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Episode 3: Esports - From Tech Passion to Tech Opportunity

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About the Episode:

Esports innovators Tram Tran and Kyle Taylor join us for this week’s episode. We discuss their careers, their impact in their industry, and the recent boom in esports. We dive into everything from the inception and growth of esports across the globe to how Tram and Kyle are nurturing the next generation of esports enthusiasts right here in the Carolinas. 

About the Guest: Tram Tran

Tram is the IT Manager and Esports Director at Cannon School. With over 20 years IT experience working in AD agency and education. He fell into building the esports program at Cannon School. Currently competing in HSEL, UFEA and NCISAA Leagues. Cannon has over 7 esports teams competing in League of Legends, Overwatch, Rocket League, Smash Bros, and Valorant.

About the Guest: Kyle Taylor

Growing up with a passion for gaming, sports & ultimately helping the younger generation, starting Stay Plugged In (SPIN) and growing it to where it is now has been incredible. I truly understand the uphill battle many kids fight as they look for validity in their passions and that is exactly why we created SPIN. As the VP of SPIN & Director of Technologies for the Carolina Esports Hub, I take on challenges to provide new and exciting digital activations to help these kids grow within themselves and find their next step in life. As we continue to grow as a start-up in the very young industry of esports, I certainly have an exciting future ahead.



About the Host: Pete Seeber

Pete Seeber is a Partner and the Chief Strategy Officer at Kingsmen Software. In this role, Pete is responsible for overseeing the expansion of Kingsmen. Pete also plays a key role in developing new products and services, identifying new markets, and creating strategies to achieve these goals. To this end, Pete is adept at partnering with our clients to help them overcome their technology and business challenges to reach the complete development of their business model and vision. Pete is a combination of technology, risk and finance executive who has developed his multi-disciplinary background over 25+ years of business and entrepreneurial experience in professional services, large scale consulting, information technology and cybersecurity. He is an entrepreneur who was lucky enough to start his career under the umbrella of one of the most respected consulting firms in the world. It was these early professional experiences that shaped his passion for moving businesses in the right direction and his own personal mantra, “Always Forward”.  He is a proud graduate of Wake Forest University. Pete has been actively involved in the Charlotte and Lake Norman communities as a member of the Board of Managers for Greater Charlotte YMCA (through YMCA Lake Norman and YMCA Camp Harrison), Eliminate the Digital Divide, Habitat for Humanity, Summit Foundation, Davidson Youth Baseball Association and others.

About Kingsmen Software:

We are dedicated, experienced practitioners of software development. We grow software iteratively and adapt quickly to changing business objectives, so we deliver the right software at the right time. Our proven approach combines processes, tooling, automation, and frameworks to enable scalability, efficiency, and business agility. Meanwhile, our advisory & coaching services enable technology leaders, business partners and their teams to learn and adapt their way to sustainable, collaborative, and data-driven operating models.

Production Credits:

Produced in partnership with Mistry Projects: https://mistryprojects.com/

Tram Tran 00:06

That's what's so great about esports right now, right? It's like the wild wild West. We've got no control. You have leagues for high school, you have leagues for college, but you don't have the NCAA, you don't have the NFL, you don't have the NBA. What you have is, you have these individual companies that are trying to sign up teams and the more they have, you know, the more, let's say power you get to like wield.


Pete Seeber 00:28

Welcome to the Kingsmen Software Beyond the Build podcast, where we highlight our friends in the software development community. We get to know them, their story, their influence, and their impact at a deeper level. We also have a good bit of fun along the way. I'm your host, Pete Seeber, and among other things, I'm the Chief Strategy Officer here at Kingsmen Software. Today, on Beyond the Build, we cover the topic of esports. And personally, after taking a bit of a deep dive, I find the whole area a little bit mind blowing. This is really a conversation about what's next. On this podcast, we typically discuss pretty adult topics, right? Pretty serious stuff. But not today. Today is about the kids. It's about passion, mentorship, and opportunity. This esports topic is also pretty serious stuff itself, just on a different level. We have two great guests that know the space as well as anyone. We cover esports and how it developed, where it's going, why it developed, and the passions of the underlying athletes that play the games. But this is really a discussion about the development of the overall child. Letting kids in middle school and high school pursue their passion rooted in technology and see where it leads them. Esports enables tech kids to move into the spotlight and shine. Done the right way, who knows where this will lead? Who knows how much faster technology will evolve because we take the time to slow down and mentor and develop the real technology passion that these kids have. Hope you enjoy today's episode. Welcome back to the Kingsmen Software podcast Beyond the Build. I'm Pete Seeber. With Kingsmen Software, I'm really excited to have our two guests today. I've known both individually for a while now. What's better is that they both know each other and have worked closely with each other for a while in the esports space. This episode on esports, to me it's fascinating. There's a lot to do with opportunity and mentorship. It is so cool to witness what is happening in esports. And to see how quickly it is growing. Kyle Taylor quick introduction for you. You are the director of technologies for the Carolina Esports Hub. And we'll get into that so everyone understands what it is. You're also the director of technologies for Stay Plugged In. And a founding member of Stay Plugged In employee number one or close to it if I remember graduate of UNC Chapel Hill, and also a local guy who went to high school right here in the Charlotte area. He looks pretty young, but he's wise beyond his years. I think he's just backdated. So Kyle, thanks for joining us.


Kyle Taylor 03:09

Absolutely. Thanks for having me, Pete.


Pete Seeber 03:12

And also, becoming a close friend, Tram Tran. Tram is by passion and by role the esports leader and mentor at the Cannon School in Concord by profession, he's the IT manager at Cannon. And he's been in the school environment higher education environment for a number of years now. But he has a deep background in IT and he came out of the ad agency life. Fair enough?


