In A Time With No Sports, Esports Evolves as The Surprise MVP

Published on May 23, 2020

Picture this. A world with no screaming at the TV screen on football Sunday. No crowds packing arenas for an NBA game. A world where we aren’t checking our phones obsessively for the latest baseball stats on ESPN. It’s not hard to imagine because right now we are living that sad reality. Luckily, there is a saving grace – esports.

This pandemic has brought about so many changes but one clear winner in all of this as we’ve been at home has been gaming . Leagues such as the NFL, MLB, and NASCAR have even turned to esports to keep fans engaging with players during live tournaments. Pro athletes like Kevin Durant are also getting in on the action making esports more popular and profitable than ever before. In March, viewership on the streaming platform Twitch rose 23 percent according to Game World Observer. That equals to about 1.2 billion hours of video games watched.

With so many players (no pun intended) in the esports arena, we turned to an expert in the field for insight on this growing phenomenon. Allied Esports is a premier esports entertainment company with a global network of eleven properties and content production facilities. One of those facilities is the 30,000 square foot multi-level arena called HyperX . It’s located in Las Vegas inside the Luxor Hotel & Casino. Allied has a simple mission. To connect players, streamers and fans via integrated arenas and mobile esports trucks around the world. We caught up with Allied Esports CEO Jud Hannigan to talk a little esports 101.

Allied Esports CEO Jud Hannigan
Grit Daily: For those unfamiliar with the HyperX arena in Las Vegas, can you give us a little history?

Jud Hannigan: The HyperX esports arena opened up in March of 2018. So just about 2 years to the day when all of this started to unfold. Our mission at that point was to design, build, and launch the world’s premiere esports destination and that’s really what we’ve become. Close to not only the wonderful amazing communities of gamers in Las Vegas and stretching as far away as California, but also that destination for some of the top premiere events in esports around the world.

GD: What partnerships do you have with high schools in Las Vegas to try to attract the high schoolers and millennials in the arena?

JH: We have partnerships with high schools and partnerships with UNLV. The way we program the arena is so that every night of the week, we highlight a different game community. So, we will dedicate one night of the week to Fortnite. So everybody in the surrounding community knows that on Friday night you want to be at HyperX sports arena for the best competitive Fortnite action you could possibly get. Then, on Saturday nights we have our Mario Kart nights and on Wednesdays we do Super Smash Brothers. So we’re breaking different folks in and appealing to gamers in large not just one particular game.

HyperX Esports Arena at Luxor Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas
GD: Are there any misconceptions about esports? Do you think people are hesitant to play because they think its just for experienced gamers?

JH: I think the misconception probably for someone who doesn’t know gaming at all is that it’s exclusive club. To quote our gaming rights partner HyperX, their tagline is “we’re all gamers.” Gaming is very inclusive. It may seem like when you walk in there’s a lot of tech going on. You’ve just got to make sure you understand, whether it be the PC or the console, what you’re playing on. But we do that. We’re enablers to that cause in the arena. When people come in we get people set up and we make sure they understand equipment. We get them playing just like everybody wants to do. So whether you’re tuning in or you’re playing with people, it’s a way to forge friendships.

GD: Do you have any tips for people going to the arena or playing for the first time?

JH: We believe there’s no substitute for coming into the arena because you’re gonna get to play and you’re gonna get to witness competition. You’re going to get to see really skilled players and be able to talk with them and engage with them. Absolutely tune in online. Go and find that content and learn from some of the best players out there around the world. But again, we feel there’s no substitute for coming in and getting your hands dirty when we’re back up and running. 

GD: How have you changed how you do business in light of the pandemic?

JH: When this all took place we immediately started moving things online. We started moving our programming online because we didn’t wanna stop. We’re in this really unique position that we can continue to provide an offering and fill a void in people’s lives that exists today that no one ever saw coming. All forms of competitive entertainment virtually stopped outside of esports. So, the ability to not only play but also watch we found a way to really convert our offering to purely online. That’s not something we’ve been doing in North America.  Our business is quite global but in our North American offices we hadn’t been doing that. We’ve really prided ourselves on the in-arena experience and now we’ve transcended into the online capacity.

