As an emerging industry in metro Atlanta, esports made a powerful introduction into the market. Esports – multiplayer video games played competitively for spectators – is on track for industry revenues of $1.1 billion in 2019, up 27% from 2018. Comparing global esports revenue to global video game revenue, the industry topped $43 billion in 2018. With several corporate-backed local teams, organizations like the Atlanta Reign and Hawks Talon GC have been able to quickly create a following in the region and establish metro Atlanta as a major esports hub.
Chaired by Cox Media Group Executive Vice President of Content, Digital Strategy, Technology & Research Marian Pittman and led by Metro Atlanta Chamber Senior Director of Ecosystem Expansion Grant Wainscott, MAC’s Grow Leadership Council discussed the current state of esports as well as its future in the region. Panelists described their views on success in the esports market, as well as marketing trends over time in the space.
Pittman introduced the panelists and moderated the conversation. Panelists included Samir Mayur, vice president of business operations for the Atlanta Hawks and State Farm Arena; Jeremy Poore, director of partnerships for the Atlanta Reign; Allie Young, CEO and founder of Axis Replay; and Todd Harris, COO of Hi-Rez Studios.
Pittman asked the panelists to describe what esports means to them. Harris described the industry as a major content marketing piece for game developers and delineated esports leagues as, collectively, “the ESPN for the industry.” Poore described the metro Atlanta market as “the fastest growing in the U.S.,” and spoke to the average esports viewer demographic – 24-years old and skewing male. However, Harris added that there has been a conscious push for inclusivity in gaming and esports, and that the male-dominated landscape is starting to shift.
Mayur explained that esports are not one-size-fits-all and gave insight on the great diversity of interests within the market (for example, video games such as NBA 2K are completely different than Overwatch and others played professionally. Different video games also hit different submarkets). The journey to setting up Hawks Talon GC was very similar to setting up a professional NBA team. Mayur detailed the process, explaining the more than 1,000 applicants for general manager, the intensive player draft process, setting up team housing, finding a practice facility and more. Establishing a functioning esports team requires a $20 to $100 million investment. As in other professional sports, esports players are under contract and are held to the same standard as professional athletes.
For Young, esports and video games have had a great personal impact on her life. Young had a background in sales and marketing and met her husband through their joint love of gaming. Young recently founded Axis Replay, which she describes as “the Top Golf of gaming and esports.” Elaborating on the analogy, Young explained how 41% of the U.S. plays golf, and 60% of the U.S. plays video games, speaking to the growth potential of the market for venues like Axis Replay. Additionally, Axis Replay offers summer camps that teach students about coding and the different elements of esports, such as production, development and actual gaming.
Poore spoke to the region’s growing team pride for Atlanta Reign, Atlanta’s official Overwatch esports team owned by Cox Media Group. With 20 teams worldwide, each team travels to various global locations for weeks at a time to train and compete.
“We actually can’t tell fans where the [Atlanta] team lives, because fans will show up on their doorstep,” Poore explained.
As Atlanta United has built passion for soccer in the region, Atlanta Reign is galvanizing the larger community around a home-grown esports team.
“The loyalty of the fanbase is similar to a NASCAR audience – they are super devoted.”
Harris explained his vision to help other companies navigate the ever-evolving esports space. SMITE, Hi-Rez Studios’ most popular game, has recently relocated all 10 of its esports teams to metro Atlanta. With this relocation, more than 50 athletes are expected to contribute to the local economy and infrastructure, bringing fans with them. This development is a major win for the larger Atlanta esports ecosystem and has a multi-million-dollar direct impact on the local economy.
The panelists explained that collaboration is key – that everyone on the panel works together on a weekly basis to make metro Atlanta one of the major esports hubs in the country.
The Atlanta Reign Homestand Weekend on July 6 and 7 at the Cobb Energy Centre will unite the full team in the city for the first time. The next MAC Grow Leadership Council is August 21. If you have any questions on how your organization can engage with MAC, please reach out to Grant Wainscott.