Amid Quarantine, UTA Turns to Gaming to Stay Connected

Courtesy UTA
UTA employees join a Zoom call to chat about video games; inset: Ophir Lupu, head of games at UTA

Staffers across the agency's various offices and departments are coming together to discuss and play games as a "virtual community."

As work-from-home mandates become a new normal for many professionals across the globe, staying connected while self-isolating has become a new challenge. To help build a virtual space for employees and colleagues to congregate, UTA, one of Hollywood's largest talent agencies, has turned to video games as a way to bridge the gap.

"We were brainstorming internally about coming up with these virtual clubs and with the help of our colleagues ended up launching a number of [them]. One was gaming focused," Ophir Lupu, partner and head of games at UTA, tells The Hollywood Reporter.

Lupu and his colleagues launched an official Slack channel for UTA employees — appropriately titled Game On — and it quickly became a popular hangout across the agency's various offices and divisions.

"It’s incredible to see nearly every group out of nearly every office in the company has joined this channel," Lupu says. "I was telling a colleague today, 'Man, there are some awesome, hardcore nerds at UTA that I never knew about.'"

Hot topics of conversation on the channel include games members are currently playing, sharing personal gamer tags and setting up play stations, questions on building one's own gaming PC and a virtual "book club" for games. 

"We sent out a survey and voted on a game we can all reasonably play in a two-week span and then talk about it. Just to show you we’re not just shills for our own clients, we picked a timely one in The Outer Wilds because it just won a BAFTA Games award for game of the year," Lupu says.

"When I started this Slack channel with Ophir and Alex Don in UTA’s Esports department, I knew we could make gaming a more meaningful, communal experience. We decided to hold a 'video game book club' where members finish a game by a certain date and then share our thoughts," says Judah Silver, coordinator, video games at UTA. "There was so much interest that we are actually launching two different gaming clubs within the channel: one for independent, lesser-known games and one for blockbuster games."

With a wide roster of clients across Hollywood, music and gaming, Lupu says the group is also talking about hosting events with UTA stars. "Over time, we’d love to get clients of ours to pop in. You don’t want it to become this stale place and feel like tumbleweed," he says. "We really want to program it to a certain extent so it is fresh for people who have been in it from the beginning, but we continue to layer in more folks."

That includes "master classes" on various topics from clients, such as a recent talk by Arianna Huffington for UTA employees, as well as senior leaders at the company. "We’re trying to broaden it out further and do these kind of master classes to take a moment of time and do a 30-45 minute virtual fireside Zoom — is that what you'd call it?" Lupu says. On the gaming side, he's working on bringing in some developers to host a session.

"We’re all figuring out this new landscape, and having a Slack channel that converses so regularly has helped us stay connected in more ways than we could have predicted," Alex Don, who works in UTA's esports department, says. "In addition to participating in 'video game book clubs,' the community also plans to host Zoom watch parties for events in video games and esports, such as the Call of Duty League home stands, Riot Games’ Valorant Beta Launch, and other topical moments in the space."

The Game On group, Lupu says, has been a great way for the UTA team to stay connected while also escaping some of the stress of life in quarantine.

"It’s been honestly incredible to see the response, because the pessimists among us were thinking people would be too busy, but the opposite has come true," he says. "We’re all part of this shared fabric at UTA and one big family and we find ourselves in these chat rooms conversing with people we otherwise hadn't connected with before."