Bubba Gaeddert, the Executive Director of the Varsity Esports Foundation, joins the show to talk about what they are up to in their not for profit organization. He gives some great insight into the ever-growing esports industry.

Show notes from Bubba Gaeddert Interview

Ryan Knuppel: You will not want to miss today’s show. It was one of the probably most fun shows I’ve had in quite a while. Learned a lot about eSports. Today, I sat down with Bubba Gaeddert, the executive director of the Varsity Esports Foundation to talk anything and everything eSports-related. Don’t miss it.

Speaker 2: [inaudible 00:00:16].

Ryan Knuppel: Everywhere you turn, it’s the same old sports, talk the same headlines, the same news, and the same boring information. This podcast is here to change all of that. We bring you hot sports takes, winning sports betting strategy and picks, reliable gaming industry news, and breaking interviews with some of the biggest names in sports business. My name is Ryan Knuppel, and welcome to the Knup Sports Show.

Ryan Knuppel: All right, welcome back to another episode of the Knup Sports Show. My name’s Ryan Knuppel. I’m here with you each and every episode. Really appreciate everybody listening and tuning in to the show today. As you can see, we’re on video. We’re doing audio. I am joined by a very special guest. I have Bubba Gaeddert with me, the executive director of the Varsity Esports Foundation. He’s here with me. Bubba, How are you buddy?

Bubba Gaeddert: I am so excited to be here. I’m just ecstatic. I’m ready to talk about sports, ready to talk about eSports, ready to talk about the Chiefs winning the super bowl, whatever, I’m here.

Ryan Knuppel: Chiefs wining the Superbowl. Where you a actual Chiefs fan? I know you went down to the Super Bowl, but were you a Chiefs fan?

Bubba Gaeddert: I mean, we moved here to Kansas City about eight years ago, and really, in Oklahoma, you have to choose, and so we chose the Chiefs, and we’re happy we did.

Ryan Knuppel: That’s amazing. They had a great run this year, and I was cheering for them too. I’m not a big fan, like-

Bubba Gaeddert: Oh, yeah?

Ryan Knuppel: … in general, but when you’re in the Super Bowl, you got two teams, you got to choose one and roll with it. I was rooting for them. That’s who I picked to win. Man, it didn’t look good going down to that fourth quarter, but you knew their offense was going to turn on, and it did. It certainly did.

Bubba Gaeddert: That’s what’s what they do. They make you bolder and more anxious as the season and the game goes on, but I feel like two teams, definitely, usually when you go to the Super Bowl, you are cheering always against like the Patriots, so it was nice to have two good solid teams, right?

Ryan Knuppel: Right, or [crosstalk 00:02:07]-

Bubba Gaeddert: Or you’re always choosing against the Yankees or something, right?

Ryan Knuppel: Yeah. For me, it’s the Cubs over in the baseball, but yeah, Yankees, you’re right. Well, cool. You went down there. You went down to Miami. I know I followed you a little bit on LinkedIn and things-

Bubba Gaeddert: Oh, cool.

Ryan Knuppel: … like that. It sounds like a had a good time down there, I hope?

Bubba Gaeddert: Yeah, we went down. We actually got asked maybe a month and a half ago. It’s the end of February now, so about a month and a half ago, we connected with the NFL Alumni Association-

Ryan Knuppel: Ah, yes.

Bubba Gaeddert: … and they do, this 20 years, they’ve been doing a Player Networking Event where those players that who have moved out of the NFL then helping them find opportunities with careers and entrepreneurship and education. They’ve been doing that for a long time with a really a great group of guys, Ray Ellis and [Guy Troupe 00:02:55]. They do amazing job.

Bubba Gaeddert: They were actually bringing in some local kids from Miami, Miami-Dade County Schools, and they wanted to do some STEM learning, so we had Microsoft there and Code Ninjas and some other people in the STEM-related fields. Also in STEM, just like we do here at the Varsity Sports Foundation is STEM learning through gaming, and so we partnered with some folks out of Wichita Midwest Esports, and we brought down some Xboxes and PlayStations and Nintendo Switches and played Madden and played some other games. We had some NFL players there, like-

Ryan Knuppel: Wow.

Bubba Gaeddert: … Super Bowl champions playing with these kids. It was a ton of fun.

Ryan Knuppel: Oh, that’s amazing. That’s super cool to hear. Tell us a little bit more about the Varsity Esports Foundation. I know we kind of jumped right in here, didn’t get into what you’re doing. Tell us a little bit about your foundation and what you guys are up to in the eSports space.

