one-size-fits-all mentality. If you’re a fan of game X, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re a fan of game Y under the same brand umbrella. So one-size-fits-all tends to lead to making things fairly vanilla. You don’t want to force things into one singular view.”
While Panda Global has set itself apart with a distinct focus, many organizations face this exact struggle due to the large pool of games connected to a singular brand. Cloud9, for example, fields teams across numerous titles in wildly different genres, all under that singular Cloud9 banner.
That said, Cloud9 has found a few unique ways to embrace Turner’s philosophy and leverage what makes some of its competitors unique. The organization’s Super Smash Bros. Melee pro, Joseph “Mang0” Marquez, has built himself a personal brand that embraces his fondness for beer, and so the Cloud9 store currently lists a Mang0 drink koozie among the products in a special Mang0-themed collection.
While Panda Global has developed a clear niche for its overall brand, it too has invested into unique parts of fanbases through its current merchandise strategy. While several esports organizations have developed branded gear such as mice, keyboards, and mousepads, Panda Global developed a product specifically for the Super Smash Bros. community – a specialized Gamecube controller adapter for the Nintendo Switch. The majority of Smash competitors prefer to use controllers from the older Nintendo console, and so Panda Global developed a product that allows this outdated hardware to be used on the Switch without sacrificing the console’s portability. It is a product only relevant to a specific segment of Panda Global’s audience, but one that creates unique value and affinity towards the brand among Smash fans.
This partitioning of specific strategies within a larger brand is familiar ground for Turner, who recalled his experience developing merchandise strategies for Disney Parks. “Disney has many many divisions doing many many things that all adhere to an overarching company direction, but still you don’t lose that individuality. If you go to the Magic Kingdom, it’s different from Animal Kingdom. You need to keep that uniqueness there, because there’s some people that always go to Animal Kingdom and never even go to Magic Kingdom…they’re trusting in the overarching brand to deliver a great product, but they still have their preferences.”
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