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Out Of Bounds: Competitive Video Gaming And Scholarships



There's a big college sports tournament underway.


UNIDENTIFIED COMMENTATOR #1: Team Liquid (unintelligible).

UNIDENTIFIED COMMENTATOR #2: And it's a triple kill (unintelligible) coming through (unintelligible).

UNIDENTIFIED COMMENTATOR #3: Yes, he does. (Unintelligible) will jump in (unintelligible).

UNIDENTIFIED COMMENTATOR #4: Team Liquid is doubling (unintelligible) triple kill.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Nope, we're not talking about March Madness. That's the sound of the League of Legends College Championship where college players battle each other for domination in one of the country's fastest growing sports. In today's edition of Out of Bounds, we're going to talk about the business of esports. And we're joined by John Ourand. He writes for SportsBusiness Journal, and he joins us in our studio.

Hey, John.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: For those of you who love esports, bear with us. But there is a segment, I'm sure, among our listeners who don't know what esports is. So tell us, what is it?

OURAND: It's basically people that play video games competitively. It's more than just your son or daughter sitting in their basement playing video games. Last year, Madison Square Garden sold out two nights in a row. Tickets cost about $50 in order to watch a video gaming competition.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So let's talk about esports, the business of esports. It's been described as the next big thing. How big is the sport right now? How big do you think it could get?

OURAND: The sport right now is not very big, but the potential is huge. And one of the reasons there's such a big potential is that the typical esports viewer and esports player are young males. Those are people that don't watch television. They've never watched television. We talk about cord-cutters in the business. These are cord-nevers.

And so advertisers are desperate to try to reach them because they can't reach them anywhere else. So you have companies like Turner Sports, the Big Agency, WME-IMG - they see that advertisers want to reach this group, so they're all trying to get into that group to sort of prove that advertisers should go with them in order to build up the business.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Where is the money coming from, though? And sort of where is it going? Where are they investing the money in?

OURAND: In several different places. You have certain NBA team owners that have invested in actual teams. I mentioned Turner Sports and WME-IMG. They actually created a league called ELEAGUE with different teams, and they have a regular season and a playoff tournament. Sponsors are sort of getting attached to all of this, and that's where all the money is coming in from, sort of all areas.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Tell me a little bit about Riot Games. They're funding a lot of esports events.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: What is their role in this?

OURAND: They are creating a lot of the games. They've been out in front and doing a ton of deals. They did a deal with the Big Ten Network where they sponsor an esports tournament among Big Ten schools, and the winner of that tournament sort of gets a scholarship to one of the Big Ten schools. They're very heavily involved in sort of not only developing the games but also developing the business in total.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, you're talking about scholarships, and that's interesting. We've seen now at least one major university and many more smaller colleges offering esports scholarships, which is this new development where schools are now getting in on this. And they're recruiting top gamers and - or esports athletes, as they're known. What's in it for a university? Why are they getting in on this, too?

OURAND: What's funny is it's a really big recruitment tool for them. Typical esports gamers, they over-index with engineers and with math majors. And so they're trying to, you know, bring in sort of the best of the best in those disciplines into the school, and this is a way to do it.


OURAND: At least that's what the gamers tell their mothers.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: (Laughter) And how much money can players and teams earn in a competition?

OURAND: There's real money out there. Some of these gamers can make upwards of a million dollars a year. If you're a top-flight gamer, you're doing very well.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That is also something to write to your mom about. All right, John Ourand writes for the SportsBusiness Journal. Thanks so much for being with us.

OURAND: Thank you, Lulu.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRIBECA'S "GET LARGE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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