Bubba Gaeddert: Well, great. I love to talk about this because I’m passionate. I get to do it every day. The Varsity Sports Foundation, we’re a nonprofit organization. We’re created to be a pipeline for students with the lens of eSports. We work with ages three through 30, whether they be at local YMCAs with eSport clubs or centers where kids can play Minecraft or middle school where they can compete and things like Rocket League or they can just learn different things with robotics to high schools where they’re competing with our partners, the High School Esports League here in Kansas City, which is in 2,400 schools across the country, or even collegiate. A ton of partners. The collegiate space, there’s about 2,000 to 3,000 colleges that have eSport clubs, and about 200 of those are actually varsity eSport, or varsity sport teams with full-ride scholarships at most schools, so-

Ryan Knuppel: Wow.

Bubba Gaeddert: … that’s the overview in that side, what we do and who we work with.

Ryan Knuppel: Sure.

Bubba Gaeddert: There’s also a lot of stuff we do with the high schools and middle school [inaudible 00:04:50] grants for Title 1 schools, free-reduced lunch schools, low-income, we support them with a little bit of funding, whether that be for equipment or for just access and just breaking down barriers. Then if those students compete in our partners like high school sports league, then they can win scholarships. We can send it right to their college of choice.

Ryan Knuppel: Wow.

Bubba Gaeddert: That’s the financial side. Then we do a ton on education, awareness, and advocacy. We have free curriculum that schools can use. It’s 148-page curriculum on what is eSports, how to do it, how to have better exercise practices, wrist exercises, healthy eating, how to build a computer, how to be a commentator, how to do media just like you’re doing podcasts within all that STEM accredited curriculum. Then lastly, just advocacy and awareness just to give the people eSports literacy around the community-

Ryan Knuppel: So-

Bubba Gaeddert: … and just a massive awareness.

Ryan Knuppel: That’s so cool. So cool what you’re doing. Esports, it’s, and I know everybody always says is, “Esports is booming, eSports is coming up,” but it’s so true. I mean, if you look at kids these days, I mean, I got kids that are perfect example playing Rocket League every day, playing all this stuff. Woke up early morning, it’s 5:30 a.m., for the Fortnight update or something. I’m like-

Bubba Gaeddert: Yes, it… Yep That’s right.

Ryan Knuppel: … “Unbelievable.” It’s just, to me, it just blows my mind the interest at this young age that we’re getting. As these kids grow up and they continue to progress through their life, I can’t help but think this is going to be a huge part of it in some capacity. I think that’s where you guys really fit in to help these kids understand all the opportunities available in this space, plus just how they can, I guess, use real life skills and combine all that with the gaming side. Some of the parents out there just think, “Oh, eSports, gaming is so bad for us. It’s the devil.” Well, I disagree. I think it sounds to me like you’re an advocate for the other side, and you’re going to show some positives that come from eSports, so pretty cool.

Bubba Gaeddert: Yeah. Right. I tell you why most parents think it’s wrong, because we as a society are perpetuating that. I mean, just we as a society are perpetuating stay in the basement, drink your Red Bull, eat your Doritos, don’t connect with anybody, be in a dark area. But me, for being in the traditional sports field for 20 years in nonprofit work, I worked with a lot of athletes, and young ages to college, and we perpetuate, for many, many decades, that sports are good. You’re a star athlete, football player, it’s important. Let’s have all sorts of podcasts and TV shows and ESPN and everything around that for many, many years. We’ve got also understand moderation with anything is important. I mean, you could go shoot a hundred free throws and be addicted just as much as you are playing Fortnite when it comes out at 5:00 a.m.

Bubba Gaeddert: We as a society have done that to ourselves, but this eSports industry is young enough where we get to shape it. It’s still early adoption. We’re in the early adoption, so if you’re not in now as an organization or as a venture capitalist or an organization that wants to invest, then you’re going to miss out soon because it is growing in triples and quadruples every year, whether that be spectators that watch the League of Legends event last fall was more spectators that watched the Super Bowl last year.

Ryan Knuppel: Unbelievable.

Bubba Gaeddert: There’s a lot of big money, and there’s a lot of dumb money, but hopefully us being proactive with the students in the scholastic space, definitely we can help get that generation, that we call generation E generation eSports, we can hopefully give them the access and the understanding literacy to be better adults.

Ryan Knuppel: Sure. Sure. A lot of the people listening to this show or watching this show are going to have a betting background. They’re going to have a sports betting/iGaming background. How can you, I guess, relate betting to eSports, and is there any correlation from your point of view with the two, or will they be, I mean, will betting on eSports become a pretty big, I guess, market in the future? You have any insight on that from, I guess, where you sit?

Bubba Gaeddert: In my space, in the scholastic space, I definitely don’t have the literacy around it enough other than just knowing that it’s out there, knowing what you do in the sports space. Some of our partners work with Mark Cuban, and he obviously bought the Unikrn brand, or is involved in it, so somehow with our partners, that’s involved but not really.

