A Top 25 Business & Marketing Podcast
eSports Series ft Shaon Berry

August 04, 2020

eSports Series ft Shaon Berry
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In this episode, Ryan and Shaon talk about the various opportunities in professional gaming, the expansion for minority gamers, and different ways to engage brands.


Follow along in the series. Visit our website theradcast.com | @the.rad.cast or @ryanalford on Instagram 

Transcript

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It has to start somewhere. It has to start sometime. What better place than here? What better time than now?” 

“You’re listening to The Radcast. If it’s Radical, we cover it. Here’s your host, Ryan Alford.” 

Ryan Alford [00:00:00] Hey guys, I'm  Ryan Alford with the latest episode of the Radcast, the third part in a series on ESports,  the up and coming, the innovations that are happening, and, all the growth. We're excited for all the interest that we've been getting around this series and excited to be joined today by Sean Barry. What's up, man? 

Shaon Berry 00:00:36] Hey, good man. How are you doing? 

Ryan Alford [00:00:] We appreciate you coming on. Sean is the CEO and owner of Metro Sports in Philadelphia, he has had a long lineage in sports and events, sponsorships, and sports in general. I know Sean, but I appreciate you coming on to talk a little about ESports and what you've been up to. 

Shaon Berry [00:0:58] Always glad to do it.  It’s a  pandemic, what else is there to do? 

Ryan Alford [00:01:03]: We've gotten more people at a good time with our podcast series. It's gotten, we'll say not easier, but a little more attainable to get some normally super busy folks online. So we appreciate your time, Sean.  As we discussed pre-episode, can you talk a little about your sporting background to include your time at Pits and talk about your journey with Metre Sports. 

Shaon Berry [00:01:33]: Yeah, for sure. As I shared with you earlier, I do not come from the sports world,  I am very much an alien there.  I grew up in the Philadelphia South Jersey area, played football in high school and played in college at the  University of Pittsburgh, and worked in corporate America for twenty-five years before I launched a sports media company called Junior Rank Sports. I launched that with the idea in mind that I could create some events to help kids get recruited and deliver some good messages around character and discipline and academic excellence. Junior Ranks Sports grew bigger and faster than I was prepared for,  we grew over 400 percent in three years. I ended up in a Title sponsorship partnership with the United States Marine Corps, and I created their Semper Fidelis all-American Bowl, which ran on ESPN for about six years and so I spent most of my time deeply engaged in football.  In fact, the first running back that played in my all-American game was Todd Gurley and Jared Goff was also one of our quarterbacks. So, it has been heavily entrenched on the traditional sports side and I saw that very much as a way to help communities and help young athletes interested in matriculating. And I got a call about two and a half years ago from the president of  AAU, who asked if I was still doing esports? And I said I don't know what you are talking about because I didn't even know what E-sports was, so he went on to explain, we understand that at your event, you do an eSports tournament. And what they were referring to was sometimes at our camps and combines we would give  Xbox and PlayStation to the kids, and we send it to hotels with the coaches to keep them busy. I didn't consider it E-sports event management. And low and behold, I get a completely undeserved reputation. But, it caused me to look at eSports more seriously and do some due diligence. And I was just absolutely blown away by the business model and the growth opportunities and more importantly, the ways that you can impact a larger group of young people effectively. So that's how I got into it. 

Ryan Alford [00:03:53]: That's great. It's so funny, looking back in my career, some of the sponsorship activities I worked on, like Verizon business we set up within the NFL stadiums, we'd have Sony or something playing. And,  thinking back to the roots of ESports,  a lot of people were doing it and didn't realize it. So let's talk a little bit about Metro sports your business today. What's happening within that environment? Let's pretend, at least for a moment that the pandemic wasn't happening. What is the core business model for what you're doing? 

Shaon Berry [00:04:38]So I built Metro E-Sports for a couple of different reasons, but primarily I wanted to create some unique content opportunities for brands, some that were outside of the box a little bit in terms of attracting casual gamers or gamers that were a little bit unfamiliar with EA Sports in the industry. And then the other thing for me was social outcomes. I  wanted to impact the community with certification or STEM programs that are related to the E-sports industry or create internship opportunities with some of our brand partners. And so for me, it was really about how could I make or become a conduit to do good things for brands or good things for people. 

Ryan Alford [00:05:23] Yeah, I love it. So you've got a 7000-foot facility for tournaments, I presume, and then I like how you mixed in some of the STEM stuff. How does that stuff naturally happen and how long have you had the facility? 