Tram Tran 03:38

Fair enough. Thank you for having me, Pete. Glad to be here.


Pete Seeber 03:40

Thank you. Thank you guys. I'm excited to have this conversation. Because what's happening to me, I think it's entertaining in this space. I think it's educational for the kids. I've been around for a long time. But I've just kind of fallen into this space. I think I fall into the category of most parents who don't necessarily understand esports I understand gaming because my kids are into it. But what's happening here in this space to me is amazing as it translates kids and ability into the world. And that's what I want to jump into today. So fascinating. So Kyle, let's start with you and educate us educate the audience a little bit. What is the Carolina Esports Hub and Stay Plugged In? Tell us all about it.


Kyle Taylor 04:20

Yeah, so Carolina Esports Hub, and how Stay Plugged In is a part of that. That is probably the trickiest question that we face every single day as a company, which is probably one of our biggest problems. But that's a completely different side point. What we are the Carolina Esports Hub is a gathering of a few different companies that all support each other by integrating in the esports space. So when I when I first started, like you said before, I was one of the founding members of Stay Plugged In with a guy named Rick Suarez, who is much more business savvy than I am I'm very much esports gaming understand that space through and through and he had a business idea that I heard a few years ago and we combined forces with A few others to really kick off Stay Plugged In. And through the startup life, we met a lot of other like minded esports people in the business world in Charlotte, and the greater Carolinas and with that kind of merged Stay Plugged In with a local professional team, the Charlotte Phoenix, which great jersey by the way. And, exactly, it's a beautiful one. So with those two companies, we found the need a we do a ton of events, we also facilitate a ton of branded solutions. So with that those were our two last verticals, or two other verticals, Charlotte Events, and Emerge Apparel, which together those four companies form the Carolina Esports Hub. With that the one I'm most passionate about is Stay Plugged In as I started it, and it really speaks home to me, because I get to help kids every single day, Stay Plugged In is a platform where we connect students to collegiate scholarship opportunities in esports. Players really of all ranks, as long as you're pretty good at the game about gold, which is about that 50%, you're better then about half of your peers. You can get scholarships to play video games in college, which is a line that when I tell any mom or dad in this country, they usually look at me, like I just said the craziest thing in the world. But it's the truth. There's so many opportunities with that. And I'm very excited to be able to help more and more kids find their passion at the next level and get some money to be able to go to college as we know how expensive it is today.


Pete Seeber 06:29

To me, that's a jaw dropping statement when I first got into this, and understanding what the space is to understand I understand traditional sports, right, and scholarships and all that and how that works. This space, I had no idea that was the case, that these what I saw as individual gamers are getting organized in this esports. And they're doing this at the middle school and the high school level, to the point where colleges are paying attention and offering scholarships, which then just led my mind to why. Right, because I just think with a business mind. And I still I don't know if I have that why. But I'm going to flip the conversation to Tram to talk a little bit about what he's doing at Cannon School working directly with these kids. Right. And I want to understand that and because I think you guys are leading institution in what's happening in the space, at least in this area, you're ahead of the curve.


Tram Tran 07:17

I mean, you make it sound like I understood in one understood everything I needed to do for this space. But just like you I had to figure it out, too. I remember my boss walked into my office going like, what do you think about esports. And at this time, I didn't know what esports really is in education. I know what it is in the professional world. I know what it is when I was playing video games back in my 20s. But in education, I'm like, what does that have to do with education. And so what we did was we went down to the people that actually understood, we went down to Highpoint who at that time just installed their esports facility. They kind of gave us like, Hey, this is what's going on. This is the future. They believe in this. I believe President Nido went and invested millions into their space. They're like, get everything you need to do this. And then he said, to really understand it, you got to go to the best. And at that time, it was Harrisburg University that was doing it the best. So I met this guy, Chad, up there, we went to a tournament, we saw like the turnout, we saw what they were doing. We saw the production, we saw what it can lead to and we got excited. But then again, we came back and we're like, how do we do this? Just like everybody else, you just got to have that. Like, how do we do this? It's so big. And there's so many things that you don't understand.


Pete Seeber 08:38

Now you gotta go draw plays in the dirt to make it happen, right? Remember what you can to repeat? Same time your path is going to be different.


Tram Tran 08:44

no, absolutely, because they're college, their higher education. And we're K through 12. And nobody here was doing anything about it. And we didn't know exactly how to approach it. We didn't even know if we had kids that would be interested in it. Right? So it's just like that same thing that you know, you're a parent, you don't really understand it. Well, we didn't really understand it either. So we did a lot of research, we went back to the book, we figured out, we understood why you do it, which which you know, we'll talk more about later on. And then we started engaging with the students and it's unfortunate but fortunate at the same time that the pandemic happen, but because of the pandemic, it led us to starting our program. And that's how it all started there. You know, we were homeschool, you know, we're on lockdown. We didn't know what to do. My boss goes, Hey, maybe this is the time to start this. This is how you can engage the students or students engaging each other, giving them this place to like meet up. So I started a Discord server. Got the kids got the kids that were interested in robotics got the kids that were interested in CDE, the coding class, whatever kids that I knew that was in theater or Cannon studio


Pete Seeber 09:54

and to be clear, you're doing this remotely because the pandemic is going on right you're just trying to engage with the students as best you can


Tram Tran 10:01

correct I mean, that's the whole idea, right was giving them a place to engage. And at this time, I'm hitting up teachers who I know that like most I was teaching CD&E, and coding classes, and those kids that would be interested, I had kids, I was teaching media production, I was seeing if they'd be interested, we're gathering kids from Cannon studio that was working in the theaters and the lights and the sound seeing they're interested. And all sudden, we had, I don't know, 20, 30 kids who are just gaming every night talking to each other. And all of a sudden, I was like, you know, I think this is what it's about. It's about this, like, student led, you know, organization where they could meet up and talk and hang out that's desperately needed. Like, where are these kids get their social interaction, during the lockdown. And for us, luckily, we had discord where these kids can come in and talk to each other.


