As esports grows, so does the number of people looking for a career in the industry. However, it can be very difficult to find a job, and hard to know where to start. The need for people with diverse talents increases as the industry continues to grow, but it’s not always obvious how to get in.
For those planning a career in esports, we've prepared a series of interviews with esports insiders. From how they found their jobs, what they needed to succeed, to who they are as people, we want to bring you their stories. We're delighted to introduce our next interviewee in the ‘Meet the esports insiders’ series, May-Yen Lee, Director of Creative & Brand strategy at T1.
Please introduce yourself to our readers.
Hi, my name is May-Yen Lee, most people know me as May, I am Director of Creative and Brand strategy at T1. I manage two design teams, one in North America and one in Korea, and we create the graphics that you guys see for social media, merchandise, apparel, and everything that's related to T1 as a brand. My family is from Taiwan, but I was born and raised in the United States.
How did you first start working in T1? And how did you get connected to the team?
I started working at T1 in March 2021. I came on as a lead designer, to help bring together the design teams. When I was brought in, it was primarily for the North American side, but then with the help of Joe and the teams in North America and Korea, as well as the team leads, I started being able to communicate with them to really bring it all together.
My first introduction [to esports] was when I met my now-husband, and learned about T1 because, in France, there's a very big T1 fan base. My husband had told me about T1, so I became familiar with that. I was lucky that I saw a job posting online for T1, and I applied to it. Now I'm here!
Your husband is…?
His tag is Zaboutine. [Laughs] I met him three years ago on a dating app, and at the time, he was an LCS coach. He's originally from France, and he happened to be in LA because he was coaching there at the time. We got lucky we met each other and now he's stuck with me in LA. [Laughs]
What did you do to prepare to become a designer? And what kind of career helped when you applied for T1?
In preparation to become a designer, it was a lot of research. It was a lot of figuring out different types of design I could do, what it is that I really wanted to do. I had worked in packaging design before, I worked in entertainment design after. As I went from job to job, I realized that I love being in the entertainment space. Whether that's watching shows, or playing video games, it's some form of entertainment that always appealed to me.
Coming into esports, and even before like I applied for T1, I was looking at what a lot of the teams were doing, not only on the NA side, but also EU and Asia, in particular what their graphics look like. Not just the teams but also the agencies that were doing casting and stuff, that had some great graphics. In general, to be a well-rounded designer, you have to do your research, and not just within your field.
What I think appealed to those who were hiring me was that I didn't come from esports. An interesting thing about esports is that there are a lot of people that stay within the industry, so when you look at their portfolio it's just a lot of esports work. For me, it was like they wanted a fresh pair of eyes coming in to help rebrand with this new T1 brand and make it different from the other esports teams.
I've slowly been trying to integrate that, I didn't want it to be sudden. Doing things like trying to integrate more movie poster-type stuff, or trying to integrate more minimalist aesthetics was very important for me to try to do. If you scroll through your Twitter feed, and you're following a bunch of teams from whatever region, you'll see that there's a very similar aesthetic in all of them.
That's good, because that's what fans and the community recognize. But I think at some point, people do enjoy looking at something that's beautiful, they do enjoy looking at something that's really crazy, or something that's different.
How do design aesthetics differ between Korea and North America?
In some ways, they are different because the audience is different in terms of how they view the graphics. Not only the language that's put in the graphics, but also, visually, I think there are different things that are appealing to the different cultures. So we try to be very aware of that, which is why I think it's very beneficial that I have a team both in Korea and North America so that we can not only blend the brand of T1 internationally but also make sure that the fans from all the communities are responsive to it.
Could you be more specific about the graphics, how they're different between the countries?
This is something I learned from my previous job. I worked in entertainment, so I made movie posters, advertisement designs, and things for Netflix, HBO, Warner Brothers, etc. Something that we always had to do was make posters that were for the audience in the United States, and then also audiences internationally, that could be in Asia, that could be in Europe. There are all those different languages, so when you see those movie posters, you can see they're very visually different.
I applied that when coming to T1. In Asia, people really like seeing the players’ faces because League of Legends is so big. So we try to integrate a lot of the League of Legends teams’ faces into all the graphics that we do. As for North America, people still follow T1 a lot of the time for League, but I think the aesthetic is much more about minimal design.
It's very like the Nike aesthetic. We like using old colors, very big text, and just like minimal on the actual photo assets that we're using. That's probably the main difference between the two. But I try to combine them both so that brand-wise, North America and Korea can look similar in terms of the general branding.
