Many old-school sports fans still might not take esports seriously. But the increased involvement of professional sports organizations such as the NBA, increased esports coverage on mainstream media, and increased regulation of leagues shows that esports is entering a new era of professionalism and mainstream recognition. After all, esports has been accepted as a sport for the 2022 Asian Games, and the Hong Kong government recognized its economic development potential in its 2017 budget announcement. One of the ways that the industry is pushing economic development is by creating a number of employment opportunities.
According to research from CareerBuilder, jobs in ‘traditional’ sports have a multiplier effect, with every job within sports teams and clubs themselves leading to four times as many job outside of the industry in areas such as construction, health care, sales, food preparation and maintenance in stadiums, and stores. However, while we are unlikely to see many “blue collar” jobs in esports stadiums just yet, we are seeing a new breed of “white collar” jobs offering support to players.
While esports players might not face many of the injuries connected with more physical sports like ice hockey or football, they do face different types of strains. Hand, wrist, and back injuries are common, especially when players aren’t careful with their hand positioning and posture. However, the most debilitating injuries are often mental rather than physical.
Teams are competing for huge amounts of money, in real time in front of hundreds of thousands of engaged fans. Last year’s Dota 2 competition, the International 6, ended up reaching more than $20 million in total, which puts a lot of pressure on individual players. And it’s not just during competition time when players are at risk of stress, or overdoing it. Most professional players are plugged in training (or streaming) for at least 8-14 hours per day, if not more, which puts them at risk of burnout.
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban told Fusion that he wouldn’t invest in any esports teams for exactly that reason, stating “I’m worried about how quickly players burn out. It’s a grind to keep up and to become great. Particularly at [League of Legends]. I know teams are trying to do more, but the number of hours involved is a real concern for me.”
As such, many teams are employing therapists in their team houses and bootcamps to help players deal with stress and long hours at their computer screens, with techniques such as meditation and through encouraging healthy lifestyles like exercise and other sports.
Team owners are keen to break the trend of professional players’ careers ending so quickly. Unlike in other sports, in games like League of Legends, players that go pro in their late teens have mostly retired by the time they hit their mid-20s. This makes it expensive to invest in training people who will only be valuable for such a short time.
Due to the fact that competitions take place on a digital playing field, esports offer a data goldmine, which is appealing not only to marketers and fans, but also sports professionals looking to find patterns which could improve techniques and gameplay.
Due to the high volume of readily available data from esports, many teams and training camps are bringing on experts who can apply analytics and machine learning to make sense of data and find patterns. A recent study published by Swedish Lund University suggested machine learning and advanced data analytics can be used to track players and team behavior to identify patterns, which can offer teams a competitive advantage.
For example, esports data startup Mobalytics has created a service which uses data to categorize players based on a Gamer Performance Index (GPI), a set of statistics which break down individual players’ strengths and weaknesses based on millions of data points from their career. Players’ behavior is broken down in different categories or skill sets, such as fighting, farming, vision, aggression, toughness, team play, consistency, and versatility. The tool has reportedly been used by respected League clubs such as Team Liquid.
Mobalytics founder Amine “Uth” Issa runs proprietary datasets and statistics from Riot’s databases through an algorithm which can accurately measure player performance in particular skills, with extreme detail and accuracy. This allows teams to choose the best players for specific competitions, and also the ability to ‘substitute’ players for high pressure moments of gameplay.
In the same way as statistics for NFL and NBA are now being sold as a service to offer a foot up to fantasy league fans, we are sure to see esports data become big business in the near future, too.
Lawyers and agents
Up until recently, the esports industry had been described as the Wild West for players. There were few governing bodies, rules, or support agencies and as such, players were at risk of being taken advantage of by event organizers, team owners and sponsors.
As leagues have been franchised, and more professional sports teams have entered the melee, it has in turn pushed for a more organized, regulated landscape. The World Esports Association (WESA) founded in May 2016 claims to be the first esports organization to feature a player council, who are charged with protecting player interests, and challenging league policies, rules and team-to-team transfers.
To meet demand, professional esports lawyers and agents are emerging. They specialize in formulating the best contracts for their players, and making sure they get a fair chunk of their winnings and sponsorship deals. In an interview, Ryan Morrison, a NYC based esports lawyer, argues that until recently, esports players did not act in a professional manner when approaching contract deals, and would often sign anything offered to them. As such, teams were able to sidestep contract clauses to fire players in their performance slipped, or not pay them the wages they were due by imposing “fines.”
However, with modern players making as much as $200,000 to $2 million in salary and bonuses for those who play in the world’s largest competitions, it is no surprise that specialized — and no doubt expensive — lawyers and agents are offering up their services.
With esport revenues estimated to have reached $696 million in 2017, and predicted to top $1.5 billion by 2020 as brand investment increases and the sport reaches further into the mainstream media, the industry as a whole is growing extensively, and as such the amount of employment within the industry is growing too.
As the industry becomes more professional, it is a logical next step that more and more professionals will start working within the industry. And it might not be long before we start seeing esports coaches, agents, trainers, and therapists becoming just as famous as the players who they manage as seen in other sports like soccer, tennis and American football. It might not be too long before esports Jerry Maguire becomes a reality!