“You’re getting an MBA to work in…Video Games?”

My mother has been a patient and understanding woman when it comes to me, her oldest of three sons. When it took me nearly seven years to finish my undergraduate degree, she gave me nothing but unconditional love and support. Two years later, when I told her I was going to law school, she was my biggest cheerleader. When I moved across the country to work for the United States Senate, she gave me a big hug and told me to go make a difference. But when I told her last spring that I was leaving the practice of law to pursue my MBA in Sports Business at the University of Oregon and that I wanted to work in eSports, or professional video game competitions, I think even she will admit that her resolve started to waiver.

Was this some sort of early 30’s crisis? Maybe some form of pathological avoidance? Or is it simply the next step in a vast conspiracy to deprive her of grandchildren? The answer, as it turns out, was much simpler. I have had two life-long passions: sports and video games. And with the meteoric rise in popularity and viability of eSports, for the first time I had finally found an industry that could blend those passions and give me a career I could not only excel at, but also be truly enthusiastic about. But did I really need an MBA from Oregon to work in this?

In a word, yes. Today, eSports boasts a community of over 250 million viewers and hosts tournaments that now regularly offer prize pools in the high-seven or even eight figures. Championship matches draw viewership numbers that exceed the Stanley Cup Final. Mainstream brands such as T-Mobile, Coke, Arby’s, Geico, Buffalo Wild Wings, Red Bull and others are major sponsors of multiple events and broadcasts. Even traditional professional sports teams have taken notice, with the Philadelphia 76ers, Miami Heat, and Orlando Magic having already invested in eSports teams, and others such as the Dallas Cowboys actively interested in entering the space.

eSports is going mainstream, and those teams, developers, and sponsors are going to begin expecting expertise in not only gaming, but also in business.  Knowing the difference between an AP Carry and a Jungler is well and good, but knowing the difference between endemic and non-endemic brands and how to create value for both in an emerging market is how you’re really going to impress and get noticed in the gaming world these days. As I’ve learned, studying Sports Marketing under a Vice President of Club Services for Major League Soccer is much more likely to get you noticed by Riot or Blizzard than a Diamond or Master level player ranking.

When I told Warsaw Program Manager Craig Leon during my MBA interview that I wanted to work in eSports, he smiled and told me, “You know, if you had come here even two years ago, I probably would have told you we weren’t the place for you; but now? Let’s do it.” I didn’t know it at the time, but those words would profoundly change my life, almost universally for the better.

My mom still doesn’t quite understand what I’m trying to do in my career; despite having three gamer sons, she never got past Frogger. But she knows that her boy is happier, healthier, and more enthusiastic about this path he’s on at the Oregon MBA than she’s heard him in a long time. And, at the end of the day, that is all a mother can ask for…well, that and maybe grandchildren.

Written by Justin Surber

Justin is a 2018 MBA in the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center focused on eSports. His background is primarily in law and politics, where he worked as an attorney and interned in the United States Senate prior to giving in to his love of sports and video games. Before coming to Oregon, Justin graduated from Linfield College with a degree in Social and Behavioral Sciences, and received his Juris Doctorate with Honors from Willamette University College of Law. Outside of school, Justin enjoys tennis, reading, trying a new craft brewery, and all the joys and pitfalls of being a dog parent.