Women of the Year 2021: OverActive Media’s Alyson Walker is Building the Future of E-Sports
From Olympic athletes and tech startup founders to social impact champions and business changemakers, our inaugural 2021 Women of the Year guide features 37 impressive leaders who are making a difference, both individually and as a collective. They’ve all navigated incredible obstacles to get to where they are (often on an uneven playing field) and yet, despite this, have still managed to summit their industries and change Canada—and the world around them—for the better. In our series of one-on-one interviews, get to know each honouree a little better: their values, mission, lessons learned, and the other women that inspire them in their own lives.
Chief Commercial Officer, OverActive Media
What is your elevator pitch to the world? (One sentence)
Alyson Walker: I am driven and motivated by our collective movement towards progress, growth, and making those around us better.
What excites you most about the work that you are doing?
Alyson Walker: I am excited about the passion, quality, and commitment from a young, talented team—the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. We are building a leading global sports, media, and entertainment company for today’s generation of fans which requires a diversity of talent and a strong work ethic. At the senior team level, we are breaking new ground—literally and figuratively with new partnerships and initiatives, including the development of a state-of-the-art facility in downtown Toronto. Our business team is made up of a diverse group of endemic gamers and traditional sports, media, and business leaders. We have developed three globally recognized brands in Toronto Defiant, Toronto Ultra, and MAD Lions in three years and are producing top-quality, highly engaging content on a daily basis. I’m equally proud of our success to date and the culture of collaboration, inclusivity, and boldness that we are building and living every day.
What is something about your industry or work that you wish people understood better?
Alyson Walker: The future of sports, media, and entertainment has evolved and will continue to evolve to suit the consumption behaviours and community-building habits of today’s generation of fans. There is no better way to reach the Millennials, Gen Zs, and now Gen Alphas than at the intersection of gaming, music, sports, and lifestyle. With esports franchise teams at our core, we are deeply engaged with audiences that represent today’s generation of fans and have plans to diversify to reach a broader group of lifestyle enthusiasts.
Where do you think you have made the most impact in your company and community?
Alyson Walker: I believe I have made the most impact through mentorship and volunteering with programs that enhance our industry and our people. I am particularly passionate about supporting the advancement of women at all levels of their careers. As a founding board member of WISE Toronto (Women in Sports & Events), our mandate is to support the advancement of women in our industry to senior roles in their organizations. As a mentor in programs including the WISE Mentorship program, the SMCC Mentorship Program, GEM (Girls E-Mentorship), and at OverActive Media with our talented female directors, I feel a deep responsibility to give back and contribute to the growth of all women in our industry.
What kind of problems are you trying to solve?
Alyson Walker: At the heart of what we do, we are trying to develop a unique organization that serves a young generation of fans and consumers while simultaneously developing a team (both on the field of play and in the boardroom) that embodies the values we’ve collectively identified and endeavour to live on a daily basis. Said differently, we’re managing the balance between pace of growth and burnout while staying committed to building a strong culture and a purpose-built organization. We are developing brands, assets, tools and an approach that allows us to reach and engage today’s generation of fans, create meaningful experiences, and deliver value to our partners who invest in our vision.
What are you doing that no one else is doing?
Alyson Walker: As Canada’s largest e-sports ownership group, we are building the world’s leading sports, media, and entertainment company to provide unparalleled experiences to a new generation of fans that think about their entertainment choices differently.
Was there ever a turning point in your career that fundamentally changed your business for the better?
Alyson Walker: My experience working with Canada’s Olympic Broadcast Media Consortium from 2008 to 2010 was a pivotal point in my career [by] bringing together my business and sports backgrounds with my passion for engaging fans and developing meaningful partnerships. We changed the narrative in Canada around the importance of sport in our culture and created a new swagger that has been felt since in the amateur and pro sport ecosystems in this country. The deep relationships built with colleagues and partners continue to be powerful in my role today and the experience honed and lessons learned were invaluable to my career progression. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to shape my career from such a watershed moment in our country.
