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Students Gain Sports Industry Insights and Make Alumni Connections in Electronic Gaming Course

Professor Rick Burton’s Esports Management class offers valuable lessons in marketing and business strategy in the growing sector of electronic gaming.

Chris Henderson and Mike Tirico smile for a photo at the Rio Olympics
Chris Henderson ’18 (right) at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio with NBC play-by-play commentator Mike Tirico ’88.

Several years ago, playing video games was something mostly done in basements after school to blow off steam. But these days it’s big business, netting million-dollar paychecks for gamers who win the League of Legends World Championships and incorporating big-name sports organizations, including the National Basketball Association (NBA) and Major League Baseball.

Rick Burton portrait
Rick Burton

Esports—electronic sports or gaming—often takes the form of organized, multiplayer video game competitions, particularly between professional players, individuals or teams. For years, David B. Falk Endowed Professor of Sport Management Rick Burton has discussed how esports is an emerging and high growth field with vast professional opportunities. Syracuse University recognized the industry’s growing popularity and importance when it opened a designated esports gaming room in the Barnes Center at The Arch. Professional esports players know the economic benefits that can be earned from gaming, but average everyday players are also recognizing the advantages, including social connectivity, mood enhancement, happiness and skill acquisition.

Last year, while discussing the importance of esports in another class, Burton came up with the idea for a new esports course. SPM 300 Esports Management isn’t Syracuse University’s first class covering this type of subject matter—the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications offers Esports and Media—but the new course is the first esports offering in the David B. Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics.

For his innovative new course, Burton put together an impressive list of guest speakers to enhance learning for the 23 students enrolled in the class. The roster featured representatives from Riot Games (the makers of League of Legends), esports professors from other institutions, the play-by-play announcer for the NBA 2K League (a basketball sports simulation video game), Syracuse University Board of Trustee member Jimmy Kuhn '70, G'72 and his son Jake from Misfits Gaming Group (a professional esports team), and Chris Henderson ’18, the coordinator of marketing partnerships for the NBA 2K League. Every student had the opportunity to interact with and present to these guest speakers and “clients”—much as they would when discussing a job opportunity or in the workplace.

“I wanted to touch on the breadth of the industry and talk about the people who play the sports professionally, the people on teams, the event organizers, the game creators, and the role of esports in our society today and in the sports industry in general,” says Burton.

The students in the class were divided into small groups—or “agencies”—and made presentations to many of the speakers. In their presentation to Syracuse alumnus Henderson, they shared their ideas on how the league can market to emerging fan bases.

“The students did a great job with their presentations,” says Henderson. “All six groups presented either an idea that the league is actively working on making happen or really engaging new ideas.”

In presenting their ideas to the guest speakers, students were evaluated on several criteria, including strategy development, creativity and more, giving them a solid knowledge base of what to expect if they decide to go into the field of esports management.

Burton is optimistic that his Esports Management course will be offered again. “I think it’s been successful. The students seemed excited and committed,” says Burton.

Although he has a substantial background in sports marketing, including as the chief marketing officer for the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee at the Beijing 2008 Summer Olympics, Burton’s career has focused on conventional rather than virtual sports. “I’m not really into playing esports,” he confesses. “I’m teaching something I feel needs to be taught and I have expertise in the sports industry. I needed to teach it because it is a relevant sector of the sports industry.”

PJ Clark ’21, a broadcast and digital journalism major, became interested in learning more about esports after taking Olivia Stomski’s and Chris Hanson’s Esports and Media class at the Newhouse School. “I’m a big fan of NBA 2K,” says Clark. “I played 2K with my friends my whole life, so the presentation for this class was really exciting. It was surreal to get an opportunity to present to one of the people running the league.”

I’m teaching something I feel needs to be taught and I have expertise in the sports industry. I needed to teach it because it is a relevant sector of the sports industry.

—Rick Burton

Clark encourages anyone interested in learning more about electronic sports to take this class, even those who don't play them. “I would totally recommend it, especially if you’re a conventional sports fan or want to work in a mainstream sports industry. It’s a great way to work for a large sports organization. And these days, you need a background in this to be as well rounded as possible for jobs or internships.”

Lisa Maresca

This story was first published on June 11, 2020 and last updated on .


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