Last week, CEO founder Alex Jebailey got to do something very few members of the FGC have ever gotten to. He stood up in front of a group of sports executives and tried to essentially sell them on esports.
Jebailey was invited to speak at the Tampa Bay Business Journal's 2017 Business of Sports event, held at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers headquarters, alongside James Wallbridge, who runs Tampa Bay eSports. The two were asked about how they make events profitable, the growth of esports, and what games to invest in, but Jebailey says what he took away was that the other speakers and sports businesspeople in the audience were very interested in how they could get involved in the space.
"It was amazing how positive people were. When you're surrounded by a bunch of millionaires that own these sports teams, just how positive, every word I said they were very appreciated," Jebailey told theScore esports.
"Obviously it is about the money to any business, that's how they work. When I promote CEO it's not about numbers, numbers, numbers, it's about a great times and the numbers will follow. A lot of them were just inspired by how fast it's growing, and wondering where do they come in."
However, to even grow to that point, Jebailey does think the FGC could use some adjustments. Fighting game tournaments traditionally run several games, though thanks to initiatives like the Capcom Pro Tour, Street Fighter V has become the main game at most events. Meanwhile, Jebailey notes that the Super Smash Bros. community shows up to tournaments in droves, beating just about anything in terms of attendance, but the prize pools suffer without Nintendo stepping in. Mortal Kombat has huge sales and developer support, but Jebailey says that it's hard to energize the game's millions of more casual players to engage with the competitive scene.
At the end of the day, simplicity is key for selling these events, according to Jebailey. It could be the game with the most sales, or the best brand recognition, or even the best publisher support infrastructure, it could even be a new game that simplifies things and monetizes itself better, like Riot's long-rumored fighting game, but Jebailey says it might have to come down to just one game. If only because the outsider looking in is going to have a hard time wrapping their minds around several different, only slightly related communities all participating in one tournament.
"There's so many great storylines," Jebailey said. "I think the FGC is the most entertaining group of people in the world in terms of gaming.
"At a lot of events we try to promote as many communities as we can, because we're still growing and and these communities, they help up grow and we grow with them, it's just that sooner or later, at the event of the day, it's going to have to come down to one."
While no major sports franchise is confirmed to be investing in a tournament like CEO right now, it's not like it's outside the realm of possibility. Sports franchises and investors have primarily been investing in teams and players, not events, but that could change.
Jebailey said that certain executives were interested in working out deals for arena usage in the offseason, which does make sense. Arenas often sit unused when there are no games to play, and selling tickets would bring revenue during slower periods. On top of that, Jebailey points out that right now, the FGC is a very attractive space to invest in from a strictly monetary standpoint — players and events are a lot cheaper than in any other scene.
"You look at like Echo Fox buying up all these different FGC players, because at the end of the day, the FGC is a pretty cheap space compared to other esports, so now might be a better time than ever to take a chance on us," Jebailey says. "They could give me 100 grand and I could run a successful event. To them, 100 grand is just another day of their budgeting."
But for now, those investors have to be introduced to the scene, Jebailey is hoping to get some of them out to CEO this year to see the event, so they can understand what it actually looks like. One thing he hopes to achieve is figuring out how to get involved with arenas, even if CEO will be in Daytona for the forseeable future. Otherwise, he thinks the best thing an FGC event could get out of a partnership with major sports franchises is cross-promotion.
"Their marketing is on point. Sports is never hurting to sell tickets," Jebailey said. "Say I have the Orlando Magic, if they're just promoting to these people who are bringing their kids to these games that there's these competitive gaming tournaments, maybe the kids are interested. I think that could be one step to helping do kind of a crossover with sports and getting that. It comes down to uniformity and having consistent events and storylines to follow."
Daniel Rosen is a news editor for theScore esports. You can follow him on Twitter.