It’s commonly understood that the esports and gaming industry is revolutionary in a number of ways. From breaking down international boundaries and melding together business models from the entertainment, traditional sports, and technology sectors to redefining what it means to come together in an isolating age, esports and gaming are forging a bold new path. With his latest endeavor as CEO of GameSquare Esports Inc., Justin Kenna is truly embodying that revolutionary spirit.
We at Stropse had the chance to sit down with Kenna and discuss his storied history in the industry as well as his penchant for risk-taking. The twists and turns of his career have left us spellbound, eagerly awaiting what’s next for GameSquare.
To wit, Kenna is a prime example of the way the industry flourishes through its global nature. Hailing from Australia, Kenna—who now resides in Los Angeles—is the Chief Executive Officer for a company based out of Toronto, Canada. “I finished university in Melbourne, and worked [there] for nearly 10 years and then moved up to Sydney,” Kenna explained. “I was running strategy for a bank up in Sydney and then moved to LA about six years ago.”
For Kenna, the international move brought its own dangers. “[I] took a bit of a risk and a pay cut to come over to the States,” Kenna concedes. Still, it was worth it to be able to follow his instincts: “I really wanted to use my skills more in an operation and strategy role in an industry that I was more interested and passionate about.” So, Kenna transitioned from the world of banking to a position with Optimist Inc., a creative marketing firm where he “Was running finance and strategy… [for a company which] did a lot of the experiential marketing and events for Nike and Google across the States. It was a really interesting job, we worked on some really cool projects.”
In the financial sector, working with big brands like Nike and Google proved to be crucial practice for the contemporary esports and gaming landscape. But for a guy who didn’t have much previous experience with gaming, that eventual transition might not have always seemed the most obvious. “I played traditional sports growing up and was definitely always very interested in getting involved in sports and entertainment,” he says. Still, he wasn’t entirely sure of how to pursue those interests. “From a career perspective… I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, as you often don’t when you’ve [just] finished school.” By taking a risk and transitioning to Optimist Inc. from his role in Sydney where he worked “in accounting, corporate finance and investment banking,” Kenna was able to embrace a certain level of uncertainty, which would soon more than pay off.
After his experience working with Optimist Inc. in Los Angeles, Kenna was able to pivot into a new position as Director of Finance for a production company, Madison + Vine. “We did a lot of TV commercials, music videos, online, snackable digital content… [With] a lot of, you know, world class musicians and we had some really, really huge brand clients and worked on some really great projects there.” Soon, Kenna made what would be a highly influential connection: a friend of his from Australia introduced him to the guys at FaZe Clan. “That was kind of where the whole gaming [thing] began for me.”
After getting introduced to the guys running one of the largest and most successful esports orgs in the world, it didn’t take long for Kenna to find himself, once again, making a potentially risky transition. “I was probably talking with the guys there for about six months before I decided to take the leap over which, you know, again, at the time was a bit of a risk.” At this point, it was approximately 2018, and as we’ve seen from the meteoric rise of the gaming industry, a lot can happen in a year, let alone three. As Kenna puts it, “I mean, FaZe Clan wasn’t what it is today, which is, the biggest lifestyle gaming brand in esports and gaming.”
Once more, by embracing the risk inherent in making career moves, Kenna found himself launched in a whole new direction. “I loved every minute of being a part of that growth and working on that brand in those early days at FaZe. I think FaZe Clan has really paved the way in this space for a lot of other orgs to be able to go out and do some of these top-tier collaborations with huge global brands,” Kenna explains. In terms of those top tier collaborations, Kenna found himself at the forefront of an industry which, like himself, continued to develop by taking risks and making unexpected connections across a range of industries. As he says, FaZe Clan has “I think, really paved the way in terms of this kind of new intersection of pop culture.”
By diving into his work with FaZe Clan, Justin Kenna had officially become a part of the esports and gaming industry. As he, FaZe Clan, and the industry itself continued to blossom and develop at a rapid pace, Kenna was able to become part of an org he describes as “pioneers” which “other orgs [would] be able to follow. This is a huge industry, right? There’s a lot of dollars being spent.” Once a risk-taker, always a risk-taker, Kenna was able to embrace his pioneering spirit and combine it with his savvy experience in the financial sector. It wouldn’t take long for him to find yet another opportunity to take a risk and make a change. He was looking for somewhere to “build something out myself and really focus, narrow down and focus on the areas that I’m truly interested in in terms of my own career development.”
