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Something the U.S. Should be Thankful for: Esports

27 Nov, 2019

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

Before we wake up to parades.

Before we stretch out on the couch to watch football.

Before we sit down to turkey.

We have a lot to be thankful for in our industry. Here is just one thing we’re focusing on this week: esports. It might have showed up as a disruptor in our economy and it might be controversial, but its benefits are strong and far-reaching. Here are just a few:

Traditional sports facilities get additional use: Who can forget the Fortnite World Finals, held at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York? It was game, set, deathmatch for the players but an enormous economic win for NYC and the USTA.It was also one of the richest purses in esports history; the top prize winner took home $3 million. Second and third place were $1.8 million and $1.05 million, respectively. And every qualifier took home $50,000.

Esports spurs economic development: And not just in terms of cities buying into purpose-built facilities or hosting tournaments, either. Testronic, a UK-based video games testing firm, said it plans to open a facility in New Orleans and hire 150 people for tech jobs over the next five years. The move has been in the works for some time between the company and state and local development agencies, who hope to establish New Orleans as a video gaming technology hub as part of the broader "knowledge-based" economic development strategy. In fact, Dreamleague Gaming, which hosts live video gaming events, said in June it planned a New Orleans operation employing 25, joining InXile and High Voltage Software in the budding sub-sector.

It's also driving much-needed investment: With esports revenues and viewership mounting, industry insiders believe the market is poised for continued growth as investors increasingly jump in, revenue sources evolve and technology rapidly advances. That’s according to the second annual Esports Survey of more than 200 executives conducted by law firm Foley & Lardner LLP and The Esports Observer.

The sponsorship market is thriving – and not all sponsors are tech-based: The website, BleedingCool, notes, “In the latest round of “well, that’s an interesting partnership” news, Lexus has joined on as the major sponsor of The Esports Awards.”

Team owners in traditional sports are seeing benefits to their teams from esports investments: The Esports Observer reports that traditional sports team owners say they are seeing crossover benefits from investing in esports, applying lessons they learn from one realm to the other. Team owners from every major sport in the U.S. have entered competitive gaming in recent years, largely with franchised leagues owned by Activision Blizzard and Riot Games.

As an example, the article cites Zach Leonsis, Senior Vice President of Strategic Initiatives for Monumental Sports & Entertainment and General Manager of Monumental Sports Network, who invested in well-noted esports organization Team Liquid. And, Leonsis says, realizing success is a matter of understanding that the arc of esports is still just beginning.

“What people sometimes forget or fail to realize is traditional leagues like the NHL and NBA are close to 100 years old; these are incredibly established brands and organizations — and really we are in the top or bottom of the first inning for esports.”

Monumental’s traditional sports teams like the 2017 Stanley Cup winners, the Washington Capitals, have started leveraging the Twitch streaming platform more by setting up channels to showcase players who are avid gamers. Likewise, Monumental helped Team Liquid design and build a new training facility with the knowledge it has from traditional sports.

Its governance structure seems strongColin Webster has been elected president of the International eSports Federation, the global governing body.

We'll see it in the Olympics in Paris: While it won't be a medal event, esports is expected to be presented as an adjunct to the Olympics. (Cue the complaining from those who say it doesn't belong). Virtual events will be held alongside traditional sports competitions, giving visitors the chance to engage on multiple levels.

It’s creating partnerships that drive education as well as community investment: HV GamerCon 2019, hosted at the Albany Capital Center, leveraged partnerships from the Eastern College Athletic Conference, and Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, and included an expo showcasing regional game development studios, Empire State Development’s Digital Game Hubs at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, college programs focusing on games and esports, local artists, independent developers and other esports lifestyle brands. The event, which brought in 2,200 spectators and tourists, was named one of SDM’s Champions of Economic Impact in Sports Tourism.

And oddly, it creates real-life friendships: Those who think esports can’t result in face-to-face contact need to meet – or perhaps understand the relationship between – PGA TOUR pro Harold Varner III and his college-age gamer pal Arturo, who became acquainted through “Call of Duty.” About a year after meeting in the game, the two came face to face at the Mayakoba Golf Classic earlier this month. Arturo also caddied for Varner in the pro-am – and got to hang with him all week – but their friendship went beyond golf, to when Varner and his friends supported Arturo after the death of his father. It’s a great story and just what we need to read in these divisive times. Which brings us to the final reason we’re grateful for esports…

No matter what’s going on onscreen, it isn’t political. Period.

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