If you’ve been to an anime or gaming convention in the last few years, or are involved in that space on social media in any way, chances are you’ve seen, or heard, from Jay Hairston.
Our paths crossed on a few occasions. First, on the anime scene I would often see Jay connecting with influencers and media at screenings, or helping to run the Funimation booth/panels at numerous conventions. Then about 2 years ago he jumped ship to join Envy Gaming in eSports community management, so I got to see him work on developing Envy’s presence and hyping up their teams.
For a geek like me, it was encouraging to see someone jump between two industries that would be considered “dream jobs” for many…so I wanted to pick his brain a little bit to get some insights on Funimation, Envy Gaming, and what’s next for him. Take a look at what he had to say!
You’ve been in the geek culture/entertainment space for a little while now – how did you get started?
Whew, I’ve had quite the journey! Born in Wyoming (yes it exists). Basketball family. I had NBA hoop dreams, but when college offers weren’t what I’d hoped for I decided to go to Art School in Las Vegas instead. Days consisted of World of Warcraft, nights of Smash Bros. and I even got a little studying done in-between time. I learned a lot of important skills I still use today like Adobe Photoshop for graphic assets and memes, After Effects for .gif making and memes and audio mixing for video production…and memes with audio.
On weekends I volunteered with the Muscular Dystrophy Association and developed a passion for helping individuals with physical and development disabilities. I HIGHLY encourage anyone who may feel lost or without purpose to volunteer some time with those less fortunate, it’s an extremely humbling experience. I decided to make a career of it working in special needs non-profit for the next 10 years!
Started entry level and worked my way up. Wiping mouths and butts for minimum wage, taking three buses to work with my Cricket pre-paid phone. Super glamourous. Went on to working as an art mentor to managing an entire school for adults with cognitive disabilities. Being with counselors and therapists every day taught me patience, to study behavior and how to communicate with people effectively.
In 2012 I went to the E3 Expo in Los Angeles and it was like Willy Wonka’s Chocolate factory! I remember visiting the Nintendo booth and seeing a middle-aged PR man speaking about a game he had clearly never played. As he fumbled through his talking points, I had the sudden self-realization- “Geez, I could do this….wait… I COULD DO THIS!” From there it was figuring out my plan of attack to get the dream job I desired. I started taking public speaking classes and applied for a community manager role at Funimation (home of Dragon Ball Z, My Hero Academia and other anime.)
#1 question I get is “How did you get your job in anime/esports?” My answer is always the same. APPLY. If you don’t apply your chance of getting it is 0%. If you have no experience, no skills to showcase and no connections your chances are only slightly higher, but still not zero. Because of my ability to effectively communicate not only my love for anime and gaming, but my talent and experience managing people with ZERO prior knowledge as a community manager, they decided to take a chance on me. This came after months of back and forth poking and inquiring about the position. I became a super fan of Funimation, their content and the people who work there so they knew me by name.
I was so grateful for the opportunity I did everything I could to absorb their culture, provide value to the team and show them my appreciation. Every decision was made with the fans in mind. Respecting the current fans while also welcoming new ones. After an awesome two years traveling to anime conventions across the US, working with voice actors and launching shows on social, I received a surprise community management job offer from Envy Gaming – owners of the Dallas Fuel and Dallas Empire of the Overwatch League and Call of Duty league respectively. I attribute this to relationship building and establishing a reputation of a hard worker, positive, professional and easy to work with. All you ever need is to be nice and friendly.
During your time with Funimation, I’m sure you got a different view of the fanbase and culture of anime fandom in America. What is something you love about the industry now that you know more about it?
The process of dubbing and distributing a Japanese anime is one of the most mind-blowing and underappreciated things in all of entertainment. It used to be months or even YEARS before a dub was available for even the most popular anime titles in the US. At Funimation, the team recieved the latest episode of Attack on Titan from Japan and within A WEEK all of the lines from the show were recorded in English, sound quality was enhanced for an American audience, credits and subtitles added and it is available to watch via popular streaming services just like that. That’s only one of numerous shows they do it for. That’s insane.
There was always the anime superiority debate between sub and dub fans, (subs being Japanese voice with only subtitles.) I think there’s different strokes for different folks. I don’t have the time to fully invest in a storyline where I have to read all of the dialogue in subtitles and found dubs to be a great way to multi-task while still enjoying my favorite shows. I also think about my special ed students who love anime but may have dyslexia or be visually impaired. I can see why people might prefer subs though.
You spent some time at Funimation before making the transition into the eSports arena, what led to this change for you?