Pete Seeber 10:52

Right. And this whole time, you had a bigger vision in your mind. And to me, you know, you've got Tram, you're on the school side of interacting directly with the kids working without a budget, and working without a whole lot of support. And you're working remotely. And you've got Kyle on the business side with Carolina Esports Hub and Stay Plugged In. You guys are starting programs, you're starting businesses, you're really started in the industry. To me, that's the definition of startup life, right? You're kicking down doors, and you don't even have shoes on. Right? I mean, you're just really getting started. There's not a defined path forward for how you get there. I think that's, I think it's incredible. And I think there's so many things that it does for these kids, right, the levels of impact. And I want to I want to jump into that. But first, walk us through what happened in the pandemic right in where did this explosion in esports come from?


Kyle Taylor 11:46

Yeah, absolutely. I think really, what the pandemic did was, it just brought a focused spotlight on gaming, which esports is a natural part of that we just haven't seen before, you know, before the pandemic, the most recent to that was Ninja and Fortnight made a huge explosion into the scene right before COVID-19. And that kind of kicked up a lot of like, huh, this is a thing, you know, this actually can reach a ton of people then the pandemic happen. And everyone games a little bit more, everybody connected with their friends really through gaming, because you couldn't go to the ball field and play ball, you know, you couldn't go to the gym and workout together, you know, couldn't go to the local brewery and hang out. So like, what can I do at home? And the easy answer is gaming. Let's just look at one of our favorite games, whether it's War Zone, Fortnight, Rainbow Six, Rocket League, and play with my friends.


Pete Seeber 12:36

And everybody was doing it, right? Even your traditional sports kids, right? football, baseball, track volleyball. They're all they can't do any of that. Right? So everybody is becoming a gamer. Right? And then transitioning into esports. Right to take it to that that next level?


Tram Tran 12:54

Can't get Covid through the microphone.


Pete Seeber 12:55

no, right? You're remote, you're in your room. mom and dad are telling you, you're spending way too much time in front of that screen, and you're ruining your life. Right, which we've all heard and probably been guilty of, at certain levels, not realizing what the potential is. And what's really happening in this space


Tram Tran 13:11

I also think during the pandemic, when the parents were in front of the screens themselves on the Zoom, or the Webex or whatever it is, right? They're spending all that screen time. Who are they to say to the kids, like, Hey, you're spending a lot of screen time to? Well, they kind of have to I mean, if you're going to school, you're on zoom all day as well, right? So it's one thing that leads to the other and it kind of became a little bit more acceptable because the kids can't go hang out. You don't want your kids catching COVID. Right. So then being in front of the screen becomes acceptable measure,


Pete Seeber 13:40

right. And it's incumbent upon people to understand sometimes the kids are smarter, right? I mean, you turn the clock back to the 50s. Right rock and roll was the devil's music if you ask a parent, right? And it's the same thing. Now, if you look at gaming and esports, that the parents are saying you're wasting your time, this isn't going anywhere, you should go read Shakespeare, or pay attention to your English class and get an A plus in that class. And again, as a parent, I go through that, but step through what does a tournament look like? Like I think everyone understands what gaming is. Esports is an evolution of that walk us through what esports is and kind of tournament play how that works. And help us on what is that? Because some kids are just fine being a gamer. like with with their friends doing that, but esports takes it to a more formalized level,


Tram Tran 14:31

the difference between gaming and esports. Is that right? It's that that competition? That's that team play. It's still working as a team to compete against another team. I'll let Kyle do the tournament part. And then and then I'll follow up on him.


Kyle Taylor 14:45

Yeah, absolutely. I think you hit on the head. There's there's gaming which is to me indicative of fun, right? I'm sending down a game that means I'm here to have fun. And if I'm sitting down to do esports, which is a little lexical off to me, but if I'm here to compete, then I'm here to beat the person across from me or the team across for me. That's a big difference. For tournaments. And with that tournament play is really just similar to high school football or high school baseball. You know, it's two teams playing each other in a game that both of them practice a ton. Which if you ask the esports people might be too much. While football, baseball might not be enough, which is kind of a weird difference, which I know we'll dive into later. But that's really what tournament play is. At its core, it's the same thing that we see in anything competition, you turn on ESPN and watch the Super Bowl. Same thing exists for League of Legends, same thing exists for Call of Duty, so on so forth, for all the other popular esports titles. And with that kind of, I think, you know, go touching back on the COVID piece, what I loved kind of, you know, I observed this come through even more so in the last three years was the teamwork piece of esports. You know, before that, it was just kind of for the best the best players. But now you see so many more players at all skill levels, and all age ranges down through collegiate down through high school and middle school, come together and form these teams to say, hey, we're going to get better as a team and beat other teams, rather than just hopping on a team for one day to play in a tournament for one night to grab some cash and seeing that structure at the high school level. And even now at the middle school level is really important for the future of esports. And it's really important for the development of those kids too, because now you see those kids that might not be good enough to play football or might not be good enough to play basketball. Maybe they're not six, eight, right? But there are no physical requirements.


Pete Seeber 16:30

Maybe that's not wear their passion is. Right. I mean, we're all trying to follow our passion. I've said forever. Competence breeds confidence. Right? So if you're following your passion to become competent in something, whether it's football, or volleyball, or esports, you're going to be more confident in what you do in life. right. And that, you know, that can start in middle school, high school and move forward. So it's, as a parent, I think it's really important that you're developing that confidence within your kids and letting them pursue those passions that create the competence to get to the confidence level.


