Leading up to 2024, one of the biggest changes we’ve seen in the gaming industry is the shift from treating gaming like the devil’s work and slowly accepting it as a part of our everyday experience, just like any other hobby. Greater still is the evolution of gaming into a full-blown profession, creating jobs for gamers and for unresting developers who build these games. A large part of the acceptance of gaming has been promoted by those who have turned it into a sport, the growth of esports drawing gamers from across the world to participate for big rewards and titles, moving out of a niche category to become more mainstream with each new iteration of the events. The League of Legends 2023 World Championship was the most watched esports tournament ever witnessed, with 6.4 million viewers who caught the event live.

The tournament not only revived interest in an already popular game that was released about 15 years ago but also solidified the possibility of finding real success in the industry of professional gaming. While names like T1 and Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok may not ring a bell for everyone, they stand out as legends in the LoL championship for their fourth win of the Summoner’s Cup after a brief losing spell. T1, a South Korean esports organization, is just one of the many businesses that are expanding the list of pro gamers they represent and garnering support for such championships. Just as musicians find agents to promote their work and sports agencies support athletes, there is a fast-growing assortment of businesses that support pro gamers as well.

The blossoming careers of streamers also cannot be denied as many gamers have found success simply by playing games over a live stream, showcasing their talent on platforms like YouTube and Twitch, and turning their gameplay into a reliable source of income. From making game reviews to breaking down the best builds for different characters, almost every game that is released onto the market finds its way to becoming a source for content creators, with a sizable audience available to consume such media as well. In more ways than one, the gaming industry is expanding with little resistance towards its success. 

While the glitz and glamor of becoming a professional gamer hold much appeal, the industry is admittedly still a small one and there are limited slots for those with the potential to become pro gamers despite their pure passion for gaming. Training can involve long grueling hours making the same runs in front of a glaring screen and live-streamers often have to be constantly online in order to make a livable income off of their streams. In that sense, there is still a long way to go for the industry to fully open the doors up for everyone interested in making a career out of gaming, but while we wait for that eventuality to take place, there are some organizations that are working to create stable environments for these gaming talents to flourish.

Valhallan Esports Training

Valhallan Esports Training—Enriching Lives Through Gaming

Nurturing talent is important no matter what the area of interest, and unsurprisingly, esports are no different. Kids are exposed to games from a very young age, and just like any other sport, many have a natural knack for it while others require just a little more support to excel at what they do. As parents, there is often resistance to seeing gaming as a real career option or one that should be treated as anything but a hobby, causing considerable friction between parents and their kids. Resistance can often be futile when kids find their way back to gaming at the end of the day, and this is where companies like Valhallan Esports come into the picture.

Founded in Houston, Texas, Valhallan Esports has long aimed to create a space for gamers and their parents to meet halfway, allowing families to be an active part of their kids’ lives by supporting the things they are passionate about. Much like any other career or passion project, the eventual career path where these gamers end up might be different from where they begin, but the process of training and preparing in a space like this can ensure they develop the life skills that guide them on a journey. 

“As you walk into Valhallan Camp Hill for the first time, you’ll notice that it’s not your typical gaming arena. Kids who may never have spoken before are teaming up and building friendships. Coaches are close at hand providing guidance and support. The excitement is palpable. There’s a noticeable lack of toxic behavior. That’s because Valhallan is dedicated to shaping well-rounded individuals, focusing on mental training, and incorporating a curriculum that goes well beyond just playing games.”

With multiple centers, or Arenas as they’re called, gamers are welcome to find a space for their gaming interests and build a community of like-minded individuals around whom they can be their authentic selves. Alternatively, via the Legendary Path training program at Valhallan Esports, children might also be able to explore the competitive gaming arena and pick up the skills they need to explore a fulfilling career in the field. David Graham, Founder and CEO at Valhallan Esports, has been very patient about answering our questions about gaming and the company’s role in bolstering the industry. 

Technowize: We’re very interested in the Valhallan Esport training center that was recently opened up in Pearland, Texas. What does such training involve? Do you see a growing acceptance of gaming or are there some points of resistance you still face?

Valhallan’s approach to esports is based on many of the same principles as traditional youth sports. Our unique training program, called The Legendary Path, is designed by experts and taught by experienced coaches. It uses video games as a springboard to teach kids about communication, strategy, collaboration, and leadership.

It’s also a lot of fun as kids get to experience the thrill of competitive gaming as part of a team. Many of our players and parents say it’s the highlight of their week.

Kids and teens come into the Pearland arena and our other facilities nationwide each week to practice and compete. Valhallan gives them the training, coaching, structure, support, and community that they don’t get playing video games on their own. It’s like the difference between playing pickup ball at the park and being on a youth sports team.

While some stigma still exists around gaming, I have seen this become less and less prevalent as the esports industry has grown, and more players from all walks of life get involved. People are seeing the immense skill and dedication it takes to play these games at a high level, and parents are thrilled that kids are able to learn real, lasting life skills through gaming.

There are also now numerous college scholarships and career opportunities available to the players. It’s clear that gaming is not a solitary pastime, but a way for kids to enter into a thriving community, learn new skills, and unlock future opportunities while enjoying their favorite games.

esports journey

Technowize: The company makes it clear that parents are allowed to be a part of their children’s esports journey—what kind of response do you see from these parents and how do you keep them engaged?

