Changing the game

October 5, 2021

Anthony D. Pizzo, ’05, Ph.D.

A new esports course—led by alum and esports specialist Anthony D. Pizzo, ’05, Ph.D.—complements the University’s embrace of video gaming and sport management.

There’s a stigma around video gaming. You’ve probably heard it—or some variation of it, anyway.

Anthony D. Pizzo, ’05, Ph.D., calls it “a series of misconceptions.”

“It goes something like, ‘Gaming is only of interest to men who are unable to socialize,’” Pizzo said, rattling off the stereotypes of gamers, “and all they do is drink soda, eat Doritos, and sit in the basement.”

Over the last two decades, video gaming has evolved into a lucrative industry with the proven ability to generate millions in revenues. Electronic sports, more commonly referred to as esports, is individual and team-based competitive video gaming. It has spawned franchises and fanbases, financed careers, and garnered television contracts.

“What we are seeing today is a youth-driven phenomenon with millions of dollars being thrown at it and, even still, with much more growth potential,” Pizzo said.

Anthony D. Pizzo, ’05, Ph.D.Pizzo recently joined the faculty at La Salle University’s School of Business as an instructor of management and leadership. This fall, he’s leading a course on esports, incorporating components like business concepts, strategic marketing, sales, and partnerships that are all prevalent in the esports industry. (Another course taps into his understanding of the global economy and extensive academic experience leading courses in Japan.)

The internet’s pervasiveness and the popularity of video gaming helped esports firmly etch its place in pop culture in the 2010s, though it first originated a decade earlier. The esports industry generated more than $775 million in revenue in 2018. That figure could reach $1.1 billion by the end of 2021 and $1.6 billion in 2023. Similarly, on the strength of advertising and sponsorship, esports also has witnessed skyrocketing numbers of enthusiasts—from 400 million occasional viewers in 2018 to an estimated 650 million frequent and occasional viewers by 2023.

Esports has a strong following at La Salle, where the University maintains a living learning community dedicated to those with a shared interest in competitive gaming. Just last year, the Department of Management and Leadership launched a cross-disciplinary sport management minor—one that can be tailored to the needs of students whose professional interests include sports broadcasting, social media marketing, event planning, sport law, and even esports.

Admittedly, Pizzo “grew up a gamer.” But his path wasn’t always destined to explore esports.

After graduating from La Salle, he worked professionally as an accountant and financial analyst. All the while, he craved the collegiate experience. He sorely missed an environment of perpetual learning. He wanted to be back on a campus. “I thought getting a Ph.D. would be easier than working as an accountant,” he said, laughing, “and I was very, very wrong.”

“Researching gives me the freedom to explore and, at the end of the day, I get to bring my findings into the classroom and reinforce it with students who are incredibly in-touch with the movement, energy, and growth of this (esports) industry.”
—Anthony D. Pizzo, ’05, Ph.D.

As a doctoral candidate, he studied business administration and sport management at Temple University. Parallel to his Ph.D., the esports industry was exploding. Professional sports franchises launched or acquired esports teams affiliated with theirs. In 2016, the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers became the first North American pro sports team to delve into this space by acquiring a club. Suddenly, Pizzo had found inspiration for his dissertation: an exploration of how major brands, teams, and companies were pitching esports to traditional and mixed-audience stakeholders. His study had two key findings.

“First, video-gamers needed to be called athletes in order to legitimize them,” Pizzo said. “At the collegiate level, we’re seeing athletics departments adopting esports teams as one method of driving this change and leveling the playing field. Second, it’s the use of esports as a social outlet that requires constant communication, just like in traditional sports. It ties into team-building. There’s different positions and they require cohesion in order to achieve success.”

Pizzo’s passions are anchored in data analysis and research. He’s explored the breadth of esports and its impact beyond gaming in a paper for the Journal of Business Research. He’s recently written an article for the Journal of Sport Management in which he reviews all esports literature. It’s slated for digital publication as early as December. A study analyzing the spectator motives of those involved with esports and traditional sports is among the most-cited papers of the last five years for Sport Management Review.

“Researching gives me the freedom to explore and, at the end of the day, I get to bring my findings into the classroom and reinforce it with students who are incredibly in-touch with the movement, energy, and growth of this industry,” Pizzo said.

“Dr. Pizzo has been a tremendous addition to our faculty,” said Lynn Miller, Ph.D., professor and chair of management and leadership. “We have a lot of interest in sport management on our campus and, with his expertise in esports, he is an ideal complement. With his research in esports, he is making a name for himself and he is going to be a national figure in this area. We are fortunate to have Anthony with us.”

—Christopher A. Vito