Esports is in a state of reflection. Consolidation, restructuring, right-sizing: all of this is happening at the same time the industry tries to become more professional.
Despite its challenges, working in esports is an attractive opportunity to a generation that has been brought up playing competitive titles and consuming gaming content on YouTube and Twitch. For those that work in esports, the million-dollar question — “How do I work in the esports industry?” — is regularly asked, with differing responses depending on the person’s field.
But what are some of the current challenges when it comes to careers in esports? Moreover, is providing greater educational opportunities the solution?
One company that is looking to change the perception of esports education is sports educational institution ITTI Sports. Unlike most courses, ITTI’s Esports Management programme aims to work with professionals currently working in the space to teach its students. The institution’s website boasts stakeholders from the likes of Microsoft, GRID Esports, Razer, Twitch and YouPlanet, with Jon Manzanos — Head of Gaming at leading Spanish influencer marketing agency YouPlanet — being the Director of the programme.
Given the monumental task of creating the next crop of esports industry professionals, educational institutions have their work cut out for them. Some esports degrees have been met with pessimism, largely due to the perceived simplicity of the lessons taught; some worry that many courses do not offer sufficient value to warrant the cost of enrolling on a degree course. Nevertheless, as universities are set to graduate their first cohorts of esports students, they will hope to highlight their courses’ success rate.
According to Manzanos, there is an imbalance that is plaguing the sector. Most esports fans aren’t technically trained enough, and industry professionals don’t have the esports knowledge. “If you don’t have a specific knowledge of the industry, how audiences work and how content thrives, then you’re not able to make it long-term,” he said.
The professionalisation of the industry might be crucial to its long-term success. However, it’s just as important that those entering esports have the passion for the product.
“You can have the best commercial director that can bring you a lot of money, a lot of investment from traditional sponsorships,” Manzanos said. “But then if you’re not aware of how the esports industry works, how the audiences work, how a sustainable esports product is built, then you will not be able to give them back a return of investment in the long term.”
Despite this imbalance, the industry has developed into a more hyper-professionalised environment, akin to the entertainment industry, as opposed to its previous grassroots nature. This is due to a myriad of factors such as non-endemic stakeholders investing in the industry to latch onto key demographics; esports ecosystems becoming increasingly structured following franchising and partner programmes; and its accelerated prominence due to the pandemic.
But, this is all while esports is still being built from the ground up. As such, educational opportunities, like degree courses, are in their infancy and often experience growing pains.
ITTI’s hybrid course — which lasts from January to July — includes two classes a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The decision to fully commit to esports education by creating a six-month programme was so participants have enough of an opportunity to learn. “You see your strengths, see your weaknesses, and then even have the opportunity to ask questions or ask for help to improve those weaknesses,” Manzanos said. “That’s what we wanted to do here.”
Whilst the majority of the programme will take place online, and the last week will see students head to FC Barcelona’s Barça Innovation Hub. Founded in 2017, the Barça Innovation Hub is the football club’s sports research, knowledge and innovation division, making it an ideal place for esports business education.
FC Barcelona itself has a notable presence in the local esports scene, with the club running a Spanish League of Legends team. In fact, ITTI Sports is the first and only partner of the FC Barcelona Innovation Hub.
Manzanos highlighted the Esports Management programme’s use of industry professionals as a major selling point. “We wanted to do something where you learn from the ones who make it. How is somebody that never made an esports company going to teach you about how to make an esports company?”
A major hurdle for esports education from a logistical standpoint is that the sector is still so young. This means that many of the most successful names in the industry, particularly from a business perspective, are still active in the scene and are not in a position to teach. ITTI is looking to navigate the issue by working with an array of active stakeholders.
In total, ITTI’s Esports Management inaugural cohort has 28 students, all of whom are preparing to head to the FC Barcelona Innovation Hub in July. Dubbed ITTI’s ‘onsite week’, the students will have classes at FC Barcelona or YouPlanet’s facilities. The company has also disclosed that Team Queso Founder Álvaro ‘Álvaro 845’ González and Jacobo Fernández Linares from King’s League will be participating in the week.
During the onsite week, students will gain an opportunity to present their final projects in front of the local government, potential investors and esports experts. The hope is that this will not only act as a final exercise for the cohort, but it allows them to showcase their development and ideas to industry professionals.
Following the inaugural project, ITTI will commence its second year in January 2024, taking the lessons and feedback garnered throughout in order to further optimise the course.
As the esports sector continues to professionalise, as will the people within it — whether that’s from a playing, coaching, or wider business standpoint. As such, it’s imperative that rising industry professionals are provided with the correct resources that suit the individual. Moreover, it’s equally as important that institutions or course-makers adapt to offer legitimate experiences developed with the guidance of experts in their field.
If you’d like to learn more about ITTI’s Esports Management programme, including when registration for its next cohort is, check out its website here.
Supported by ITTI Sports