Mobile Heroes

Justin Sampson by Justin Sampson | October 29, 2018

Justin is the Manager of User Acquisition at Skillz, a leading eSports platform. Justin began his mobile marketing career at Skillz three years ago, first as a marketing analyst and then moving into user acquisition.

Learn more from his Mobile Hero profile.


The eSports industry is synonymous with the culture surrounding competitive video gaming. The hype surrounding the space has been growing, and rightfully so – the market is expected to be worth as much as $40 billion by 2025, and eSports spectatorship numbers are equally as staggering with a projected 589 million viewers by 2020. However, despite this mounting interest, currently only 10% of U.S. households watch or partake in eSports.

The Skillz tagline of “eSports for Everyone” aims to change that, by democratizing access to eSports and facilitating fair competition for consumers to enjoy. Skillz offers game developers the opportunity to add a competitive layer to their game that enables users to compete against each other for prizes and bragging rights. Skillz is integrated into a variety of different game genres, with a total of 13,000+ game developers currently utilizing Skillz technology. The economics behind the Skillz business model and how we scale are where my responsibilities in performance marketing come into play.

The Importance of Lifestyle Characteristics

Performance marketing is all about targeting and messaging. Today, the surface level targeting mechanisms are the infamous lookalikes, app and publisher names, and in some cases their anonymized hash (ID). These are all great options since they’re easy to use, have built-out best practices, and (most importantly) are effective. The downside is that many companies are using these methods, which means an increase in competition and prices.

In order to create a comprehensive and personalized targeting strategy, it’s imperative to fully understand your users; things like their lifestyle, where they shop, why they play your games. Most of these elements are lost using the most common digital targeting best practices, but at Skillz we work hard to reveal a deeper level of insight into player behaviors and needs.

By learning more about our users and why they make lifestyle choices, we can better understand how to best message them in our ad creative. It sounds obvious, but understanding different types of users based on lifestyle characteristics helps us develop higher performing ad creative.

Let Your Data be Your Guide

One day, I was looking through audience insight data and noticed there were some high propensity interests around toddler clothes, cribs, and other baby items. The easy action item from this was to simply target these interests and relevant apps. Then I thought to myself, “Well I know babies don’t play on Skillz – what could this mean?” Then it dawned on me that the underlying group generating these high propensity interests were the parents of the toddlers – more specifically, mothers.

Once I made the connection that mothers were highly interested in competing in eSports, our team could focus on creating messaging concepts around different reasons to compete in mobile competitions specifically tailored to this group. The main hypothesis around why this demographic is particularly interested in mobile eSports is because it offers a condensed level of entertainment; an experience in a few minutes rather than over several hours. When you’re short on time, playing a few rounds of a game is a great temporary escape. While the idea of winning prizes may be appealing, our eSports moms are playing Skillz for the “thrillz”.

Although not every creative concept was successful, we zeroed in on the concepts that performed most effectively and informed our team who then tested the new concepts on a similar audience. From there, we repeated our “survival of the fittest” process by ditching the concepts that didn’t work and iterating on the concepts that were proving to be most effective. We found that when taking an audience-first approach with ad creative, one of the most effective strategies is telling a story. Knowing the motivation behind why a person is playing your game allows you to tie in your value proposition to that specific reason. Convey this message in a relatable format and it all comes together.

We’ve since done this exercise a multitude of times across different audiences and messaging types. By combining audience insights, performance data, and creative assets and messaging, it becomes possible to more effectively and efficiently expand an audience and find new ways to communicate with consumers. Traditionally, tests are run using one variable constant, but testing old creatives on new audiences and new creatives on old audiences results in finding no new creatives or new audiences.

The path to sustainable performance marketing is to take an audience-first approach to understanding and messaging to users. In defining the mobile eSports space, this has been crucial to our success and will remain a pivotal part of our continued growth within the eSports industry.