Dive into the world of Director of Sports Tian Pei (she/her), based in New York, in the latest Faces of Unity spotlight. What does it mean to work the future of sports management, participation, and consumption? Read on to find out, as well as to discover Pei’s views on innovation and what makes her job inspiring.
What do you do at Unity?
It may sound small but that is a big question. Currently, I’m embroiled in mapping the strategic direction for my team and our Sports business, and making sure we execute on our plans. I recently relocated to New York and have been with the company for more than four years, starting out as an intern on the games team while attending business school. With my MBA completed, I boomeranged back and was initially hired to support our broader product suite for media and entertainment before shifting into sports about two years ago.
In no particular order, my day-to-day includes: leading the sports team – made up of about 30 people across engineering, product, production, and business functions; bringing to market Unity Metacast, our first sports-specific product; helping to establish a vision, and turning that vision into a plan, and turning that plan into a roadmap, to reinvent how the world consumes and engages with sports that allows us to successfully stake a position in the market in a profitable way; representing Unity within the sports industry; and, of course, all of the operational pieces that come with this – oversight on partnerships, planning, team-building, and more.
When going through business school, I never could have imagined I’d be working in the sports industry (games and VR/AR were what brought me to Unity), but my roles here have provided me with the opportunity to learn and become passionate about media, entertainment, and, yes, sports, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
You recently spoke at Leaders Week London 2022. What inspires you to be a leader?
I’m glad you’ve brought up Leaders Week because the experience was so inspiring. I was part of a panel titled “Breaking through Boundaries: AR, VR and the Evolution of Sports Consumption” and was fortunate to share the stage with leaders from Ultimate Fight Championship (UFC), Rami Genauer, and Liverpool FC, Drew Crisp. As part of the panel, we discussed how sports consumption can transform experiences for fans, and it was fascinating the ways in which each of us came to the topic with such varied perspectives. My fellow panelists alone represent two sports that are, essentially, polar opposites (at least to me) and I represent a technology company. But the fact is, changes in fan consumption and engagement are evident and undeniable. It’s not a matter of speculating whether to get behind the next generation, it’s a must. And that’s a point we all agreed on.
Coming out of Leaders Week, I’m incredibly inspired to continue leading change within Unity and for the world. I was able to mingle with an incredibly diverse group of people and hear from very accomplished speakers from all walks of the sports industry, and I was inspired by the passion and activity (on top of being able to be in London).
In terms of being a leader myself, it’s something that is often subconscious. It’s not about me and my desire to be or do any one thing; it’s about collaborating with others and gathering brilliant ideas in one place. Leadership is 90% about pulling a team of people together and unifying that team to make something meaningful, impactful, or beautiful happen. No one single person does anything on their own. But, when a diverse group of people from varied walks of life are able to partner together to make a difference, that’s when things get fun and that’s what really motivates me. Everything else is secondary.
What are your favorite things about Unity?
There is a lot that I like about Unity. I have been fortunate to see Unity grow from less than 2,000 employees to where we’re at today (which, I think, is over 7,000 strong). People are absolutely bonkers passionate about what they do here, and that is not necessarily something I’ve experienced at other companies or in other roles. From my perspective, everyone on my team is a superstar and is so committed to – and passionate about – what they do. I’m very fortunate to be able to work with such a talented, diverse, and unified group of people. We’re all pulling in the same direction and it’s such an authentic display of “in it together.”
It doesn’t hurt that just about everywhere you go, you say “Unity” and that name is automatically associated with creativity and passion. I do face challenges in new industries for us, like sports, since there is often less awareness at present, but as soon as they see our work they are completely inspired and in awe. It feels nice to work for a company that is able to deliver so much creativity, and to be part of bringing that to the world.
Can you share a piece of career advice for others in the industry?
This is less “career advice” and more “general life advice”, but it has helped me when I’ve struggled through rough patches in both my personal and professional life. And, it happens to be a quote from a J. Cole song: “The bad news is nothing lasts forever, the good news is nothing lasts forever.”
While J. Cole was describing a failed relationship, I find wisdom and empowerment in such a glass-half-full, adaptable mindset.
Oftentimes, we feel regret, pity, or beat ourselves up for being part of an undesirable situation – whether or not we contributed to being in that situation. And, when we’re in a rut, we tend to see only the negative, asking ourselves questions like “Why can’t things go my way?” or “Why can’t certain people get along with me?” or “Why are things so unfair?”. This makes us feel trapped.
The truth is, there is beauty in life’s ephemerality, and we have more choice than we think we do. We tend to think of “nothing lasts forever” as “nothing good lasts forever”, which makes us hold on to that thing obsessively, afraid to lose it. But the same is true on the other side of the coin: The thing that is causing you significant dread and grief will come to an end eventually, leaving space for you to try something new and actively contribute to looking at this thing from a more positive lens.
For me, knowing this has shifted my mindset from one that used to be fixated on the negatives and felt trapped. It allows me to treat everything as a learning experience that is temporary. It’s almost like grade school, when we could learn, fail, and grow, all while knowing that school was only ever going to be a tiny fraction of our lives. Most importantly, I now feel a sense of freedom and control over my own path that was previously lost on me, allowing me to think more boldly and make decisions more courageously because I know that one path will always lead to the next. There will always be multiple doors for me to open at every junction of my career and life journey.
Whether you’re questioning choices related to school (“Did I choose the right major?” or “Should I go back to school?”), work (“Is this position the right one for me?” or “Should I consider that career shift?”), or your personal life (“How can I fulfill my personal duties whilst juggling other priorities?” or “Should I move to that city?”), I encourage you to reflect on all of the possibilities available to you, and know that whatever decision you make, it is not permanent. You are not stuck with that choice for the rest of your life, and you always have options to build and improve upon your situation – way more than you think you do.
Can you share a few fun facts about yourself?
Probably an unsurprising fact, but I’m a big gamer. Some of my favorites – that I can easily nerd out about – fall in the mixed genre of real-time strategy, first-person-shooter, and role-playing games, including Dota, Left4Dead, and my all-time favorite franchise: The Legend of Zelda. I cannot wait for the sequel to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
In fact, I learned English through playing a Pokémon game. When my family first came to the United States from Beijing, I was in the 4th grade and did not speak a word of English. One weekend, my parents decided to go to the Grand Canyon and left me at home with a Game Boy Color, Pokémon Yellow, a walkthrough guide, and an electronic “English to Chinese” dictionary. When they came back, I had learned how to say words like “tackle”, “thunderbolt”, and “pewter” – nothing too revolutionary. I also had not slept or eaten over the two-day period. If I said my parents were mad to come home and find the food they had prepared untouched in the fridge, that would be an understatement. Come to think of it, not a lot has changed … I may have done the same thing the first weekend that The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was available on Nintendo Switch™.
Beyond gaming, another fun fact, depending on your definition: I have perfect pitch on the piano – if you play a note, I can identify it. I can also listen to any song and play it back on the piano. And, last but not least, I am an adventurous foodie, if the photo I’ve shared is any indication. I’m open to trying any delicacy at least once. On this particular trip, I discovered Lisbon lobster.
*Nintendo Switch is a trademark of Nintendo