As the e-sports land- scape continues to evolve, several veteran organiza- tions are leading the industry into new territory. And
at the center of that is Craig Levine,
CEO of ESL North America, the world’s
largest e-sports company. A longtime
gamer, Levine in 2002 founded Team
3D, one of the first professional e-sports
teams. He also co-founded ESS Agency, an event marketing and technology
company. In 2014, ESS was acquired
by Turtle Entertainment to expand the
North American footprint of ESL, a
company whose live events are becoming some of the largest in the industry.
In this interview, Levine discusses the
state of e-sports, the future of events,
and issues to watch in months to come.
For years, the conversation
seemed to be if e-sports should
be considered sports. Do you feel
that we’ve moved on from that?
I think we’ve absolutely overcome
and passed that. We used to see it a lot in
the early 2000s, when there would be hu-
man interest novelty stories—“kids are
making money playing games!” I think
we’ve graduated and advanced so much
further beyond that. There are tens of
millions of people watching these events
regularly. Thousands of people are
packing arenas. All of those things have
quelled the discussion.
Several projections show
mind-boggling estimates of how
much the industry is worth. How
would you describe the state of
e-sports right now?
I think e-sports is still being defined.
It’s still very malleable. As much as every-
one is talking about it now, the subcul-
ture has been building for 18 years. But
even with where it is today and how far
we’ve certainly come, it’s still so young.
In many ways, there’s no way you can
accelerate some of the development that
has to happen. People lose sight that tra-
ditional sports in some cases took 50 to
100 years to reach the point where they
are today. We’re just beginning.
So much of the e-sports audience
is online. How do live events fit
into the industry’s growth?
There have been a couple of giant inflection points that have taken e-sports
to where they are. One of those is the
live-event experience. Before live events,
there was the sheer magnitude of 46
million people tuning in for a video
game event. What does that mean? But
if you say 173,000 people came to an
event like they did at our world championships in Poland for our Intel Extreme
Masters in March, everyone knows what
that is. You’re there and you feel it because you are a part of it. People started
to understand what was really going on.
Big brands started to jump in. Media
companies started to take things a little
more seriously. Even game publishers
themselves in some cases did, too.
How is ESL choosing hosts for
events in the United States?
By Jason Gewirtz
The CEO of ESL North America is a veteran gamer, team owner and league
executive who believes e-sports can disrupt the sports-event industry