After winning the best collegiate esports program of the year in 2022, the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa’s esports program’s skyrocketing success has drawn interest from one of the most influential and wealthiest esports companies in the world.
Joe Marsh is the CEO of T1 Entertainment & Sports, a global esports joint venture that owns and operates the successful T1 League of Legends Champions Korea team, along with teams in competitive gaming segments that include Dota 2, Super Smash Bros., Valorant, Wild Rift, Overwatch Contenders and Splitgate. According to Forbes, T1 was the 10th most valuable esports company in the world in 2022, with a net worth of $220 million and estimated revenue in 2021 at $17 million.
Marsh visited the UH Mānoa campus on March 6. He spoke to students enrolled in UH Mānoa esports Program Director Nyle Sky Kauweloa’s COM 369 Esports and Society course, met with teams from UH Esports in UH Mānoa’s iLab and hosted a talk story event with UH Esports and the Pacific Asian Center for Entrepreneurship (PACE) at the Shidler College of Business.
“To win that award (best collegiate esports program of the year) when not being in the continental U.S., I think it speaks volumes,” Marsh said. “It goes back towards all of the great work the university did with the Overwatch League being here the past few years and it just shows that you can build a grassroots program with the right people leading it and the university’s support.”
Marsh, who oversees T1’s operations in Seoul, Philadelphia and Los Angeles, explained the value of Hawaiʻi’s location in the middle of the Pacific.
“Hawaiʻi in general is a location that both people from the West and Asia would love to come to on an annual basis,” Marsh said. “…It’s a great location to have both collegiate esports, but also pro esports.”
During his meetings with students, Marsh stressed the importance of preparing for the future and learning a diverse set of skills.
“If you want to get into esports, there’s still opportunities, you just have to be more of a Swiss Army Knife versus a specialist,” Marsh said. “It’s so important in gaming to be a generalist at least early on in your career to figure out where you can fit it. Even at T1, we’re wearing multiple hats. All the departments chip in to make things work and that’s just the bond of esports and gaming. It’s tough hours. It’s weird hours. But at the end of the day, if you’re passionate about something, it will shine in your work product.”
“Hearing Joe talk about his experience as a public figure at the head of one of the leading teams in Korean esports was enlightening and educational, especially for myself who is new to the field of esports,” UH Mānoa student Sydney Kim said. “We were able to discuss many of the current trends and concerns involving the esports industry and the direction it is taking. For myself and my peers who are interested in a career in esports, having Joe come to shed his expertise was very valuable, and we are grateful to have had the opportunity to speak with him.”
Kauweloa was thrilled about the collaboration with different UH Mānoa departments to reach students who have an interest in both the competition side as well as the business side of esports.
“Esports is something that students either play competitively in or are involved with in more of a development side of things, but also just looking at how students can create business opportunities both abroad and locally,” Kauweloa said. “I think that the key part of getting PACE involved is to see that there are ways in which we can build out of our unique ecosystem here in Hawaiʻi.”
PACE Executive Director Sandra Fujiyama added, “The growing esports industry aligns with our goals of educating entrepreneurial thinkers and innovative problem solvers for the 21st century. We are grateful for this opportunity to collaborate with UH Esports and have our students interact with an industry leader like Joe Marsh. PACE welcomes future collaborations with other disciplines focused on innovation and entrepreneurship.”
—By Marc Arakaki