- Danny White – UCF Athletic Director
- Richard Lapchick – Director, DeVos Sports Business Management Program
- Ben Noel – Executive Director, Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy
- Tony Schiller – Executive Vice President and Partner, Paragon Marketing Group
- Abiel Payano – President, UCF Gaming Knights
Paul Jarley: You remember that, right? Well, video games have come a long way since then. It’s no longer just guys playing in their moms’ basements. Now teams play in their own arenas. They’re ranked in coach’s polls, have television contracts and even their own sneakers. 380 million people say they are fans. The China championship sold 80,000 tickets in one minute. Your son or daughter likely has a favorite team. Danny White and Dale Whittaker would do well to help the UCF Gaming Knights be part of this global phenomenon. The college experience is changing my friends, welcome to e-sports.
This show is all about separating hype from fundamental change. I’m Paul Jarley, dean of the College of Business here at UCF. I’ve got lots of questions. To get answers, I’m talking to people with interesting insights into to the future of business. Have you ever wondered, is this really a thing? Onto our show…
Danny White: We feel strongly that we have every right to claim the national championship and that’s why we’re doing it.
Shaquem Griffin: You know, the only things we can do is win games and we won all of them. If you want to put one more in front of us, we’ll probably win that one too.
Jarley: Yes, we’re the self-proclaimed national champions of college football. And unless you’ve in a closet for the last six months, you know Shaquem Griffin’s story. It was a great year to be a UCF Knight. But I sometimes wonder if college football isn’t really the last war. Maybe the next war is e-sports.
E-sports? Listen in. No that’s not a crowd reacting to a Justin Upton homer. It’s Justin Wong making an epic comeback in a game of Street Fighter in 2004. Ask any 16-year-old boy about e-sports, and whether UCF should field a team, and you get an answer like this.
Spencer: It’s a great idea, honestly, I’d watch it.
Jarley: Trust me that’s Spencer being excited. He’s a man of few words and in fairness to him, I was interrupting his game of Fortnite, so I kept my interrogation short.
Jarley Interviewing: And how much would you pay to go to an event?
Spencer: However much it would take I guess, how much they would charge.
Jarley: I needed to get up to speed on this whole e-sports thing. So I went to visit Ben Noel. Ben is a former EA Sports executive and currently heads up UCF’s Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy. That’s our nationally renowned video gaming program in Downtown Orlando.
Jarley Interviewing: So Ben, I know you’ve been in the gaming industry for quite a while. What is e-sports?
Noel: Well e-sports is short for electronic sports and it was basically, you’re playing competitive gaming.
Jarley: Calling video games sports? Now I know what you’re thinking, “that’s kind of a stretch.” But Ben says that the level of skill and teamwork actually makes the two kind of similar.
Noel: It’s usually team based and it’s online and it’s usually played globally. And it never really became big until we had the internet that could allow for such things.
Jarley: Big is an understatement
Schiller: Globally there’s over 380 million that self-identify as e-sport fans.
Jarley: Listen to Tony Schiller, Executive Vice President and Partner at Paragon Marketing Group
Schiller: We help big brands like Gatorade, PNC Bank, and Yokohama Tires and many, many more. We help big banks engage with their target audience and it’s all about the affinity that the target audience has. It’s mind blowing. You know, there are events at the United Center of Chicago, at Madison Square Garden in New York, the Staples Center in Los Angeles that go on sale, e-sports tournaments and they go on sale, and within half an hour, hour or two hours they are sold out clean. And that’s 20,000 people paying money to watch a few people down at center court basically, playing a video game.
Jarley: 20,000 tickets ain’t nothing. Listen to Rich Lapchick, Director of the DeVos Sports Business Management program here at UCF.
Lapchick: Eighty thousand tickets were sold to the China championship in one minute.
Jarley: And then there’s this nugget from Mike Redlick, Director of External Affairs for the DeVos program
Redlick: The athletic shoe companies are now coming out with actual gaming shoes for players. They have their own specific type of shoe.
Jarley: Yes they do, K-Swiss is designing a pair of sneakers for an e-sports team called The Immortals. You can expect them to be on shelves and display in December for the bargain price of $110 a pair. I don’t need anymore evidence than this, e-sports is definitely a thing. But that doesn’t mean it’s a college thing.
Should colleges nurture this? Should it become a varsity sport? Should the NCAA get involved? It was time to get a students view. So I searched out the president of the UCF Gaming Knights, Abiel Payano to get his take on this.
Jarley interviewing: Thanks for doing this…we’ll try to make it painless.
Payano: Thank you for having me.
Jarley: Abiel is a student majoring in psychology here at UCF. His Gaming Knights has about 120 dues paying members. Making it one of the largest student organizations on campus.
Jarley interviewing: Suppose someone came up to you and said, “we want to recruit you to the UCF e-sports team that is going to play in the American athletic conference just like the football and basketball team do and we’re offering scholarship money for you.” Would you take that deal? Do you think e-sports is going to go that way?
