By: Zachary Lange
A new path
When John DeHart Jr. left his job handling information technology and marketing at a prominent law firm in his home state of New Jersey at the end of last year, red flags from friends and family were raised all over the place.
Leaving a stable career, coupled with health insurance benefits and a traditional corporate structure for the uncertainty and ambiguity that comes with working in esports was daunting. It made no sense to some of his former coworkers, and even his own father to a point didn’t know what his son was thinking.
But for DeHart, being in on the ground floor of esports – which many say is experiencing one of the fastest ascensions in the history of the sports and entertainment space – was simply too good to pass up. And eUnited had grown to a stage where he was needed in a full-time capacity at the beginning of this year. Couple that with the arrival of his first child in April of 2018, and the choice was easy.
“There really wasn’t much thinking that had to be done,” DeHart said.
Since then, the 28-year-old Director of Marketing & Strategy for eUnited has been involved in the day-to-day creative processes that encompasses the organization. From digital media, to brand enhancement and marketing, DeHart has been one of the linchpins of eUnited’s success since beginning in his role in early 2017.
Working in esports wasn’t even on DeHart’s radar until a few years ago when he saw competitive Halo being streamed online. The moment served as a flashback to his beginnings in competitive gaming which dates back to the late 2000s where DeHart played Halo 2 and Halo 3 at various tournaments throughout the Northeast. From there, he discovered the popular online forum “Team Beyond” where he was able to socialize and begin working for various small organizations to cut his teeth in the space.
Eventually, he would land on Team Liquid’s social team in 2016 and carved out a niche for himself as part of the massive North American organization by creating memes. Posts that came as a spur of the moment idea helped Liquid interact with their fan base and be known as jokesters that still continue to dominate the space with humor inundated in gamer culture.
It was a small start as part of a larger team that eventually grew weary on DeHart. While he was good at making people laugh, there was more that he wanted to do that couldn’t with Liquid.
He wanted to be the guy, not one of the guys. So he sought out to find a new home and stumbled upon eUnited.
“I saw that they needed somebody like me,” DeHart said.
Building his team
eUnited’s digital media team is a mishmash of pieces that have collectively been handpicked by DeHart over the course of two years.
The working relationship between members of DeHart’s media team feels part collaborative and part protégé, where young students learn from somebody who has been working professionally for a decade.
“I have a really strong vision of how I think gaming and esports culture works and I think I have built a team around me that has bought into that vision,” DeHart said. “Collectively, we’ve pushed ourselves so far forward, in a less is more mindset, to where we can challenge just about anybody right now.”
Now in his second year as director of post production, 18-year-old Will Dunnigan started in esports much like DeHart did as a staff member with various amateur teams in England.
In time, his talent grew into producing and editing the highly acclaimed video series The Ascent for eUnited. The latest release, The Ascent: London, garnered over 35,000 views on YouTube in its first week.
“I think the best thing about John is how hard he really pushes you to be the best version of yourself,” Dunnigan said. “His drive is unmatched when it comes to trying to be the best organization in esports and I really think it's much easier to remain motivated when the people around you are incredibly motivated about the work you are doing.”
Graphic designer Ryan Crowhurst is another hire that was made by DeHart. The 18-year-old student has developed countless graphics that are used on eUnited social media platforms daily, in addition to creating custom designs for players to use on their personal accounts. When he was first recruited by DeHart, he saw someone to not only work for, but look up to for guidance.
“Never in my life before meeting him, had I met anyone like him,” Crowhurst said.
Growing up without a father, Crowhurst felt a lack of confidence in himself, unsure of what would become of him as he reached adulthood. But with DeHart having his back, he’s kept his head down and continued his pursuit of an education in his home country of England while working on many projects for the media team.
“John took me from a place (mentally) where I really thought I had no future and took me in at eUnited and helped me develop into the person I am today,” Crowhurst said. “With the skill set I have. With the mindset I have. I feel like I could go on to be successful in any way I want to.
“So even though he probably didn’t mean to be, he was kinda the father figure I needed. To show me how something needs to be done and kick-start my ass into gear. He has helped me reach heights that you only really dream of one day reaching.”
Becoming a father
Fittingly, when John found out that his wife Vanessa was pregnant with their first child he was working inside of the Amway Center in Orlando, Florida during the 2017 Call of Duty World Championship.
Now just over a year old, baby Emma can be found plastered across DeHart’s Twitter feed in various assorted outfits, including eUnited gear and various Philadelphia sports teams that he cheers for.
His position with eUnited not only came with the ability to expand on creating for a growing fanbase, but to spend more time at home with daughter.
“My time now has defined value to it,” the proud dad said.
His belief and hope is that as she grows up, she too will find out about the expanding world of esports.
And when she sees eUnited, she’ll know that her dad played a vital role in growing the team.
The future that lies ahead
A motto that DeHart repeats often is “outwork everyone.” It didn’t happen for him overnight, but now after nearly two years of working his previous job full time while juggling his responsibilities for eUnited, he can set his sights on outworking everyone in what quickly turned from a passion project to a viable career.
“It’s not going to happen for everybody, but if you really deserve it and you’re going to put in the time, somebody will notice you,” DeHart said. “You can teach anyone new skills, but you cannot teach a motor.”
As the business of esports continues to rapidly scale up, the public perception slowly has begun to change as well. Still, many of trolls flock to social media wonder why the Overwatch League is on ESPN, or why Bleacher Report is talking about the NBA 2K League.
The road to esports assimilation is a lengthy one, but DeHart knows that when people look at the projects he has helped create, they’ll see documentaries about players who come from humble beginnings that want to compete at the highest level.
For young kids growing up in today’s gaming-centric world, professional gamers are more realistic role models than 6-foot-10-inch behemoths that tower over their competitors in the NBA. Not everyone has the physical attributes to become LeBron James, but anyone can become James “Clayster” Eubanks with the right amount of determination.
It’s up to DeHart to connect the pieces.
“I’m here to tell that story not only to people that want to learn it, but to educate the rest of the world on what we’re really doing,” he said. “To break the stigma of, ‘oh, gamers are sweaty nerds that sit in their basements.’ That’s not true anymore.
“I’m telling the story of superstars.”