Mark Candella is on a mission to make esports a mainstream industry and to empower its participants. Known as Garvey in the gaming community, he visited Dallas April 2 to deliver the keynote presentation at the second annual Emerging Technologies — EmTech — Summit. Presented by the UT Dallas Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, the conference had a theme of “Esports and the New Gaming Economy.”
Esports is “a medium that expands the comfort zones of young people,” said Garvey, who is the director of strategic partnerships at Twitch, Amazon’s live-streaming video platform that focuses on gaming. “It allows the disenfranchised to have confidence in having their voice heard and being able to participate and contribute to conversations. It’s a transition that most people don’t even realize it happens, that you go from an extreme introvert to an extrovert winning for your team.”
As for the economics of the gaming industry, Garvey explained that they have largely moved away from individual game purchases and more toward providing optional microtransactions within a free platform. Individual gamers can use these transactions to purchase virtual items, such as faster horses or better swords, that can help them win a game.
“With optional microtransactions, you can really just express yourself,” he said. “If you see some graphics, music or dance that resonates with you, you can support the company by having a little bit of this creativity is an expression of yourself.”
With esports, Garvey sees an opportunity for communities to rally around their favorite teams. The teams can serve as catalysts for entrepreneurial activity by their supporters — such as when fans form new digital media outlets that promote their favorite competitive teams.
“They create content, they create wins, they create buzz, they build a community,” he said. “And they have data from content creation, data from social media, data from their website and data — more and more lately from Discord [a voice and text chat app that can be used in conjunction with games] — these are the four foundational pieces of an esports media organization.”
This model is especially relevant in collegiate esports, he said, because students can apply classroom learning from management, art and technology, and computer science curriculums.
“I think it’s really exciting when you look at student affairs, athletics and academics coming together to create opportunity for the entire student body,” he said. “The university is investing in a brand new emergent industry.”
The summit was held at two venues — the Mavs Gaming Hub in Deep Ellum and Capital Factory’s uptown Dallas location — to coincide with Dallas Startup Week, April 1-5. The purpose of the annual gathering is to bring together people who are at the forefront of technology-oriented industry and culture to discuss new or untapped technological developments that hold the promise of shaping and transforming society. The EmTech topic this year built on the momentum of the launch last fall of esports as a UT Dallas athletics program.
UT Dallas President Richard C. Benson was on hand to introduce Garvey and express his support of both the institute’s initiatives and the Comets esports team, which was active at the event. The team came to support the proceedings as enthusiastic and vociferous audience members as well as to compete in an intercollegiate sports tournament hosted by Dallas Startup Week. The Comets competed against UT Arlington, SMU, Texas Wesleyan and UNT in Overwatch, a team shooting game set on a near-future Earth.
Lindsay Caudill, a marketing junior at JSOM and an Overwatch analyst for the Comets esports team, attended the event not knowing what to expect other than it being a “giant esports meet up and talk.”
“I learned that there are so many legs that keep the esports world running,” she said about the presentations she attended. “Collegiate, professional and especially on the business side of things. I never realized that teams and companies need gaming lawyers, the technology companies behind all of it, etc.”
The meetup aspect of the event was fruitful for Caudill, too. She was offered — and accepted — a social media specialist position with Team Envy, a professional gaming company that owns the Dallas Fuel, a professional esports team that competes in the Overwatch League.
“As a JSOM student, it’s great exposure!” she said. “It’s amazing to be able to meet so many people that impact such a booming new industry. It was a great representation of our school as well. It benefits immensely to be able to put your foot in the door and learn more about an industry I want to end up in.”
The EmTech Summit was co-presented by the School of Arts, Technology, and Emerging Communication, UT Dallas Athletics, the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science and the Naveen Jindal School of Management, home to UT Dallas’ academic programs in innovation and entrepreneurship.
UT Dallas summit panelists included Dr. Anne Balsamo, ATEC dean, Arts and Technology Distinguished University Chair and Arts and Humanities Distinguished Chair; Greg Adler, manager of the UT Dallas esports team; and ATEC’s Associate Dean of Research and Creative Technologies Dale MacDonald.
Steve Guengerich, executive director of the institute, said he heard repeatedly how impressed attendees were with the strength of content, both speakers’ experiences and overall depth of coverage.
“This gratifies me more than any other element of the event,” he said. “Without great content, EmTech has no chance to endure. You can go anywhere for a great venue or pick from any of a dozen networking events for introductions to great, new people. But our vision for the EmTech Summit is about something more.”
That something more includes convening the pioneers of new ideas and emerging technologies, Guengerich said. Speakers and panelists included Matt Hooper, director of development at Oculus VR; Leemon Baird, founder and chief scientist at Hedera Hashgraph; and Paul Bettner, CEO and founder of Playful Corp, who were there to offer their takes on how to mainstream esports.
At the end of the day, Guengerich said, the institute delivered on the EmTech Summit brand promise of rich content on an iconic innovation topic of our time.
“We’re eager to take what we learned and begin work immediately on next year’s Summit,” he said.
— Jimmie R. Markham