What have you learned about yourself as you’ve helped build OverActive Media?
Alyson Walker: That success of the collective is the most important outcome. I work tirelessly to provide my teams with the tools, structure, empowerment, and motivation they need to succeed.
What has been the most challenging part of building the business?
Alyson Walker: The opportunities for growth and progress are endless but we need to match that with a balanced focus on fiscal responsibility, investing in our people, and fostering innovation. We have developed a collective discipline around business planning, a growth framework, and an approach to risk mitigation with our senior team over the past three years to address the challenging decisions we are faced with daily. At OverActive Media, we have a diverse yet complementary executive team that brings a breadth of experience and perspective to the table while ensuring a collaborative approach to decision making. It is this experience that allowed us to pivot quickly and effectively when the COVID pandemic hit and to take the company public in a condensed time frame in the middle of our esports season. While we navigate plenty of challenges in this young industry early in our company’s history, the opportunities are broad and we couldn’t be more excited for the future.
What has been the most rewarding part of building the business?
Alyson Walker: Being first, consecutively. In a young industry with new leagues and an expanding roster of partners, we have built award-winning brands, a cool training facility, unique campaigns, and esports programs that demonstrate both a winning culture and long-term sustainable success.
What questions do you think all leaders should ask themselves before building a company?
Alyson Walker: Do I have the right people around me to provide the expertise, experience, and diversity to achieve our vision? And, who can provide me with the candid feedback I need to be a great leader?
In your experience, what has proven to make for a great brand experience?
Alyson Walker: When you can create an emotional connection (“the feels” to today’s generation of fans) with fans and consumers, you know you’ve succeeded with your brand promise. Each of OAM’s brands has a distinct personality, voice, and approach and we are intentional in how we engage with fans, consumers, partners, and investors. We are focused on data-driven decision making—especially with our fans. If our content isn’t being watched or isn’t resonating, we pivot. We have ongoing discussions with our fans on social and with our corporate community to ensure we’re engaging, activating, growing, and communicating effectively. From a brand perspective, success lies in the eye of the beholder. Our fans want to be connected to our teams and our community. There is a multitude of ways we can do that and we are constantly trying new things and soliciting feedback. Integral to our brand strategy is our roster of partners. We continue to build relevant and meaningful partnerships and as part of that, we set specific KPIs and work closely with our partners to ensure we’re driving their marketing objectives while simultaneously growing our brands and reach in the marketplace. We work incredibly hard to create unique brand experiences for our fans, partners, and communities.
What is the mission of your brand? The bigger picture?
Alyson Walker: We have built four global brands in three short years: OverActive Media, Toronto Defiant, Toronto Ultra, and MAD Lions. Each of our team brands has a distinct voice and personality with a mission to connect and engage fans and, more importantly, to build community. OverActive Media’s mission is to connect broadly with today’s generation of fans to deliver the very best in sports, media, and entertainment.
How do you define success? What does it mean to you?
Alyson Walker: Success to me is made up of equal parts financial success, people leadership, and fostering a uniquely positive, inclusive, and healthy culture. If all those things equate to progress and making a difference then we will have been successful.
If you could go back and give yourself advice what would it be?
Alyson Walker: I don’t need to go back. I continue to advise myself to find moments for myself outside of work, home, and family. I’m not very good at slowing down.
Who is a woman in the community that you admire?
Alyson Walker: Stacey Allaster, Chief Executive Professional Tennis at United States Tennis Association (USTA) and former WTA Chairman & CEO.
I met Stacey at a Five to Watch Event in 2012 and was inspired, engaged, and motivated. After a brief discussion, she handed me her business card and told me to reach out if I needed anything at all. I spent weeks drafting a letter that shared not only why I felt she would be good for me but equally important, why spending time with me as I build my career would be good (or at least interesting!) for her. I think we can both agree that our relationship has been mutually beneficial. Almost 10 years later, I am grateful for her guidance, support, perspective, and friendship, and continue to be in awe of her accomplishments, approach, and compassion.