We had the chance to sit down with Angela Bernhard Thomas of CSMG, the brains behind ESPORTSU, to talk about their plans for the collegiate esports space.
ESPORTSU, the new 24/7 Twitch channel from CSMG focusing on Collegiate esports, launched last week. It’s been off to a modest start, but Angela Bernhard Thomas isn’t worried about that. She’s more focused on making sure the channel has a wealth of content, preferring to take a build it and they will come mentality.
We had the chance to sit down with Thomas in the wake of the channel’s launch to answer some burning questions we had about the initiative. After all, many efforts in the collegiate and greater esports scene have been launched and failed before. We wanted to know what would make this one different, and how its going to benefit collegiate athletes moving forward.
CSMG, ESPORTSU, and the Collegiate Eports movement
Dustin Steiner, Americas Editor: What are some of the biggest issues affecting collegiate esports today?
Angela Bernhard Thomas: Oftentimes you hear the word fragmented, but I think that underdeveloped is a better description. There are many different leagues, conferences and tournaments which makes it hard for brands and fans to know where to go. Universities are still trying to figure out how to formalize esports programs within their systems and funding mechanisms. Most programs are underfunded. That is why ESPORTSU is focused on uniting community, content, and events across the scholastic ecosystem so we create opportunities for sponsors to get involved to help support the entire landscape.
Steiner: What’s your opinion on the NCAA’s potential involvement in esports?
Thomas: We have had multiple conversations with the NCAA to learn about their process and potential procedures for esports. At the current time, ESPORTSU continues to establish a forward motion in uniting the collegiate esports landscape and working with all different conferences, leagues, schools and students to create a central hub for content, community, and events.
Steiner: Why do you feel your company is best positioned to be at the forefront of collegiate esports when there are already so many organizations like CSL that have been around longer? Have you have any involvement from the CSL?
Thomas: Our focus is on the students. ESPORTSU will operate specifically to what and how students like to consume esports content. We will also be supporting student-led productions at our events and on our ESPORTSU channel. We provide real life, tangible production support, education and opportunity at the scholastic level.
ESPORTSU is focused on helping grow the entire collegiate esports landscape and will collaborate with CSL and other industry leaders to maximize opportunities for students through data and surveys, venue build outs, intern placement, recruitment, career development, sponsor sales and content aggregation.
How does CSMG measure success?
Steiner: Many have tried and failed to produce programming 24/7 on Twitch. What is your plan to ensure that you don’t run out of content?
Thomas: Our access to content through our partners is key, as well as our ability to efficiently operate a broadcast studio. We’re not creating content in the studio like others before us. We are aggregating and elevating the content we have from our partners and creating some new original shows. We are aggregating the best content with higher production value, leading talent, and broadcast graphics packages, and telling compelling stories about the students on our ESPORTSU channel. This gives a singular destination to build a community and create a home for brands to become part of that story.
As far as distribution, CSMG, the parent of ESPORTSU is a media company, has partnerships with every media outlet across linear, digital, OTT, audio and mobile. Our focus is to maximize the content and provide exposure of our conference partners and schools.
Steiner: Collegiate athletes have traditionally not earned a salary for their time, despite image and likeness rights being sold for millions. How will students benefit from participating in these new collegiate events and programs?
Thomas: CSMG/ESPORTSU has built an NIL portfolio consisting of a partnership with Opendorse, agents, and student-athletes to drive NIL revenue. We are leveraging our media ecosystem including our partnership with Twitch Student to offer our member schools the same Twitch Student partner benefits. Through this system, we aggregate various data points.
Steiner: How do you plan to appeal to the average gamer with collegiate content, when traditionally collegiate events have had very low viewership?
Thomas: We believe that this is evolving. With every new freshman that enters, the audience grows. We can activate students on campus through affiliates and create campus-wide watch parties, giveaways, merch pop-ups, and open play tournaments like our upcoming nationwide scholastic Fortnite event. It’s not one magic ingredient. It’s multi-layered with giveaways, rewards, and engagement tools such as ReadyUP.
Fitting into (and expanding) the Collegiate esports ecosystem
Steiner: Has CSMG had contact with developers to work on this initiative? How has the reception been from them, especially when companies like Riot and Activision Blizzard have their own initiatives for collegiate?
Thomas: We have licenses through the conferences and schools we represent. Each publisher is different. We have a license with Epic Games for Fortnite and Riot Games for League of Legends through our conference partners. Our conferences are licensed for every game they offer, and some conferences offer as many as 12 game titles. Our relationship, and our conference partners relationships, with publishers is good. Our focus is to compliment their objectives, not compete. Our co-investment in HSEL also provides us licenses with the publishers.
Steiner: Other companies, like PlayVS, have come under fire for restricting schools to their platforms. Will participating schools be restricted if they play in your events?
Thomas: No. Our focus is to create the best strategic alliances and partnerships in the collegiate esports ecosystem and allow schools and players to showcase their talents. Our vision is to work with all rights holders, publishers, media outlets and schools.
You can check out ESPORTSU, currently in its second week of 24/7 collegiate broadcasts, over on their Twitch channel.
For the latest on collegiate esports and everything else competitive gaming, keep it locked here to Esports.gg.