For many reasons, project management works a little differently when you’re overseeing the operations of a creative agency in the gaming and esports field. Some of it is procedural — much of it, a reflection of the more rough-and-tumble nature of the culture involved.
“Oh, we can curse like sailors and it’s perfectly normal,” said Nabil Pervez, project manager for AoE Creative. His background delves deep into multiple worlds — professionally, his IT work has ranged from running call rooms and training staff to functional analysis of corporate procedures, making for a solid foundation in conventional work cultures. But his past work also includes everything from casting and marketing Super Smash Bros. tournaments to managing influencers for esports news outlets and managing marketing campaigns for the Houston Outlaws.
In his experience, while some things have stayed best practices (they wouldn’t be best practices otherwise), adapting to the peculiarities of the esports and gaming space requires a level of adaptability you would not otherwise normally encounter in other industries. Even the means of communication will differ.
“In a normal business world, you’re getting on Cisco calls, and at most you’re having a lot of those water cooler meetings and whatnot. When it comes to our clients, it’s a lot more ‘hey, we need to talk on Discord,’ or it’s text message, it’s WhatsApp — it’s kind of a bunch of different ways to communicate with them. And it’s all about tailoring to what your customers are used to.”
While the increasing market presence for apps like Discord are homogenizing geek culture in some respects, its preference among professionals in the scene isn’t necessarily as ubiquitous — though when preferences exist, it is strongly held. Said Nabil: “If you ask [clients] to come on Slack with you, and they’re a Discord team, they’re not going to be on Slack. They’re not going to come and talk to you.
“Our world forces you to be a lot more adaptable. You have to be malleable — you have to be able to say ‘cool, this is what we usually do, but that’s fine. We can change it up and make it work with you.”
AoE Creative’s ideal client-agency relationship is less like the formality and impersonal nature of traditional business, and more a matter of teammates working towards a common goal. On our end, clear and regular communication between team members allows us to facilitate solutions to problems even before clients realize that such problems might be encroaching — and that level of solvency can only be achieved with a certain degree of flexibility and adaptability on our end.
Some conversion work is involved too, especially for the likes of a creative agency like AoE. Where conventional workspaces have strongly established ideas of how productivity works and is measured by in a traditional five-days-a-week 9–5 position, that isn’t necessarily reflected in agency life. “I think some of the most recent articles state that developers actually get two solid hours of work done out of an 8–9 hour work day,” observed Nabil. “And the reason is that developers are constantly being bothered. When they’re always being interrupted, they can’t really enter that state of ‘flow’ very easily.
“That’s why you’ll see our schedules frontload all of our meetings to the beginning of the day, and we try to do our best to leave the end of the day with as little as possible. Particularly towards the end of the week, you’ll notice that a lot more. The idea is that we want to give our designers as much time to be in flow as possible — because that’s when they actually get their work done.”
Of course, if a good project manager’s job is to maximize that state of flow for their designers and developers, then it is crucial that the meetings that do happen are structured well and designed to help facilitate actionables. Toward that end, Nabil has AoE Creative’s weekly meetings structured in three key parts.
Preparation is, of course, the most crucial element. And it isn’t just a matter of having an actionable agenda set up (though if you don’t have at least that, everything else obviously goes out the window). Having the right tools on hand helps facilitate a smooth meeting — recording software like Google Meet for video or Fireflies for voice to help track intentions from week to week, and shared document systems like Google Docs so that all members will have access to necessary files, and to ensure that all relevant items are on the agenda before the meeting.
Execution of that agenda takes a form closer to a conversation than a lecture — though the project manager will occasionally have to be “that guy” to keep the conversation moving along efficiently, the task at hand is to set realistic expectations and respect the time and effort of all parties at hand. It’s better to over-communicate in this process than otherwise, to ensure a lack of ambiguity.
At the end of the day, the objective is to proactively create a comfortable relationship. And to do so requires the hard work of establishing habits of clear communication over a course of days and weeks, treating clients with the honesty and openness of conduct you’d expect out of your day-to-day teammates.
Finally, the wrap-up should be well-structured as well, with a clear stopping point after finishing up the agenda, confirmations with all parties that questions or statements have been addressed, and a review of actionable items decided on. If meetings aren’t on a regular schedule, a confirmation of when to set up the next meeting is necessary as well, along with the distribution of any relevant documents after the meeting you’ve just held.
If done correctly, this minimizes the need for followup meetings, and any further clarifications can be done over more casual (and less time-consuming) discussion channels. Your creative workers will have all the time they’ll need to produce another home run — to the gratitude of your clients.