Payano: I think it very much has the potential. Florida itself is a little behind on that note, for e-sports. But if we were to get that offer, we would definitely try to take that offer, if possible, because scholarships are a goal for collegiate e-sports.
Jarley interviewing: So you can imagine a day when maybe in addition to football team and a basketball team, we have an e-sports team.
Payano: Yeah, very much. If you look at examples like, I believe its Oklahoma State, they have an e-sports arena built for them already.
Jarley: He’s right, we’re behind. More than 70 universities offer scholarships to the varsity e-sports teams. Even campus libraries are giving way to e-sports. Boise State for example has cleared 3,000 square feet of its library and devoted it to its e-sports team.
And then there’s the Big 10.
Audio: Hello and welcome to the second broadcast of the 2017 Big 10 network League of Legends.
Jarley: The Big 10 fielded a competition among all 14 schools that was broadcast on the Big 10 Network and gave out 500 thousand dollars in scholarship money. So why aren’t we trying to get into the League of Legends top 25 coach’s poll right now? Well, e-sports has issues.
Issue one, violent games with fickle fan bases, Tony Schiller
Tony: A lot of these games are shooter games and that should be something that the NCAA and universities contemplate very deeply. Relative to is this something we want to be a part of? Introducing violence within e-sports into our campuses. If you know e-sports a game like Fortnite, which is at mass hysteria levels now, and I don’t mean to denigrate the game but in a year or two Fortnite may not be the game anymore. So, does the NCAA utilize one game? Does the game constantly evolve? And there’s different publishers who are part of the NCAA pool.
Jarley: Abiel on the other hand, thinks that’s all manageable.
Payano: I’ll use the Smash series as an example. Melee has been out since 2001. It’s been 17 years and people are still playing that game and it still has an insane amount of following. There are active tournaments and there are major tournaments every other week practically.
Jarley: Issue 2
Audio: *Rage, yelling and profanity*
Jarley: Yeah, that…Ben Noel.
Noel: When they go online and go on to these environments its like their own fight club. They can smack talk and use inappropriate language that they wouldn’t use in a classroom.
Jarley: Abiel agrees but he knows gamers can be self-regulated.
Payano: We’ve had to deal with our own toxicity in sportsmanship within our events. For example we use to have a bad relationship with the CSGO community, that’s Counter Strike: Global Offensive. We had an issue with them during a tournament where they were yelling at each other from across the room and that doesn’t help an open casual event flow properly. It doesn’t feel great. It wasn’t fun to be there. So we had to talk to them and then we didn’t host tournaments for them for a bit as a form of punishment or just negligence. But now we’ve reconnected and they’re one of our e-sports team.
Jarley: Issue 3: It’s a bunch of white guys playing in their mom’s basement. Rich Lapchick.
Lapchick: The concept of e-sports is a team sport, if you don’t play together as a team you’re not going to win. So depending on who’s on the team, if it’s five white guys, the power of the huddle is going to be limited to that. It’s going to draw them together and make them closer, but when I talk about the power of the huddle, my concern is about what people look like, where they are from, what they believe, and coming together in that huddle. And at this stage, although there are a fair number of people of color playing e-sports I’m told that that’s not really an issue, especially globally.
Jarley: But Abiel says that things are changing.
Payano: Most of our teams, if it’s a team of six, they’ll have one or two females participating on that team, just because they’re the best.
Jarley: Issue 4 PEDs. The suppliers don’t just juice the participants, they sponsor the events. Rich Lapchick.
Lapchick: Adderall is very commonly used, anti sleep pills are used, energy drinks are consumed. Monster Energy is actually sponsoring the UCF team.
Jarley: Issue 5, the establishment, meaning they’re not athletes and it’s not a sport. Danny White is UCF’s athletic director.
White: As part of intercollegiate athletics, calling them athletes and e-athletes, I just don’t think that sends the right message to our student athletes who spend so much time and invest so much of themselves physically and mentally and the experience that they get from a leadership standpoint, being a part of a team in a sport… In my mind you can’t replicate that in gaming.
Jarley: Don’t get the wrong idea, Danny thinks there’s a place for e-sports on campus, just not in the athletics department. He likens it more toward our student competitions in professional sales or cyber-security. But nobody is buying tickets to cyber-security or sales competitions, despite the fact that UCF has won national championships in both of these areas too. Nor are these academic competitions being broadcast on something like Twitch TV. Twitch is the e-sports streaming channel, e-sports’ huge fan base and marketing potential has Danny White the Athletic Director interested in e-sports as a way to promote his teams and help drive his bottom line.
White: Everybody has kind of a similar interest that we’re seeing out of pro sports. I know the Magic are actively engaged with e-sports as it relates to building a fan base, as it relates to even filling a venue.
Jarley: I’m not sure that’s going to work. Listen to Abiel.
