This past week I had the pleasure of connecting with Victor Gomez, the Esports advisor here at Seton Hall. Victor has been a dedicated member of Seton Hall’s Esports for eight years now, and we had the opportunity to discuss important topics surrounding the growing industry today.
Q: How long have you been involved with Esports?
A: I have been officially involved with Esports since 2013 with Seton Hall, back then I was in charge of our League of Legends community. Through that position in the Seton Hall Gaming Sector, we grew the scene on campus and in 2015 were honored to be a part of the University League of Legends program with Riot Games. In 2018 the Big East launched its foray into Esports and we have had high level teams competing ever since in two titles: League of Legends and Rocket League.
Q: Video games have been popular around the world since the very beginning, how come we haven’t seen any Esports recognition until just a few years ago?
A: So, I would say this is half-true, Esports have existed in grassroots form since the time of pong, when the first player 1 faced a player 2 in arcades and before then in the hunt to top the leaderboards on machines. Esports as we recognize it today have been heavily shaped by 3 titles: Starcraft, League of Legends, and Defense of the Ancients (DOTA). Notable there are also fighting games that have made their mark and first-person shooters, but those three titles made the blueprint for what an Esports league and tournaments should look like. Starcraft Brood War by Blizzard Entertainment, in particular, shaped the Korean Landscape the sits at the top of many Esports titles now.
If I had to give the clearest answer it would be access and perception. In the US, we have many sports and music shows to provide entertainment and quickly expanded to individual devices, whereas in Korea PC cafes are still huge, and as a result local community are strong and competition can be found in the same way we used to in arcades in the West. Coupled with the stigma that used to come with being a gamer and a “nerd” and ironically the country that birthed the most Esports titles is just now trying to catch up to the rest of the world in structure. Many nations have “funnels” as paths to pro level, akin to how a football player may go from minor league>High School>College>Pro, in Europe a player would play to get to a high ranking then enter any number of tournaments in order to be scouted for academy teams or challenger teams finally getting a shot at challenging the current pros. From 2015 to now we went from less than 5 university Esports programs to over 500, several collegiate leagues and even high school leagues. This massive surge in organizations, the growth of streaming, and admittedly the youth that grew up with these games, is what has set a spotlight on Esports.
Q: How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the Esports industry, for better or for worse?
A: It has impacted it for both, but a net positive. With colleges and many sports leagues unable to operate in a safe matter, it was Esports that filled the void in many cases. With news reporting sites giving sports fans Esports options such as The Financial Times and ESPN: [(https://www.ft.com/content/e7cd1092-aec6-484f-a2f7-114b52c9ff9c) and (https://www.espn.com/esports/story/_/id/28950272/missing-traditional-sports-esports-worth-watch)]
Having to miss out on in person events was a determent and with many teams traveling to host nations for international tournaments became near impossible due to restrictions. Still, given the growth seen across the board the pandemic was more of a boon than a harm to Esports.
Q: When do you see the Esports scene getting consistent recognition from major television companies (ESPN, FOXSports, etc.)?
A: This has already occurred, but not too much gain for these companies yet, Esports pros bring massive leverage to their organizations, foster their own communities, and may even have their own merchandising and sponsorship deals. As a result, copying the average sport template does not transfer well. To better understand, it is important to talk about streaming, a professional player may have (as an example): 8 hours of sleep, 12 hours of practice with their team (this may include studying VODs, working out, solo play, team play, physical therapy),2 hours of streaming (the game they play) and interacting with their community, for 6 days a week, that means for any team of 5 individuals in League of Legends that’s a minimum of 10 hours of content per day, 60-70 hours of content per team, and that is not counting professional league games. Each players fan’s usually consume all of that content and it is not an amount many television companies can cover or convert Twitch/YouTube/Facebook viewers from to tune into an app, when the aforementioned 3 have all the content those fans seek.
Q: Why should Esports receive more awareness from sports media industries?