Bubba Gaeddert: But that eSports betting space, I remember being at a conference three years ago talking about eSports betting when eSports was still just really huge in Korea and Asia and maybe just getting it started in America. I mean this was three [inaudible 00:09:49]. I mean, I know my iPhone here wasn’t around 15 years ago, and now this is the 11th version, but tech for eSports definitely is growing extremely fast. The betting scene, the conversations we were having then are probably still the same conversations of, well, we can take examples from traditional sports on where the positives are and where maybe the things that we’ve messed up on with referees or players or whatever, so how in the sense of eSports does that amplify?

Bubba Gaeddert: Well, when we have competitive online matches, there’s a lot of opportunity to cheat. There’s a lot of rules in place, but that’s because there’s a lot of opportunity to cheat. When you have live events, like these big events at the Luxor or the Fortnite event in Arthur Ashe Stadium last year where Bugha won $3 million, and he’s 16, is there opportunity to cheat because there’s people behind him, but those events, maybe there’s more oversight?

Bubba Gaeddert: I mean, the referee, the NBA referee, I mean, he shaved points. I mean, there’s no way… and that’s because with this great correlation that we’ve just been talking about is loud people saying loud things about violence and video games is bad, and then loud people saying loud things about why, well, betting in sports isn’t great. It’s this noise, and then there’s trying to find everything we’re talking about that’s actually important that’s relevant.

Ryan Knuppel: Sure. Sure. I think that’s a great answer. I appreciate that. Hey, one other thing. From your point of view, you just mentioned Bugha went in $3 million at this big event. Now, that’s not going to be everyone playing eSports, but that opens up a lot of kids’ eyes and hopefully adults’ eyes that there is some money to be made in eSports. Give me a little bit, I guess, of your inside of what a… because all these, I see it all the time, these kids are like, “Oh, I can just get on YouTube and stream myself. This guy’s making $1 million. I’m going to make $1 million if I get people watching me and followers and all this.” What’s the reality of a kid making some money playing eSports? I mean, is that a real thing, or is that really like your influencer type thing that has to get there? Give me-

Bubba Gaeddert: There-

Ryan Knuppel: … something right there.

Bubba Gaeddert: There is a model. There is a model that works now. It may not work in six months, or it may not work in a year, but there is a model, and I can attest this model because I’ve seen it in other people and myself. Even my deep dive into eSports two years ago was me having my own stream streaming myself. I played Fortnite because everyone’s doing Fortnite, but I also do a cartoon character voices, so-

Ryan Knuppel: Oh, cool.

Bubba Gaeddert: … I wanted to be fun and partner with people and just talk in like a Peter Griffin voice the whole time and just make really weird content on-

Ryan Knuppel: That’s cool.

Bubba Gaeddert: … YouTube, like that’s fun, but then-

Ryan Knuppel: It’s fun.

Bubba Gaeddert: … then I found out like, “Oh, man, I want to build my brand on eSports, so this formula, I want to build my brand, and maybe I wanted to learn how to make money,” so I learned how Twitch and YouTube and Facebook gaming and how it works. As I did, I created my own artwork, because I’m a graphic designer, so I created my own artwork, and people were like, “Hey, can you create art for me for my Twitch stream,” and so then I learned, with my marketing background, I was like, “Well, this is how you brand,” so out of that model, I’ve been involved in like, I don’t know, a couple of hundred different Twitch streamers who’ve created brands, but seeing where like 99 of them are still here because they’re got one viewer, and it’s because the model is you should be maybe streaming as a competitive player who wants to make money maybe two or three times a week, and then taking that content and putting it onto other spaces like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and talking about your brand, just like any other marketing and anything.

Bubba Gaeddert: Like what you do, you market yourself on different social medias. That’s the model that needs to work, but if you want to be competitive and make a lot of money, you also need to go to live events and prove your worth by winning some of those. There’s a model in there with branding, financial literacy, which is another initiative of ours for these gamers because that’s something they’re all asking.

Ryan Knuppel: Exactly.

Bubba Gaeddert: I walked up to a group of kids in Atlanta. I had my suit jacket on. They’re all high school kids, like, “Hey. Hey. Hey, Mister, are you going to sponsor us?” “Like sponsor you? I mean, I’m a nonprofit over here, but-”

Ryan Knuppel: Wait, yeah, like…

Bubba Gaeddert: Like, “Are you going to sponsor us?” because that’s what they all think.

Ryan Knuppel: You’re wearing a suit, baby.

Bubba Gaeddert: It’s just like, I mean, as us kids growing up, “I’m going to be in NFL, NBA, whatever.” This is the new thing for kids-

Ryan Knuppel: That’s-

Bubba Gaeddert: … obviously.

Ryan Knuppel: That’s crazy. It’s insane. It’s insane. I think I read an article, I don’t know, this week I believe about a high school that… and maybe this is becoming common. You can tell me after this, but a high school actually making it a real sport at the actual school so somebody could try out. They’ll have tryouts, they’ll have teams that… I mean, is that going to be the future in high? I know colleges are kind of already jumping on board, but are we going to see high schools having teams that you could legitimately try out for and be a part of?

