Esports Lab At UNLV’s International Gaming Institute Looks To Drive Entrepreneurship

Written By Will Green on August 16, 2016 - Last Updated on January 22, 2018

[toc]The International Gaming Institute at the University of Nevada Las Vegas will both harness, and help further, the growth of esports initiatives in the gaming industry with the formation of its new esports lab.

A course taught by director Robert Rippee will incentivize students to design solutions to business challenges in the esports field, such as the development and implementation of competitive esports events that attract millennials to the gaming space.

Both undergraduate and graduate students across a variety of schools, including the law and business schools, will partake in the elective course.

Striking while the iron is hot

The business of esports is on the rise throughout Las Vegas.

Downtown Grand CEO and Chairman Seth Schorr has developed what is believed to be Las Vegas’ first esports lounge.

The MGM hosted the North American League of Legends Championship Series event in April, attracting 6,000 fans not only to the event, but also in part to the property’s other attractions, like its restaurants, shops and casino.

Meanwhile esports betting is growing, with cash gambling on professional matches expected to reach $10 billion in handle by 2020.

“The biggest thing is timing. I can’t think of another example where the introduction of a new initiative like this in the academic world perfectly coincides with what’s happening in the gaming and hospitality worlds,” said Rippee, who was formerly the senior vice president of marketing at The Venetian and The Palazzo.

The three-hour Thursday evening class will not merely transpire inside classroom walls. Rippee noted that students will hear from industry-leading guest speakers who will discuss compliance, esports tournament design and more.

Students will also attend site visits at esports gaming facilities, and will work in the lab outside of classroom hours to further their research and develop business models for esports gaming that they will present at the conclusion of the course.

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The spirit of esports entrepreneurship

Rippee noted that many gaming companies are still trying to determine how to effectively monetize esports within the construct of a traditional casino space.

“Everyone is trying to understand esports, trying to understand millennial behavior, how those two things are connected, and then what are the future implications for the industry,” he said.

Notably, students who sign up for the course are not necessarily expected to have a background in gaming. They will also not be beholden to a textbook or series of exams.

Rather, they’re expected to be entrepreneurially oriented, and develop ideas based on what they learn in the course that could drive both esports gaming policy and strategy.

Ultimately, Rippee envisions students in the course helping the industry itself learn how to integrate esports into the casino-level business model, and develop and execute business strategies that attract millennial consumers.

The lab could also help funnel top talent to gaming companies.

“In the course of presenting business plans and ideas (the students) are being exposed to very senior leaders in these companies,” he said.

“Being a former senior executive, if I saw a very talented student presenting an innovative and executable idea, I’d be very interested in hiring them.”

An event-based future

One way millennials could engage more with the casino space is through medium or large-scale esports events.

The demographic is already flocking en masse to larger tournaments, such as the MGM-hosted NA LCS in April.

Earlier this month, thousands witnessed the largest esports tournament in the world, the $20 million prize pool Dota 2 tournament The International, at Seattle’s Key Arena.

The championship of Turner and WME IMG’s ELEAGUE, a Counter-Strike: Global Offensive tournament, played out to a large live studio audience. Its television broadcast on TBS and on Twitch was viewed by hundreds of thousands more people.

Casinos, eager to draw younger consumers through their doors, are looking to play host to the same type of events.

If the current iteration of Las Vegas casinos form the experience capital of the world for adults, Rippee is confident that the next iteration for the next generation will include esports.

“Esports is more than just the players. It’s the spectators. People watch people play esports, just like we watch the NFL, the NBA, the Olympics,” he said.

“The number of spectators in (esports) dwarfs the number of players, so from the perspective of my course, we’re not only exploring the players, we’re going to explore the spectators and the fans and the experience of esports, and what all of that entails.”

The Pac-12 conference, which is launching competitive esports in the fall of 2016, could potentially host future tournaments in conjunction with one of its other sport’s championship events. Its 2017 conference basketball tournament will be held at T-Mobile Arena.

With more spectators comes more betting

If more casino venues are successful at pulling off large-scale esports tournaments, more spectators could be drawn to bet on the outcomes of esports matches.

Just what that would look like, though, is both at the heart of Rippee’s course, and on the minds of gaming operators.

Regulations to explicitly govern esports betting are still being sussed out by the Nevada Gaming Control Board. But since single-game sports wagering is already legal in Nevada, so too is esports wagering at licensed, regulated sports books like William Hill, providing those books formally petition the NGCB.

Esports tournaments could constitute a logical industry growth point in other states too, namely New Jersey, where temporary regulations have already been adopted to govern certain types of esports tournament wagering.

Spectators, players and others involved likely will seek regulations ensuring contests are fair, involve a high degree of integrity, and utilize sound technology that isn’t vulnerable to outside manipulation.

Perhaps those in the esports lab looking for answers on the regulatory front can get help developing solutions right on campus. Earlier this year the IGI also launched the International Center For Gaming Regulation, a joint venture with the university’s Boyd School of Law that helps guide policymakers making regulatory decisions within the industry.

Image credit: Ken Wolter /

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