A: If you were to take a look at the most recent investments from many professional athletes including the likes of Hope Solo and Shaq, you will notice Esports is there. The reasons for this are many but most clearly is that Esports is where the eyes of the youth are. Traditional sports fans are aging and the media behind them is doing its best to attract the youth.
By July of last year, half of all children in America were playing Roblox (https://www.theverge.com/2020/7/21/21333431/roblox-over-half-of-us-kids-playing-virtual-parties-fortnite) with the older Gen Z and Millennials aversion to advertisements that interfere with their experiences streaming platforms have grown, to counter act this even the NFL moved some of its games to Twitch(https://www.twitch.tv/nfl). While Esports followed the traditional sports model mold, it is sports who are now turning to Esports to survive in a post pandemic reality that only accelerated the transfer of viewership.
Q: It seems there is an underwhelming number of women that seem to be interested in Esports, how can the industry look into tapping into that potential market?
A: So on this, there are many levels of intricate parts that led to the current state of imbalance between men and women in Esports, an imbalance which logically should not exist given the games are about player skill. I would also like to clarify here that many women are interested in Esports but may be averse to playing them. I will try to outline the major reasons behind this and low representation of women below.
In the same way that it would be more likely in earlier 2000’s and before for a parent to encourage boys to play with GI Joe and girls to play with Barbie, video games became a very popular attribute with young men due to its competitive nature. Most notably memes from the early 2000’s painted a picture of videogames vs girlfriends (think Call of Duty) that only served to spread this “boys club” culture.
If you have ever been on an online lobby in voice chat in a competitive game, the likelihood of players being less than friendly when they believe a player has caused them a loss is pretty high. Sprinkle in the joys of anonymity that we have on the internet and now a comment that may have been typed on a message board can be spoken directly. It unfortunately does not end there for women, as adding in the societal expectations means many young men and older men likely have a bias that because the player is a woman they do not know how to play.
It is not just women that face struggles, there is most definitely a socio-economic element in all of this, most any Esport with a sizable prize pool is played on a good computer with an excellent internet connection. A mid-range PC can be $700 for just the tower and its contents alone if you build it yourself, in addition to peripherals ($75-$250), a good monitor ($150-$300), 200mb/s internet or higher ($60+), and you can see how quickly that $1000+ investment can be prohibitive, especially when you compare it to an Xbox Series S ($299.99) a game ($60) and the same family TV as the player already has. While this affects more than just women, it is important to note as this also more likely impact women of color and transgender/non-binary BIPOC.
Some have posited that the issue is a matter of focusing the lens, citing many women play and therefore enjoy mobile games more than others that are seen as “traditional Esports”. The problem with this I feel, is that it takes away any agency from the women who do enjoy the same games as men, after all games were meant to be enjoyed by all. The second issue is that the mobile games market is filled with many games wherein the end goal is blocked by in game currencies or what are called pay-to-win tactics wherein one can pay to unlock a character or an item that trivializes some aspect of the game in your favor. This is not to say the next big mobile Esport is not hidden amongst the most popular mobile games right now, but rather that mobile is new for Esports and the interest for these games is not at the level of the games that currently dominate the Esports landscape, yet. That said, for the higher end games on phones, companies have been making Gaming Specific phones, ranging from $700-2,000 which leads us back to the socioeconomic issues defined earlier.
The good news:
I would not want you to believe that there is no shot at any of these changing or improving, as a matter of fact they are improving every day as we speak. With more developers and leagues working on discouraging bad manners in their games, mixed teams being signed by storied organizations in Esports, the number of women of all age groups enjoying games of all types increasing, and more companies doing their part to build enjoyable experiences for all, the future is a hopeful one for diversity in Esports. There is still a lot of work to do, but we are seeing women lead the way in reporting, analytics, content creation and organization management across the United States at least in Esports.
Q: How could you make Seton Hall Esports more accessible to students, whether it be to join or to watch?
So in terms of watching Twitch would be your best bet with our partners or our own:
Our Social Media Channels to keep up to date:
We are also working on a discord community where interested students can interact with students who currently compete for us.