While the pandemic has impacted businesses of all industries over the last 18 months of the pandemic, for better and for worse, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that esports — or competitive video gaming — has continued its rocket fueled growth trajectory. The industry has seen some gamers parlay their favorite pastime into lucrative careers, and the field is expected to surpass $1.5 billion in revenue by 2023.
But who benefits from that growth?
In a Millennial Summit panel this week, Delaware Prosperity Partnership’s Noah Olson talked to four esports professionals about the current state of a quickly-growing field. Here’s what they identified as the biggest challenges and opportunities for making the industry more equitable.
Diversity and representation is often limited by access.
Per Pew Research data, 83% of gamers are African American while something like 2% of pros are. Wilmington-based Futures First Gaming CEO and cofounder Stephen Sye shared that statistic to emphasize the lack of diversity in the industry.
The issue is only exacerbated by the barriers of entry into the space, he said: New console gaming systems are often prioritized over gaming PCs, which hurts gamers in the long term, because of their cost.
“A lot of [gaming consoles] are more affordable [upfront] but cost more in the long run,” he said. “Games have to be bought annually, but PCs are more about updating games annually.”
In other words, instead of buying the newest Call of Duty each year for $70, players could buy a more expensive PC system and just upgrade the same game each year for less. But having the Playstation 5 or newest XBox is what’s in vogue.
The access barrier is something Philly’s own Nerd Street Gamers is working on with its Localhost hubs and youth esports programming.
Women and LGBTQ people need more support.
OfficialChiKa Gaming founder Greden Camacho is a streamer, host, content creator and activist who also does consultation work. Referring to gaming company Blizzard Entertainment’s recent news of its CEO stepping down for claims of sexual harassment, she asserted that more can be done in esports to protect marginalized members of the esports community.
“There’s a lot more work that could be done to protect women and LGBTQ people’s rights,” she said. “If things don’t start changing, it could start impacting businesses and brands,” as it did with Blizzard.
Regulation is needed in esports to protect players.
FuboGaming Strategic Partnerships Manager James Santore, who previously led SeventySix Capital’s sports consulting group, believes that there needs to be more protection for gamers to make sure they are not mistreated or taken advantage of. Many gamers are minors or college age and go from playing games for fun to having to think about how they can make money from what they enjoy.
“There are so many opportunities to monetize your brand and there’s nobody really helping these players out and safeguarding these players,” he said. “There have to be better rules and regulations to make sure these players are safe.”
Starting local is helpful in building an esports career.
Jevon Jenkins is general partner and owner of esports company Small Town Gaming and believes starting locally is the key to building a sustainable esports brand.
“Start locally first to get your feet wet,” he said. “It’s not always that you jump to pro unless you find yourself in a tournament setting. In esports there are different ways to build your brand, once you determine what ways you are want to excel. Build your brand, build your team, find your game and have fun at tournaments.”
Streaming can support the public good.
Citing her work with a cancer awareness nonprofit as an example, Greden said streaming can be used for good causes. Events like tournaments can raise awareness and donations for causes and show other streamers what is possible in terms of giving back.
“Streamers have created opportunities for ways for people to donate to these causes and bring awareness,” she said. “Stand Up For Cancer is something I’ll be doing for August and ideally what I would have wanted to do is stream an event where I go to an arcade, entertain, and raise money for these causes. All proceeds go to a cause and we raise awareness.”
Michael Butler is a 2020-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism.-30-