One of the things I think is a silver lining in all of this is that we’ve launched this kind of new offering. We’re seeing more than 50% of the players that are competing in these events outside of what was our existing community was. For us, it’s been a really great thing because we’re growing our customer base at this time while everyone else is dealing with retraction. Ultimately in long term when life normalizes again this offering from us is going to continue.

Allied Esports notification to gamers
GD: What partnerships have emerged as a product of this new landscape?

JH: There’s a sense of resiliency with we as humanity. I found that at least in my experience, the first week or so everybody went quiet just trying to figure out this new norm. Then at that point there was a lot of activity. We’re now working with partners providing online services to folks that we would have never dealt with before this because it just wasn’t in their mindset it wasn’t in our mindset. We run online tournaments for LAFC right now to support their charitable efforts with people dealing with COVID-19. So it’s fantastic but we didn’t have a working relationship or even think of calling LAFC before this but now we’re really excited and hope to continue working with them and others for very long time.

GD: More professional athletes, including Kevin Durant, are turning to esports at this time. They are gaming to help raise money for relief efforts and entertainment.What does this do for esports as a whole to have other athletes embrace it publicly?

JH: This is a very unique, never thought of before opportunity for esports. It’s the only game in town. Esports and our company especially, can be a platform for other competitive entertainment areas that aren’t as fortunate to still be playing right now. For our industry to serve as a platform for those folks to continue to engage with their fan base, continue to hopefully grow their fan base, and reach a new fan base is truly special. I think esports benefits from it in the long run and I also think that traditional sports benefits from it in the long run.

We’re talking to people and sports teams that have now hired people to focus on gaming. They’re now making these connections to gaming they’ve probably been talking about for a long time but now they’re really seriously considering it. And I don’t think this is going away once the world mobilizes again. I think gaming continues to be a part of the fabric of society. It’s as much as it was before but even greater now that it’s being accepted by all forms of celebrities and athletes

GD: There is a void on television right now without traditional sports so some people are checking out esports instead. What do you think new viewers can learn about esports when they’re tuning in for the first time?

JH: We call it esports entertainment. For me, I’ve had a career in sports entertainment and esports has all the makings of what you see in traditional sports. It has fans, crowds of people cheering and going crazy for those same big moments.  It’s so akin to traditional sports in so many ways. I think there’s a lot of commonality there. Our team in Germany recently did a broadcast where we launched something called Esport Studio. We were literally going out to some of the German sports leagues and having professional volleyball players play a volleyball video game against each other.  It’s similar to what we’re doing with LAFC but it’s really, really great to see that kind of engagement.

When fans come in and watch, you’re able to watch players and engage with them at a completely different level. You can’t watch most teams and actually be able to communicate with the guys. With this, you’re able to communicate – sometimes inside the platform chat. There’s some interesting and different levels of engagement that come. I think that a lot of people will find it really, really enticing.

Esports players prior to COVID-19 changes
GD: How do you grow esports to become as big as an NBA tournament game or the NFL Draft in viewership? Any challenges?

JH: One of the things about esports and video gaming is it’s online but there’s no borders online. If you think about traditional sports or content in traditional sports, we’ve got the NBA in the US. Yeah, they’ve got a national distribution but with esports, a lot of this content lives online. Because of that, the viewership numbers can be wildly tremendous – they can be off the charts.

For us the biggest night but we had was our Fortnite tournament. We had the popular streamer, Ninja play and we had 2.5 million people tune in over 7 hours. Esports has that potential always to be able to do that. It’s really got a lot of potential to continue to grow. There’s no barriers when it comes to the content online. You get to harness the power of the world not just the market you’re in.

GD: What’s a message you would like to send to people from around the world to come visit HyperX when its safe to travel again?

JH: In Las Vegas we are the world premiere esports destination. And when it’s safe, we will be ready. The HyperX arena has created a safe space where families from all generations can go and engage in sports entertainment. We will be ready to have an offering that people are at home now craving. They’re craving to get together and have fun with like minded people and enjoy that time together socially. We’re going to be ready to open our doors when it’s safe, look after people, and make sure they have a great time.

You can get in on some of the online action by checking out the schedule of tournaments here.

Carrie Roper is a Staff Writer at Grit Daily based in Las Vegas. She is an Emmy-Award winning producer with more than a decade of experience in television, entertainment and production. Her former credits include her work on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, MORE Access, JASH, and Bunim-Murray.

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