Kyle Taylor 17:04

There's actually a really interesting tweet that came out just on that same topic. Over the weekend from a really popular esports media person, his name is Jake Lucky that there was the screenshots of a text message interaction between a mom and her kid, and the kid was basically texted, texted his mom, and was, Hey, Mom, I'm about to hit immortal in Valorant, which mom had no clue what that meant. He's like, I really, you know, can we go get lunch or dinner to celebrate? It's really important to me, you know, I don't want you to laugh at this, you know, there's just some that's really important to me. And the mom had the best response ever of like, why would I laugh at this? Like, this is really important to you, right? And the kid was like, yeah, and she's like, Okay, what do you want, you want a cake, you wanna go to lunch? You know, let's go to your favorite restaurant, just instantly bought into, hey, this is super important for my kid. And they're very, very passionate about this. So who am I to judge why they're doing this? So let's go celebrate, right, just like if you won the state championship for football, you know, that's the first thing your parents are gonna do. Like, let's go celebrate this as a family. They're doing that and esports and gaming now. And seeing that and seeing that in on Twitter and social media, or in the news is something that's heartwarming to see that


Pete Seeber 18:15

100% agree.


Tram Tran 18:17

Yeah. I mean, you're giving us space for these kids, right? I mean, in the journal for Ad Tech technologies, they talk about 80% of the kids that aren't involved in any extracurricular at their school is involved. You know, in esports, so you're giving a place for these kids and at Cannon School, we have a slogan, that's you belong here. Right? That's not just to the athlete, or the, you know, theater person or the band member, it's literally we really mean it. And when we when we rolled out esports, that's what it is, is to give a place for these kids so that they actually belong here.


Pete Seeber 18:53

So roll that forward, Tram, you started this in a pandemic, with how many kids and then as you add on to that, were kids are back in school, now you have a whole facility built out right.


Tram Tran 19:05

Not then


Pete Seeber 19:06

Not then but now.


Tram Tran 19:07

Yeah, now we do.


Pete Seeber 19:08

You've rolled this forward for two years now, if not longer. So talk about where that is right now. And what you're doing with other schools, you've put yourself out there where people are now coming to you. Right, where they're saying, you know, help us build what you have.


Tram Tran 19:22

Yeah, so when we came back to school, a lot of the kids that played during summer, they're like, We don't want to compete. I'm like, What don't you want to compete and this is like the the confidence that that you guys talked about? They're not confident because they've never competed against another team. They're thinking that they're just gonna go out there and get rolled. And I'm like, no, no, no, don't think about that way. You know, like, think positively who knows what everybody's at, but it's about competing. It's about getting better. It's about building a team. Wouldn't do it and then one day, a couple of seniors were like, hey, we want to play League of Legends. We want to compete, or we're done like no esports we just want to compete. I'm like, okay, so if I enroll You guys, I'm gonna enroll everybody else. That means League of Legends Fortnight, Overwatch Rocket League, I just signed them all up. And I was like, we're just gonna go, I'm just gonna force everybody to go into it right? And little did they know, they're good, that didn't suck. And then that's where your your conpetence breeds more and more confidence, right? You're pretty tight. And then what happens is my Rocket League team goes wins the play versus East Regional, like out of 600 teams. God knows how many high schools that was, and they had eight rounds of playoffs, they take first place. Now all the other teams look at that team goes, we want to win first place, we want to be nationally recognized. And that's just crazy. Because at that point, you had you had kids that are going from, I don't want to even compete to now going like it's championship or bus. That's how we define success.


Pete Seeber 20:55

That's amazing, you've totally transformed those lives and how they think of themselves and what they do. And so you know, you're doing that locally, but here on a national level, right? There's I was just reading something that that TSM signed a $200,000,000 10 year naming rights deal, right for the cryptocurrency exchange FTX. Right to talk a little bit about that. Who is? Who is TSM? What what do you know about this deal? Because what I'm trying to do, I want to take what you guys were doing here locally, in Charlotte, and in Concord, push it forward to a bigger picture.


Kyle Taylor 21:26

Yeah, absolutely. And you had to hit it on the head there, it's, it's more than just a bigger picture. This is a global, you know, new way of life and a lot of ways of connecting through gaming, watching esports as regular competition just like you do in football, basketball, and soccer, etc, so on and so forth. But with TSM in particular, TSM is one of those very large professional organization that fields a number of teams, professionally, across all the big titles, League of Legends, Overwatch, Fortnite, Rainbow Six, on and on and on. And they also have a bunch of content creators where they generate a ton of content like we're doing here, whether it's podcasts or streams or just fun activations around certain events. And they are one of the biggest to the point where you saw in the height of the cryptocurrency, you know, boom, probably about a year, year and a half ago. FTX capital currency, I forget their full name, but they bought the naming rights to wear it anytime that TSM is mentioned on any of those professional or pro league matches or streams or content. It's TSM FTX. So you have these super large companies that are, you know, trying to market their product that are combining forces just like you see in traditional sports, to put their name front and center everywhere that brand is because that's how valuable those brands are because of how many eyeballs they get. So that's, that's the upper limit of kind of where esports is, is it's you know, just like you see for you know, those huge soccer teams in Europe, Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester United the football teams here with the Patriots. Every you know, marketing sponsorship wants to be 100%.


Tram Tran 23:04

Besides the Super Bowl, I believe the LCS was like the second largest viewed stream, there is. So you were talking about the NFL, which is the biggest of the big, and then you talk about a League of Legends Championship. That's, that's where esports the same level? Yeah.


Pete Seeber 23:20

And how long? How many years?


