As the popularity of esports grows each day, more people are getting interested in having a career in the industry. However, it can be very difficult to actually find a job in esports because many get lost in where to start and how to prepare. The need for people with various talents increases as the industry continues to grow, but it’s really hard to actually hear how to get into the industry.
For those planning to have a future career in esports, we at Inven prepared a series of interviews with people in the scene, essentially showcasing the various jobs in esports. From how they found their jobs, what they needed to prepare, to details about them, we had a chance to hear their stories of their past and the present. We hope that this series of interviews will help those that are looking for a potential career in esports.
Meet our next interviewee of the ‘Meet the esports insiders’ series. This time, we had a chance to talk with the lead of DRX's MD [Merchandiser] team, Kang Sung-hyeok. The MD focuses on developing jerseys and various merchandise for the team. As the team in charge of developing goods for the fans to directly purchase, it seems more familiar than any other esports careers. In our conversation with Kang, one of the things we learned from our conversation is that DRX operates the biggest MD team among any other esports teams.
Please introduce yourself to our readers.
Hello. My name is Kang Sung-hyeok, and I’m the team lead of DRX’s MD department. From jerseys to various team merch, I’m in charge of DRX’s product development.
Can you share with us how you got to your position today? How did you first become interested in your line of work? When did you start working for DRX?
My first job was actually related to investments in resources development. I worked at a large enterprise, and it was a career with a pretty bright future. However, I wasn’t happy working there, so I decided to naturally find the work that I’d actually enjoy.
As an MD, my first job was at a performance sportswear company. At the time, I was really into road cycling, to the point where I was an amateur cyclist. The company I worked for was also interested in road cycling, so I got into the company via recommendation. I also worked for a golfwear company after that. Despite the intense amount of workload in the fashion business, I really loved cycling, and sports in general, so I remember enjoying the work that I did.
I joined DRX in October 2020. I love gaming just as much as I love sports, and at the time, I was really into Overwatch. I even watched the Overwatch League. As I was preparing to find a new job, I was naturally drawn to the esports orgs’ job openings. It just so happened that DRX was looking for a new Lead for their MD team.
At the time, I actually never played LoL. I haven’t even watched the LCK, so I naturally didn’t know much about DRX as well [laughter]. For an esports org to field an MD team is actually pretty uncommon even now, so I was naturally curious. That’s why I started studying so that I can join DRX.
DRX had an incredible storyline at the time, so I thought I’d have a lot of fun working with them. It’s been very fun so far, and the journey has been very dynamic.
What are your responsibilities?
The DRX MD team currently consists of 7 members. The team is actually a lot bigger compared to other esports teams, because they either utilize third party agencies or work with subcontractors.
My job is to create business and merchandising plans. From what kind of merchandise we’re going to make, how much we’re going to make, how many colors there will be, to calculating cost vs margin, I’m in charge of creating the general game plan.
Then, I talk with those in charge of design to materialize the concepts and the styles of each merchandise. This is how the merchandise lineup gets finalized. With the samples that get made, we make adjustments to it for the final products.
The uniforms that the players wear are our MD team’s main responsibility. All the executives also work on them as well. The uniforms represent more than just merchandise; they reflect DRX’s history and identity. We also take advice from DRX’s sponsors and from everyone on the team itself, from the coaching staff to the players in creating the jerseys, so everyone puts in a lot of work in creating new and attractive jerseys each year.
What’s the most important aspect of your work?
It’s figuring out our main target market. To have an MD department in an esports team is really rare. I’d say that DRX may be the only team that fields one in Korea. Because the merchandise is for an esports team, you need to have a lot of interest in games and esports. Even if you don’t play the game, you need to be able to grasp the important qualities and trends.
Compared to traditional sports, the audience is not only a lot younger, but also has different traits. There are a lot of viewers that watch the games online, and much of the audience is made of the Generation MZ. You also need to figure out whether or not a fan likes the player or the team. All of these elements factor into the feedback of the planning, design, and production phase of our merch.
When do you feel the most fulfilled?
Oh there are tons of moments. I think that the time we collaborated with a content creator named Lilka and when our Spring split jerseys sold out are the most memorable.
Lilka started supporting DRX in 2020, and she gave our MD team tons of help. Eventually, our relationship led to collaborating with us, where all the profits were donated to an animal protection organization. The response was incredible; from what I remember, we sold out in 30 minutes. It was a very meaningful event.
Some people may know this, but our current DRX uniforms were planned with a different concept than our previous ones. We were confident in them, but no one knew how good the response would be. We were able to sell them out completely due to our MD team’s hard work in making the uniforms come to life, our media and marketing team’s efforts in making it look more street, our CEO for trusting in our design, and finally, our players for making the jerseys look good on them. It was a collective effort in making our jerseys such a success, and I can’t thank them enough for it.
On the flip side, what are some of the predicaments that you went through during your work?
The thing that’s always on my mind is the Minimum Order Quantity [MOQ]. We want to introduce a variety of great merchandise, but they are very limited. This is one of the reasons why the quantity of most of the team’s products are pretty similar. The smaller the production quantity is, the unit price goes up, so there are times where it feels unfortunate that we can’t introduce more variety of merchandise at a more reasonable price. We’re preparing new merchandise to match the increasing sales rate, so please stay tuned.
Secondly, there is still a lot of negative sentiment toward the DRX MD products. I want to say that the pricing on our ‘Dream Flight Jumper’ that we released in Aug 2020 is definitely a mistake on our part. After such, we’ve lowered our overall prices, and we’re putting in a lot of effort into our design. DRX uses expensive fabric and subsidiaries from a contemporary design to create our clothing.
I can confidently say that since 2021, we’ve never had problems. Most of our fans have been happy with the product itself and the packaging as well. The negative sentiment that remains with DRX’s products is something that we’ll continue to strive to change.
How does one need to prepare to have a career as an MD?
Usually, there are a lot of fashion and design majors that find a career as an MD. However, even if you’re interested in the trends and have insight on the consumer market, then I think it’s worth pursuing as well, even if you haven’t majored in fashion or design. I also didn’t major in those fields, so I tried to fill in the gap in my knowledge through seminars and various forms of education. If you’ve completed courses related to fashion, distribution, and consumer goods, then it’ll be much easier to earn points with the company you’re applying for.
Because there’s such a wide array of responsibilities, communication with various departments and business is critical. If you’re good at communicating and convincing people, then it’ll really help in this line of work.
What advice would you give to those that dream of having your career?
I was accepted into my first company, but it wasn’t the work I wanted to do. I didn’t last very long there. In the end, I found joy in working in sports, a field that I was interested in. I’m very happy working for DRX.
Some say that your hobby shouldn’t become a career. I see it a bit differently. If it’s a field I’m interested in, then I’m one step ahead of the others. It might be the same work, but I can find interest in learning and working. If you like gaming, then there’s a high chance that you might progress in the esports industry. I hope everyone that reads this interview will find the work that they like doing and work happily.
Lastly, is there anything you’d like to say to our readers?
DRX’s MD department is attempting new things this year. By utilizing kitsch artwork and characters to create images to using popular memes to make a series of player character products are planning to be released. While there is that fear of new projects flopping, I’d like to ask for your support over criticism.
Striving for perfection to achieve excellence in esports