Esports’ emergence levelled the electronic playing field

Sean Emo, DC Lords esports varsity Overwatch team captain playing a round of Overwatch. Photo credit: Dennis Price

Esports is unlike any other sport.

When it comes to regular sports, an individual is limited to the physical capabilities. With esports, there is an even playing ground for everyone, physically able or not.

That aspect of esports remains true for Sean Emo, 30, captain of Durham College (DC) Lords esports Overwatch team and a disabled person. About ten years, Emo was involved in a car accident, another vehicle collided him from the side of his vehicle.

The long-term effects of the collision afflicted him with fibromyalgia, a disorder and complex physical condition that deals with the brain and nervous system. Emo’s condition makes it hard to exert himself in any high stressed physical activity.

“I played hockey all my life growing up and after my car accident I wasn’t able to do those things, but I still have a very completive spirit,” says Emo. “So, because of that, I wasn’t able to channel it … until I found esports.”

Emo turned his situation with his disorder into an opportunity and says he is able to stay at the top level of play with his teammates and fellow esports players.

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Sean Emo, DC Lords esports varsity Overwatch team captain in the student lounge outside the Esports Arena. Photo credit: Dennis Price

Emo’s story couldn’t have been told without the events that brought esports to the forefront this decade. Emo says the reason it has become so popular is because of the support of advertisers.

“Sponsored money started coming through with the Overwatch League when it tried to franchise,” says Emo. “Coco-Cola got involved, Disney got involved, ESPN got involved so it kinda blew that scene up.”

A game like Fortnite made sponsors realize that they can make money off esports, says Emo. Toronto game journalist, Steve Vegvari, however, believes the reason esports has exploded is because of the games and game players.

“I think more people are playing games ever than before,” says Vegvari. “There are more people playing games every day and the better they become the more they’re going to pursue some kind of career or future in that.”

There is no wrong answer to the reason behind esports’ emergence this decade. Even the pillars of DC’s Esports Arena have different answers. Esports Arena Manager, Sarah Wagg, says the game changed when traditional media started paying attention to the esports scene and exposing it to TV channels for new audiences.

Durham College Esports Arena Manager, Sarah Wagg in the Esports Arena. Wagg plays a round of Overwatch. Photo credit: Dennis Price

“A game company like Blizzard took the traditional sports model for Overwatch and now every major city has an esports team, for us we have Toronto Defiants,” says Wagg. “By doing that they’ve also allowed it to appear on mainstream TV.”

The arena’s esports coordinator, Michael Cameron, says game streaming sites like Twitch or Mixer are the reason why esports are where they are today.

“Well now, you get a convergence of a number of things,” says Cameron. “So high-speed internet, high-speed streaming, popular streamers, broadcasting of events, sponsorships going…all these things came together all at the same time.”

Something else converged with esports and that’s DC’s relationship with the sport over the last three years.

Esports has been a part of the Oshawa campus dating back to 2005 through student-organized events, but the college’s recent support is thanks to Cameron’s esports pitch to DC President Don Lovisa.

“He brought it up to me every time I saw him,” says Lovisa. “Eventually he intrigued me enough so I said, ‘Michael alright come to my office educate me’.”

Lovisa started to learn about the emerging industry after Cameron sent him resources on the projected growth of esports. Lovisa saw the benefits not just from a game player’s perspective but also from an educational perspective.

Lovisa wants DC to be a leader in the esports world while creating jobs for that industry either through the Esports Arena and in the future with the one year Esports Management grad program happening next fall.

One other motivation for DC support is the obvious monetary value behind the college’s push into esports says Cameron.

“Students especially will pitch ideas because they think it’s the right thing to do, nobody does the ‘right thing’,” says Cameron. “They do the right thing that’s economically viable, we have to have programs that actually can get student engagement that potentially can get them employment … or both.”

Right now, DC esports is not a profitable business venture, but the research from experts says the college needs to give it time in order for esports on campus to be successful, according to Lovisa.

“It’s always going to take a few years … for the revenue model to work,” says Lovisa. “It’s a three revenue source model. One is arena gaming, the second one is tournaments and the third one is events.”

The hope is tournaments at the Esports Arena will be the college’s largest source of revenue, but until then the college has also invested in a Twitch account as a way to get more eyeballs on the global scale for the initiative.

DC has gone all-in on esports and has shown how serious they are about supporting it now as well in the future. While other institutions aren’t sure about getting into the billion-dollar industry, DC is. The hope is this will bring more post-secondary colleges and universities into the arena.

There are only 16 teams across all of Ontario, so there is still room to grow that league and many other scenes.

Wagg says the evolution of the esports industry isn’t slowing down globally and the college’s esports initiative supports where it’s headed.

“Esports is growing phenomenally quickly. We’re currently at a billion-dollar industry, it’s projected to be two billion in the next three years,” says Wagg. “I’m very grateful to see that Durham College has taken the time to get invested in this space and provide the opportunity for students.”