When Jordan Zietz wanted to set up an esports team at his high school, he was disappointed to find that participating in a league would cost hundreds of dollar a year.
He believed it was unfair students could play traditional sports, such as football and basketball, for free but not esports.
So in April 2019, aged 17, Zietz set up All-Star eSports as a free league, where students wouldn’t have to pay to register or to buy season passes to be eligible to receive prizes.
All-Star eSports claims to now be the largest league of its kind in the United States, with 20,357 high schools signed up, and to have the biggest prize pool “in history,” currently at $6.6 million. This includes university scholarships for esports.
Zietz, a student at the prestigious Pine Crest School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, already had experience as a digital entrepreneur, having set up virtual reality software company GameReef in 2018.
In fact, entrepreneurship runs in the family, as the gaming league boss is the son of Sam Zietz, the CEO of payment processing solutions company TouchSuite. Meanwhile, Zietz’s older sister, Rachel, founded sports equipment business Gladiator Lacrosse when she was just 13 years old.
All-Star eSports is funded partly through its strategic partnerships with sponsors and universities but has also gone through private funding rounds.
After meeting with several potential investors, Zietz secured funding from Eric Bensussen, the president of gaming controller manufacturer PowerA, though the young CEO could not disclose how much money was invested.
Zietz says another differentiator of his league is that it is created “by players for players,” with high school students on its staff as well as adults.
Robert Morris University in Chicago was the first college in the U.S. to offer a scholarship for esports in 2014, according to sports scholarship website First Point USA.
Now just under 200 universities in the U.S. offer esports scholarships and since 2014 the value of these grants has grown 250% year-on-year, Zietz points out.
He believes esports allow players to develop transferable skills, such as the ability to “take risks and think on their feet.”
In order to keep the league fair, Zietz and those working for All Star are not able to take part in the league and benefit from its prize pool.
Zietz, now 18 years old, is a senior in high school and despite the success of the business, is planning to go to college after he graduates, saying that the importance of education is something that was instilled in him from an early age.
“I guess that’s why I’m so passionate about this prize pool having such a strong basis in scholarships – I don’t want to perpetuate the stereotype of an athlete dropping out of high school to perfect their craft,” he explains.
Despite his disciplined approach to balancing gaming and academia, Zietz actually says that one of qualities he’s seen in some of league’s more successful players is simply the ability to have fun.
“Isn’t that the basis of what everyone’s trying to do – find something that’s fun and make it their occupation?” he says.
But he says this also comes back to keeping students motivated to “push themselves harder” with constant practice because they are doing something they love.
‘Maturity and respect’
One of the biggest challenges young entrepreneurs face, says Zietz, is the fear of not being taken seriously because of their age.
“Sometimes I’ll walk into meetings and people will practically laugh. You can see it, where they’re like: “who is this kid? What is he doing taking up my time?”” he says.
But Zietz argues that if young entrepreneurs maintain their “maturity and respect” for others, as well as keeping a focus on producing a good product, people are “forced to treat you with that same respect.”
The professional esports industry is set to generate $1.65 billion in revenue by 2021, found market researcher Newzoo.