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Interview: Professionalization of Esports through sustainable and continuous support of talents and top athletes

An interview with Jörg Adami, conducted by Gian Luca Vitale. The esport market is on the rise. To ensure that it will continue to grow sustainably in the future, it is important to support, grow and promote new talents and esports athletes on all levels. Gian Luca Vitale had the chance to sit down with Jörg Adami,

former chairman of the Deutsche Sporthilfe and today managing director of the Esport Player Foundation (EPF), to talk about the role of the institution in the esports ecosystem, their vision for the future and why this is an essential for the professionalization of the esports ecosystem.

Gian Luca Vitale: You have a background in traditional sports and many years of experience as a board member of the Deutsche Sporthilfe. With the "Esports Player Foundation" you now have created a new player in the ecosystem. What is the idea behind the Esports Player Foundation and what can we expect in the future?

Jörg Adami: Our mission is to "Enable Players to live their Dreams and serve as Role Models" - and we mean exactly that. We stand for the promotion of excellence in Esports and are convinced that not only sports, but our society as a whole does well to promote special talent, passion and motivation. But the second part of the mission is at least as important: the best players bear responsibility as role models, especially in the growing and very young field of esport, where no one has really supported them in the past. This is about conveying values, which in traditional sport is done by the "Governing bodies", which in esport only exist with less impact because they are not at the same time the organisers of the top leagues and tournaments. Compared to traditional sport, there is a lot of "substructure" missing anyway: Of course there is something comparable to popular sport in esport, but the support of the players, the ambitious gamers, is still very much developable compared to athletics, football, handball, etc. This is where we want to start, of course: We want to use top athletes as role models to convey values and communicate success factors that naturally cannot replace a mass sports organisation, but can make a significant contribution. We are very grateful to have found partners in companies such as Deutsche Telekom, DKB and Skillcourt who want to follow this path and contribute more than their logo and a little money.

Gian Luca Vitale: Esport is moving from one record to the next, more spectators, more prize money, new sponsorship deals. Without athletes and top athletes, the sport would not be possible in this form. How would you describe the current state of education and career in Esports? Where is the need to catch up? What contribution can the Esports Player Foundation make?

Jörg Adami: It is very difficult to give a comprehensive diagnosis of the state of training, because we are talking about a multitude of titles and forms of organisation. Basically, the misconception that a lot of training would lead to success, which has also been widespread in traditional sports for many years, is also to be found in esport - and training here means collecting playing hours. A structured and systematic training, which specifically develops skills, includes mental strength and physical fitness, and combines this with the actual game, can actually only be found at the very highest level. At the same time, in most titles there is no predetermined career path, as is the case in traditional sport, from the selection squads to the junior national teams. Here, the Esports player foundation can and will accompany the career paths of top talents through targeted and individually designed offers, while at the same time not losing sight of the scenario that not every great talent can become a top professional: School and training are as much a part of a systematically planned career as professional training. We can only make all of this possible because we have business partners who not only take this increased attention with them, but also want to make a sustainable contribution - away from prize money and classic sponsorships.

Gian Luca Vitale: Esport is constantly hyped in the media and by analysts. However, if you compare the sales figures and profits with football, soccer and basketball, esport is currently still in the early growth phase. Compared to what it is and what it is predicted to become, it is still small, even though there is a general consensus that it will be the biggest sport in the world. Why is the systematic promotion of talents and top athletes necessary for acceptance, sustainability and growth?

Jörg Adami: Acceptance, sustainability and growth go hand in hand. It is in the nature of hypes that one day they will subside. Esport must move more into the centre of society and gain acceptance by working seriously and sustainably, despite all the enthusiasm and speed in the industry, which must not be lost under any circumstances. This includes seeing the opportunities and the risks simultaneously - and working on both. For the Esports player foundation, this means creating the best possible conditions for the world's fifth largest gaming market to be able to present a corresponding number of stars and heroes on the world stages of Esports; at the same time, however, we should not forget that social encapsulation or even gaming addiction are not pure inventions; but if we take the passion and energy of ambitious gamers seriously, show clear career paths and communicate the holistic nature of the Esports athlete through stars and heroes as role models, we are on the right track.

Gian Luca Vitale: Before the global pandemic the focus was especially on mega events, I am thinking for example of the LEC, the Intel Extrem Masters and the ESL ONE Cologne. After the pandemic we expect the focus to return to these mega events. But more and more leagues for the semi-professional sector are emerging and exist, e.g. Prime League, 99DMG and the competitions of ESL and Starladder. At the same time, more and more platforms for amateur/fun and casual gamers are emerging, e.g. Toornament, Challonge, Battlefy. These are first steps towards Esport becoming a popular sport. What must happen so that Esport really becomes a popular sport and is perceived and understood as such?

