“Starting a club from the ground up is definitely no small feat, but luckily we have folks who are very passionate”, says Sharon Wei, president of the Gaming and Esports Management Society (GEMS).
Truer words have never been spoken. In a conversation that could have easily gone on for hours, I spoke with Sharon Wei and Aras Scimemi, two of the founding members of GEMS, along with Ismet Jooma, about the new club’s inception, vision, the industry as a whole, and why you should join. I know, I know–you think you’re dead set on consulting or banking. But keep an open mind! You’re likely more interested in gaming than you think.
What led your interest in creating GEMS and what was the business need for it to be separate from other entertainment clubs?
Sharon: Gaming is one of the largest revenue-driving categories and actually supersedes what you would traditionally think of as entertainment, like film and television. It’s an industry where many aspects are considered recession-proof. And it’s at the forefront of some of the most interesting technological innovations, like NFTs and cryptocurrencies–a lot of these had their origins in gaming. It’s at the intersection of many clubs we have at Stern, but because of this, none of the clubs build programming for gaming-specific initiatives. We’ve seen in past recent years an incredible increase in MBA opportunities. What they require is very different from recruiting for just tech or just entertainment so we found this need for folks interested in the gaming space. Last year, there were many of us in that position who didn’t have the support to pursue a less traditional (non-consulting, non-banking) recruiting path, which is so reliant on the clubs to guide folks. We’re also seeing a lot of our competitors like Wharton, UCLA, MIT, and Booth have a lot of interest in gaming, and many of them have established their own clubs. So being in NYC where a lot of the organizations have offices or a foothold here, we would be uniquely positioned to stand out as NYU Stern.
You mentioned you’re getting a lot of interest. Who should join GEMS and why?
Aras: The wealth of jobs underneath gaming is so diverse. There are the strategy, growth marketing, and partnerships roles. There’s direct marketing, which you could also do for film on the entertainment side, but games are also a CPG product. A producer in gaming is not like a producer in film. It involves technical skill sets as well which could fall under STA (Stern Technology Association), but it also aligns more with the creative side like EMSA (Entertainment, Media & Sports Association). So as far as who should be involved with GEMS? Anyone with any sort of interest within the industry. Of course, gaming encompasses so many things. There’s your stereotypical Call of Duty gamers on a console. There are mobile and educational games. There’s a case to be made that apps like Duolingo could fall under gaming. There’s an incredibly broad range of interests, so if you have any interest at all in any of these areas, this is the right club for you.
Sharon: Gaming will probably be at the forefront of the metaverse. It will continue to grow as it starts encroaching on more things, like NFT opportunities. This could be a huge calling for folks now and in later years, but it’s also difficult to do your own research on it so we want to create a community for that. So GEMS is also for folks who may have an interest in pivoting in the future.
Then there’s also the other side of people who just enjoy games for fun!
Talk a little bit more about the community aspect. What’s a long-term vision for GEMS?
Sharon: We want people to explore new things together. We’re pursuing game night opportunities. It’s a great way for people to have fun together that’s not just the typical Stern drinking and partying scenario. We can definitely add that to it, but it’s wholesome or unwholesome fun in that sense.
As Aras mentioned, we can’t list all the jobs you could get, but we can see the trajectory is growing year over year. We’re in business school. We’re here to learn and create a community for each other. We want to create a networking component for this community, not only for recruiting but also for knowledge management. We’re interested in bringing people who have a passion or interest in this together.
You mentioned mobile games like Wordle and apps like Duolingo using gamification, which often gets overlooked as gaming. And you both touch on the “stereotypical” or “traditional” gamers playing games like COD. Often the immediate perception of gaming and esports is a male-dominated industry and shooter games. As a growing industry, what’s your opinion on the perception of gaming and esports? Do you think it’s misrepresented?
Aras: There are some misconceptions and some correct assumptions of the industry as far as male toxicity at times. But when you look at gaming on a broad spectrum, that’s such a tiny piece of it. The biggest moneymaker in gaming by far is mobile, and the biggest players of mobile are women. So it’s very interesting when you delve into all of the different areas and demographics of it.
