Turning your passions into a career is something most of us only dream of. William Collis is a Harvard MBA graduate, entrepreneur, speaker, podcaster, and college professor. He’s also a gamer/esports participant and professional esports team owner who has turned his love of video games into a prominent career. To add to Collis’s long list of accomplishments, he is an author of the 2020 book, “The Book of Esports” Collis is also one of BYJU’S FutureSchool’s dynamic CreatorSpace presenters for our global Esports Lab event on October 16th. We talked to William Collis to learn more about him, his passion for esports, and why they matter.
Before the Podcasts, Books, and TEDtalks, He Was just a Gamer
Collis’ love of video games was pretty instant after his neighbor brought home a Nintendo. “I’ve been a gamer my whole life; I absolutely adore it. There’s this story that my family still tells about me. I was going to the neighbor’s house all the time to, you know, play their Nintendo. I would go over every day…, and they (his parents) got so sick of it. They stormed over.”
He turned his love for video games into a business. “I made a career of it, raised venture capital to do startups.” One was called Gamer Sensei, which is a coaching platform that he eventually sold. “Then I did another called Kenji, which is a data analytics company that I sold to an eSports Entertainment Group. And they’re one of the big NASDAQ listed holding companies for eSports.”
Esports’ Past and Present
We asked Collis to share his thoughts about the rise of esports. “Nobody really knows when esports was created. Now, they’re saying chess is an esport.” Collis adds that if that were the case, then “esports has been around for hundreds of years.” Regardless of when and where it started, Collis has a theory on why esports is extremely popular now, “It appeals to kids because esports is digital competition, plain and simple, right? And so, if you’re somebody who enjoys competitiveness, whether that is skill-based or social, or whatever, esports offers another avenue for you to explore that side of yourself.”
The Genres and Games
“Esports is anything that’s digitally competitive,” Collis says. “That’s the easiest way to understand it. And so that can mean there are sports games. There is the NBA, FIFA, which is the digital equivalent of soccer. They’re also all these other genres of esports, which were just genres of games that have increasingly become more competitive. And, those are things as simple as card games. There are also shooter games. Fortnite fits into this category. These are a bit more controversial, but they’re extraordinarily popular, arguably the most popular genre of esport.”
Collis explains that anything that can be competed digitally can be, will be, or likely is an esports category. “That’s why I brought up chess. There was like a headline recently, I couldn’t believe it, ‘Chess as an esport.'” Esports teams are signing chess players. And, that’s because if you think about it, chess is a competitive game, and it digitizes very well. So it’s natural that it’s swept up in the esports phenomenon.”
Attending an esports event is something that Collis recommends. “You’ll feel the energy. The first live esports event you go to is just not what you think a video game event is going to be like.” He points out that when most people think video games, they often think computers, they think quiet, but in reality, Collis emphasizes, “It’s a sporting event. There’s chanting; you literally feel like the floor is shaking when people are clapping or stomping. It’s like this visceral thing with lights and energy. It’s just so awesome! They’re all just a great time!
“Everything is digital; why not sports?”
Collis adds that it makes sense that esports is so popular because the rest of the world is becoming more and more digital. “If you think about it, particularly now with the global pandemic, we do things digitally that we would never have done 40 years ago,” he says. “People find their spouses digitally, conduct wedding ceremonies over Zoom. How much of your work do you do remotely? We would have had to have met face-to-face for this (interview) a long time ago, right? So many different aspects of our lives are digitizing, so why shouldn’t sports digitize?”
Collis makes a strong argument. “And, why shouldn’t we value digital competition? It’s just part of this bigger trend in technology. And we’re more and more comfortable in the digital space. It’s the digital equivalent for competition.”
Collis Talks Screen Time Concerns
Some parents worry about their children’s screen time, and rightfully so, but the esports experts we have talked to say it isn’t so much about the screen time as it is about the balance and the utilization when playing games. “If your kid were watching TV for eight hours a day or in the gym for eight hours a day, you would be concerned. You’d be like, ‘Hey, you know, maybe you should be doing other things.’ Doing too much of anything is unhealthy. And, I think games already don’t benefit from the fact that they have this very sedentary stereotype around them. You know, I think the image of a typical gamer is still somebody who’s, you know, maybe not in the best physical shape, or maybe in the basement.” Collis says that doesn’t paint an accurate picture. “That’s not what gamers or gaming is today by and large.”
Regardless, Collis admits that parents should pay close attention to what their children are doing online. “What I say to parents is you’d be concerned about your child doing too much of anything; you have to look under the hood, right? And say, one, is this a healthy amount of time to be spending on the activity? And two, how are they spending their time on the activity? Because there’s a big difference between playing esports for four hours a day when you’re just messing around with your friends because then it’s socializing versus seriously training and practicing for four hours. In which case, hey, maybe this is a child really trying to develop a skill. Just like there’s a difference between kicking the soccer ball around with your friends and going to soccer practice.”
Esports and Careers
At first glance at esports and one can see the allure: stadiums, bright lights, big-time prizes, but there is only a small percentage who can and will rise in the professional ranks (as with all sports). Upon closer examination, though, one can see all the behind-the-scene roles needed to pull off huge esports events like the CFS World Championships.
“You know, there are huge job opportunities and job creation opportunities in eSports,” Collis says. “I think that’s something that people tend to misunderstand a little bit. I think, when you hear sports, you know, you most commonly think, ‘okay, well, the way to engage in sports as a career is to be an athlete and go pro, right?’ You know, because that’s the most visible image. The most visible image of Major League Baseball is the Major League Baseball player. But obviously, if you take that baseball analogy further, there’s a massive team of people behind the athletes on that field, you know, from brand marketers to team managers to logistics folks. There’s a ton of different ways that you can be involved in sports on the business side beyond just being an athlete. And the same is true for esports.”
Collis elaborates that job opportunities are even greater in esports than in other major sporting events. “With esports, too, we’re manufacturing the games themselves. So you have coders, artists, data analysts, and this huge exposure, the expansion of additional roles that support not just the playing of the sport but the development of the sport. And in that sense, I think esports is actually one of the best industries to get involved in because they’re just incredibly multidisciplinary. Like, whatever you’re interested in, there’s probably a way to feed it into an esports career.”
Collis encourages kids who love gaming to think beyond just being a player as a career! “Naturally, if you’re a kid and you love games, you might be interested in building a career in something that you love! Esports could be a perfect home for you because you’ll be able to combine your natural wealth of the title or the games that you enjoy playing with other skills that you develop as you become older. And hopefully, find a really meaningful career for you that contributes value to society and also matches up with your personal interests.”
The Future of Esports
The pandemic hasn’t touched very little, and according to Collis, even esports, with its digital format and ability to compete remotely, has faced hardships, “It’s kind of a myth that esports, like, just did super well throughout the pandemic, because it’s really becoming a sport today, and so much of sports is live events and spectacle and location. It really did hurt esports, too.”
Collis’ prediction on esports future beyond the pandemic is pretty bright, “We really are heading to these mixed reality worlds,” he says. “Look at how you conduct your daily life on a computer, and how much of it is in a virtual space, but broadly. What I think is going to happen is esports are going to matter more and more because there’s going to be more digital integration in our society. And, as we move closer into virtual worlds and spend more of our time in virtual spaces, eSports will become more popular. As we spend more time digitally, these digital experiences will increase in value. And, for that reason, I think esports is the wave of the future.”
If you or your child are interested in esports, sign up and attend our CreatorSpace Esports Lab live event on October 16th. You will learn a lot more about these topics and more from William Collis and other esports experts!