Blending Competition and Collaboration During an Up-Close Look at Esports
It’s a Friday afternoon in springtime, but behind a basement-level door below the streets of Philadelphia’s Chinatown neighborhood, crowds gather in the dark. Every room and booth is filled, and names are being added to a waitlist at the door.
Excitement is building here at the TAP Esports Center, a video-gaming and esports facility, as a group of 18 LeBow MBA students get an up-close and hands-on look at one of the world’s fastest-growing entertainment sectors.
This immersive outing was part of a three-day residency course taught by Jeffrey Levine, JD, PhD, assistant clinical professor of sport business, with students experiencing for themselves a phenomenon they studied earlier in the term through online course modules.
For Levine, who serves as lead for LeBow’s esport business program, this residency was a chance to explore the esports industry in greater depth and, at a level befitting MBA study, a more-intensive business perspective: industry segments and stakeholders, legal and cultural issues, the sponsorship environment, consumer behavior of both players and viewers and more.
“Because the students did this background work, we were able to build a lot of experiential-learning aspects into the residency,” Levine says. “The combination of site visits, panels and receptions was exciting for them and really piqued their interest in the gaming space.”
Layering technology onto the course material played a major part in the residency, including a discussion with Scott Mandel, founder of Complex Labs. Mandel, whose company provides software-powered venue activation using Blockchain, addressed Web3 technology, such as non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and digital currencies, and their applications in esports.
“As we made connections between topics like emerging business models, NFT use cases and the relationships between esports and content creators, it was clear the students were really inquisitive and eager to learn more,” he said.
Site visits to TAP and to Localhost at The Block, operated by Nerd Street and home to one of the largest esports venues in North America, added an additional layer of technology and put students’ prior research into context. In addition to asking TAP co-founders Andrew Chen and Peter Mark about building their business and their involvement in the community, students also played head-to-head in popular video games such as “Call of Duty,” “Counter Strike: Global Offensive,” “Fall Guys” and “Valorant.”
“There was so much information to take in about new technologies like digital currency, augmented reality and virtual reality,” said Mehdi Rhazali ’11, MS ’13, MBA ‘24. “It was all really eye-opening for me, because I really thought esports was just video games, but it’s so much more.“
The final deliverable for the residency was a business case in the style of a consulting project, with students teaming up to choose a scope and make industry assessments and recommendations on behalf of a client: a nonprofit governing esports at the high school level, a regional esports host or a major multinational company with significant investments and sponsorships in the field.
Kevin Murray, MBA ’23, said he has been interested in watching the esports sector grow over the past decade.
“While I am not a big gamer, I respect and appreciate the business impact of the industry and how it overlaps with traditional sport, gaming, technology and more,” he said. “Analyzing a real, working business always makes the stakes feel more serious and important, while giving us some insight into how the industry actually works.”
The students also gained insights from meeting with a pair of esports professionals — Chad Stender of SeventySix Capital, and Samantha Bickel ‘19 of the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Esports Association —who later served on a panel hosted by Drexel Alumni and Department of Sport Business as part of Drexel’s Alumni Weekend.
“Because we got to see esports in action, students saw how engaging the business really is,” Levine says. “They enjoyed the chance to interact with the owners and executives, and I think they came out with a new appreciation and interest in the field.”