What's the most challenging part about your job?
When I started this job, T1 was already such an established brand. When people see it, they associate it with Faker, they associate it with League of Legends, and so that in some ways was helpful but in others not. The most difficult part is that we have red, black, and white as our primary colors, and in esports, there are a LOT of teams that have red, black, and white. My designers and I did research on how many teams in esports had those primary colors — there are probably over 10.
We spent a lot of time doing research into what other teams are doing aesthetically. The concept can be something as simple as the MSI theme, and what specific type of graphic and colors that they're going with. For us, we want to make sure that our MSI graphics still have a similar theme to Riot’s, but we're putting our twist on it. We're adding our players into it, we're adding some other textures and text, and that makes it stand out.
What is the most important skill when working as a designer?
I think one of the most important parts of designing is communication, and that means communicating with teams within the organization itself, but also making sure that the graphics that we create can be understood. Because we are an international organization, we want to make sure that whether it's reading in Korean or it's in English, the layout and the texts and everything still fits, so we're not having to make two completely different layouts.
Among the designs you've worked on up to now, is there a favorite?
I think one of my favorites would have to be the MVP belt, the one that they use right now. It was one of the first projects that I worked on at T1, and it is my most unique project this past year. It stands out to me because we don't do that very often, and it's something that Joe [Marsh] put a lot of time and effort in to, to make sure the teams had something that looked great.
When I was starting to design it, I didn't know as much about T1 as I do now, so it's interesting looking back at it and seeing what I knew about T1 at the time, and trying to do my research to make sure that we were including things like the Korean flag and the the American flag. We included the original SKT T1 logo, and getting all these elements into this beautiful piece that the players get to enjoy was really fun.
Did you have to refer to other champion belts? Is there anything that you did look at in particular?
Not specifically. I just went on Google. The main inspiration for it was WWE belts, Joe was very inspired by those. He really wanted to make something that felt as big and impactful. When I was doing my research on that, I was going on websites, like Pinterest and Google, but a lot of them were very simple. So I had to make it up as I went along.
For me, it's always in the details. When I see graphics online, I zoom in and see what details I can find. I wanted the belt to be something that not only looks beautiful, but if you were actually picking it up, you can see all the small details that were added in. We had the trophies and stuff that were put on the sides of the belt that you don't usually get to see because of how they're holding it. Small details are what made the belt really special for me.
The original one was nice, and it had MVP on it, but it was just a big plate. I don't think it really spoke to the org, what the org was, or the history of the org. I really wanted to be able to put those small elements in there to give a nod to not only where we came from with the old SKT logo, but also the fact that it is a Korean and American organization that has won a lot of trophies.
On the other hand, what was the most difficult moment working as T1’s designer?
This might be exclusive to just how I work. It's not that anyone makes me do this, but I think everyone in both the Korean and North American teams can attest to the fact that I have the strangest sleep schedule. In PST time, I'm waking up around 1pm in the afternoon, and I don't go to sleep until 6 or 7am.
I'm able to work with my team in North America remotely and then throughout the night with Korea, which is important especially during tournament seasons like MSI or finals. As the manager and the leader of my team, I want not only my team to feel safe and comfortable that they have someone that they can lean on, but also for the team leads on the other teams to feel they have someone that's supporting them in anything that they're doing, regardless of the timezone that I'm in.
You’ve explained a lot of things about what a designer needs. Do you have any advice to give people who dream of one day being in your shoes?
I think the number one thing is: be passionate about it. I've worked in jobs before where it was the traditional nine to five job where you went in, you did what you needed to do and then signed off. For creative people specifically, I think that can be draining because you're of the repetition.
If I’m not passionate, I wouldn't always be trying to improve myself, and I don't think I could work the hours that I do. Something I've said to multiple people is don't have your end goal be to work somewhere that you're not going to be happy, because you will burn yourself out really fast, and that's not a good way to live. If you're burnt out from the work, you're maybe at 50% creative capacity, but if you're passionate about something, I think you can give over 100% to what you love.
Is there anything you'd like to tell our readers?
The biggest thing is that I appreciate the community — the team, the community, the fans. I try to interact on Twitter like Joe, and without their love for the team I don't think it would be as fun to do my job. By interacting, I know who it is that I'm making these graphics for, who's going to be wearing the merchandise, who's going to be cheering for our team, and reposting and retweeting the graphics we make, so thank you to them for constantly showing support and giving us love.