In Game Leaders Esports Summit Insights

The In Game Leaders (IGL) Winter Summit took place January 3, 2020 at the esports Stadium Arlington. IGL originated as a capstone project for summer interns at esports Stadium Arlington. The primary purpose of the Summit was to “[provide] the opportunity to learn from industry professionals and collegiate leaders as they speak about the various career paths in esports. IGL strives to teach parents and students how to develop a sustainable career in the rapidly-growing esports field.”

This second event (the first Summit was held on August 19, 2019) consisted of several panels that addressed collegiate esports, professional esports, as well as marketing and event management. The event drew approximately 150 people. We recap a few key panels below.

Collegiate Esports Panel

Alex Rocha (UT Arlington), Eric Aaberg (UT Dallas), Austin Espinoza (UT), Dylan Wray (UNT)

Traditional sports and esports at the collegiate level share some similarities. For example, not only do the teams practice and compete, but they workout and train in order to play to their potential. The players are one piece of the team, as there are also managers, coaches, and streamers that add value to the organization. Several universities across the country offer partial and full scholarships. As of December 2019, there were over 125 schools around the United States with esports programs.

Collegiate esports programs generally fall into two categories: club or varsity. Varsity esports programs enjoy the administrative and financial support of their educational institution while club esports organizations are student-run and have limited financial backing from their educational institution. The primary goal of most collegiate esports clubs is to become a varsity sport at their school.

A distinction between esports and traditional sports stems from the recruiting platform. In collegiate esports, recruiting currently consists of attracting students who are already on campus as opposed to recruiting from high schools. Although the recruiting landscape is less structured than in traditional sports, esports teams have had success in gaining interest from active students.

The main games played in collegiate esports include: Overwatch, League of Legends, Rocket League, Hearthstone, Super Smash Brothers, and Call of Duty. The teams encourage the gaming community on campus to join the organization, whether it be as an analyst, coach, or player. The teams emphasize that there is a position for everyone and that a student does not have to be the best at every game to bring value and compete.

Professional Esports Organizations

Kyle Bautista (COO, Complexity), Hector Rodriguez (CEO, NRG/Huntsmen), Mike Rufail (Founder/CEO, Envy)

The esports industry is turning heads and opening eyes as it becomes compared to the traditional sports leagues. The panelists, often recognized as leaders in the industry, emphasized their passion for the rapidly growing esports space. They highlighted that because esports is relatively new, and because games have shorter shelf lives, it is harder to gain significant experience.

esports is categorized as a sector in the media and entertainment industry because it is able to capitalize on the vast audience that is watching or streaming. The panelists each recalled their favorite esports events,  and all described those events as having the same euphoric feel as a traditional sports game. The crowd erupts for clutch play in a Call of Duty World Championship the same as a huge play in a Super Bowl. Each panelists has been a part of the evolution of the space and all see it heading in the right direction with time.

The franchise model that has developed in traditional sports has made its way to the esports platform. The industry is attempting to follow the blueprint of the major professional sports leagues. The industry leaders agreed that the structure is beneficial, but also emphasized that time, competition, and the willingness to learn and collaborate will take esports to the next level.

Keynote Speakers

Simon Bennett and Markel Lee (AOE Creative)

As the esports industry experiences rapid growth, it is important for teams and companies to consider their brand identity. Bennett and Lee illustrated the struggles that companies within the industry often face when attempting to establish a brand or marketing initiative. Rather than simply making a brand logo that looks “cool,” Bennett and Lee challenge players in the industry to create a brand that captures the message they are attempting to create.

Simply put, “Do not build a brand, build a legacy.” – Markel Lee

Bennett and Lee were excited about the power of community marketing. Community marketing enables a vast audience to connect and establish a relationship with the message or objective that is being conveyed. The example given was the Marshmello Fortnite concert – the most attended concert in history. The concert was able to be seen by the virtual community that was playing Fortnite at the time of the event. This brilliant marketing scheme was able to capture over 10 million players at once.

Marketing and Event Management

Kyle Stephenson (Gearbox), John Davidson (PRG), Justin Varghese (Dreamhack)

Stephenson, Davidson, and Varghese explained the challenges and satisfactions of creating events in the esports space. With sponsorships providing the biggest source of revenue in the industry, events are extremely important to execute well. Creating a debut event or launching a new destination is a complicated process that takes exceptional diligence both before and after it occurs. In order to measure the success of the event, it is important to first set expectations. The three panelists agreed that expectations must be accurate going into an event.

Attracting a digitally native audience can be difficult, but it requires creating a “fear of missing out” (FOMO) in order to capture as many people as possible. For those unable to attend the first event, attracting them to the second event is also important.

A specific industry challenge is that most esports do not have a defined end. With no set run-time for most games, event managers must be prepared for every scenario. There can also be challenges that arise at an event such as power outages, which causes a delay in the audience’s experience. Putting the challenges aside, the key to executing a successful event is creating a fair and pure playing environment and enjoyable fan experience by providing an exceptional experience to as many people as possible.


The second IGL Summit built upon the success of the first. There was increased attendance and intriguing panel discussions. The overarching theme communicated by the panelists was that as an industry, esports is still developing. Due to the relative immaturity of the industry, best practices are not concrete and player movement mechanisms are nebulous. However, there was a general sense of optimism for the industry. esports has made great strides over the past few years but still has plenty of room to grow. According to an article by Syracuse University, the number of projected esports viewers in the U.S. will reach 84 million in 2021, second only to the NFL. There has been an increase in transactions within the industry as well with one esports organization acquiring another for approximately $100 million.