Shaon Berry [00:05:42]: So believe it or not, we just completed the wiring and paint job right before Covid hit. So we have yet to announce our grand opening, we are waiting until things are safe again and we're able to allow kids to work and play together. But the facility is interesting. I built it almost like a digital version of the YMCA so you can come here and recreate and compete, whether it's gaming, PC, or console for those that are a lot more serious. We have one-on one coaching for those that are interested in playing tournaments.  And we'll do everything from smash brothers to fighting games to sports games and first-person shooters, etc. We have military Mondays where we just try to honor our veterans and create some opportunities for them to engage and compete. But the thing that I enjoy the most is, we look at the E-sports industry and we partner with some of the local colleges and universities and said, OK, well, if I want to become a game designer or a game developer or coder or a programmer, what do I need to know and maybe I can't afford to go to college, what does that look like? And so a lot of the programs that will be announced over the next three to six months are designed around how to become a member of the E-sports industry if you're not a gamer or if you're not a streamer, but you still love and have a passion for either technology or just the space. And, we've got new partnerships with Capcom and Warner Brothers, and Ubisoft and that allows us to be kind of a conduit between the community and the corporate. 

Ryan Alford [00:07:13]: It's interesting and it's funny because, on the surface, parents and maybe the uninformed see the negative side of sports or video game playing, but a lot of time spent by the kids playing just the games themselves, when in reality there's so many other legs to it and some of the opportunities because you're still talking about highly technically advanced gaming and everything that goes into making the games, making the consoles and even just the expertise to play now, it's just fascinating, the layers that are there. 

Shaon Berry [00:07:58]: Yeah, there are so many opportunities. I look at it like this; if I had an event and a thousand football players were on the field, the reality was of those thousand, maybe I could find five, maybe 10 guys that could play in college but only 3 or four with the grades.  I think it's so different in esports; if I had a thousand people in an esports tournament, I can find three hundred coders and two hundred programmers and 50 streamers and 60 game designers. And so to be able to provide an opportunity or platform to engage or educate or enhance all those things that just multiply. And that's kind of why I love the space the way I do. 

Ryan Alford [00:08:42]: I presume, one of your more recent partnerships with the NFL flag and the NFL flag football league for youth, is bringing players together. But, talk to me about what your involvement is in that type of tournament and what are you enabling? What is Metrowest esports enablement in that kind of online tournament? What is your role in that? 

Shaon Berry [00:09:18]: I'm a creator and a producer for the NFL, just like other organizations say hey, listen, let's recreate to the best of our ability the digital sports experience. So the competition of being on the field and being competitive and enjoying that, whether it's NBA 2k or Madden Twenty or whatever it is, let's recreate that and give young people, particularly during this pandemic, an opportunity to just compete and receive some of the benefits from what I think is an awesome kind of industry because when you look at this pandemic, organizations like the NFL or anybody else has a real interest in understanding that young people need to socialize, they need to recreate and many need to compete and I think it offers all of those aspects. And so, we did the first-ever NFL online tournament, but we have cities that are clients that engage in league play. In fact, the mayor of Atlantic City said; "Hey, listen, I want all the kids in our school district to be able to play in the league for the next couple of months because I don't know what else they can do". 

Ryan Alford  [00:10:34]: What's the facilitation of that like? I kind of want to get into the nuts and bolts of that a little bit. So when they come to you to do that, you've got players, youth within the city that are going to play and they're trying to enable that tournament? I know enough about the games themselves to be cautious, having played them. I have four boys under the age of ten. So other than playing Rocket League or Madden, I'm too not that game-specific. But like, what do you enable specifically other than maybe promotion of the event or something like that? Help walk me through what exactly you're running, 

Shaon Berry [00:11:20]: So there is a registration process. There is a communication process, there is advertising and promotion, there's player matching. There's kind of rules and oversight. There is bracketing and playoff management and kind of all those things. It is certainly more complicated than a traditional sports kind of engagement. But being able to do all of those things and do it well is what creates an awesome experience. 

Ryan Alford [00:11:50]: Do you create, like literally within Madden, can you set up these tournaments? 

Shaon Berry [00:11:56]: No, I have a partnership with Madden that allows me to license it to be able to play and leverage that as an opportunity to compete. But as far as the development on the development side, what shows up on the screen is solely the developer's expertise, not mine. 

Ryan Alford [00:12:15]: Yeah, no, but if two youth are playing in New Jersey, what facilitates the knowing who won in the bracket and all of those things in a, 

Shaon Berry [00:12:30]: So we have a team that oversees the players and scoring and bracketology and rules and competition of the whole thing. 

