Video gamers and national eSports industry leaders gathered in Tampa Wednesday to talk about gaming as a culture and as a business, across the country and in the Tampa Bay area.
The first University of South Florida eSports Summit was hosted by the Vinik Sports & Entertainment Management program at the Muma College of Business.
Jordan Bellar is a graduate of the Vinik program who was asked to come back to USF for the summit. He now helps manage competitive video game teams for a company in Philadelphia.
“It’s opening up a lot of doors, especially for the students here, to get involved and have a career in this business,” said Bellar, who works for Global Partnerships for eSports at Harris-Blitzer Sports & Entertainment. “There are so many opportunities and having events like this showcases that.”
Faculty in the Vinik program are highlighting eSports as a major emerging part of sports management. Janelle Wells, co-writer of “The Business of eSports: The Wild, Wild West on Fire,” said the best way to bring growth to the industry is by working with community partners.
“As professors here, we see a lot of partners in the community, and everyone's trying to work in silos,” she said. “So we wanted to use the synergies of Tampa, we want to increase and put ourselves on the map nationally.”
In the summit's welcome speech, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor emphasized the importance of supporting the rise of small business in the eSports industry.
This is especially beneficial to new companies, like eSports organization Big Electric Tarantula (BET), which is working to bring attention to smaller, less-established teams on the east coast of the United States.
“You look at all the major teams, and they're going to be west coast. And, you know, there's more than just that area for competitive gaming,” said Thomas Dunne, the group's chief operating officer. “It's extremely frustrating for people like me, who grew up playing video games and competing and making money from it, that there is absolutely nothing for us to do over here.”
The USF Video Game Club hosted a booth at the event to showcase the importance of everyday competitive gamers. Club President Idrissa Presley said having an official gaming organization on campus affects the presence of eSports in the community as well.
The club has a membership to Tespa, the national collegiate gaming organization, and hosts Game Con every year, a tournament open to the public, he said.
“(The summit) is a sign that our university is taking eSports seriously,” Presley said. “It’s also a way for us to connect with individuals we might not normally have reach to.”
Students are also trying to make connections to eSports insiders like Heather Garozzo, Vice President of Marketing for Dignitas, a global gaming organization.
She's also the current women's world champion of the game Counter-Strike.
As a leader in a world dominated by men, Garozzo said she is looking forward to the continued growth of diversity in the industry.
“I look in the room here, and I see a lot of women and that's incredible,” said Garozzo. “That would have never happened years ago. I was always the only woman in the room.”
William Le Voir-Barry, chief technology officer of eSports & Video Games at IBM, says education and strengthening the community is the future of the industry.
“eSports, by nature, is community driven,” Le-Voir Barry said. “So I want to see more and more people get involved, provide ideas, I want more and more women in P-tech and studies in high tech.”