STEPPING INTO THE ESPORTS FIELD

As the burgeoning esports industry continues to explode, it opens new professional opportunities for graduates—from business and marketing to video production. Embracing this, the CSU has begun incorporating esports into student life and academics.


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During a weekend in late March, with California’s shelter-in-place order in effect and most organized sports canceled, 40 students from eight Long Beach Unified School District high schools took to their controls to compete in a two-day Super Smash Bros. ​​tournament.

The inaugural The562.org Long Beach High School Smash Tournament was put on by California State University, Long Beach freshman Drew Helms, a graduate of Millikan High School in the LBUSD; his high school teammate who helped him start the high school’s esports club; and The562.org, a media outlet focused on Long Beach high school sports. It included one-on-one and team competitions.

“Overall, it was really successful,” Helms says. “It was a blast to put on, and it was really cool to put high school esports, and esports in general, on the forefront.”

The tournament came at a time when most high school sports were canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving The562.org with little to cover. Helms seized the opportunity, offering to partner with them on the tournament by developing the rules and registration process, recruiting participants and planning the event.

But the experience also required him to do marketing work and produce video content for social media, which fits well into Helms’s business management studies and his role as social media intern for the CSULB Esports and Gaming Association. In fact, Helms hopes to use his degree and what he learns through these opportunities in the future to do social media management for an esports organization.

“Esports is really new, so there’s a lot of opportunities coming up,” he says. “Just with my experience at Millikan and with the Cal State esports program, they’ve opened up a lot of doors and opportunities to put myself out there.”

Super Smash Brothers tournament hosted by students at San Francisco State. A December 2019 Super Smash Bros. tournament hosted by students at San Francisco State.
A scene from the game Super Smash Brothers during The562.org Long Beach High School Smash Tournament. A scene from the game Super Smash Bros. during The562.org Long Beach High School Smash Tournament.

WHAT IS ESPORTS?

Esports is most often defined as competitive video gaming, in which professional video game players, who are signed to teams, compete in tournaments dedicated to games like Fortnite, League of Legends, Overwatch​ and Super Smash Bros.

But lifestyle gamers are also making up a significant portion of the esports markets. More similar to a social media influencer, these players act as entertainers, running their own streams to gain personal fanbases, securing sponsorships and at times reaching celebrity status with millions of followers on their various accounts.

Some esports organizations like FaZe Clan and 100 Thieves incorporate both competitive players and lifestyle content creators into their business models.

Esports is also unique in that most audience members view tournaments using live-streaming platforms like Twitch and YouTube, allowing organizations, players and teams to more easily attract and connect with fans globally.

A LOOK AHEAD

While many people may not be as familiar with esports, it is becoming just as popular as more traditional professional sports among certain groups. In fact, the percentage of American men aged 21 to 35 who watch esports (22 percent) is about the same as those who watch baseball and hockey.

A report from Newzoo forecasts ​global revenue from esports to hit $1.1 billion in 2020, about a 16 percent increase from 2019, and the global audience to grow to 495 million people, about a 12 percent increase from last year.

Based on this current growth, the esports industry will need people like Helms to fill the increasing number of esports-related jobs in companies ranging from game developers to streaming services. Just looking at findings from one company that advertises esports jobs, Hitmarker, the number of positions listed nearly doubled between 2018 and 2019, with about two-thirds of U.S. roles located in California.

And the reality is many of these jobs are not in game design or development, but rather are highly cross functional and span a much broader range of skills. California State University, Northridge alumna Trinity Brocato, who studied multimedia design and radio-TV-film studies before launching a career in media and digital production, can attest to that.

Brocato is vice president of operations at VENN.tv, a company with offices in Los Angeles and New York producing original content around gaming, music and pop culture by combining the concepts of esports streaming, broadcast and digital entertainment. She is currently leading its digital platform initiatives toward a July 2020 beta launch—which was actually moved up due to increased interest in streaming services during COVID-19.

“Gaming isn't one size fits all,” Brocato says. “If you look at the best streamers and personalities of today, they're a blend of entertainment, action, competition and more. There is space here for everyone, from your hard-core esports athlete to your casual Candy Crushing mobile gamer. We are the new norm and we aren’t going away.”


"Esports is in the process of displacing traditional sports among young people, especially in light of the current COVID-19 pandemic."

— Dr. Dina Ibrahim, professor, San Francisco State


In the Classroom

In light of the growth of the esports field, Dina Ibrahim, Ph.D., professor of broadcast & electronic communication arts at San Francisco State University and the SFSU esports club faculty advisor, taught the school’s first esports class during the fall 2019 semester. Originally an advanced media performance class, she combined the course goal of developing on-air talent with live-streaming, namely esports streaming.

“It's marketing, it's business, it's sponsorship, it's business development, it's event planning and management,” says Dr. Ibrahim, who is also the executive director of the CSU Entertainment Alliance. “There are some very important skills students are learning by being involved in esports, and I want us as a system to support and understand it.”

As part of the class, each student was required to create his or her own live-streaming channel on a service like Twitch, Instagram or YouTube and monetize the content created (everyone had to make a minimum of $1). They chose the focus of their channel, which ranged from esports to cooking, with one student even earning $27.

However, the class also produced a 16-bracket Super Smash Bros. tournament in partnership with a sports production class and the esports club. Together, the students planned and marketed the event, raised $300 for a cash prize, sold tickets, live-streamed the tournament and edited video to create highlight reels.

Professor Dina Ibrahim and San Francisco State students from the esports class, sports production class and esports club at their Super Smash Bros. tournament, held in December 2019.

“Because I think my job is to keep my fingers on the pulse of the industry and make sure our students are ready, prepared and have the skills the industry is looking for, I want to be able to design coursework that students can take and show they've done something concrete for their portfolio,” Ibrahim says.

Ultimately, she’d like to see SFSU introduce a certificate program in esports. To this end, she plans to develop three new courses: an esports production class that produces competitive tournaments, a live-streaming class focused on developing and airing content and events and an esports business class focused on sponsorship development, branding, marketing and monetization.

“Gamers have to have their own opportunity to develop within the competitive gaming space,” she says. “And I'm really interested in helping students who are gamers be able to create career opportunities out of their interests because esports is in the process of displacing traditional sports among young people, especially in light of the current COVID-19 pandemic.”

On the Playing Field

This year, California State University, Fresno introduced a varsity esports program, with an Overwatch team and a League of Legends team, following two years of research, interviews and focus groups.

“They have coaches, they have practices, there's expectations for competition and there's also the possibility in the future for scholarships because the students are investing time, effort and energy,” says Associate Dean of Student Involvement Colin Stewart, Ph.D.

In addition to potential scholarships, the esports program is helping Fresno State players learn new skills they can use in the future, such as computer science, production and teamwork.

“These students are learning how to communicate more effectively,” Dr. Stewart says. “They're learning leadership skills, they're learning how to work as a team, they're learning how to work through adversity.”

Kalena Rangel, an Overwatch team member and nursing sophomore, adds: “Interacting with the team and learning teamwork has actually helped me open up more in every other aspect of my life.”

Unfortunately, the pandemic disrupted the season, but the program has used the time to support intramural tournaments with players logging in safely from home, build a closer esports community on campus and recruit students for the fall.

Fresno State students at the unveiling of the two varsity esports teams.​ Fresno State students at the unveiling of the two varsity esports teams.​
Fresno State varsity esports players at the teams' unveiling in the Bulldog Zone. Fresno State varsity esports players at the teams' unveiling in the Bulldog Zone.