Sharon: From a talent perspective, we typically look at the largest employers like Activision Blizzard, Riot Games, EA. But there are a lot of other opportunities out there. Gamification is something I think most applications and tech companies are looking to incorporate. The industry appears to be so niche but there are aspects of it that are very widespread. Folks may think if they don’t fall into the stereotypical male, shooter game persona that they can’t be a part of gaming. But it is a much more all-encompassing group. If you’re interested in mobile games, NFTs, or bitcoin, you’re already touching this space in so many different ways.
Another misconception is that gaming is seen as just entertainment, but I see it as driving a lot of things within FinTech, too. I see it as being a foundational component of a lot of different innovations.
As I said, there are a lot of different opportunities touching on the space, whether you’re in the industry or doing tangential functions. I hope that we as GEMS can help improve the perception of what it means to have a career in gaming. We’re really focused on demystifying the industry and hopefully broadening the scope of what, traditionally, people think of as gaming.
It sounds like you’re doing that even in small ways, like planning for different types of Happy Hours. Especially for a gaming club, having game/activity-based events for community-building I think would help start to dismantle these misconceptions. You mentioned programming. What other types of programs and initiatives can members look forward to?
Sharon: We have knowledge management sessions that are in development right now for internships and full-time recruiting. Our sessions will help prep folks for that process.
We also have speaker events! We’re hoping to bring in interesting folks who lead cool projects or can give us insight to what’s happening in the industry. I don’t want it to seem ubiquitous. We won’t be able to have as many speakers as some of the larger clubs with more robust resources, so we want to have focused, intentional speakers.
Aras: Over the summer, I met with gaming clubs from other schools like Wharton, Anderson, Booth, and Foster, and we discussed the possibility of doing a cross-MBA joint conference. MIT Sloan hosts a large gaming conference where they have the largest publishers in the industry and we’re planning to cohost with them. It’s still in the early stages, but we are definitely looking to broaden the cross-MBA programming.
Sharon: One of the reasons we felt so emboldened to create GEMS is because we had such incredible alumni support from Stern and the larger NYU community. A lot of folks many years ago felt like they were the only ones pursuing gaming and they want to give back. So we’re trying to build that community with our current students and alumni. But also broaden across other universities, as they have resources and we can mutually help each other to build that larger network.
Lastly, we’ve been in conversation with Take-Two for a trek. We’re trying to make it more intentional, for example, sometimes they have hackathons so we want to be a part of that in some way. We’re in conversation with one of our professors to see how we can make it more interactive than the typical trek.
How do you think the subculture of gaming and esports differentiates itself from TV, film, sports, or music?
Aras: When you compare the fans of sports vs. esports, the main difference is that esports fans almost all play the game. So it becomes a lot more interesting when you’re trying to grow fan bases because you’re looking at a smaller pool of people. Whereas with sports you don’t need to play the sport to be interested in it. It’s a whole different level of engagement and it drives a stronger fervor because you feel more invested in it.
Sharon: Because of the interactivity component within games among the community, but also between the producers and consumers, there are more opportunities for a greater relationship between the two. It’s more communicative. What’s great about the culture are platforms like Twitch and Discord where people can deepen relationships with friends and strangers. The introduction of things like Netflix Watch Party became more popular recently during the height of COVID. But sharing screens and hopping into a room together for gaming has always been around.
You bring up a good point too about how we’re seeing gaming as a big influence on TV/film, even outside of the technology aspect. My favorite game ever was The Last of Us and now it’s becoming a television series. The influence gaming has on other entertainment areas really speaks to what you said about it being an all-encompassing industry.
Aras: Right, the rise of gaming-based television. Also with Witcher and Arcane. You see an even more tangible shift with companies like Epic Games, the creators of Fortnight, as they have created a whole new division of the company specifically devoted to non-gaming entertainment.