Kyle Taylor 23:21

Probably I'd say, well League of Legends has been around professionally for about 10. But mainstream I'd say five or six, you know, somewhere around in there, depending on what region you're looking at, and what time and that kind of stuff. But yeah, it's crazy to see that, you know, it's not a oh, well, is esports irrelevant. It's which traditional sport is getting beat this year.


Pete Seeber 23:44

Right. And which direction was it go? In which direction will it go? right. And they're already catching up to that level of the NFL. And they're building $100 million esports facility in Los Angeles, here locally. Right. Let's talk about some of the some of the milestones that Stay Plugged In is hitting, right, just from from from previous conversation. Stay Plugged In, has facilitated $15 million in scholarships. Yep. In how long?


Kyle Taylor 24:14

Two years?


Pete Seeber 24:15

The last two years? 15 million dollars in scholarship opportunities in two years. And that was in 21. And 22. Yep. Is that right? And a doubled?


Kyle Taylor 24:26



Pete Seeber 24:27

5,000,000 in 21 became 10,000,000 in 22. To get to that number. I want to jump in to that part of the model. I think that's amazing. And I think that there's a lot of dollars and a lot of opportunities that are being given to these kids that four and five years ago did not exist. the money did not exist. The support for the kids did not exist, the space didn't necessarily exist. So now there's educational opportunities that are taking place for families. And that's going to move lives forward for to emphasize this five years ago, these were kids that sat in their room at their computer that everybody thought they were doing something wrong. And there may have been something not 100% right about them, get outside play with your friends, why don't you play baseball, you're wasting your time. And it's completely transitioned into confidence where they're winning for their schools wearing their logo, feeling great about what they're contributing, and getting scholarships. So my big question there is why. Right, I want to understand, you know, where the scholarships are coming from, but I have my own thoughts on on why the schools are providing scholarships to these kids.


Kyle Taylor 25:39

Yeah. So I mean, you come at that from so many different angles, you know, first, you know, we'd love to be able to show that impact. That's, you know, telling that to a parent is is really mind boggling for them. I remember I was at a dinner just random dinner with a co worker, and they saw the jersey on and they're like, oh, esports that's awesome. My kid does esports. And we're like, Oh, yeah. You know how old your kid like, well, they're in high school. They're Junior. It's like, well, have you thought about college? Yeah, absolutely. What about playing esports in college, and the server was a mom, the mom with the kid. And the moms like, that's a thing. I was like, and I just toy with people sometimes just just from my own internal laugh. I'm like, so yeah, how Guess how much? You know, we're usually explain what Stay Plugged In is real fast. And I'm like, Guess how much scholarships that are last recruiting class got? And she's like, they're always like, 100k, maybe a million. And I say 15. And they're like, Wait, that's, that's how much and i Okay, well, I'm gonna get off work. I'm gonna go tell my kid. Go look into this.


Pete Seeber 26:41

I'm paying attention now. Did you say 15 million? Yeah, as a parent, I'm paying attention


Tram Tran 26:45

That's just Stay Plugged In getting that 15 mil. Yeah, that's just local. That's one company. We're talking about colleges. $50 million, over $50 million, by this point, right? And if you really look at the whole picture, like from afar, this is a golden period of esports. In college, right? You're telling all these colleges to start a sports program and not having one. So what do you have to do, you have to go out and recruit, you got to get these bodies in, you got to get these players, but you're not going to be picky at this point. Because you don't have that ability to be picky. You're starting from scratch, you've got to you've got to get eight teams, how do you do that. So these kids that are getting these college opportunities, this is the time, because 10 years from now, it's just going to be like traditional sports, you're going to get the four star athlete, the five star athlete, and those are the players are going to be starting in college. But the difference between esports and traditional sports is that you're gonna have all these other skill sets that are required to run your program, you're gonna need the caster, the broadcast or the video guide, the podcast person, the streamer, like, there's all these additional skills that all these colleges are going to be looking for in these students. So the scholarships isn't just for playing, but also for running the team managing the team, doing all these additional skills. That's, that's, that's what we look at, we're like, oh my gosh, there's all these other skills that you need, not just in college, but also in the high school K through 12 realm, you know, and that it's just incredible to see like, Hey, I'm not just playing, I'm making this happen. It's like the Rams putting on the Super Bowl to play in it. That's literally what our kids are doing. We're like, we got to run though. You know, Kyle's running the tournaments for Stay Plugged In. I'm not the kids are the kids are running the tournaments for our school. So when we have an invitational, we're inviting all these other schools. They're doing it, they're getting it together, they're doing the scheduling, they're doing the games, they're breaking down the computers and setting it up. And so what happens is like, beyond the scholarship, you're going to get all these additional skills that these kids are learning just to be in this field.


Pete Seeber 29:00

Again, giving those kids more opportunity, more competence, more confidence in what they're doing. They're not only on the field of play, they're taking care of the field, setting everything up for the event, exercising those other skills that maybe they haven't earlier. But I also look at it from the college perspective, right? If I pick on college football or use them as an example, I think we all pretty clearly see in today's world, why universities are so so big into recruiting in these programs, right? There's television rights, there's dollars, there are business models that surround this that pour millions and millions of dollars into these schools and into these conferences. And right now, in esports, that business model has not been completely defined, it's largely undefined, which means it can be grabbed by the right people to then control it and help set it up. And that could go down a lot of paths. And so I think that is one opportunity that exists out there. If there's an audience to sit and watch this and really enjoy it. And I know Kyle, you and I have talked about tournaments and how they're structured and how long they can be right? It's almost, it's not like watching one college basketball game. It's like watching the entire NCAA Tournament, from start to finish from 64, down to the final nonstop.


Kyle Taylor 30:20



Pete Seeber 30:20



Kyle Taylor 30:20

In one day, most of the time.


