Why IT leaders should pay attention to eSports

eSports, ranging from drone racing to professional video game tournaments, are predicted by some to generate more revenue than current professional sports leagues. Here's what you need to know about eSports, and why they're relevant for IT leaders.

Image: iStock/oneinchpunch

I recently attended a talk given by the CIO of a large gaming corporation that owns a number of casinos around the world, where he detailed the changing gaming market. As the generation that grew up playing games on smartphones reaches gambling age, sitting at a slot machine or playing a traditional table game is less appealing. When asked about the future of gambling, he indicated that they were investing heavily in drone racing, which combined technology, physical action, and interesting options for digital betting.

Drone racing is one of several emerging eSports that combine technology, competition, and new methods for content distribution and audience participation. Professional video gaming is the other emerging eSport, whereby competitors can now earn a seven-figure salary playing popular video games in high-profile tournaments.

SEE: A day at the drone races (CNET)

Why eSports matter

It's easy for the traditionalists among us to scoff at the idea of a "professional" video gamer, or grown adults cheering on tiny helicopters, supplanting more traditional professional sports, but if nothing else, these new forms of competition are creating new markets and also spawning new technologies that are relevant on the shop floor and in the boardroom. Having a working knowledge of eSports and the underlying technologies will help IT leaders spot emerging trends, and be prepared to take advantage of relevant technologies as they mature.

Gaming has long been a driver in technology. The lowly graphics processing unit (GPU), once the sole province of gamers looking to upgrade their gaming rig, is now commonplace in everything from supercomputers to autonomous car control systems. Gamers demanding (and plunking down cash on) annual upgrade cycles have financed GPU development, further pushing technology innovation into the consumer space, a trend eSports will likely accelerate.

Droning and gaming along

Drones have obvious applications in everything from logistics execution to pipeline inspection and site surveys. Hobbyists have wrested drone innovation away from the military to consumer mass adoption, and complex drone control systems have evolved to the point that the average teenager can control what amounts to a high-resolution aerial camera. Drone racing is accelerating this innovation. Much as auto racing pushes vehicle technology forward and provides technologies that eventually "trickle down" into consumer products, racing drones are becoming faster, lighter, and driven by more capable guidance systems.

Similarly, aside from pushing gaming technology, professional gaming is driving innovation in how we consume sports. Traditional sportscasts provide the camera angle and commentary that the broadcaster has selected, but with professional gaming, the viewer can decide which player to observe, and can view the action from an individual player's perspective or, in many cases, a self-selected bird's eye view of the action. Essentially eSports provide the ability to view a sporting event from any angle you could imagine, including the individual player's own eyeballs. Viewers can also "listen in" on communication between the players in real time. These abilities are ultimately pushing innovation in virtual reality and collaboration systems, and the technology driving a gaming championship "broadcast" might eventually power your board meeting, or allow field technicians to collaborate in a complex industrial environment.

How to leverage eSports

The first step in leveraging emerging technologies is familiarity. Spend some time with younger family members observing collaborative gaming, or watch a few YouTube videos of drone racing. Find a nearby store that demonstrates VR gaming, or spend an afternoon on a PlayStation or Xbox, or apply some of your R&D budget to a consumer-grade drone. Identify people within your organization who actively participate in these activities or have an intense interest, and regularly review the "state of the industry" with these individuals, all while considering how these technologies could be applied to your business.

If you have the resources available, investing in relevant hardware and identifying motivated staff to experiment will allow you to deeply understand what capabilities from eSports might eventually trickle down to your business, or even identify areas where today's gaming technology can solve a business problem. It may be uncomfortable to stray so far off the reservation of the usual corporate technology vendors, or justify spending time and money on what are literally toys and games, but if your organization is one of the majority preaching a zeal for innovation, you must invest and explore where that innovation is actually occurring.

Also see:
10 lessons from video gaming that have helped my career
How the NFL and its stadiums became leaders in Wi-Fi, monetizing apps, and customer experience
Intel acquires Voke VR to build out immersive sports business (ZDNet)