The response from parents has been overwhelmingly positive so far. Even some of the more skeptical parents have come forward to say that Valhallan helped their children make friends, build confidence, and learn new skills that they otherwise would not have. We keep parents updated as their kids advance through the program. One of the sentiments that we hear most often is that parents love how enthusiastic their children are to attend training sessions. It doesn’t feel like a chore or an obligation for them, but a chance to have fun and see friends. Often, it’s the kids’ enthusiasm that gets the adults engaged.

Our arena in Pearland has a viewing room with screens where parents can watch their kids during competitions and tournaments. Parents get very passionate about it and love to cheer them on. It’s not that different from what you might hear on the sidelines of traditional youth sports.

Technowize: Even though, as a population, we’re growing more accepting of esports, what are the trends you see about women in gaming? Are there as many takers?

Women are still underrepresented in gaming. There is a tendency for women and girls to feel unwelcome in the online gaming space, and they do not often see women gamers portrayed in popular media.

Valhallan champions inclusivity and safety for all players. Valhallan players only communicate with coaches and players within our program and league, and we have a zero-tolerance policy for harassment of any kind. We want girls to know that gaming is a space for them as well, and we’ve found that this approach helps girls and their parents feel more comfortable entering the gaming world. Our focus on teamwork, communication, and confidence building has been a truly positive force in the lives of the girls involved in our program, and we hope to see this trend continue.

Valhallan Esports Training Centers

Image: Valhallan Esports Training Centers

Technowize: When it comes to esports, are the rules and legalities of the industry as well defined as other industries and have you seen any changes since you began in the industry? What is it like to lead the next evolution of gaming?

The esports industry, while still relatively young, has been rapidly evolving in terms of its rules and legal frameworks. Now, the industry sees more structured rules around player contracts, intellectual property, and fair play, aligning more closely with traditional sports.

Leading the next evolution of gaming, especially for youth, is both exhilarating and challenging. It involves staying ahead of technological advancements, ensuring that our training resonates with young gamers, and creating a culture that remains inclusive, fair, and supportive. At Valhallan, this leadership means creating a safe and nurturing environment for young players, where they can develop their skills, and understand the importance of teamwork and sportsmanship. In essence, it’s about shaping a generation of gamers who are not only skilled at their craft but also understand what it takes to be a good teammate and a good person.

Technowize: We read about how NFL player Brandon Parker and his investment group have signed on as franchise owners. Do you think the more mainstream sports industry has a role to play in the future growth of esports?

Professional athletes like Brandon Parker and many others have been among the first to see the potential for esports and Valhallan in particular. They have a major role to play in the future growth of esports by lending their credibility and celebrity status to the space.

It certainly helps that sports-themed video games are a perennially popular genre, and there is plenty of crossover between fanbases. Esports are beginning to look more like traditional sports every year, with esports events selling out arenas and great players achieving celebrity status. Their popularity is impossible to deny, and I think that many sports fans are finding esports to be just as enjoyable to watch and discuss.

However, I believe that there is an even deeper connection between the two. I think that many professional athletes, like Brandon, see the kinship between the values that we promote at Valhallan and the values they learned through their chosen sports, and it does not surprise me that more athletes are seeing esports as a way to give back to their communities. As more kids and parents come to see the value of esports training, I am sure we will see even more fruitful collaborations between the two.

esports industry

Technowize: What do you believe is necessary for the esports industry to grow further? More large-scale games like Valorant and Fortnite, the growth of mobile gaming, change of the global attitude towards esports, or something else entirely?

Gaming is a multi-billion dollar industry that shows no signs of slowing down. For that reason, I don’t think that the popularity of gaming itself has much to do with the growth of esports—it is already one of the world’s most popular pastimes. If anything, I think that the growth of esports requires a change in attitudes towards gaming. While this change is already underway, visible in everything from the professionalization of esports to the popularity of esports training, I still think that there is more that can be done. 

Specifically, I think that the gaming industry can do a better job of being more inclusive and bringing in more players of different backgrounds. Again, we have seen a remarkable diversification of players in recent years, but there is more that the esports industry itself could do in order to promote this. This is why I feel that an inclusive, learning-based esports environment for the youth is so important: it helps show kids and their parents that they belong in the gaming world and that it has something of value to add to their lives.

Technowize: Could you share some predictions for future trends in esports that we should look out for in 2024?

In 2024, a key trend in youth esports is the growing integration of esports into educational programs. Esports is now recognized as a valuable tool for developing skills like teamwork and strategic thinking. Schools are increasingly including esports in their curriculums, providing students with a unique blend of gaming and learning. We are seeing this across the globe with the growing interest in Valhallan Esports Leagues, which provides schools with a plug-and-play esports program.

Another trend for 2024 is the well-being of young gamers. The industry is emphasizing the importance of a healthy balance between gaming and life, promoting physical health, responsible gaming habits, and mental wellness. This approach ensures that young players grow as individuals, not just as gamers.

Additionally, the expansion of amateur and youth esports leagues is notable. These leagues are vital for nurturing young talent and offer a competitive but supportive environment. They serve as stepping stones for aspiring professional players and signify the rising popularity and legitimacy of esports among young people.