By Katie Lever

The Esports Travel Summit will take place from May 29-31 in Raleigh, North Carolina and the event isn’t just about video games. Although the Esports industry centers around competitive gaming, there is plenty of competition on the business side as well, which Jason Gewirtz, Vice President of the Northstar Meetings Group, which oversees the Esports Travel Summit, knows well. According to Gewirtz, the event is designed to not only educate stakeholders about the benefits of doing business in the Esports realm, but to provide them with tools and connections to help them get involved.

The idea came to Gewirtz and his colleagues as they began to recognize the correlations between Esports and traditional sports when it comes to event planning.

“They look exactly like traditional sports,” Gewirtz said of Esports. “And so we realized early on that there are plenty of similarities between what it takes to organize a traditional sports event…There’s certain overlaps in event management that look the same.”

Even so, there are nuances that stakeholders unfamiliar with Esports must be aware of. Because Esports is a relatively new industry, legal gray areas and uncharted territory are key features of this fresh terrain–not unlike what collegiate athletics has recently experienced with the advent of the name, image, and likeness market–but with twists that are unique to the gaming realm.

“We know it’s an evolving industry, with regards to in-person Esports events,” Gewirtz explained. “And so by its very nature, there are going to be evolving issues including on the legal front, and licensing of games of course is one. There are licenses that you need to get in order to have an [Esports] event or a particular game title that doesn’t exist with softball or lacrosse or baseball, for example. And so we created the Esports Travel Summit as a way to connect the organizers of in-person Esports events with this other universe that we have in the travel industry.”

At first glance, it might not make sense to plan in-person events around competitive gaming–after all, one of the main appeals of video games is the ability to either play solo in the comfort of your own home or connect virtually with friends without having to travel. But Esports is unique, as it combines the best of several worlds–namely, entertainment, travel, tech, and business. This is another area where the Esports Travel Summit comes into play.

“We are living in a particular niche of the Esports industry with regards to the organization of in person events,” Gewirtz said. “And what we provide is some education and some networking for cities to be able to meet the decision makers in an Esports organization that decide where those events are held. There are people in destination venues who want to assist them on any number of things from venue selection, to hotel room blocks, to you name it–all the things that they’ve been doing for years in traditional sports they want to do in Esports. They just need to know who to meet and that’s what our event does–it brings both of those audiences together.”

One benefit of Esports is that although the in-person competitions don’t typically draw thousands of fans like traditional sports do, the marketing impact of such events can still be lucrative  because of the global-level exposure that video games provide consumers.

“As we talk about events with these cities in our universe,” Gewirtz explained. “If they’re hosting an event and maybe there’s only 200 people in the audience, if that…their city is being branded and pushed and streamed to a worldwide audience. And the opportunity for destination marketing, even if your event doesn’t look like a traditional event that you would consider successful, the global attendance and people with eyes on your brand or your venue are. It’s just a different conversation and it’s one that I think a lot of cities are starting to wake up to.”

And, according to Gewirtz, cities in particular should be aware of these possibilities because Esports can offer fans a virtual experience that traditional advertising can’t–and players and spectators often don’t even realize they’re navigating an ad when it’s strategically placed in a game.

“I was at an Overwatch tournament in Toronto last year,” Gewirtz recalled. “And one of the rounds of the game was being played in virtual Toronto, in the course of play in competition. It was something that looked very much like Toronto, but in a video game style, right in the middle of the game. So that’s very intriguing to us as to what that might look like moving forward.”

Although there are likely legal implications here as well–after all, a sizable amount of Esports athletes are minors–it’s nothing the industry won’t adjust to over time. For Gewirtz, a key question is whether or not traditional travel markets will entertain the possibility of leveling up their game by adding Esports to their lineups. The Esports Travel Summit can help stakeholders get involved and find out for themselves.

Katie is a freelance writer, who can be reached at mary.katherine.lever@gmail.com