The esports industry is worth an estimated $950 million, part of the larger $179 billion gaming industry, and grows by millions of users every year. During the pandemic, many reports showed older people picking up controllers and participating, given that the twin burdens of quarantine and unemployment put so much more time on their hands. While many gamers are Black and Latinx, the majority of those creating the games do not come from those demographics. Entrepreneur Marcus Howard is setting out to change that. He is putting on The 2021 ASCEND HBCU Esports Conference and Expo. The virtual event, sponsored by CodeBoxx, is set to take place on February 5th, a few days before the Super Bowl in Tampa Bay. The multi-faceted event transcends entertainment, aiming to bring awareness about the diversity gap in esports and gaming, and to increase support for STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) education.
Grit Daily caught up with Howard, who points out that, “only 2% of professionals in the gaming industry identify as African American while 83% of African American teens play video games.” The event will feature panel discussions by many prominent professionals in the industry, including from RIOT Games, maker of League of Legends; Intel, the chip manufacturer; and PlayVS, an esports startup that already raised $96 million. There will also be a career fair portion for BIPOC to meet professionals from the gaming industry and to learn about internship and job opportunities.
Politicians constantly mention STEM education, but STEAM, which adds arts to the mix, is a major component of gaming. From music, cover art, character, level, and weapons design, to team logos and promotional material, there’s a lot of room for graphic designers and musicians in the industry.
In calling for a more inclusive video game industry, Howard says, “It’s not a charity move. It’s a solid business strategy. Multiple reports consistently say that teams with diverse leadership significantly and consistently outperform their non-diverse peers in performance, both as an organization and on the books, financially.” While Howard was hoping to team up with the Super Bowl LV host committee in Tampa Bay, so far they have chosen not to participate. He’s disappointed that the NFL isn’t supporting any of Tampa Bay’s esports events from minority-owned companies, all of which are specifically designed to improve equity and inclusion for minorities. Still, Howard says, “the door is always open for them.” Howard believes that there has been a falling out between the NFL and the Black community, and that this event could be a step in the right direction for them to genuinely reconcile.
Black and Latinx communities have been having conversations about inclusion and representation for years, but the events of 2020 forced more people into the conversation about race in America. Howard thinks that the event will prepare the Black and Latinx communities to build wealth in the digital economy, and he hopes that the expo will be part of future Super Bowl events.
Decentraland will host the virtual event, where participants must use a crypto wallet to log in, or participants can join using a Zoom link. Howard says, “What we’re trying to do is bridge that gap between people who are investing their time, money and attention into consuming gaming and esports, and asking how do we help them create opportunities to produce value, to create wealth for themselves, their families and their communities?” You can register for this free virtual event here.