It was SUCH a difficult decision! How do you leave one dream job for another dream job? Ultimately my deep love for gaming combined with esports being in its infancy made my decision as it felt like a new challenge to pursue. I describe Funimation like the Dallas Cowboys. It’s so established at this point that it’s very difficult to change the game or make a HUGE impact socially. No matter how bad or good they are, what you tweet, what merch comes out, there will always be Cowboys fans and there will always be anime fans. Esports is different. It’s so new and undeveloped that the real trendsetters are still being revealed! It’s the wild west and everyone is trying to figure out how to do it best. Esports is also very niche in comparison to gaming which I consider a universal language. I want towelcome the next generation of gamers into the world of esports and help it become as established and legitimate as the NFL or NBA.
As the field of esports has grown, the pool of people wanting to play competitively has certainly ballooned as well. What advice do you have for people interested in joining a team or forming their own? Is it enough to just be really good at a game?
Going pro in esports is just as difficult if not more than doing so in traditional sports – say the NBA or NFL. Less than 1% of all gamers will ever wear a jersey and compete as part of a major esports organization.Sounds grim. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t a ton of other opportunities to work in and around the games and players you love.Before you go pro you have to go amateur. Makes sense right? It’s not enough to beat up on your friends or be really good in an online lobby. You have to prove your ability to compete for money, with everyone watching, against the best in the world.
- Be a consistent Top 500 player visible by in-game leaderboards or reputable online communities like majorleaguegaming.com
- Have an extensive history of winning at the amateur level in organized competition- be it online, local or national tourneys. Any events sanctioned by the game developer itself holds more merit.
- Market yourself by showcasing your talents and game IQ via streaming or video content on social media.
- Become an active member of the community you hope to work or play in. Engage teams, players and brands to get your name circulating amongst them. Share more than you self-promote.
- Can’t find a team? Grab some friends, get serious about practicing and competing! Forget team logos, merch, and discount codes for products. Win, win and win some more.
Bonus points for:
- Good attitudes, positive players and role models – This shows you are sponsor friendly and esports runs on sponsorship dollars.
- Be entertaining! It’s video games at the end of the day, but still a business. Show that you are not only talented but marketable as well and you may have a nice career as a content creator after you’ve hung up your jersey.
Important:*Most teams require you to be at least 18+ to sign into a contract so if you’re younger keep grinding! *No handouts or begging! It’s a business, not “make-a-wish”*Don’t slide into the team’s social media DMs unless you are asking who their scout/recruiter is. The social guy or gal usually has very little decision making power and gets blown up with messages all day every day.
Working in esports, I’m sure you’ve got a competitive spirit as well: what are your go-to games when you’re looking to square up in the digital arena?
I am HYPER COMPETITIVE! I’d bet on Poke’mon cards right now! If I had to play the devil for my soul tomorrow… Smash Bros. Final Destination. 3 Stock. No items. Bring it. We had Smash god Wizzrobe in the Envy office to shoot content one time and I got to play him in some friendlies during b-roll capture. My hands were shaking as I locked in good ol’ Snake as he selected Wolf. I was full try-hard mode while he looked pretty sleepy and bored. Somehow, I managed to squeak out a victory against him! My heart did a backflip and my gut was fist pumping. “Hmm…” he said. “Let me change my settings real quick.” “Sure thing man.” I said trying to hide my excitement as I ran to the next room. I’ll spare you the details of how he proceeded to absolutely destroy me in the next 3 sets. That’s not interesting, no one wants to hear about that.
Who do you think is the best esports athlete out there right now, and why?
Such a tough one, there’s so many talented people and it can be difficult to determine “best” with each game being so different. If you twist my arm I’d probably say someone like Faker, widely considered the best midlaner in League of Legends. I still get goosebumps watching his clips. The decision making. The technical skill and reflexes. The ability to make the best in the world look like new players. He’s a scary man. It’s also cool to see fanfare for a foreign player hit so hard here in the states.
You’re something of a free agent at the moment – what are you hoping to find in your next chapter?
LFG PST! My ideal role is definitely community focused. I’m not super in love with traditional marketing because I don’t like having to sell things to people. I want content and promotions to feel like a friend hook-up and not a salespitch. I enjoy listening to the fans and giving them exactly what they want if it’s within my powers. Working with the players themselves is also fun, they often struggle with things like being on camera, interviews, etc. so coaching and assisting them through it is great for me. I want to represent an organization that is by the people for the people. Limited egos, fan-centric culture and values fun and inclusion.
Any last minute plugs, suggestions, or anything else you wanted to
In this era of social distancing, I want to challenge the gaming communities (and all of nerd/geek culture) to humanize the avatars and @socialhandles that they interact with every day. There’s a person behind the screen. Promote council not cancel culture. Disagreements don’t have to devolve to insults and a battle for likes and retweets. Everyone should be able to enjoy the gift of gaming free of ridicule and harassment. Check on your friends, count your blessings and as the rapping flea market lizard from PlayStation’s Parappa the Rappa once said “All you ever need is to be nice and friendly.”
Many thanks to Mr. Hairston for taking the time to answer our questions! You can find him on Twitter: @JayHairston