The Charger Blog

Internationally Recognized Sport Facilities and Management Leader Turns his Attention to the Emerging Esports Industry

You won't find Professor Gil Fried playing Counter-Strike, but he's been at the forefront of researching the emerging field of esports and helping to shape the development of the University's new comprehensive academic program in esports management.

October 15, 2019

By Jackie Hennessey, contributing writer

Gil Fried, J.D.
Professor Gil Fried, J.D.

Gil Fried, J.D., describes himself as a blend of old school and new. "I still get magazines – 15 to 20 a month – Businessweek, sports magazines, Popular Mechanic, Popular Science, Scientific American."

Each weekend, from sundown on Fridays through sundown on Saturdays, he is entirely unplugged as part of his orthodox Jewish faith. "I ride an exercise bike that's disconnected from electricity, and I ride and get caught up on magazine reading for a couple of hours on Friday night and Saturday afternoon," he says.

Among the periodicals, Fried, coordinator of the University's highly regarded sport management bachelor's and master's degree programs, has perused most recently are Xbox magazine and other gaming publications, seeking to glean information for his newest endeavor: helping the University create a comprehensive academic program in esports management that will be the first of its kind to be part of a business curriculum accredited by AACSB International.

"The future of the esports industry still needs to be written. At this point it looks very exciting."Professor Gil Fried, J.D.

Starting next fall, the University will launch a concentration in esports management as part of the University's bachelor's degree in business management. The University is also developing an interdisciplinary undergraduate program in esports and a companion master's program in esports and technology, the first such graduate program in the U.S.

In addition, a 1,600-square-foot esports training and competition center will be a centerpiece of the University's $35 million Bergami Center for Science, Technology, and Innovation, scheduled to open in the spring of 2020.

"In the next five years, I see a robust undergraduate program similar to sport management, and a vibrant graduate program," he says. "We will have a very strong competition and training center that will enable us to host competitions and give our students experience in running tournaments and event facilities."

An attorney and internationally recognized expert in sport law, sport finance, and facility management, Professor Fried regularly analyzes security plans for large venues and speaks to the national media on stadium safety for some of the world's biggest sporting events, such as the Super Bowl.

Shifting his focus and expertise to esports is part of what he's always done – researching something new each year, whether it's developing protocols to help prevent sexual abuse in youth sports or looking closely at injuries in trampoline parks. "You have to always continue to explore new areas and think outside the box," he said.

He's also a communicator who has 4,000 LinkedIn connections that he says truly are connections.

"I'm always reaching out to people, asking questions about what they do, talking with them about their work and their field," he said. Not only does it enhance his learning, he's been able to connect his students to internships, mentors, and job opportunities.

These days, he's reaching out to professional gamers, conference commissioners, general managers of professional esports teams, and experts on esports gambling, as he co-edits an esports management textbook. More than 60 people from around the world are contributing chapters, and, when it's published in 2021, Professor Fried says it will be one of the most expansive and comprehensive texts covering this new academic field.

While he plays the occasional video game while on a plane or at an airport, Professor Fried does not consider himself a gamer. What drew him to esports was the chance to explore a new industry that marketed itself in unique ways. "I saw this as an opportunity," he said. "As a University, we want to be at the forefront of these trends as much as possible."

He began talking with University administrators more than two years ago about developing a program in the management of esports – one of the fastest growing industries in the world with expected industry revenue exceeding $1 billion this year and global revenues predicted to reach $3.2 billion by 2022 – and about, as he says, providing training for students who would be working in this exciting field.

"In the next five years, I see a robust undergraduate program similar to sport management, and a vibrant graduate program ... I can see students from many majors deciding to minor in esports or taking electives because they are really interested in it."Professor Gil Fried, J.D.

"If you can study basic concepts of the business environment using examples from games such as Counter-Strike, Fortnite, League of Legends, Super Smash Brothers, NBA2K and Madden, rather than widgets – which is often how you learn things in a college of business – that will have a lot of value and hopefully make the concepts resonate more readily with students," he said.

Professor Fried believes the University is the perfect place to offer a program on esports. When he taught an elective course two years ago on the business of esports, it drew enthusiastic students from across the University. The University's Esports Club continues to grow – and grow – with more than 200 members. Professor Fried wants to harness the club's enthusiasm to help prepare gamers for a variety of career opportunities.

"I can see students from many majors deciding to minor in esports or taking electives because they are really interested in it, and it's great to study something that you really like," he said. "From the management and business side, to technology, game development, broadcasting, and media rights, to actually competing professionally, students will be able to pursue their passions."

Fried has experience being part of pioneering programs. Since 1999, he has been a professor in the University's sport management program, which is among the nation's first accredited programs in the field.

"I'm a nonconformist," he explained. "I don't consider myself a traditional academician. I consider myself an industry analyst. I'll take a look at where an industry is going and take lessons from the past. The future of the esports industry still needs to be written. At this point it looks very exciting."