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While, technically, esports dates back to the 1970s, competitive gaming as we know it dates back nearly 20 years. Over time, it’s become a billion-dollar global business, and, for Gen Z gamers, it’s a passion that garners 77 percent more watch time than traditional broadcast sports.
However, despite that scale, esports hasn’t generated the mass cultural conversation and media rights value of traditional sports. Nor has it offered the same achievement platform for people of color that traditional sports offer. Esports today has no LeBron James, no Baron Davis.
Over the past several years, that has begun to change. First with the integration of top music acts into esports tournaments, streaming platforms and gaming titles, and now with the entry of organizations like Roc Nation. Roc Nation Sports, a full-service talent management agency founded in 2008 by Jay-Z, signed gaming superstar Mosaad Al-Dossary following his win at the 2018 FIFA eWorld Cup, and is now looking to push even further into esports and gaming.
The announcement that Roc Nation Sports is partnering with Gaming Community Network (GCN), a part of the GameSquare Esports, to create global gaming solutions for traditional athletes has implications for gamers across the world. Not only does it prove the cultural impact that both hip-hop and esports have on society as a whole, but it uniquely positions athletes to be able to participate in their own legacy while reaching new audiences.
The Roots of Hip-Hop and Gaming
The rise of hip-hop in pop culture in the ’90s and the rise of gaming in today’s society both have similar origin timelines. Although hip-hop has its roots in the 1970s, the genre soared in popularity in the 1990s. The hip-hop movement gained popularity as a music genre that allowed for self-expression of the individual, particularly for marginalized groups, and it became a top-selling music genre by the end of the ’90s.
Similarly, esports can be traced back to the ’70s, with the earliest known organized gaming competition taking place at Stanford University for the game Spacewar in late 1972. However, it wasn’t really until the early 2000s that esports began gaining popularity in mainstream culture. Years later, the Covid-19 pandemic drove explosive growth in gaming.
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The Tipping Point
Obviously, for traditional athletes already established in their respective markets, the announcement that Roc Nation Sports could help them grow their brand, enhance their legacies and reach new markets is exciting. But what does this announcement mean for the upcoming generation of gamers?
Firstly, we must consider that younger audiences are an increasingly influential and important demographic for the gaming industry moving forward. This is why agencies like Roc Nation Sports are looking to market industry athletes to the younger generations through gaming; traditional sports clubs are seeing a decline in linear TV ratings and engagement from younger generations.
Eonxi, a minority-owned venture fund and incubator, led by Sherrard Harrington and Aaron Wilson with investors including NBA star Spencer Dinwiddie, are also making esports moves. The partners announced the first of their esports initiatives focused on improving diversity. Eonxi and Statespace Lab, one of their portfolio companies, a developer of videogame training tools, will launch an esports league for underfunded high schools. The goal of this new league is to create new possibilities for students who lack access to computers and other technology.
Eonxi’s investment in Statespace Labs also included several professional athletes such as Malik Monk of the Los Angeles Lakers and former NFL cornerback David Amerson. These athletes will play a role in Eonxi and Statespace’s new venture, including visits to Black communities and schools to help kids grow in ways beyond gaming.
Roc Nation Sports’ GCN announcement and Eonxi’s new esports league create opportunities for both current and upcoming athletes and gamers to build their businesses, brands and legacies. It also proves that hip-hop and gaming will define culture for decades, especially as they join forces.
Not only does this collaboration mean that esports will rise alongside traditional sports in mainstream culture, but it also creates more opportunities for new gaming communities and people of color.
Ultimately, these evolving developments have the potential to enact large change within both the traditional sports sphere and the gaming sphere and allow gamers, particularly those who have been previously marginalized, equal opportunities to participate in and thrive within the esports industry moving forward.
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