Guest Lecturing at SMU: An Abacus3 Reflection
Mark Nausha, President of Abacus3, and Josh Gabay, Manager of University Relations for Abacus3, visited the SMU Cox School of Business on Halloween to deliver an “Esports 101” lecture to Professor Simon Mak’s “Identifying Entrepreneurial Opportunities” class. Our Abacus3 team, along with Chris Buckner, Co-Founder/CEO at Mainline.gg, highlighted the plethora of opportunities available in the surging esports ecosystem.
The students engaged with the esports dialogue from the start. Some play video games, and some do not. Some know what esports is, and some do not. Most of them still scratch their heads trying to understand the “phenomenon” of people watching other people play video games. In this sense, the students resemble many people we talk daily: family, friends, and more who comprehend the traditional sports ecosystem but not esports.
That’s why we begin with how traditional sports and esports are similar. We also distinguish what esports is versus what being a gamer can be. From the increasing audience growth to the different parallels in which esports is entering the mainstream (apparel, health and wellness, etc.), our emphasis is that esports is more than just gaming. It is a culture thriving with value and opportunities for players, brands, and fans.
- The global audience for esports is currently 451 million fans and expected to reach 495 million fans by next year (Whitman Syracuse University).
- The top three esports revenue streams in 2019 are sponsorships (at $456.7 million, or 42% of total revenue), media rights (at $251.3 million, or 23% of total revenue), and advertising (at $189.2 million, or 17% of total revenue) (Newzoo via Gamer Network).
- Esports has the greatest potential to grow revenue globally, ahead of traditional sports like soccer and basketball (PwC).
From analyzing audience demographics to examining how brands profit through the creative ways they enter the esports space, the entrepreneurial students had questions relating to the popular game titles and the event atmosphere surrounding esports. One question that stood out for us was how to retain esports fans with the latest video game. For instance, what is the longevity of being a fan for a video game title like Overwatch? Is it for a few years? Is it as long as the success of your favorite professional esports organization? Is it dependent on your favorite professional esports athlete?
The answer to all of these questions is both “yes” and “no.” Again, a fan’s experience with esports is similar to fandom for traditional sports. Fandom is tied to multiple aspects, including loyalty, pride, and feeling involved as “your team” pursues the goal of victory.
Retaining esports fans means creating more immersive esports experiences, both in live esports events and virtual settings. Connecting the game to both the digital and real world, such as through merchandising and gamifying the live esports event, furthers the interaction between fans, brands, and the game. The point is to make the fans feel that they are a part of the experience. That way, fans will want to return to the next esports event, knowing that they can emotionally feel the thrill of “winning” in their video game.
Esports is still a young industry, and there are many undiscovered opportunities for future esports entrepreneurs. The possibilities are limitless, including developments to esport athlete nutrition and wellness to improving engagement for fan/brand activations. Here are a few questions of opportunity to consider:
- How do you turn a casual esports fan into a dedicated esports contributor, whether that may be in consuming content to creating and/or distributing the content?
- In what ways can people turn non-digital games (such as a game of tag or a game of life-size Jenga) to make them entertaining on an esports stage?
As the students spearhead future esports startup ideas for the class, we hope it became clear that they can find a career based on their childhood memories of playing video games; their interest in sports, marketing, journalism, media; and/or all of the above. Esports is a relationship industry where companies help one another to achieve the ultimate fan engagement and experience. That is partially why it is moving so fast. It is now up to this generation of students to decide how to approach esports, create their own brand out of it, and shake hands with another person and/or brand to work toward the global achievement of gaming together.
Thank you, Professor Simon Mak, for an engaging time with your students. We look forward to connecting with many more students and professors to help them understand the potential of esports and how they can positively contribute to this world.