By ALAN SNEL
Robert Rippee is a popular guy with reporters these days at UNLV.
Rippee, a former Las Vegas Sands Corp. marketing executive and now director of the Hospitality Lab and esports Lab at UNLV’s International Gaming Institute, has carved out a niche as the go-to guy for esports comments, perspectives and all-around good quips and sound bites on the growing esports business world in Las Vegas.
There’s much to say, from the Luxor (with Allied Esports) transforming a nightclub into an esports arena to a prominent Las Vegas-based esports team called Rogue being sold recently to the Downtown Grand sports book taking bets on esports competitions.
“We’re the entertainment capital of the world. Where else would you go for esports,?” Rippee asked.
Esports is a fascinating entertainment genre because it doesn’t comply with the conventional business model and economic rules of professional sports, where TV networks spend millions of dollars for rights to broadcast leagues, events and Olympics.
There’s a democratization element to esports because the video game players can choose to form their own tournaments and stream them live on a platform such as Twitch.tv. Anyone can compete. Do you have a PC? You’re in. If you want to see the variety of video games out there, check out twitch.tv.
“The streamers can go online and play on Twitch and interact with fans and can get subscribers who can pay $5 a month,” said James Weiner, a sports finance lecturer at Old Dominion University who also is a casual gamer. “You don’t need a TV. These people can broadcast your tournament or event on Twitch and you can get 100,000 viewers at a time. They don’t have to pay a cable TV company. They’re going straight to the consumer.”
Rippee cites numbers to back the popularity of esports. In an interview in his Gaming Institute office, Rippee calls up a website, newzoo.com, and the numbers are startling: esports generated $922 million in revenues in 2018 and has 221 million global enthusiasts this year. Here is the esports trends website.
Las Vegas is a big player in trying to cash in on the esports buzz. Rippee said the Luxor is looking to open a 20,000-square-foot esports arena in March, while the Millennial Esports Arena in the Neonopolis commercial center at the Fremont Street Experience allows gamers to stage competitions. Rippee has taken his esports class to the Millennial Esports Arena to get a close-up look at a video game competition arena where esports watch parties can be held, too.
Rippee said MGM Resorts realized the average tourist age is dropping on the Strip and that millennials are looking for experience-themed activities. The new esports arena at the Luxor will provide an over-the-top, high-tech, multi-screened setting for gamers.
“The casinos see the customers are changing and they are asking, ‘How do we bring it into our economic model,’ ” Rippee observed.
“It’s built for socializing and fantasy. They went from DJs to video games,” Rippee said.
Rippee is an esports stereotype buster. The image of a teenager munching Cheetos in his parents’ basement while playing a terrorist/counter-terrorist video game doesn’t fly with Rippee.
Rippee, who plays video games at age 60, said the average age of a gamer is 31 and it’s a pastime that can earn you a scholarship to a university. He noted all 20 UNLV staffers at the Gaming Institute play video games.
He noted 41 universities have esports teams, including Utah and the Mountain West Conference’s Boise State.
“A university has to decide where does a team reside. At Boise State, it resides in the educational technology department,” Rippee said.
Rippee said that in his esports class the students had academic backgrounds of engineering, architecture, the honors college and the hotel college.
The common denominator? “They all love gaming,” he said.
The millennials grew up with laptops and devices, and they typically began playing video games in first or second grade. No wonder they are primed to earn esports scholarships to universities.
Weiner, the Old Dominion lecturer who enjoys playing Call of Duty, said some aspects of esports are in their infancy, while other aspects are “blazing new paths.”
He pointed out some companies used the competitions as a marketing tool to sell the game, while other companies are focusing on the esports competitions where teams where uniforms like actual sports squads.
The gamers play in high-tech settings with fancy headsets and computers where the powerful graphics cards are so hot they need to be liquid cooled, Rippee said.
“Now esports are so popular that the competitive side has its own businesses,” Weiner said. “Twitch has allowed gamers to exist without a broadcast deal.”
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