Ryan Alford [00:12:35]: OK, so it keeps track of everything. What's been the response to some of the more virtual offerings with covid and everything going on? Is there an uptick like in everything else? 

Shaon Berry 00:12:53]: It's been huge and I haven't been able to get much sleep, man, because there are so many things that are happening right now where groups are looking for opportunities to educate or engage or entertain or one of those things. So it's an exciting time from the perspective of what we already knew, which was if you don't have some level of technology involved in what you're doing, you're going to stagnate. And so we're finding growth. 

Ryan Alford [00:13:24]: What does the partnership for you look like with some of the games and some of the larger names that I see that you are partnering with today. Is it kind of you approaching them with ideas or vice versa? 

 Shaon Berry [00:13:40]: Well, as I said, I have a long history of really successful activities on the sports and the television side, the top profile, and so there are a lot of relationships that just made the transition with me from sports to e-sports. Others have been more challenging from the fact that we're not endemic and we're building a brand and a name. And so those can be anywhere from kind of a big toe in the water; let's see how this goes to others that are saying, hey, listen, we believe in you and your mission and your vision and we want to get behind it. One of my strongest relationships from a company perspective is Logitech. Their team is so committed to all of the things that I believe in, and that's diversity and inclusion in the space, educating and empowering communities, exciting and entertaining competition and those kinds of things that are very, very natural for me in terms of what I want to do, and what I want this brand to be is already an extension of what Logitech does daily. And so that's one of the partnerships that I'm most proud of because there's such an alignment of goals and an agenda. 

Ryan Alford [00:15:12]: You mentioned a keyword there and it has been important. I read some of the recent articles about diversity. I mean, what's the general state of diversity in esports?  Are you improving, but have a lot of room to grow? 

Shaon Berry [00:15:30]:  I think that's an understatement. Yeah. These sports on a whole are non-diverse. I mean just to keep it real with you, when you look at five hundred million streamers on Twitch and less than three percent are African-American or Hispanic, when you turn on the sport and you see professional teams or you watch events on ESPN or TNT, whether it's legal legend or Budgens or overwatch, it's just not reflective of our community as a whole, right? So what I'd like to see is eSports more for everybody that we know, where there is a balanced level of representation and participation, not for the sake of doing it, but because everybody loves it. And so I think that there's a huge opportunity for brands that have an interest in reaching a more broad and diverse consumer segment of leveraging E-Sports and kind of the digital presence and eyeballs across the nation that are on it and looking for creative ways to do that. 

Ryan Alford [00:15:44]: Let's be honest every 10 to 12-year-old boy or girl of all nationalities and backgrounds is playing  ESports of some sort. 

Shaon Berry [00:15:44]: I think the number is 97%. But most people don't know that the majority of the US video game consumer market is  Black and Latino and so it's over-indexed, it is closer to  40-50% percent. And then Pew Research did a study, I guess it was two years ago, and found that African-American teens play more on average per week more than any other ethnicity by over an hour. What that says to me is there's an untapped market out there and it's a great opportunity to be more engaging and more inclusive, that does nothing but create better competition and make it more exciting and fun. 

Ryan Alford [00:17:39]: The numbers speak for themselves. Is it that the African-American market's playing these games at a higher rate, the Hispanic market playing a higher rate? Do you think it's just a lack of opportunity to get in the larger tournaments or games and or maybe just not feeling included or what's the gap there? 

Shaon Berry [00:18:03]: I don't think it's intentional at all. And I think everybody has the same opportunity. I think it's exposure and awareness. The other thing is different cultures compete or are entertained differently. If we don't focus on engaging one particular group or another it could mean a world of difference in terms of attracting people into the market. I think that nobody's been very intentional about bringing in the other cultures that just haven't participated. So I don't think it's about the opportunity. I think it's just an intention. 

Ryan Alford [00:18:50]: Changing tune just a little bit; What's been fascinating for me and I have done some research, I've started to work and talk to more clients in this space and different things, is the streaming aspect, just the sheer enormity of content being watched.  The spinoff with Twitch and YouTube and Facebook and MySpace has been fascinating. Any perspective on where that's at, where it's going, and what is your volume of that? 

Shaon Berry [00:20:23]: Yeah, I mean, it is amazing to me -- the conditioning of how we receive digital data, the shorter attention spans, Kids know up through GenZE and millennials they want clips of entertainment and excitement and a bundle on a package. And ESports provides that in a way that's so accessible from a mobile phone. And so when I think about streaming and content and personalities that are making millions of dollars because they happen to catch an eye, I mean, and you look at TikTok and you go, why didn't I think of that? I mean, ESports are no different. But I think therein lies also the opportunity. The thing that's so exciting about this space is the reach. Right. And so a streaming audience, whether it's YouTube or Twitch or caffeine or anybody else, is able to reach millions in an instant. You just have to have some good content and be creative about it. And so that's another thing that I think makes this industry so great, is that if you can be creative, you have a chance to be successful. 

