eSports in the Workplace

Becky Lawlor

Mark and Ryan have worked at the same company for the past five years. They work two rows apart from each other, but they’ve never once spoken. That is until they both joined their company’s eSports team. Now, they talk all the time—and even hang out socially after work. But that’s not all—through their expanding network of eSports peers and business associates, they’ve also met new customers and been offered new career opportunities. 

This is the kind of story that Brad Tenenholtz, CEO of Corporate Esports Association, hears all the time. “The camaraderie andfriendship is one benefit,” says Brad Tenenholtz, CEO of Corporate Esports Association, “but I also see a lot of upward and sideways mobility for those participating on eSports teams. You get to know people, and this can help you get on projects you’re interested in or help you move up in your company.”

But these are just a few of the many benefits eSports can bring to the workplace.

Big Benefits for Employees and Employers

One of the biggest benefits of eSports in the workplace is improved collaboration and team building skills. “Our eSport competition has helped the teams develop cooperation and team-leading skills, which definitely carries over to the workplace,” says Luka Arezina, Editor in Chief at DataProt. “The matches can get intense, where one small mistake can cause a team to lose, so it also builds trust by simulating the real-time reactions of people when they are under pressure.”

There are also positive benefits for employers as well, such as increased collaboration and productivity. In one recent study by Brigham Young University, newly-formed work teams who spent time playing video games together for just 45 minutes saw a 20 percent increase in productivity on subsequent tasks.

For companies that sell or work with technology and solutions used for eSports and gaming, a workplace team can highlight a deeper level of understanding (and even passion) around eSports. This can help set the company apart from the competition as not just a seller, but as a user of the technology.

Workplace teams can also improve employees’ perceptions about their employer. Abir Syed, a CPA who used to work at Ernst & Young and was part of a League of Legends team while there says, “[eSports] helped me develop more positive feelings toward the organization. Partially because of the fun you have that you subconsciously associate to being part of a company activity, but also because, like in many competitive scenarios, your feeling of pride towards your team increases.”

Studies have shown that these types of positive feelings can boost employee engagement and lead to a multitude of benefits. Research by Gallup and published in the Harvard Business Review has shown that companies with low employee engagement scores experience 18% lower productivity, 16% lower profitability, 37% lower job growth, and 65% lower share price over time.

These types of positive feelings can also extend to customers’ perceptions of your organization. At Connection, for example, employees’ participation in eSports allows customers to get to know employees better and helps to position the company as experts in the eSports space. 

How to Get Started

There are several different ways companies can roll out eSports in the workplace. Some companies may choose to create teams within their own organization that compete against each other. At DataProt, they hold Counter-Strike competitions by splitting the office into four teams based on employee roles, such as content, link builders, social media, and management. Then, they use a playoff-style bracket, with the first teams to reach four wins advancing to the finals. While there is no prize for the winners, the last-place team has to pay the entire bill for the tournament, which usually spans an entire Saturday and can involve lots of beer and pizza.

Another option is joining the Corporate Esports Association, which facilitates eSports competitions every Saturday. CEA currently has 291 teams with 150 different companies from all over the world participating, including large organizations like Google and Microsoft as well as small startups. Teams pay $200 to compete in each 16-week season. Instead of cash prizes, the winning team gets to donate the prize pool to the charity of their choice. This past season, Tenenholtz said teams donated $20,000 to charity.

As far as where and how teams congregate to practice and compete, Tenenholtz notes that he is increasingly seeing eSports arenas or video areas at companies, but that teams also spend time practicing at someone’s house. 

A Final Note

While companies can start eSports teams, it often works best when there is an employee who is excited about eSports and wants to create a team. “It doesn’t work so well when companies give the task to HR,” says Tenenholtz. “It’s better to identify someone who is really into Overwatch, for example, and enable that person to start a team.”

But the most important piece of advice might be just to get started. “When you start to forge meaningful relationships, you tend to do more for those people, and we’ve indeed seen a lot of benefits come out of this in terms of productivity,” says Tenenholtz.

Becky Lawlor has been covering the convergence of business and technology for over a decade. Her writing focuses on emerging trends in big data, IoT, AI, mobility, cyber security, cloud computing, and more. She especially enjoys examining how these technologies are impacting critical business and public sectors such as healthcare, education, government, and retail. You can find more of her writing and insights on Twitter @lawlor_becky.