Pete Seeber 30:22

It's intense, right. So there's some business model challenges within that, but I'll take it down a different route. I also firmly believe that what the universities are looking for, is that there, if you're a gamer, who has gotten into esports, you have a passion for technology, you have a level of understanding where you can crack open that PC, and you can talk about storage and processing speed and everything else. And that's like talking about a 40 yard dash time, or running a post or a skinny post, or whatever it is, to those kids, they get it from a technology perspective. So those universities, I think, are trying to attract students that can come into the university matriculate through certain programs and get certain degrees, but then move into the professional world. And I think that the universities are beginning to transform themselves with the type of students that they're now attracting, you see a lot, you know, computer science programs have been around for a while. But you're starting to see software development programs, you're starting to see cybersecurity programs. And so I think that there's that underlying meaning of trying to attract a different student via esports as an identifier for who you should be looking at. Yeah, am I am I dreaming? Or is this is this something


Kyle Taylor 31:40

you're right on it? I think just to expand off of that, I think that type of student that's esports is a good word for that is experientially driven, right? They like us, esports people, we work every single day, by figuring out by simply doing it, you know, building site blog and building the county sorts of that startup life, you know, there's obviously very limited resources as a startup. So it's, Hey, how do I run this tournament with the equipment I have, and then that gets even extrapolated further with esports. Because there is no set way to run a broadcast for a League of Legends tournament, because it's only been around for five years. And frankly, not even the people that have a gajillion dollars have figured it out to the umpteenth degree, as you see in football, right football is there's a pretty set way at the NFL level. So I think with all that being said, those kids that are coming up through high school competing in esports, playing in their teams, and then also learning by doing setting up the PCs, running the tournaments themselves, running the streams themselves. It's those type of kids that I think a lot of colleges have missed in the last 10 years or so. And I think that that could be a variety of different reasons. But I think the world is transitioning to a place where the person that can figure it out, can kind of thrive under pressure and thrive in the fire, per se, are the better workers are the ones that are a little more successful. They're the ones that go start their own businesses and start something new and provide a ton of value for other people. You know, the Elon Musk's of a world, right? They just figure it out. Rather than read a textbook, memorize it, take a test, get a good grade in that test, right? Very different ways that I think the gamer were born into that like just the ability to buy a PC, set that PC up, download the games, manage all the software's understand, hey, if something goes wrong, what do I need to troubleshoot, you can't call your coach, you can't call your parent, you have to figure it out, or you don't play, you know, so that breeds that, you know, figure it out mentality that I think is the future of the workforce, which inherently becomes the future of the kind of student that College wants now and even more so in the future.


Pete Seeber 33:48

Yeah, it's not so much of a yes, no, right? wrong type of learning. Right at the you, you, you you said it very well. It's experiential learning. Right? If you're gonna buy that, the all the parts for the PC and put it together, you're gonna break some things along the way. So you're just gonna go order more, and then you're gonna build it, you're gonna be proud of it, and a buddy is gonna have a better one or a faster one, right? So you're gonna go get some new gear, you're gonna take yours apart again, you're gonna put it in there. I say this because I have a son, he does this all day long. It's amazing. And but but then as you're playing the game, you're gonna die. Then you hit reset, right? You respond, boom, you start over. Your mind doesn't go blank. You know what you did that got you killed, right? So you have experiential learning going on alone along the way. And that to me in the workforce, that translates very well, as opposed to just a right or wrong answer on a test.


Tram Tran 34:41

I absolutely agree. I but I also think it's also multifaceted, right? Esports is amazing, because it just doesn't like check one box. It checks all the box, right? Because we can be creative and still be in esports that kid that went in there started playing, you know, whatever game Valorant Right. Start Streaming goes, You know what, I need a good look logo for my stream, right goes and figures out like how to make logo goes down to like how to cut a video, and then all of a sudden goes, oh, I need to be I need to have a content like when I'm in front of this microphone. I don't want to be boring. How do I get more people to follow me right? Now you're looking at graphic design, you're looking at marketing, you're looking at advertisement, you're looking at better branding, right? So we take all that technical skills, we take all that confidence, and then we take all this art that comes with it. So it just checks all these marks, right? So your future position in this workforce, right? A lot of it, we don't even know what position is going to exist in five years. But that person is going to need all these skills. So when we talk about experiential learning, my gosh, this is like the perfect thing. This will check all the boxes, you're talking about communication, you're talking about technical skills, you're talking about advertising skills, graphic design skills,


Pete Seeber 36:01

Overcoming your own emotional limitations, right to get up tomorrow and do it all over again.


Tram Tran 36:07

And the crazy thing is, it's limitless, right? They could take this as far as they want it, they could be like zero to being a pro in one day. It's as much as they want to go. And sometimes, like when you when you have a kid that's going to school and he's not being challenged, right? How do you challenge this kid? So video game challenges this kid, he, you know, goes up to the level that he can't pass. Right? He doesn't stop at level one, because that's what he does say he keeps going, he gets to a point where he can't pass a level. And then he tries to figure out what am I doing at this level, that makes me can't pass it. And then so you're troubleshooting, right? You're like, Okay, I gotta figure this out, I got to do some research, I got to do this. You know, at this point, I gotta have better hand eye coordination, I gotta, I gotta practice this move, whatever it is in the game. They're challenging themselves. And then they beat it. Now they're proud of what they did. They beat the level that they couldn't beat before. And then they keep going, they keep going. And the only thing that's stopping them, is them.


Pete Seeber 37:06

And then a lot of those skills translate to the future workforce, right? A lot of your traditional athletes and those skills that you develop, at some point for 99% of the people that are playing those sports through high school and into college, it ends at some point, do those, does that full set of skills translate into the traditional workforce?


Kyle Taylor 37:29

I think the short answer is yes for esports.


