The Team-Oriented Approach to Competitive Gaming Appealed to Entrepreneur Jennifer Vilela
Jennifer Vilela has seen firsthand the benefits of esports as one of her sons has carved out a career for himself in competitive gaming. “It’s NOT just playing a video game,” she says, but rather an endeavor that builds life skills such as collaboration, resiliency and communication.
So, entering the esports business herself seemed like an ideal fit. A little over a year ago, she launched Florida’s first franchise of XP League, an emerging youth esports franchise brand that is part of Unleashed Brands, the leading youth enrichment growth-focused platform. XP League, which got its start in 2020, has quickly grown to become the largest youth esports league in North America. Modeled on traditional youth sports organizations, XP League aims to provide a true team experience, with coaching for the players and an emphasis on values such as teamwork and sportsmanship.
XP League is also the first esports league to officially partner with Positive Coaching Alliance, an organization that helps train youth coaches in ways of best encouraging and guiding players.
“Our program at XP League offers practice and games just like a traditional sport. We compete each week with all of the franchises across the United States. We also have one major in-person event, which is a lot of fun for the kids,” Vilela says. But having fun isn’t the only goal. “Our members are part of a team, and they have a jersey and learn how to work together and how to communicate and improve their social skills.”
Benefits of Esports
One advantage of competitive gaming over other sports, she points out, is that players’ success isn’t limited by size and strength. “Esports is an inclusive sport that all kids can participate in,” Vilela says. But competitive gaming doesn’t need to replace other sports activities. “We have many, many kids that play basketball, football, soccer and baseball and also are on a team at XP League,” she says.
XP League players compete in games including Fortnite, League of Legends and Minecraft, and they range in age from elementary school to high school. Vilela estimates that the average age of a member at her location is 12. That’s a good age for players to start seriously honing their skills, she says, since they can begin competing at the professional level and earning cash prizes when they turn 13.
She also anticipates that middle schools and high schools will begin to add esports teams to the other sports that they offer. “Now that there are millions in scholarship money for competing in esports on the college level,” she says, “it is only natural that middle and high schools have to start preparing the students to compete in college.”
The Growth of Esports
According to the Network of Academic and Scholastic Esports Federations, more than 250 colleges and universities in the United States have varsity esports programs, with many of those offering generous scholarships to gamers, which allows those students to get a college degree while pursuing their passion.
The growth of esports gaming programs on college campuses is fueled by the demand for competitive gaming worldwide. The global eSports market was valued at approximately $1.72 billion in 2023 and is projected to surge to $6.75 billion by 2030, according to Fortune Business Insights.
Growing the Business
As Vilela has worked to grow her own franchise, she has integrated three of her four sons into the business. Her son who is a professional gamer drew on his knowledge of games and computers to help get her business up and running. Now, two other sons work as coaches and assist with the computer software and games. She aims to expand the number of members at her location and plans to upgrade some of the equipment this year, with better monitors and gaming chairs.
She is also focusing on building brand awareness and raising her business profile in the community. One of her marketing tools is to offer free coaching sessions. “Once the parents and kids come in for a free coaching session, they are typically hooked,” Vilela says. “The parents see the benefit of becoming part of a team, and we educate them on all of the positive benefits that will come within XP League, such as new friends, better grades and learning communication skills, all in a safe, structured environment.”
Vilela is optimistic about her business’s impact on young gaming enthusiasts. “XP League brings a level of structure, communication and sportsmanship to esports that has never been seen before,” she says, “and it will help our current youth achieve all they want within the esports community.” For more information about the XP League franchise, visit https://www.xpleaguefranchise.com/.