Esports marketing students learn about the hard work that goes into having a good time

On April 25, students in the new esports marketing class held The Brawlhalla Bash, a gaming tournament at Cook Hall that was watched by more than 140 viewers and involved 15 live competitors.

The current esports phenomenon is fueled by lots of different factors.

There’s the excitement of real-time competition against other live players, the rapidly evolving technology and increasing interconnectivity, and, of course, a seemingly endless array of tantalizing lights, sights and sounds.

The engine that truly drives it forward, however, is business.

Forbes last year reported that the combined value of the top 10 largest esports companies is $3.5 billion, nearly double 2020’s figures, but the magazine also pointed out that while the field shows rapid growth, the terrain remains challenging.

Last semester, 70 students became well acquainted with the nuts-and-bolts level of the growing industry through Marketing in Esports, a new 200-level business course. It is designed and taught by Assistant Professor Luke Liska with the aim of illustrating, through applied learning, how marketing concepts can be crafted to meet the specific needs of advertisers and sponsors.

“The overall goal of the class is for the students to host an esports tournament,” Liska said, and indeed, the course culminated with the group doing exactly that.

On April 25, just over 100 online viewers attended the elimination-based competition between 15 players, which was streamed over Twitch, and about 40 guests turned up at the Cook Hall esports center to provide a live audience to the onscreen contests. Dubbed “The Brawlhalla Bash,” it centered around the head-to-head fighting video game “Brawlhalla,” in which cartoon-style opponents do their best to send each other flying off a floating platform. 

The Brawlhalla Bash centered around the head-to-head fighting video game “Brawlhalla,” in which cartoon-style opponents try to send each other flying off a floating platform. A trio of sportscasters – Sam Craft, Roger Basham and Zachary Reed – provided banter and lively commentary and analysis across the tournament’s three-hour span.

The students used surveys and debates to choose the game that would be played. Separate teams found outside sponsors who donated door prizes, figured out the event logistics and encouraged others to take part through promotion and social media activity.

“They’re doing things that they would typically do in industry if they were involved with the media side of a marketing group,” Liska said. “If you’re with a smaller firm, you’re going to be doing all these activities anyway.”

Fittingly for the topic, Liska built his class around a gamified structure. Students start at zero, points-wise, and gradually “level up” by accomplishing different activities and earning various badges. This offers them a greater range of learning options and opportunities for feedback, he said.

And while the planning and preparation for the event occupied the bulk of the students’ efforts, they couldn’t just kick back once the games’ tip-off time arrived. In fact, that’s when things really got busy.

“One challenge we ran into was Steam, the platform we used to run the game, shut down,” said marketing major Jay Fortney, who added that the technical difficulties were resolved within about 20 minutes. “A lot of people think no planning goes into something like this because it’s an online thing, but it has all the aspects other sports have to plan for.”

A trio of sportscasters – marketing majors Sam Craft and Roger Basham, who have since graduated, and Zachary Reed, a junior studying sports management – also had to come up with fresh banter and lively commentary and analysis across the tournament’s three-hour length. 


“Don’t be a ghost watcher, be a keyboard warrior,” Reed told spectators as the games began, while Craft got in plugs for some of the sponsors, including Arabica Café and Bakery.

“Word on the street is, they’re the best coffee in Radford,” Craft offered between the play-by-play.

“This is gonna be a long night, bro,” Basham said with a wry chuckle after the close of the first round.

Aside from the Steam maintenance issue, the tournament concluded without any significant hitches, and Liska rated it a success.

“I was blown away by the positive feedback from the students, both in their reflections and our class discussion,” he said later.

In the post-game analysis, armed with firsthand experience, the class devised ways to improve the event going forward, such as reorganizing to give students single dedicated tasks to focus on, instead of multiple jobs, and posting cameras by the players to capture video and audio of them in the flesh as they compete. 

“Given that this was our first tournament, we were all pleasantly surprised at how smooth it went,” Liska noted.

“Our student-staff did an amazing job,” he said.

Marketing major Dylan Armes, who graduated last month, said he hopes the event carries on in years to come.

“I love watching gaming content and tournaments, but it made it even cooler to be on the other side of it,” Armes said. “I learned many lessons from the class, mainly what actually goes into the marketing of events and streams.” 

Jun 12, 2023
Neil Harvey