Pete Seeber 37:35

we are a technology enabled business world, I came into the business world in 1994, where maybe you shared one laptop among six people on a team working together. Now six people working on a team might have 15 different devices and computers that they're all working on. So where's that going to be in in 10 or 15 years? These are all the skills that Tram's talking about are translatable to make that person a more effective employee. And there was a word that you mentioned earlier, being an entrepreneur, right, because they have to think that way. And I think that it can put them in a better position from a technology perspective, to understand how technology can accelerate a business platform because they have that passion. And they've had it since they were four or five years old. Right. And they fertilized it, and they've watered it, and they've grown it. And now they're, I think at a higher position to impact the business world and move things forward. I think that's fascinating.


Tram Tran 38:30

We don't even have to look at them. We can look at us, right? Five years ago, I don't think I would be here being in a podcast talking about esports. And I'm pretty sure if you look at yourself five years from now, you wouldn't be like sitting here doing a podcast about esports either. This is now can you imagine what's five years from now? It's gonna be insane.


Kyle Taylor 38:50

Yeah, the opportunities are endless for the kids and for us. And that's that's the exciting part is that, you know, the kids have a bit of a refresh breath, you know, then I think some the kids in the past and just from those opportunities, basically letting you do what you love, and figure it out along the way. And then you capture all those skills, which is exactly what every employer wants, right? Having the employee that can come in out of college and problem solve and can work within a team and communicate the issues and communicate the problems, the problems that are in existence, and then also not just say, Hey, this is wrong. Hey, what about option A, B, or C to try to fix this?


Pete Seeber 39:30

That's the bigger issue. Don't come in and just drop us a problem on my desk. present me with some solutions that you've already thought through that can help us get around the obstacle to move the vision forward. And if those are the skills that these people are learning as they go through middle school, high school and college, they're going to be tremendous as they enter the workforce. And I know, Tram, you have a huge passion for for helping these kids because you were not hired to do this. You have a full time gig. Right? This is just a passion project for you where you're able to spend a lot of your time and help out. And a lot of the schools out there don't have defined budgets for this, right? They're scraping nickels and pennies together and try and, you know, have conversations with parents who might be able to financially assist. But then on the other side, Kyle, you, I'll put you on the spot, you were one of these kids, you're a traditional athlete, and went to, you know, traditional university, but always had this esports kind of gaming tech mentality. And then so tell that story you graduated, right? And in a pandemic, and I'll shut up go,


Kyle Taylor 40:36

yeah, no, you started off for me. I was one of those kids, or am one of those kids that I, you know, talk to parents of players that come through the Stay Plugged In platform of, you know, how different it could be for those kids. And they went about it in that in this newer, esports way. And what I mean by that is, you know, I had my, my dad love him to death, greatest man in the earth, to say the least, but he did not understand gaming, he did not understand esports. He's a little older. He's, you know, definitely did not play games when he was a kid. So flash forward played traditional sports, baseball, football, all through high school, then went to college, went to Chapel Hill, graduated, and I walked home, right in the beginning of COVID. I was like, Mom, Dad, I'm gonna try this startup in esports. And my dad looked at me and I was crazy. He's like, son, you just got a fantastic degree, from one of the best universities there is in this country. And you're going to do a startup where you're getting paid basically nothing. In his mind to play games. And I was like, no, just trust me on this. And I can't really explain it as well as I wish I could. But I am going to be helping kids, you know, we're getting kids scholarships. That's that's the fundamental core of the Stay Plugged In model is just helping kids find scholarship opportunities. But I'm going to make this work, I worked three different part time jobs, I built cardboard boxes in a warehouse. I was a server at a restaurant, and then had one of those dog walking apps just to make ends meet. And then beyond doing that was full startup grind. And about six months in, it was fortunate enough, Rick was like, Hey, I'm gonna pay you enough. So you can just focus on this for all your time. No more walking dogs for tips. exactly and even then, you know, I still had to fight my parents a little bit, right? Because it looked like I was playing games, there was nights where I was producing from home because this was height of Covid at this point. So we did all of our tournaments and streams virtually, you know, on my PC and my co workers at their PCs at home. So we could talk to the kids on Discord and hosted tournaments over the internet. And to the naked eye, it looked like I was playing games, because that was all there was there's just you know, 20 different pictures that you know, if you look closely enough, there's different overlays, different name plates, all the different production elements that you see on Monday Night Football. But from a distance, it just looks like you're playing the game. And even still, then it didn't make as much sense. You know, from my parents. Fast forward a year later, we raised two and a half million dollars. And that's when it started to click. I was like, wait, you raised how much money? Which you know, that's a small amount compared to the venture capital world right?


Pete Seeber 43:29

I though you were just playing games in your room. Where'd the money come from?


Kyle Taylor 43:32

Exactly. And since then, the last, you know, year and a half since then, it is a world of difference where it's, you know, constant questions. How's this going? How did this school event go? You know, you have this upcoming event with Red Bull, you know, a globally recognized brand. How's that going? How's the planning process? How many teams are going to show up?


Pete Seeber 43:50

And then as a result of Red Bull, you get invited to super cool podcasts like this


Kyle Taylor 43:53

Exactly, exactly. So all of it, all of it comes together. And I was a long, kind of rambling on there. But explaining that to parents helps a lot these days. You know, to your earlier point, kids kind of get it you know, it's usually what kids are doing. It's considered the wrong thing to do. But 10 years from then it's the thing everyone's doing right because it kids learn that way.


Pete Seeber 44:17

That rock n' roll thing caught on


Kyle Taylor 44:18

exactly just a little bit. But long story short, you know, it's, you know, I did have to fight that uphill battle that helps me explain it to parents across the country. Hey, this is real, right? There are scholarship opportunities. You know, we're not here just to tell your kid to play games, right? It's about doing it right. Because the better kids don't play all day. Right? The professionals don't play all day like the stigma says they do. That's that's not the case. So with all of that, it's you know, find that correct regimen for you find those opportunities for you. And sometimes for the kids out there that might have that uphill battle, fight the uphill battle, because it's worth it in the end, for sure.


