Esports arenas continue to sell out for important events, but the average gamer experiences esports virtually alone. He or she may occasionally talk to friends or teammates over voice chat, but there is very little face-to-face communication, and almost no in-person interaction. It’s an impersonal environment that encourages bullying and discourages empathy.
Matt Edelman, COO of Super League Gaming, wants to change that.
Ten months ago he left agency juggernaut WME-IMG to join Super League because he saw what CEO Ann Hand and the rest of the company were doing for community driven esports events. It reminded him of an organization that has had a lasting impact on kids all over America: Little League Baseball.
“I see the impact that type of organization has on kids who want to play that sport, on the families who rally around the kids who are playing and what happens in the community because of how that organization is structured,” Edelman said. “Super League Gaming, when I heard about them, was the only organization tapping into that local excitement.”
To connect gamers at a local level, Super League has held over 2000 in-person events with teams in 16 cities throughout the United States. High-level events in esports are called LANs (local area network) because it’s rare for competitions to take place with all teams in the same location. Super League’s goal is to make the LAN environment accessible to more people, and to promote a healthier atmosphere than the one found in the online ranked mode of most games.
“In online communities the competitive nature of games can bring out some not so admirable behavior,” Edelman said. “When you are sitting across from someone who you have to collaborate and strategize with – or even someone they are competing against – the toxicity dissipates almost entirely.”
It is much easier to be nasty to an opposing username than it is to a person across the table, and it’s no secret the anonymity of the Internet breeds animosity, but in esports, when players need to work as a team, that animosity can be counterproductive. The Overwatch League has been marred by scandals in its first year and many gamers have been branded as “toxic” – an esports word for unsportsmanlike or abrasive.
“Once you know the people you are playing with in real life, a lot of that toxicity in gaming goes away,” said Hand, Super League’s CEO.
She sees the potential positives that can be forged in the gaming community firsthand at Super League events.
“We provide a great environment for all types of gamers and it is much different than being online,” Hand said. “Our highest mission is: how can we, through these online event leagues, create local connections with other people. The goal is to build character, promote leadership and foster friendships.”