Some call them sports, but some insist they are nothing more than video games. Regardless of what you call it, esports are the next big thing.
One hundred ninety-one million regular global viewers over dozens of games and platforms. Double the size of Major League Baseball. E-sports are the fastest growing sports trend across the globe, and Dallas just got a team of its own.
After reading about the trend in sports business magazines, Ken Hersh ’81, a minority owner in the Texas Rangers baseball organization, determined it was the perfect time to get involved in the professional video game industry.
“The entire ecosystem of what we think of as major league sports was being replicated in the electronic sports field,” Hersh said. “There were players, there were owners, there were teams, there were agents, there were brokers, there were arenas, there were sponsors—the whole nine yards was happening in the electronic media space.”
Hersh had claimed a small stake in a European gaming team, but his aim was to control a team of his own—to find a good group of people who knew what they wanted to do.
“From an investment standpoint,” Hersh said, “I look for things that are growing, things that may be undiscovered in certain capacities, and I try to find a great management team and a great platform.”
At that point, Hersh stumbled across an e-sports organization known as Team Envy run by a Texan named Mike Rufail.
Rufail was a Division I soccer player who started taking an interest in gaming on the side. He became very interested in the e-sports business. One thing led to another, and Rufail became the CEO of his own e-sports organization. When Hersh got involved, the team took off.
“They were looking for capital and I was looking for a team,” Hersh said, “so we met them and struck a deal.”
Similar to the Dallas Cowboys, Team Envy now has the exclusive rights to the Dallas–Fort Worth area. Additionally, they have teams across a variety of games including Call of Duty, Overwatch, Rocket League and others.
In January, Team Envy’s Overwatch players will participate in a professional league under the name Dallas Fuel. There will be regular season games, playoffs and ultimately a championship, where millions of dollars are on the line. In 2018, the league will take place in Los Angeles, but the following year, the Dallas Fuel will have its own venue for home games.
Christian Cortes ’15 has been interested in e-sports since 2011.
“Honestly, I randomly met someone online when playing Call of Duty,” Cortes said. “I was playing a ton of Call of Duty at the time, and then I was actually fighting a ‘Zombies’ match, and one of the guys that I was playing with was going to leave and go play competitive. So I was like, ‘Wait, what’s competitive?’ That opened up my eyes to all of it. So I started playing a lot more of these competitive matches and finding the proper websites to go to actually play them, and that’s how I discovered e-sports.”
From there, Cortes has managed and coached various Call of Duty teams, including one called Rogue Nation. Now, he is switching his focus to Hersh’s Team Envy.
“I’m working with Ken Hersh’s company to run events in Dallas, run events for that team and basically be a representative of Dallas Fuel,” Cortes said.
Cortes’s new role will be just as involved as his old job of writing up plays, writing up callouts and trying to neutralize situations where players get into fights. Both he and Hersh see a massive future for e-sports.
“I think [today’s high schoolers are] going to determine what it is,” Hersh said. “You all are cutting the cord on how you consume. You’re more comfortable opening up your laptop and deciding what to watch instead of turning on the TV and deciding what to play. And I think when people watch e-sports, they watch what they play.”
They share the opinion that professional e-sports is just like any other major league sport, and it may be even more engaging.
“You may go to a baseball game with your dad, but you don’t play the game,” Hersh said. “You watch it and you like the competition, but it’s just entertainment. People who are watching Call of Duty can appreciate it because they may play Call of Duty and they are going ‘Wow, this is incredible. I’m learning. Next time I play, I’m gonna play that way.’”
Additionally, the future of e-sports in college is wide open. Schools like Arizona State University, the University of California–Irvine, Miami University and many other universities have already created varsity teams complete with scholarships for e-sports players.
“It will end up looking a lot like traditional sports, no different from a golf team or a ski team, and it doesn’t take that many players,” Hersh said. “The question is whether it’s the chess team or the ski team. There is no question that there are going to be tournaments.”
Cortes sees the same idea.
“I think every single game in itself could be a trend, but I think the overall development of e-sports, getting into colleges and all that, is going to make it more permanent. I also think that, in the future, we’ll see a competitive college division and an a competitive high school division at the point where it’s just, from 4-6 [p.m.], your team practices, and then you go home.”
E-sports’ numbers speak for themselves. The future is very bright for competitive gaming. With big companies getting involved as they are—exemplified by Amazon’s creation of a streaming service called Twitch, allowing anyone with a phone or computer to tune into the world’s biggest matches—e-sports are just as accessible for viewing as a football game or any show on Netflix.
“I think people who grew up playing these games will want to watch it as long as it stays challenging and fresh,” Hersh said. “It takes incredible concentration, coordination and reflex to play. That is every bit of skill as driving a car 200 mph and staying 12 inches from another car or hitting a golf ball to 12 inches from the cup.”