Ryan Alford [00:20:46]: Yeah, I read one of the top players or not even the top player. I forgot the name. It was like a mediocre player or something was making 15 thousand dollars an hour for extra exclusive streaming rights on Twitch. It's crazy, but I mean, I guess it's the same thing as a TV station -- you get ratings and you have the eyeballs and it drives, 

Shaon Berry [00:21:14]: The word techland is subjective. And when I was doing some research just to learn about Esports, I remember talking to one pro gamer and I said, oh, I guess ninja's the best, right,  and he said you can throw a baseball and hit 15 people that can beat a Ninja. And I said, well, wait a minute, what is it? And it was my personality. It's what engages an audience. And so, I think that's so exciting. And because it levels the playing field in such a crazy way. 

Ryan Alford [00:21:53]: Almost like professional wrestling of sorts. The best athlete isn't always the best and the highest-paid wrestler. 

Shaon Berry [00:21:55]: I'm super convinced that the guys that I love the most in WWE weren't the best athletes. They were all about personality for sure. 

Ryan Alford [00:22:05]: I don't think  Ric Flair was ever the best athlete, he might have been in his early years maybe. But yeah, even when he started making his big bankroll, I don't think he was the best athlete, but he knew how to talk and he did it. He knew how to play it up 

Shaon Berry [00:22:19]:  Ric Flair has never dunked a basketball, that's for damn sure. 

Ryan Alford [00:22:25]: No I know. Metro Sports is just getting off the ground where your facility is concerned and when things reopen, God’s willing soon; what is your 3 to 5-year plan?  Where do you see Metro sports? 

Shaon Berry [00:22:47]: I am so excited because again, it's what I love about this industry. For us, it's about creating original content that is attractive and engaging, and so some of what you'll see from Metro  Esports over the next, to be honest with you, over the next three to six months, will be industry-changing. And some pretty powerful brands think so, too. So, I would say be on the lookout for content that you've never seen before. 

Ryan Alford [00:23:24]: Is it the NFL portion of what you did with the NFL pass; is this going to be an ongoing partnership potentially with them? 

Shaon Berry [00:23:37]: I think so. I think the great thing about the NFL is that they are the NFL so they can do whatever the hell they want, whenever they want. I think right now it's really about their understanding of how much football is being played, whether it's at the youth level or the high school level, or the college level. And then, when they're not playing, how do we want to engage them, E-Sports or anybody else? But, my hope is for us from a partnership perspective, we're looking at NASCAR and MLB and others that have an understanding that there's an opportunity when organized well to satisfy both the on-field and the on-screen appetites of young people. 

Ryan Alford [00:24:29]: I'm asking all my guests in this series because I have four boys under the age of 10 that all play; Is this a true career path? 

Shaon Berry [00:24:40]: Yes, I have to tell you, I did a zoom call with a group in Florida over the weekend. So they had about one hundred young people on the call, and we were talking about just E-sports as an industry. And one of the parents said to me, hey, listen, is this thing real? Should I let my kid play five and six hours a day? And my answer to her was a standard answer for me, to answer with a story. I did an event with Microsoft last year at one of their Pennsylvania locations, and they had a young person, a young kid that was coming into their store to play because he didn't have the resources at home, but he was coming in every day as soon as they opened and he was closing up the shop every night. And he did this for months on end, to the dismay of his parents, until he won,  like six million dollars in New York. And so is it a real career? I would say the percentages are higher. If you have some type of technical aptitude. As a parent, I would say to my kid, listen, if you want a game, do it all day, but you've got to spend an equal amount of time learning how to code or program, or design. And so if you have a passion for the space, let's up the percentages of your success by being more well-rounded. 

Ryan Alford [00:26:07]: I love that. I'm going to use that exact phrase there. Well, Sean man, I really appreciate your time and coming on today and looking forward to following everything that Metro Sports is doing, your involvement with diversity, involvement with a lot of these brands. So really appreciate the insights and your time today. 

 Shaon Berry [00:26:30]: Hey, thank you guys for the time and for having me on. 

Ryan Alford [00:26:32]: Hey, guys, it's Ryan Alford. Follow along at the.rad.cast on Instagram and we'll see you next time. 

Shaon Berry

CEO & Founder at Metro Esports