COLUMBIA - The Esports industry has been perceived in the past as a fun hobby, but now it is increasingly seen as a legitimate career option. According to the Global Esports Market Report, in 2016 the industry was valued at $493 million. This year it is expected to be worth over 1 billion.
Tyler Schrodt is the founder and President of the Electronic Gaming Federation (EGF), which organizes leagues both at the collegiate and high school levels. He created his company from an idea he had while working for Residence Life at the Rochester Institute of Technology.
“EGF really was started based on trying to solve this challenge of how we engage with students that don't necessarily connect with administrators through traditional activities,” Schrodt said. “It was really awesome to be a part of the community and to start a business and having the opportunity to do so just kind of based on the path that life was taking me on.”
Schrodt is one of the few that have found success in this growing industry, as the establishment of a career in esports is complicated due to the sport’s youth. For comparison, the first NFL Super Bowl game was broadcasted in 1967, while Major League Gaming became the first video game competition to be on TV in 2006. Be this as it may, the young league still has a high amount of potential.
There are plenty of ways for former athletes to get involved in the industry, such as broadcasting, technical support and coaching. Schrodt believes it is up to the individual to forge their own path.
“I think it's up to them, obviously, to kind of pick where they want to go,” Schrodt said. “But I do think that the accessibility of the industry as it is right now, at least where you could find somebody on Twitter and volunteer for a tournament or get an internship.”
According to Goldman Sachs, the 2019 League of Legends final had more viewers compared to the totals for the World Series, Stanley Cup and NBA Finals. Schrodt believes that esports will soon follow the same path as traditional sports.
“With an Overwatch league or some of the others that have a franchise model or a kind of consistent group of teams that play together that have the ability to generate the same type of value and fan experience like an NFL franchise would,” Schrodt said. “So, you start to see that happen, but it's still pretty young.”
In addition to the development of professional leagues, the college scene is also growing. Patrick Camp, the Director of Membership for the National Association of Collegiate esports has helped put programs on college campuses.
“We’ve been operational for about four years, we’ve since gone from only six schools back then to about 150, 160 schools now,” Camp said.
Patrick also believes that esports will begin to affect the curriculum.
“The truth is that most esports students actually have a much wider range of interests than just simply computers, a lot of them really aren’t interested in programming,” Camp said. “Colleges are beginning to pick up on this and they’re looking at ways of creating esport concentrations or esports minors.”
According to Camp, the esports college scene grew exponentially in recent years and continues to rise.
“It’s well established enough so that you’ll see esports teams on campus for the foreseeable future, I think you’ll see more schools going the varsity route, having an organized team with, you know, coaches and directors, as opposed to just club teams,” Camp said.
Recently, COVID-19 has interrupted the development of the sport. Though esports can still function through online play, Camp thinks that in-person competition is still a more equal playing field than athletes playing from home.
“The quality of play, the machines are all the same, all consistent and you know, all of that just makes for a better experience,” Camp said.
Kevin Butler is a practice leader for Henderson Engineers, a company that helps design esports venues. Henderson has helped build the largest esports stadium in North America, which currently resides in Arlington, Texas. He believes the pandemic has only helped grow the sport.
“This whole pandemic has definitely not been great, but one sort of plus from an esports standpoint is it allowed a lot of people to take notice of the esports market,” Butler said. “You had large broadcasters showcasing esports, whether its FOX Sports or others.”
The four major North American sports, the MLB, NHL, NFL and NBA, have all had a significant head start on growth in comparison to esports. Yet, the gap is closing. Recently a Forbes article summarizes the question for the future: “Will Esports Be America’s new Pastime?”