Enter: GameSquare Inc.
After being connected by one of the bankers Kenna had established a business relationship with, he and GameSquare Esports’ President, Kevin Wright, found common ground with the business model GameSquare was developing. Kenna says the transition from Chief Financial Officer at FaZe Clan to CEO of GaneSquare Esports has “been awesome. I’ve got to say it’s really rejuvenated me.” While both companies exist in the same industry, the differences between FaZe Clan and GameSquare Esports are ultimately fundamental. “There’s crossover, right, because FaZe, as it continues to grow, will continue to deal with big brands in this space. But the structure of the two are quite different,” says Kenna.
In terms of describing some of those structural differences Kenna explains, “FaZe Clan started ten years ago with all four guys (Apex, Rain, Banks and Temperr) creating content out of a house in New York.” As FaZe Clan’s roots developed with the market, “What we did was really start to build out the influence of the business, the team business and then look at how do we diversify this and build out the brand. Everything related to FaZe Clan comes back to the FaZe brand. If you’ve got these world-class sporting guys or musicians or celebrities, everything they’re doing in relation to FaZe Clan is to represent the brand.” On the other hand, as far as GameSquare Esports’ business model goes, “GameSquare is the head entity and we are there to provide support to our portfolio assets. At the moment, our portfolio assets include an influencer agency in the UK, an advertising agency in L.A., and two team assets.”
The difference in structure allows Kenna to exercise his experience in the industry to benefit not a single organization, as with his position at FaZe Clan, but GameSquare’s entire portfolio. As he puts it, “We’re looking at the growth that we believe that [portfolio] can achieve is enormous… We’re gonna get them capitalized and really concentrate on that organic growth. And then within that, we’re looking at opportunistic M & A [Mergers and Acquisitions], namely in Europe and North America for now, really trying to build out that agency media business.”
For Justin Kenna, the ability to recognize the potential inherent to making big moves and taking risks is something that almost seems to come naturally to him. From getting started in finance when he was fresh-faced and younger to moving across the world to pursue new opportunities, Kenna seems like just the sort of person you’d want as the CEO of a new company. Perhaps he can attribute that boldness to his experience as an athlete. As he mentioned, when he was younger he found himself more drawn to traditional sports than video games. “People always laugh at me, because [despite] being the CFO of FaZe, I really wasn’t much of a gamer at all,” says Kenna. “As a kid I used to play. I had an original Nintendo, I played the original Mario Bros., Duck Hunt and Mario Kart. And it was funny, because it was the one thing that my older sister used to just beat me at. And so I stopped playing because she would just dominate me.”
Stepping away from Mario Kart and other games allowed Kenna to focus his attention on playing Australian Football, a passion he has brought with him to the States. “It’s awesome. I mean, it’s pretty gnarly. There’s no pads and it’s the biggest sport in Australia.” As seen through his business savvy, Kenna has a bit of a competitive edge that has served him well, and he notes, “I played Australian Football at a competitive level, and then also tennis as well as cricket.” In line with the international crossovers inherent to esports and gaming, Kenna has also managed to bridge the gap when it comes to his traditional sport of choice. “When I moved over to LA, [it turns out] they’re actually trying to grow the sport in the US and they have an Australian Football League. It’s called the USA AFL… So I actually coached the LA team, I played and coached for a couple of years.”
All in all, Justin Kenna’s career has been full of bold moves and expertly-calculated risks which have set him onto an exciting next step. As CEO of GameSquare Esports Inc., he’s managed to find a position which will make use of his wide array of experiences, allowing him once more to exercise the pioneering spirit he tapped into while working with FaZe Clan. Although the Toronto-based company only went public fairly recently, hitting the Canadian stock exchange in October of 2020, with a CEO like Justin Kenna, their future sure looks promising.
We thank Justin Kenna for his time. To check out the GameSquare website as well as Justin’s Instagram, click here and here. We here at Stropse also got the chance to connect with GameSquare Esports’ President, Kevin Wright: to check out that interview, click here.