Jörg Adami: In our eyes, Esport is already a popular sport - just not as organized as we know it from traditional sports. The motivation of millions of ambitious gamers is not to kill time or to gamble wildly - it is to become better and to win. It's no different for someone who plays football in the district league. You don't go on the pitch because you don't have anything better to do, you want to win your game, your league, your competition. The emergence and growth of platforms for ambitious gamers is therefore to be welcomed, and they broaden the basis for the emergence of top players. Understanding this area is something that we all need to work on together as an industry, because it also offers great opportunities: a fundamentally international orientation, acquiring excellent English skills at a very early stage, teamwork skills, strategic thinking, stress resistance and performance orientation are qualities that are promoted in many titles, and which we as a society can also use very well.

Gian Luca Vitale: The success of Esports must be understood with the rise of social media or streaming platforms such as Twitch, YouTube, Reddit, 9gag and Co. This makes it possible to be present for the community at any time and for everyone. Besides this factor, academy teams at top esport organisations, glossy productions at events, the increasing prize money and salaries create new idols for a whole generation. This awakens the dream of many young people to become an Esport professional themselves. What does the time span of an Esport professional look like at the moment and what does this mean? What opportunities do young talents have in the ecosystem besides their profession as athletes?

Jörg Adami: The desire to become an esport professional is first of all welcome, because behind it there is always a certain willingness to perform and a certain passion. But if the intrinsic motivation is to collect as much prize money as possible with a little bit of playing, then it is highly likely that the path will not lead to the big stage. Top performers in top-class sport are characterized by the fact that they want to be the best in their field and want to compete with others at the very highest level. With this motivation, careers can last much longer than is currently the case. In the very young world of sport, the people we see in the glossy pictures are exceptionally talented and extremely goal-oriented, but are usually not systematically prepared for such a career. The pressure that is partly on these players is hardly imaginable for us desk workers. Here again, the systematically mapped out career path plays a role, which we are trying to follow with the Esports player foundation. If a career as a top professional doesn't work out, there are certainly a number of ways to find a professional future in the Esports ecosystem. But it's also an option to find a hobby in which you play very, very high class, but take a completely different path professionally. We support this with our work as well.

Gian Luca Vitale: The skills, the mindset and the personality of an Esport athlete are more and more in focus as a professional and potential employee in the War for Talents. For this reason, employer branding and talent acquisition with Esports is becoming an increasingly hot topic. What skills do Esportlers bring with them as employees? What is an Esportler's second career, and what more needs to be done here so that companies can take better advantage of this trend?

Jörg Adami: Just like other competitive athletes, successful athletes usually have a clear goal orientation and are willing to make substantial sacrifices to achieve a goal. This is a performer mindset. Furthermore, they certainly have specific qualities that are also interesting for companies, such as stress resistance or, in the case of titles like Counter Strike or League of Legends, a special ability to act as part of a team. But for employer branding and recruiting companies, it is certainly not enough to draw on the pool of ex-professionals. This is where the ambitious gamers play the more important role: the millions of players who have developed very similar skills because they use the stars of their Esport title as role models. On the other hand, companies that are involved in Esports with more than one logo presence also show their progressiveness and "open arms" towards gamers, which stands for a fundamentally positive and forward-looking attitude. It's not as if millions of gamers are not already working in the companies; it's just that they often don't communicate so offensively about it. From our point of view, employers would do very well to make gaming and Esports a topic of discussion and to promote them to existing employees.

Jörg Adami

Jörg Adami

Jörg Adami is managing director of the Esport Player Foundation (EPF). His vision is to drive the proessionalisation of esports through sustainable and continuous support, grow and promotion of talents and top athletes. Before his current role, he was chairman of the Deutsche Sporthilfe, where he gathered many helpful insights from his current work. In addition, he has an in-depth knowledge of esports and gaming from his time at ESL as VP Sport Affairs.

Gian Luca Vitale

Gian Luca Vitale

Gian Luca Vitale works in the Advisory section of PwC GmbH WPG in the customer centric transformation department. He has been a passionate esports and gaming enthusiast since childhood as a player, team founder and caster. He is now responsible at PwC for business development, customer experience and the conceptual development of esports events.

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