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esports Platform GGLeagues Launches Recreation Leagues Across the US

The esports tournament and league management platform GGLeagues is designed to make gaming a social experience. Structured like an outdoor recreational sports league, GGLeagues hosts teams and competitions on its platform. There are different brackets to accommodate different levels of play and teams require collaboration and communication to work together.

“The concept [of GGLeagues] is that people, recreational players like me who are passionate about video games, are going to be looking for a place to compete,” said Erich Bao, MBA ’19, founder of GGLeagues. While attending the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, Bao saw a gap in the esports market; the only way to compete was as a professional gamer.

He grew the initial idea out of the Polsky Exchange in 2018. With Polsky support, GGLeagues did its initial customer discovery. This allowed the company to make its first sales to schools in Chicago and run the first league on its platform.

GGLeagues then participated in the 2019 Edward L. Kaplan, ’71, New Venture Challenge (NVC). Recognized as one of the top-ranked accelerator programs in the country, the NVC is a year-long business launch program. Going in, Bao and his team wanted to present the company well, network, and put themselves in a place where they could focus on GGLeagues full time after graduation. Not only did they meet their goals, but GGLeagues won second place and took home $220,000. “[The NVC] allowed us to really break into the investor network in not just Chicago but around the United States,” Bao said. “We met a lot of incredible investors, companies, mentors, [and] advisors through the New Venture Challenge.”

From there, Bao was part of the 2019-2020 cohort of the Polsky Founders’ Fund Fellowship (PF3) program. PF3 is a resource available to graduating University of Chicago students who are committed to growing a company after graduation. “[PF3] was just a natural continuation for us,” remarked Bao. “Having gone through so many of the incredible programs at Polsky, this was another great step for us, as we continued to work on the business.”

It was during and after the PF3 cohort that the company expanded their number of leagues, the games available on their platform, and grew the collegiate side of business to include 112 schools across the US. Now, teams can play League of Legends, Overwatch, Valorant, Fortnite, Fortnite, Super Smash Brothers, Rocket League, Madden, FIFA, and NBA 2K on GGLeagues.

Last spring, the company struck a partnership with the Naperville, Illinois park district to host an esports league on the GGLeagues platform. Soon after, other cities in the area reached out to develop similar programming. Now, the company hosts esports leagues in Illinois, Wisconsin, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, and Texas, and has partnered with over 200 different cities and park districts.

The latest league cycle started on January 16. This included five regional leagues in Massachusetts (each one containing between six and ten different cities), statewide recreational leagues in both New Hampshire and Maine, as well as leagues in almost 70 Illinois park districts.

To prepare for the youth leagues, the company made sure its platform was compliant with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. “If you think about recreation,” said Bao, “the main tenets of that are fun and safety.” It was important to Bao and GGLeagues that they could provide an environment safe for everyone involved. They put the chat feature on their website to directly monitor it and built tools for league managers to moderate the happenings.

Bao’s next goal is to add adult recreational leagues. “We want to move into that adult space so that people like myself have an opportunity to compete and be able to play,” he said.

“For us,” explained Bao, “gaming has always been about community.” As the company expands, Bao wants the platform to continue being a space where different communities of gamers can connect and share their love for esports.

Article by Julianne Lorndale, marketing coordinator at the Polsky Center. Julianne recently graduated cum laude from the College at the University of Chicago, where she divided her time between Creative Writing and Italian Studies. Reach Julianne via email, on LinkedIn or on Twitter @jlorndale.

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