In his first year at UC Berkeley in 2013, Sam Wang found himself playing League of Legends, a competitive online video game, during his classes.
While it may have seemed like fun and games, Wang saw an opportunity. The esports industry, in which professional gamers compete against each other for big-money championships much like in traditional sports, was seeing exponential growth.
With the industry so new, Wang saw room for innovation. People new to competitive video games had little idea how to grow to play like their heroes. So in 2015, Wang and partner Kristoph Oedman founded ProGuides to provide training with professional gamers and educational resources.
“We found a huge consumer demand with gamers wanting to get better, and it was directly correlated with esports,” Wang explains. “As esports was growing, more and more gamers wanted to be at the forefront of competitive gameplay.”
In 2018, we saw more than 200 colleges offering esports scholarships. These scholarships can be a full ride—we're talking $50,000 a year from certain schools.
As the world has come to accept that being a professional competitive gamer is a legitimate career path and an achievable goal for anyone, young gamers are starting to hone their skills in high school and college with ProGuides helping them along the way. As a result, the business is thriving.
Wang spoke with EdSurge about what it’s like to educate the next generation of competitive gamers.
EdSurge: In the five years since you launched ProGuides, how has the company grown?
Wang: ProGuides is a subscription marketplace, and we have two cohorts. One is a cohort of coaches and pros who create content and do one-on-one training. We have more than 500 coaches. On average, these coaches tend to be expert players based in North America, Latin America and Europe. They are over the age of 18 and tend to be college-aged, so they're looking for side gigs.
We have more than 1.5 million gamers already signed up for a free account to try out ProGuides. Recently, we’ve seen a 25 percent increase in subscribers which equates to tens of thousands of new members. I would say that just in the last month alone—unfortunately, with most people stuck at home home—we've seen a huge surge in the number of gamers joining our live classes, watching our YouTube videos and joining ProGuides directly. Right now, it's a little bit early to report the numbers, but we’ve seen a double-digit increase in growth.
A selection of ProGuides training courses
How does the training process work?
For our PC (personal computer) titles like League of Legends and Fortnite, the pros directly call our clients via apps like Discord or Skype. They actually go over their gameplay in real time. The student gets to choose to either play with the coach and directly interact with them or have the coach spectate and then give pointers on how to improve. To ensure the client doesn’t forget key learnings, a report card is provided at the end of each session. Additionally, coaches provide an analysis score—essentially a grade—on all the different concepts covered in the session. That summary is available on the customer's dashboard for viewing anytime.
What other resources do clients get outside of the coaching sessions?
We offer many training courses, and not just long-form videos but ones cut down to the most detailed strategy decisions. Then we add questions and little quizzes afterwards. There's a lot of similarities to platforms like Duolingo here where it makes the user experience so much better, especially on mobile where a lot of our kids tend to be younger. They download our mobile app, and they're able to really digest the information and learn it, just like they would in any other curriculum.
We actually have on-demand coaches who are on Discord generally 24/7. As part of the onboarding process, applicants complete a two-hour training session, almost like a test with a senior coach to ensure they’re incredible communicators. Managers train new coaches on how to engage subscribers and draft the documentation they need to get the most out of each and every coaching session.
How many of your clients actually aspire to go pro, versus simply getting better at the games they play?
We ran a survey, and what we found was that about one-third of all paying subscribers actually want to go pro. What's interesting is that a lot of these gamers tend to be on the younger end and play Fortnite. That's actually part of the answer because Fortnite has democratized esports by allowing anyone of any age to play online because they can all play together no matter what platform they play on—mobile, console, or PC.
In 2018, we saw more than 200 colleges offering esports scholarships. These scholarships can be a full ride—we're talking $50,000 a year from certain schools. We're also seeing a ton of investment from some schools. UC Irvine received more than $100 million in funding for their esports program. My own school, UC Berkeley, created an actual esports stadium. It's definitely being adopted, and it's going to become very serious.
Even when students don’t aim to go pro, they receive a lot of other benefits they probably don’t even realize. Gaming at a high level requires strong critical thinking ability, dedication and focus. Those same skills translate directly back to their school work.
There's a misconception that, once you meet an investor, the goal should just be to get as much money as possible and get the round done with.
How has investment supported your goals?
I’ve been lucky to have investors who constantly keep me motivated through the ups and downs, give me new ideas, look at new market opportunities and figure out how to grow the business in general. For any entrepreneur, it’s important to get a network of people who can support you no matter the situation. For example, Sarah from Peak State Ventures is someone I can ring at 2 a.m. to talk about a new idea. I think that, as a result, I'm pretty sane. I'm pretty happy.
There's a misconception that, once you meet an investor, the goal should just be to get as much money as possible and get the round done with. Actually, for us, it was not about that. The focus was on seeing if we could work together. Just like with anything else, like with my co-founder, your investors are basically coming into a marriage with you. You can’t just split up with your investors any time you want. It's important that you work together really well because, at the end of the day, you have a shared mission, which is to ensure that the company grows and becomes successful.
ProGuides production studio
Where do you see the gaming world in five years?
I think gaming is going to explode in the next five years. This is just the beginning. As we’re all maintaining social distance, we're seeing a broad demographic of people suddenly want to get into gaming. People who have never played games before are getting Nintendo Switches to play Animal Crossing. It doesn't matter what game you're playing; what matters is that you're trying an experience you've never had and you're probably going to love it.
As a result, I think people are going to stick with it even after quarantine orders end. They're going to keep their games and look for ways to keep getting better. Gaming is one of the largest, most accessible and fastest-growing industries worldwide. The barriers to entry are being lowered as technology improves.
Anyone can be a gamer. The best part is that many games are now free to play. More and more games are adopting this new business model to get people in the door, and as a result, I just see gaming continuing its growth.