What makes you super excited about the gaming and esports industry?
Sharon: It still doesn’t feel like we’re at a plateau in terms of changes and new developments. I’m excited about the growth of esports globally. I’m excited about what we’re going to do in the metaverse–what does that even mean? I’m really excited about how mobile gaming will evolve the more time we spend on our devices. Gaming influencers becoming celebrities from different gaming backgrounds, from Pokimane to retired esports players. The growth of Twitch and Discord. That’s what I’m most excited about. If you’re interested in technology, entertainment, fintech, or strategy, at one point, you might end up in a career in gaming.
Aras: For me, it’s how it will pervade into so many aspects of our lives. I got my first VR set and played Half-Life: Alyx–it was incredibly immersive and one of the best gaming experiences I’ve had, and that’s just going to continue to improve. Yes, you have people like Zuckerberg investing all this money into what looks like what will become a failed project, but gaming is already being integrated into ordinary aspects of our lives. And an interview like this, in 10 years, maybe it’ll be done in VR. We’re all going to be looking at each other’s avatars.
What’s your favorite game right now or of all time?
Sharon: A little cringe but League of Legends, because there are so many elements to it. The esports side is what brought me in. Their careers are so short that they are so incredibly passionate. I heard their stories of the selflessness, teamwork, and artistry involved, and I was like, wow, I’m so touched.
Aras: What I value most in games are the immersive experience and storytelling and for that, I’d have to pick Red Dead Redemption 2. Starting with the graphics–it set a new standard. People were submitting screenshots of the game to their local news and the news couldn’t tell the difference. The storytelling tugs at your heartstrings. I won’t spoil anything. Everybody has to play it no matter what kind of games they like.
Any closing thoughts? No pressure! Just a chance to speak on something else you want to say we didn’t cover.
Sharon: I have one. It’s kind of a plug. During your time in your MBA, I want to challenge people to look for opportunities to build something themselves. I think it’s very easy to get into the mindset of 100% wanting to recruit and grabbing the best offer for yourself. I don’t necessarily think you have to sacrifice that. But what can you leave behind? What can you continuously contribute to? What’s your legacy? That, in big part, is what Aras, Ismet, and I wanted to do in creating GEMS. Quite honestly, we won’t be the ones to benefit most from GEMS. But we hope in the future, people won’t have to go through the same thing. And being a smaller club, there’s so much opportunity for people to shape it to what they want it to be, professionally and socially. We want to challenge and excite people about the benefits of joining something new. You have so much more authority versus an established club with more bureaucracy.
I hope you saw throughout our interview that we are challenging ourselves to do things differently in the most personalized way for GEMS. I really want to make a call out to folks who are interested in being a part of building something for Stern and beyond.
Aras: I understand the appeal and security of the more established recruiting industries like consulting and banking. I myself came from consulting. But if anybody has even an inkling of interest or a passion, whether it be gaming or entertainment or any of these more nontraditional industries, I would urge people to at least give it a real shot. Consulting and banking are not going anywhere. They’re always going to need bodies, and are very secure industries. But getting an opportunity like this at Stern in NYC, surrounded by intelligent, passionate, and outgoing people…I think people will find it harder in the future to pivot towards it later than they would if they give it a chance now.
Sharon: People say they will do consulting first then pivot to something more untraditional later. Even though the more untraditional career is the end goal they want.
Aras: And how many people in consulting have you heard say they would leave 10 years ago and never did?
Sharon: Exactly. Why take the middle step if you don’t need to? We’re challenging people to be a little more confident in themselves and widen their perspectives to have more trust in themselves. At least explore, at least try. A lot of us in GEMS might go right into gaming, and some folks might not, but that’s what we, as a community, are here for. We see the breadth of it and we’re hoping, if you have a slight interest now or in the long term, you explore. When else are you going to get two years to have this adventure? Down the line, it’s just so much harder.
You only actually have one life. Join GEMS and explore new worlds.