Payano: For example I used to play basketball and football when I was younger. But I don’t exactly find playing Madden or NBA2K on Xbox or PS4 to be as fun as actually playing it. Playing the team sport like Madden or 2K while sitting down on a controller kind of doesn’t feel right to me.
Jarley: and Tony Schiller notes NBA2K just hasn’t lived up to expectations yet.
Schiller: However the NBA marketing machine hasn’t really been targeted against 2K yet and once the NBA start leveraging all of their marketing resources against 2K, I think you’ll see a lift. But with that said the numbers have been pretty low.
Jarley: Issue 6. Why not just turn pro? There’s a ton of money in it. But as Tony Schiller explains, there’s a potential role for colleges both in player development and marketing the sport.
Schiller: You may want to create a technology environment that supports the student athletes and treats them like student athletes and provide them with the resources. Whether it’s technology, whether it’s sports psychology, whether it’s nutrition, whether it’s fitness. Provide these student athletes with the same level of resource and support that other programs would have. Potentially you might want to create your own tournament and host a tournament.
Noel: I would question that.
Jarley: Ben agrees that colleges could theoretically provide the player development pieces e-sports athletes need. But he thinks it’s going to be an uphill battle.
Noel: If we wanted to get into MMA or boxing, we could do it. Fraternities would have boxing clubs and stuff like that but it’s not going to make a whole lot of money because it’s not playing it at the highest level. And so, you have a professional e-sports league and these people are very good, they’re pros, they’re the best in the world at doing it, those are the ones that people want to watch. Using the brand of a college, you know, to compete against each other, I could see something there, of a college competition, but I don’t see it being near as big.
Jarley: Issue 7, the NCAA. They’re considering getting in, but hardly anyone thinks that’s a good idea. Let’s not beat a dead horse here. Danny White.
White: As a membership, we’re struggling to regulate what we currently have in the NCAA.
Jarley: Rich Lapchick is even more blunt.
Lapchick: I don’t have a lot of faith that the NCAA is in the position to monitor a lot of the things that they monitor. So this so different, so new, I’m not sure if they would be in the position to do it.
Jarley: The lone dissenter is Tony Schiller.
Schiller: The NCAA is an entity that is focused on revenue, and there is a lot of revenue, and it’s growing exponentially in terms of sponsorship, in terms of advertising, in terms of ticket sales so I think that is one of the drivers why the NCAA will want to be there.
Jarley: Whether the NCAA figures it out or not, the DeVos program has plenty of young talent to help manage e-sports. As Mike Redlick notes, it’s already creeping into the curriculum.
Redlick: ESPN two years ago came to us and we have a partnership with them at the DeVos program and ESPN asked us to have a real world experience project for our students where they would determine to what extent ESPN should actually become involved with e-sports. Broadcast e-sports, coverage, etc. The students were thrilled, they felt that ESPN should be devoting a good portion of their coverage to them.
Jarley: And as Rich notes, students are eager to get jobs in the industry.
Lapchick: My personal GA this semester, who is just fantastic, he would like a career in e-sports.
Jarley: Mike agrees, noting lots of students want to get into the industry.
Redlick: I think the percentage is extremely high. I walk into the classroom, and I talk to our students about more traditional sports like baseball or anything that has a demographic that they’re not a part of and the interest isn’t really there. If I talk to them about a job in e-sports, they’re all excited, the buzz goes around the room immediately.
Jarley: Time to get to the bottom line. Is e-sports going to be a thing on college campuses like college football or basketball? From Tony Schiller
Schiller: The answer is simply yes.
Jarley: From Ben Noel.
Noel: I think you’ll have e-sports teams on college’s campuses, but might be fraternity versus fraternity.
Jarley: From Danny White
White: It could be a pretty cool thing, but it’s definitely not sport.
Jarley: From Mike Redlick
Redlick: Every indication is that it’s going to continue.
Jarley: From Rich Lapchick
Lapchick: I don’t think there’s a way to avoid it. It’s growing so quickly, it’s so lucrative. I think college sports is about money in a lot of ways.
Jarley: From Abiel Payano
Payano: Already, yeah, we already have teams that are entered in the relevant leagues for their games.
Jarley: It’s my podcast, so I get to go last…Spirit Splash, the best college campus tradition in the country didn’t start because university administrators decided to engineer an event for a young institution looking for new traditions. It started when kids jumped into the reflection pond, the university eventually got on board, despite the lawyers offering plenty of reasons to be against it. And now it’s hard to imagine UCF without it. Ditto for e-sports, students are jumping in. High schools are getting into e-sports, the university will catch up. People will figure it out because there’s too much money in it. It’s going to be a thing; it’s going to be a big thing. Probably outside the NCAA, but don’t be surprised to see us cheering on the UCF Gaming Knights at a competition someday soon similar to March Madness or the World Cup.
So, what’s your take? Check us out online and share your thoughts at business.ucf.edu/podcast. You can also find extended interviews with our guests and notes from the show. Special thanks to my producer Josh Miranda and the whole team at the Office of Outreach & Engagement here at the UCF College of Business.