Akron’s Bounce Innovation Hub boots up esports programs

There, tenant company New Territory, a virtualaugmented-reality development business, has converted a first-floor space into a state-of-the-art esports venue. Hundreds of area players already are flocking to its tournaments.

“We launched all of our esports initiatives last week, and the reception was more than we could have imagined. So it’s been very exciting,” New Territory owner and founder Bill Myers said in a May 29 interview.

Myers began running tournaments for “Fortnite” and a few other popular online games late last year in New Territory’s main space on Bounce’s seventh floor. Since then, however, it has expanded its scope to offer instruction.

Meanwhile, Bounce has dedicated a room on its newly renovated first floor to the endeavor. That space is shared by Bounce, New Territory and the University of Akron, which also has embraced esports with its own teams and program.

Costs were low as Bounce and New Territory used what they already had. For the new venue, Bounce contributed 1,400 square feet of space and maintains it, while New Territory provided the gaming equipment and keeps that running properly, Bounce CEO Doug Weintraub said.

Every Friday, the new venue’s 24 stations are fully booked by players, mostly students from area middle and high schools, who pay $15 to $25 per four-hour tournament to compete for honor and cash prizes, Myers said.

But Myers isn’t trying to run a mere arcade or video game room. His vision is to build New Territory into something akin to an esports university and sports camp, where participants can take specialized classes in everything from specific game strategies to managing a better balance between gaming and real life. He’s even offering four-week camps during which players get 64 hours of instruction and coaching.

The individual classes cost $59, and the camps are $425, with the first being held in conjunction with Kent State University this month. And things are selling well, Myers said.

New Territory also runs leagues for teams dedicated to specific games, something Myers thinks could be the biggest and most easily scalable part of his new business.

“This is a really big thing for us. It’s organized, competitive middle school and high school e-leagues. … Hudson High School, for example, has a bunch of kids who like to play ‘Rocket League,’ and they can play other schools,” Myers said, referring to a popular game in which players pilot on-screen cars and use them to play soccer. He said the game also is popular at Archbishop Hoban High School and Rootstown’s Bio-Med Science Academy, which also have teams.

New Territory doesn’t disclose its revenues, but Myers said that even he a longtime gamer has been taken aback by the reception for its esports programs. Creating augmentedvirtual-reality marketing and information programs for businesses is still New Territory’s biggest source of revenue, but Myers thinks esports will surpass that by the end of the year.

Esports is just the latest element of a larger electronic gaming world to go big. It was big news a few years ago when computer and video games overtook movies in terms of market size, and now it appears esports are ready to challenge traditional sports for viewership, sponsorships and players.

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“This sport will soon be a $1 billion business with a global audience of over 300 million fans,” the World Economic Forum reported last summer.

Make that $1.1 billion, says Newzoo, a company formed in 2007 in the Netherlands to provide analytics to the e-gaming and esports industries. That represents revenue in the form of advertising, sponsorship dollars, media rights, advertising, merchandising and game sales, Newzoo said.

Most of that money, an estimated $897 million, will come from brand investments in media rights, advertising and sponsorships, Newzoo reported. It expects that number to increase to $1.5 billion by 2022 as the industry continues its exponential growth.

If you’re a parent in the U.S., you’ve likely been exposed to esports via the popular game “Fortnite,” where 100 players are dropped into a surreal computer landscape and fight until only one remains in a “battle royale” format.

Advertisers are flocking to the format and to “Fortnite” in particular for a simple reason: It’s got a large and growing audience. About 144,000 people are watching “Fortnite” games at any given time on the online platform Twitch, which has become a de facto for esports fans online. The audience swells to more than a half million during peak evening hours, Twitch reports.

The crowds are even larger for big matches between top players or in-game events like concerts with one recently tallying a reported audience of over 10 million viewers. Yes, more than 10 million people logged on to a video game to watch a concert that was presented in the game itself.

Across the globe, more than 450 million online esports players are expected by the end of the year, a 15% increase from 2018, Newzoo estimated.

Those numbers are also why New Territory, UA and Bounce are embracing the new industry.

UA unveiled its esports program in 2017, one of the first 50 universities in the U.S. to do so. It now supports varsity and club teams at its own facility.

Bounce and Myers hope it continues to grow as well, so that the three entities can support one another.

For Bounce, esports is a natural fit in that it incorporates entrepreneurship and new technology and it appeals to many of the same young people Bounce and the city hope to lure downtown.

Bounce itself also uses the new gaming space for its own events or for local businesses to use for team-building initiatives, Weintraub said.

“It’s a facility that people can rent and you can come into Bounce and hold a corporate . We lease out the room, and you can have gaming with your employees,” Weintraub said, adding that he sees esports as a fledgling industry that will be a source of future jobs.

“Actually, yesterday I was asked this question, ‘Why gaming?’ But the whole concept of gaming has really become opportunistic from a career perspective,” he said.

Myers said he’s already employing some of his best players as instructors, and some of them also make money by offering private coaching.

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