It’s been just over a year now since Tricia Sugita was elevated to the position of CEO of Flyquest, one of North America’s premier esports organizations. Over the past year, Sugita has faced numerous challenges in trying to turn Flyquest into a successful global esports competitor while fulfilling the organization’s mission to “Go Green.” Sugita talked to The Esports Observer about those challenges and how branding Flyquest as an organization that cares about the climate and conservation has taken on a life of its own.
Sugita was brought on as Flyquest CEO in January of 2020, just as the world was at the start of trying to understand what effect COVID-19 would have. At the start, things seemed a little uncertain as a new CEO, being female in a male-dominated space, and now with COVID-19 creeping up into the mix, it could have affected Sugita in a negative way.
However, Sugita wasn’t afraid. She took up the mantle of being CEO and then decided she would do something so ingenious, something that connects the best in esports with the best in all of us–by rooting for Flyquest, you are rooting for the world to be a better place.
“I have to say we were poorly run and a walking billboard with no brand identity,” Sugita said. “My number one priority as CEO is to share our mission and showcase what greatness means. We all did an excellent job of getting alignment internally, but we did a poor job of showing and telling what we were really about. And I think the main thing that was number one for us, was establishing what showcase greatness means and sharing that with all of the world in launching our go green initiative and doing it successfully.”
And that’s exactly what Sugita and Flyquest did as the organization’s Tree Quest initiative proved to be a huge success not only in planting trees, but showing the world what Flyquest is about.
“I don’t know if there is any team in esports or traditional sports that has a brand that isn’t just about their competitive success, but also found a way to tie their competitive success and integrate it with their marketing strategy,” Sugita said. “We tie our competitive wins, such as killing Drake’s within the game or kills within the game and we associated that with our Tree Quest. So that way people who are watching our games have something more to root for than just us to win.”
Sugita’s Tree Quest initiative saw the organization planting and sponsoring the planting of 10K trees in total.
Getting to the point where Sugita was able to feel more confident in her leadership role and continue those types of initiatives wasn’t easy. When a couple of other organizations jumped in to help with some initiatives, it became easier for her to feel better about the projects.
“It’s not easy to be the first. It’s easy to see what’s been happening, look at other team’s success and copy that. I think we can do better,” Sugita said. “And what that required was putting our marketing on pause so that I could create a clear vision as to what Flyquest represented. I wanted to run, but knew there was so much more to be done.”
So Sugita got together with Ryan Edens and told the Flyquest president what she wanted to do and as it turns out, it was a solid plan.
“We spent a whole week just establishing what the company vision was,” Sugita said. “And a lot of that was me asking questions of him because he’s the owner. Figuring out why he got into esports was an important start to a lot of questions I had. So taking the appropriate steps to align our two visions wasn’t actually a challenge as we seemed to be already aligned, it was simply the hard work of doing everything it took to say what we were in one sentence and then create that reality was really hard.”
And one year later Edens could not be happier.
“Tricia has been a transformational leader in her first year as CEO of FlyQuest,” Edens said. “She embodies the very core of FlyQuest’s mission to utilize our platform to inspire and empower individuals to invest in themselves and their communities. We’re excited to continue to watch her grow as a key voice in the industry pushing the boundaries of what an esports team can be.”
So as Sugita began to sprint in making Flyquest’s initiatives and brand identity a reality, she learned, as many have over the years, that hiring the wrong person could be detrimental to some of those projects just getting off the ground. Hiring the right people is essential to success, but when done right, it can help an organization realize its brand dream a little faster than it would have thought.
“There’s so many challenges in hiring people. Hiring people is really hard and I think hiring people was especially hard this time around surrounded by the fact that we had a brand that was very cringy, “Sugita said. “Flyquest’s social media and its brand weren’t at the top of list for a lot of esports people. I think in the interview process, me being able to share what my vision was for Flyquest, not what it was yet, but what our strategy was and really just sharing that vision of what I had hoped, you know, what our goals were and what we want to establish helped us find amazing people who are aligned.”
Struggling and working through hardships is nothing new to Sugita.
What some people may not realize is that Sugita suffered from scoliosis while growing up as a kid–a condition that sees the spine begin to curve. It can be painful and at times limits the physical activity of those that suffer from it.
Sugita would sometimes go off to cry by herself because she thought she was different from other children. She felt insecure, different, and couldn’t wear some clothes that the other girls were wearing. And if that feeling ever sneaks up on her as the woman she is today, she remembers the story her dad used to tell her when she felt down.
“I have scoliosis and it’s something that I struggled with. I wasn’t born with it, but I developed it around the time I was in middle school,” Sugita said. “My dad would tell me that the spine has its vertebrae and to think of them as bamboo. Because, bamboo has all those different layers and that’s what makes it so strong. My spine and myself have many different layers. He would tell me this because I used to cry back then about my scoliosis.”
This toughness has seen Sugita take her first year at Flyquest by the horns. She has taken a brand and a competitive program that was barely recognizable and has turned it into something the world over can celebrate.
But if you think she is going to rest easy now that she has seen some success, you’d be kidding yourself. She has many more initiatives and programs being worked on behind the scenes. And while she may not be able to divulge them just yet, she still has more to come.
MeQuest is one of her newest initiatives that is challenging fans to focus on themselves and their overall mental wellness. Joedat “Voyboy” Esfahani, an League of Legends Championship Series veteran, will be a large part of the initiative as he and others ask the fans to participate in weekly tasks aimed at healing and rebuilding healthy habits.
Esfahani helped raise over $40K in 2019 for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. He also donated the $100K won from the 2018 2v2 League of Legends All-Star event to various mental health initiatives.
This is just one of the many initiatives Sugita has planned for 2021, but isn’t just quite ready yet to announce the others.
“Last year was more about brand awareness,” Sugita said. “And I think this year is more about like, now that we have brand awareness, how do we do well in the realm of fan acquisition? How do we make it more inclusive and build a community? We always want to just get better and see where we can improve. I don’t think it’s enough to just keep doing what you do.”
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