Esports is a billion-dollar industry. You might make money competing in tournaments, sure. But there’s also a living to be made in promotions, coaching, tech, event production and much more.
It was a focus of discussion at Futures First Gaming’s (FFG) signature event, Pandamonium, which took over The Mill’s Theatre N on Dec. 11 and 12. The event celebrated the end of a busy year for the esports startup, which has expanded to include a workforce development program and a summer camp among other initiatives that support the underrepresented gaming community in Delaware and beyond. It was also the culmination of FFG’s quarterly events — Madness in March, Girls Who Game and Fall Brawl — with panels, hands-on VR and drone workshops and, of course, gaming tournaments.
The first day of Pandamonium included a panel on “Esports, Ecosystems and Economics,” featuring moderator Heather Blair of Women in Exhibition and panelists Danny Martin of Esposure, Amanda Solomon CEO of Tyrus Talent Management and Neil Johnson of Events DC.
This was a serious discussion for people serious about the business of esports, covering the costs, gains and strategies required for success in the industry. The experts also spent time discussing inclusion in the esports industry, both for Black and brown people and women, nonbinary and femme-presenting individuals.
You can watch the whole panel below and on FFG’s Twitch channel, but if you want some of the main takeaways, here’s what we learned:
1. Business education helps.
You might think that esports is an industry where degrees are meaningless and everything is learn-as-you-go, but esports requires biz know-how and a proven model just like any other sector. Even streamers need to know marketing (to promote themselves) and accounting (to manage their finances).
Solomon came from the corporate world before leading Tyrus Talent, a talent management agency in the gaming and influencer space. Her education background is squarely business, with bachelor’s degrees in marketing and accounting, and an MBA, and she’s currently in the process of earning an entertainment law degree.
“I feel like those skills easily translate into actionable items to make money,” she said. “If you don’t know how to manage your books, you’re not going to be in a place where you’re really making money and understanding what’s going on.”
With that said, Solomon understands not everyone has access to college, and that can leave underrepresented people cut off from some positions — and that if, as a leader, you want to be inclusive, you have to help train people who are passionate about the industry but lack degrees in certain areas.
2. You have to be in it for the long haul.
Of course there are stories of young competitive gamers, streamers and designers who seemingly become famous overnight, with the fat sponsorships to boot. But for the vast majority of people in the esports industry, success comes from persistence, and from “knowing your lane.”
For Johnson, that lane is conventions. His company works to incorporate esports into the traditional convention framework. He said professionals in this space can’t be afraid of change.
“You have to stick to the core of who you are, but I think there is 20%” of esports pros’ job, he said, that has to be anticipating “what’s coming around the corner.”
3. It’s about more than money.
Money is always going to be a big part of any business, and there is a lot of money to be made, especially for game developers and event companies. But, Martin said, if you’re underrepresented in the industry yourself, it’s vital to put yourself out there to let young people in your demographic see themselves as potential esports professionals, whether that’s doing panels, talks or other community outreach.
Here’s the full panel:
Also, check out Pandamonium’s day-two panel “Why Only 2% — Constructed Barriers on the Path to Pro” with Andrea “BoredyMcBored” Richmond, Hot 97’s HipHop Gamer, Dale Harvey and Bradford Harris. These pros tackled the issue of barriers of entry in the esports space, where 83% of Black and brown youth identify as gamers, but only 2% ever make it to the professional circuit: