Thousands of fans cheer for their favourite team in a packed stadium. But they're not watching football, baseball or even soccer. They're watching eSports.
They’re watching a video game.
eSports—videogamers competing against each other as individuals or teams—is surging in popularity around the world. The global industry is worth around $776 million CAD, according to SuperData Research.
UWindsor graduate Sten Dragoti BComm ’14 is a part of this burgeoning business as it expands into collegiate competition.
Earlier this year, St. Clair College purchased eSport Gaming Events, the company Dragoti cofounded as a UWindsor student in 2013, signing on the alumnus to manage the college’s own teams.
Some 60 US and Canadian collegiate teams now participate, according to the ESPN website list updated weekly as more schools join.
As production director, “My job is to manage and grow the Saints Gaming program through livestream and digital content creation,” explains Dragoti.
According to ESPN, top eSports tourneys now draw audiences that rival the biggest traditional sporting events; popular midweek live streams routinely attract more than 100,000 online viewers. Coke and Nissan have joined Logitech and Red Bull as tournament sponsors.
These events are so popular that Cineplex announced $19 million CAD in investments that will see eSports competitions playing out on Cineplex stages across the country. It invested a further $6.3 million CAD to create a new competitive gaming league.
In a CBC interview, Dragoti said the biggest challenge for the industry is being taken seriously by the large corporate sponsors that dominate traditional sports. “They didn’t grow up with this but they’re starting to come around,” he said.
In addition to his work building the Saints Gaming program, Dragoti provides marketing services for several Windsor, Ont., businesses, and runs his own website WindsorSite.ca, which offers web services.
He chose to attend the University of Windsor for its business program. Although he, himself, is an excellent video game player— “an early favourite was Diablo and then Starcraft came along”— business is a passion.
“I started my first business in Grade 10. I’d buy individual electronics and bundle them and sell them online. I wanted to save up for a new computer. I saved $2,000 and built the computer myself.”
The success of that venture was an intoxicating taste of entrepreneurship. “Eventually, I want to go back and take corporate law. It would be good for my own business as well as being a consultant for others.”
While at UWindsor, he joined the Starcraft Club (a videogame he played competitively). Eventually, Dragoti took over and renamed it the e-sports club.
He met his future business partners, William Girard, Shane Perron and Shaun Byrne, while competing in tournaments. “We started hosting events at the university and St. Clair, and then incorporated as E-sport Gaming Events.”
The university’s EPICentre initiative provided $5,000 for the start-up, something Dragoti says was invaluable in helping them get on their feet.
The company put on more than 30 events. These included tournaments in which PC and console gamers compete for cash and hardware prizes, and satellite viewings of tournaments held elsewhere.
The company organized the Good Game Con tournament in 2014 and 2015. Six hundred people attended the rst year; 3,000 the second. “We filled up a 20,000 square-foot space in Toronto,” says Dragoti. “We gave out $50,000 in prizes.” The money came from ticket sales, sponsorships and a big investor.
However, when the investor elected to move to California and become involved in e-sports full time, it led to the decision to sell the business to the St. Clair College Student Representative Council Inc.
“We’d done an event for St. Clair—Saints Gaming Live—at their Sportsplex. The numbers impressed them. More than 500 people attended. And one of our live-stream videos got more than 300,000 unique views.
“They saw the potential in collegiate gaming and offered to buy the business.”
The UWindsor alum relishes his current role. “I don’t like the idea of a 9-5 job. I like the freedom. I get to meet a lot of new people, travel, be involved.”
eSports aren’t the end of the line for him. “I’d like to be more of an investor at some point. If you have a successful business idea that could make millions—you can pursue it. I’d like that.”