Corporate tournaments are experiencing a new impetus in the United States in the age of video games where employees compete for victory in esports matches and compete with other companies.
For Microsoft software engineer Daniel Jost, that means taking on colleagues from Amazon, Apple, Facebook, or Google at “Rocket League”.
The game resembles football, but driving cars used to move a ball into the opponent’s goals on a virtual pitch.
“It’s like bowling or corporate football league, but it’s done right in front of a computer screen instead of being bowled every Friday,” says Jost.
His team, the Ninjacats, are among the top contenders for leagues organized by the Corporate Esports Association (CEA) founded in 2018 by cybersecurity industry alumnus Brad Tenenholtz and Terence Southard, a rocket specialist who works for Jeff Bezos’ space exploration company, Blue Origin.
“My father works in a steel mill in Cincinnati, Ohio, and plays on his softball team,” said CEA official Brad Tenenholtz.
“No one is going to send him to another city to participate in some kind of national competition. But with esports, you can bring people together electronically and in just as meaningful ways,” he adds.
As with video games as a whole, interest in virtual matches in the professional setting has exploded during the pandemic, given the limited options for playing outdoors or indoors given the risks associated with Covid-19.
“These are really corporate sports leagues in a little different form,” says Tenenholtz.
Employees are free to form teams and register to compete in leagues set up by the CEA. Registration fees go to a charity chosen by the winners.
Matches are streamed online on platforms such as Twitch and YouTube.
– Team-building tool –
The CEA association is also hired by companies to organize “team-building” events, intended to develop team spirit.
She has developed an analysis tool, called “Comprehend”, which observes and listens to players, evaluates those who behave as leaders or those who spoil the fun.
Players are made aware of the Comprehend tool and can view the results, says Teneholtz.
In this way, the software can identify people who work well together or who gamers turn to for their leadership skills.
The tool also assesses how well players communicate with each other to achieve their goals and identifies comments that cause conflict.
These analytics are meant to be used by companies to improve collegiality and collaboration in the workplace, with happier workers who feel connected to their colleagues being less likely to leave their jobs.
Daniel Jost, whose team has only played in charity games where Comprehend software is not used, credits the league with making them feel closer to his company, Microsoft.
Point of pride for the Ninjacats: the team has won thousands of dollars for a charity, Child’s Play, which provides toys and games for children in hospitals.
Playing for a good cause and representing your company keeps rivalries in a good mood.
And players, many of whom change companies regularly, sometimes find themselves up against former colleagues from rival teams.
“There is a lot of emotion and a lot of passion for victory. The competitive spirit takes over,” notes the Microsoft employee.
“Amazon is especially fun to beat because we share the same hometown,” Seattle in the northwest of the United States, home of the groups founded by Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos.
Almost all of the tech behemoths have at least one team playing in ECA matches, with the most popular games being League of Legends and Rocket League.
“This makes sense because these companies attract a greater percentage of players to their workforce, and a lot of these games – Rocket League in particular – are easy to play and fun for participants,” concludes Michael Pachter, analyst at Wedbush.