It’s far from just fun and (video) games: esports is a rapidly-growing $1.5 billion industry. In 2020 alone, there was a 70% increase in the number of eSports viewers in the U.S., and it’s expected to total 474 million viewers by the end of this year. There are a range of lucrative careers in the competitive video gaming industry: professional player, announcer, coach, tournament organizer and game developer and designer, just to name a few. But not everyone is exposed to these opportunities.
As a lifelong gaming enthusiast and an educator with a PhD in computer science, I was concerned that Black and Brown school-aged kids and older youth weren’t being drawn to work in technology in general and esports in particular. While Black and Latinx youth in the U.S. spend more time per day on both mobile and console games than white youth, they make up less than 6% of the professional video game industry as adults. So my husband, Erich, and I founded Pharaoh's Conclave (PCX), a platform, league and apprenticeship program that creates pathways for meaningful careers and wealth generation for Black and Brown youth.
Jakita O. Thomas, Ph.D. (left) and Erich P. Thomas (right), cofounders of Pharaoh’s Conclave
Pharaoh's Conclave is on a mission to prepare the next generation of the esports workforce — and open opportunities to marginalized communities — by providing K-12 and collegiate youth with access to industry tools, training and professional mentors. By connecting PCX youth with mentors who understand firsthand the way these students move through the world, we’re able to foster organic relationships that create impact and opportunities in the industry. More than 50 PCX program graduates have gone on to full-time careers in esports, transitioning from mentee to mentor. You make real change by starting at the grade level and giving youth the steps to achievement, all with the critical support of the community behind them.
Working with kids is similar to raising kids: it takes a village. We understood that PCX couldn’t change the face of esports alone — and we also knew that tech is grappling with the same diversity problems as the gaming industry. Less than 1%of total venture capital funding in the United States went to Black founders in 2020. Receiving a $100,000 non-dilutive cash award from the Google for Startups Black Founders Fund not only empowered us to create economic opportunities for Black and Brown youth, but also fueled wealth generation in our community. Collectively, in just six months the first group of the Black Founders Fund recipients raised an additional $38 million in outside capital.
The investment from Google paved the way for additional wins, including a grant from the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, several new partnerships, and requests from multiple county and state entities across the Southeast to provide programming for K-12 and college students. The support empowered us to generate revenues from Level Up Academy (our online learning platform) and hire a professional software design team. We’ve also established a formal apprenticeship program with the U.S. Department of Labor the first of its kind for gaming.
When you solve problems for the most marginalized people, you actually solve problems for everyone. When you fund Black founders, you elevate the entire community. We will push the industry forward by working together — and by saving competition for the games themselves, instead of for access to the gaming industry.