Pete Seeber 44:56

That's amazing. I love the stories. I love what both of you are doing Let's talk. We only have a few minutes left, let's talk a little bit about esports. And where this is going as a business model, where can it go? There's multiple paths that it can go down. You know, right now, who controls it? And where might it go?


Tram Tran 45:13

That's, that's what's so great about esports right now, right? It's like the wild wild West, we got no control. You know, you have a few players in the business. You have leagues for high school, you have leads for college, but you don't have the NCAA. Right, you don't have the NFL, you don't have the NBA. What you have is you have these individual companies are trying to sign up teams. And the more they have, you know, the more power you get to like, wield, like right now we're working with the ufpa. Chris Barr said, California, he's got a great league, he's there for the teams, he's there for people. We're trying to build this like crazy, invitational tournament for high school, which never heard of before, right? We're gonna try to get some West Coast teams are gonna get some East Coast team, and we're gonna bring them together at Cannon in person. And then what we're gonna have is this great tournament student lead. And that's where it's at. Because it's the Wild Wild West, we could do it because there's not anybody else out there that just has taken over that territory. I believe, I think Kyle can can pick up on this, too, is that the people that wield the most power the publishers, because no, they're the ones that own the game. The NFL doesn't own football, you can go play football anytime you want. But in in the esports world, if you hold a tournament for fortnight, you're only allowed to do a one day tournament, and it can't be during this time. And there's all these rules to it. You can't just go out there and just run a fortnight league. And I think that's the difference between traditional sports and esports. And Kyle, you could


Kyle Taylor 46:49

just picking up on that. You're totally right Tram. It's, it's, you know, no one owns baseball, someone owns League of Legends. And I think that's the biggest thing that has to be considered when we look at revenue opportunities. Because at some point, if you start making enough money with one game, the publisher comes knocking. And they're there most of the time, hey, we want a piece of that right?


Pete Seeber 47:09

At the end of the day, in esports the publisher, right? The game owner can dictate where that game can and cannot be used.


Kyle Taylor 47:17

Yeah, basically, especially at a large scale where there's, you know, that revenue coming in the door, they definitely can you know, beyond that for small tournaments, most of them have a small tournament license, where it's, Hey, don't break these rules, we don't really care. But once you get big enough, they do care. But I do think that, you know, that aside, the revenue opportunities exist, just like traditional sports, they're still the marketing sponsorships, where it's, Hey, TSM, FTX, right, that brand has a huge value, we want to be attached to it, and we'll pay you money for that. There's that basic one, there's the ticketing, there's the sales of just merchandise and branded apparel for the teams themselves. And then beyond that, I think, you know, the esports world to everything we've talked about in this podcast is a breed your own solutions. You know, like for us at Stay Plugged In, it's not one game that we're dependent on, it's the platform where we just connect to kids and colleges, it's through esports. But it helps us you know, mitigate some of the problems, the industries right now, and still be able to provide something awesome, without, you know, getting our hands slapped. And, you know, being told, Hey, you can't do that anymore.


Pete Seeber 48:23

Well, at the end of the day, the publishers control the content, right? They own the intellectual property of that particular game. But the beauty of it is, these kids are smart. And they like variety, right? And what was cool six months ago, and owned by one publisher might not be as cool. Now something else from a different publisher, something new is always going to come up. So at the end of the day, I guess it's the players who determine which games can rise above. And they can switch.


Tram Tran 48:52

Yeah, the publishers are also also the same people that are funding those scholarships in colleges, right. And that's because, you know, Riot Games, for example, they do League of Legends in college, and they own that. And they own, you know, all like the tournament aspect of it, right? So it's like imagine, like, in college football, whoever made college football owns that. So all these different schools that enroll it, it's not like they're part of the Pac-12, or the big 10, or the SEC, none of those exists. They'll all roll up into League of Legends or Riot Games, right? And then Riot Games gives these individual schools money, so they're actually funding it.


Pete Seeber 49:37

This feels like a whole different podcast episode, if we were to talk about the future of the business paths of where this can go. I'm amazed by it, right? Because to me, like I said, it's only hit me in the last year but it's really only hit the consciousness of America, I think in the last four to five years, that it's been out there. So I think where it can go is limitless. I love what you guys are doing Tram, I love the fact that you impact these kids and give them the opportunity, Kyle, what you've done starting these businesses that has had a bigger impact helped create the awareness for the scholarship availability. I'm really intrigued by what's going to happen with the universities and the kids that are going to go through these programs and what comes out on the other side. Thanks again for coming in. Last question. I want to know your game when you were a kid. What did you play? What sucked up your time? What was it?


Tram Tran 50:27

Well, maybe I won't go as far as kids, but during college I played a lot of Counter Strike that that was that was the game.


Kyle Taylor 50:34

Yeah. Yes. This was a fun one for me. Oh, play a lot of them. But the icing on the cake has to be FIFA love FIFA love soccer too still play to this day.


Tram Tran 50:45

What about you Pete?


Pete Seeber 50:46

I'm old school Mortal Kombat.


Tram Tran 50:48

Oh, that's not that old


Pete Seeber 50:49

No, I'm talking like, old, like standing in the uh, like skipping class and go into the hoagie shop and getting a slice of pizza and not coming back


Tram Tran 50:58

that's that's the 90s that's not that old. We enjoy it.


Pete Seeber 51:02

Thank you guys for coming. Thank you everyone for listening. This is Beyond the Build. We'll be back with another episode. Go build something great.

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