Esports Is No Longer For Kids – XLIVE Conference Dives Deep Into The Exploding Sector

If you are of a certain age, you will no doubt be dubious about the idea of folks paying money to watch other folks play video games. You would likewise be stunned to know that not only has an entire industry been built around this reality, there is an impressive conference that draws the best and brightest.

For the disbelievers, a few datapoints:

  • When fans go to a Buffalo Bills game, or any other NFL game, very few people go home and play tackle football.
  • Hence, with non-endemic advertisers and sponsors (car companies) pouring money into esports, you know it is crossing over to non-gamers.
  • Eventbrite handled ticketing for an esports event that attracted 190,000 paying customers in a Berlin park, more than twice the attendance of the last Super Bowl.

XLIVE gathered presenters and attendees to discuss the latest developments around esports at a recent conference in Los Angeles.

Here are some of the highlights.

  • Within a decade the people in the stands won’t be players of the game (which is primarily the case now).
  • Esports is not homogenous. Attendees are wealthier than expected, although skewing young and male, for now.
  • There are scholarships for gaming at almost 100 colleges.

There was much discussion around brand building. When comparing the most famous athlete in the world today, Cristiano Ronaldo obviously came up through a process far different than in esports. Today an esports challenger can go up against an existing champ, and a drafting requirement in esports leagues is that each team brings on a designated number of such challengers. That is reminiscent of one of NASCAR’s most charming attributes: on any race day, a team that has a car that meets the technical specs can qualify to compete.

Justin Mier (Chief Marketing Officer for Gfinity plc, a London based international esports entertainment company) described how leagues and academies are being established ​to develop esport players, and Twitch is a good place to develop talent. The academies teach seemingly unlikely aspects like nutrition.
A panel discussion developed about how the entire esports business started online, and it is expanding to offline. That brings intriguing challenges about how well players handle the offline world, in terms of being in front of the public, etc.
Chris Mann (President of Ultimate Gaming & Esports Innovation) spoke about the infusion of non-endemic advertisers.
When auto insurance companies are willing to spend in esports, that is solid evidence of the sector’s growth.
Naming rights for arenas likewise is evidence of the sector’s traction beyond hard core gamers. With an esport venue being built next to where teams like the Dallas Cowboys play, that “legitimizes esports” said Chris Chaney (Founder and President of Infinite Esports & Entertainment).
A very interesting discussion emerged around esports, colleges and the NCAA. With esport competitors now making serious dollars as professionals, how will colleges handle the growing esports phenomenon in the context of amateur student athletes? For instance, DePaul University in Chicago just announced it is the seventh Big East school to open a gaming center.
As esports becomes regional, you become a fan like you become a fan of the Sabres or Bills because you grew up in Buffalo.
Steve Stagliano, Esports Senior Events Coordinator at Riot Games spoke about issues like how to be a fan, “some attendees have never been in a venue. Meeting a player will blow a fan’s mind.” There is a built in skepticism among fans about commercialization. When esports ticket prices of $15-$45 dollars were established at Madison Square Garden, the venue executives were stunned at the low cost. Hence, esports is grappling with secondary market issues prevalent in the ticket concert business.
An international esports learning opportunity occurred recently when 800,000 fans tried to buy tickets at a 60,000 seat venue, resulting in 40,000 email complaints. Experts agree that event production is being elevated daily; “last year’s production is today’s table stakes.”
Inevitably, questions of virtual reality and augmented reality emerged. One example was the ability to put an audience member in the middle of game play via VR, to let the fan run around in the game, even if he is invisible to players.

Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.