On Tuesday, May 1, Inven Global held the first IGEC-ESPORTS DEEP DIVE for enthusiastic esports fans and related parties at UC Irvine in California. Those who could not attend the event in-person missed out on the action as industry insiders discussed a wide range of topics in panels/discussions throughout the day.
Below, a recap of the keynote address from Kim Phan, Director Esports Operations, with Blizzard Entertainment
During the Keynote, Phan discussed the growth of the industry within the past 15 years since her earliest days being involved in the Warcraft 3 scene as a shoutcaster:
“Esports has blown up in the best possible way. We have gone from borrowing meeting spaces to now booking stadiums. We have gone from watching esports with a small group of friends to now high-definition streaming that anyone can access across the world with an internet connection.”
She continued the retrospective, explaining about how the public perception of esports has changed, with outside media no longer portraying esports as a niche curiosity:
“This attention, for the first time, is now leaning more towards curiosity and respect rather than the confused and mocking tone that has been previously used to talk about our world.”
Respect isn't the only thing that has increased since Phan first started her esports journey. Professional esports players at the highest level are no longer struggling to make ends meet as prize pools globally have increased from $3.25 million in 2010 to $75 million in 2015. As Phan explains, the most popular esports players have "social media followers that rival individuals within traditional sports."
As was with all speakers at IGEC, Phan was given the opportunity to address real problems and issues facing the esports industry. IGEC wasn't about "introducing" attendees to esports but elevating the discussion among those who work in the field every day. "Large gaps in professionalism" from organization to organization were among Phan's chief talking points.
Phan's biggest concerns revolve around the players, their wellbeing, and the potential for misconduct to give esports a poor reputation it doesn't deserve. In addition, Phan addresses one of the most unfortunate symptoms of esports growth -- shady organizations entering the space to make a "quick profit" while treating players poorly:
“We are seeing players who have dedicated their teenage years and their early 20s to esports, now in retirement who find themselves suddenly left with nothing.”
Phan continued this line of concerns, citing the dangers of in-game harassment turning away potential new players, the rise of win-trading, match-fixing, and gambling ruining the integrity of esports, and systemic, structural issues that lead players to focus on short-term gains instead of long-term career goals.
"This multitude of challenges that esports faces today: it adds up and it is a lot of pressure. It seems like every time we fail to address a challenge in an effective way, we are somehow holding esports back and preventing ourselves from future growth. The good news though, is that we are just as passionate today as we were decades ago"
Closing her speech, Phan acknowledges the responsibility that Blizzard Entertainment has to help create programs and initiatives to provide a safe space for players and fans. Toxicity is a real problem within every competitive game, but Phan was quick to remark that the problem is caused by a minority of players.
"Part of my job and what keeps me up at night is making sure that, as Blizzard Entertainment, we live up to our end of the bargain. We recognize that part of what will get us collectively to the next level of esports is to make sure that our programs and our communities that surround them are more welcoming and inclusive. "
As developers take responsibility and combat toxicity, more people can enjoy esports. "esports is not an old boys club anymore, nor it should be" Phan said emphatically. "esports doesn't live in this dark hard to find a corner of the internet, we are everywhere. "
With pride, Phan mentions that Overwatch League is home to an openly gay man on the Houston Outlaws and a woman on the Shanghai Dragons. Players like these are extremely popular to OWL fans and represent how inclusive and diverse esports can be without sacrificing competitive integrity and professionalism: "This is only the beginning" Phan says, "there is so much more work to be done."
With the keynote ending, Phan rallied the room of esports veterans, reminding everyone to seize this opportunity of networking to raise the bar for all esports.
"Our tribal knowledge is invaluable, so share as much as you can. My hope is that you will leave this conference with a renewed sense of purpose. To find a place in the esports ecosystem that you can help grow and be proud of. "
After a roar of applause, IGEC had officially begun!
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