SBJ/Nov. 20-26, 2017/Opinion

From esports Rising to Jeff Ma’s call to action

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We held our inaugural esports Rising conference earlier this month, which extends our coverage into this growing area. Two years ago, our CEO pushed me to cover this space and we assigned it to staff writer Ben Fischer, who has done a great job breaking news and making sense of the complicated segment. Last month, we announced our investment in The Esports Observer, a first mover out of Germany, and the conference further demonstrates our commitment to covering the people and issues around esports. The energy in the room for the one-day event was palpable and significant; but the day’s panels raised some complicated issues that traditional sports business executives will have to address as they court esports. My takeaways: First, even though deals have developed rapidly in 2017, investors still see it as an easy time to plant a flag for reasonable cost and little downside. Second, it has not been as easy for traditional sports properties to build the synergies or understanding between their organization and their new esports brethren as they had hoped. Third, interest from the non-endemic brand side is real but they still want more successful case studies to review and organizational structure in place. But here’s what really stood out to me: A panel of gamers and event organizers on college campuses, ranging in age from 19 to 33, offered up a few clear, concerning messages. First, they expressed real anxiety over the bullying that exists among the largely male demo toward females (in fact, it was hard to find a woman to sit on the panel). That aggressive culture and lack of acceptance to female players or fans is a real risk to future growth of the business. Why would any brand be excited about spending money in a space that doesn’t foster tolerance? Also, these young fans were adamant: esports can’t become corporatized or just like the traditional sport business. But it shouldn’t be lost that they said that while speaking to an audience largely made up of executives across U.S. pro sports looking to bring modern-day sports business principles to esports. So, something will have to give there. On a side note, my personal takeaway is that I need to get to a live event — the consensus was the live event changes one’s perception of the viability of esports. Let me know if you have one on your calendar that’s worth experiencing.

For more coverage of the business of esports, visit our partners, esportsobserver.com.

‘YOU’RE AN IDIOT’: I’ve listened to a number of great speakers recently, but one that really stood out was Jeff Ma, Twitter vice president of analytics and data science. Long known as a pioneer on data and analytics, Ma was a great one-on-one subject at our Sports Media & Technology Conference. Frank, smart, insightful, funny and self-effacing. His chilling quote to me came when he called out organizations that choose to ignore data and analytics in their business. “You’re going to lose, and you’re an idiot.” If that doesn’t drive one to act, what will?

Have a fantastic Thanksgiving; hope to see you at our inaugural Dealmakers conference on Nov. 29 or Intercollegiate Athletics Forum on Dec. 6-7; both have very strong agendas with thought leaders you’ll want to hear from. Please say hi if you’re able to join us.

Abraham D. Madkour can be reached at amadkour@sportsbusinessjournal.com

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