Bubba Gaeddert: This is the eSports literacy part. Yes. For the last seven years, that’s actually been happening at the high school level.

Ryan Knuppel: Wow.

Bubba Gaeddert: Yeah.

Ryan Knuppel: Wow.

Bubba Gaeddert: Every school, whether they be middle school, high school, or college, all do it differently. Let’s just look at the top level, college first. College, it could be a campus life club team, like a team of… not even a team, a campus life organization. It can be a recreational intermural sport, or it can be a varsity program with an arena. It could be scholarships, everything, so different opportunities have been used and what can happen. Athletics also gives them different opportunities, but also downside of now they’ve got to meet stipulations on the grades and they got to go to tutoring, so there’s all sorts of weird dynamics there, but that’s 3,000 schools that are doing that, colleges.

Ryan Knuppel: Sure. Sure. Wow.

Bubba Gaeddert: On the high school space, there’s 3,000 high schools that are doing this as well, so our partners, the High School Esports League here in Kansas City have the market share about 2,500 of those schools all across the nation. It’s really fun. You can go to HSEL.org, scroll down and see a pin dot map, and it’s all 50 States. Texas has 250 schools there. Florida’s like 50. California’s 50. Then obviously the big states all over, but it’s just the spread of schools. Then their process is similar. It could be an afterschool program. It could be potentially maybe a tryout kind of thing as a club, or it could actually be a varsity program at a school with a letter jacket. This is happening.

Bubba Gaeddert: In the middle school space, similar as well, maybe clubs more often, but then they’re all competing… The big thing is almost that whole entire gambit there is overhead cost is so low because it’s in school online playing against other schools rather than me and you getting bused to our baseball or basketball games, and… Just all that expensive stuff involved. It’s happening.

Ryan Knuppel: It’s happening. Right. I agree with that 100%. I’m just wondering how far away are we from the days where literally I’m talking to my buddy, and I’m like, “Oh, I got to bring junior to eSports practice,” and, “Hey, we have an eSports game tonight,” where it’s like what we do with basketball and baseball and football where it’s just a part of the everyday culture, every… it’s one of the sports, every school that we go to each night. I mean, are we close to that, that spot?

Bubba Gaeddert: I mean, I’ve got a 14-year-old kid who I helped build his brand last year. He was like 13 points away from being in the Fortnight World Cup last year. His parents are all-in. I mean, they take him to the local Walmart, which has an eSports arena in it.

Ryan Knuppel: Oh, yeah.

Bubba Gaeddert: There’s a lot of those popping up. That’s what they do for his sports. That’s one example, but I’ve got friends like Miguel Gil who runs United Esports Association Group here, and he is passionate about that Saturday morning, just like I’m going to coach my kid’s basketball game last Saturday and he’s got a tournament. We’re going to put on his jersey, we’re going to go to the game and be there early. Same thing. He’s like, “I want kids to were put on their champion eSport jersey, and I want them to go to the local land center. I want to compete.”

Bubba Gaeddert: It’s happening. Is it going to start happening a lot more? Yes. Is it going to replace a lot of traditional sports? I don’t think so, and I’ll say this is because in eSport clubs at schools, we see, one, the data is 80% of kids play video games already, so meeting them where they are and giving them a safe space to play is really important rather than being in their basement with Doritos and Red Bull. We’re saying be in a safe space with a healthy environment.

Bubba Gaeddert: Also, the kids that are in there, maybe it is a valedictorian and STEM, like nerdy kids, how we would say, but it’s a kid who has no belonging, who has no other activities they play. It’s a kid in the wheelchair. It’s a male, a female, black, white. It’s a football player. It’s a basketball player. It’s another club right now that’s an opportunity just like if you were to join drama but also be the football team. It’s not a replacement, and I don’t think it will be right, but technology may advance where we’re playing football in 10 years digitally because concussions are so bad. Who knows?

Ryan Knuppel: 100%. 100%. Wow, so that’s good insight, man. This has been one of my most… This has been one of my, I’ll say, funnest, if that’s a word, but-

Bubba Gaeddert: Yes, it is.

Ryan Knuppel: … one of my funnest interviews I’ve had. I really enjoy hearing what you have to say. For the people listening, I mean, how or why would they want to get a hold of you? Is there a reason that they may want to reach out to you, something you’re trying to push, something you’re trying to get a hold of? Tell us more about that, what your, I guess, plans are for the future for your foundation.

Bubba Gaeddert: Yeah, I mean, we’ve got a couple of campaigns right now for fundraising, and it’s fundraising of STEM learning through gaming, whether that be YMCAs to college. It’s all STEM learning because we’re the only STEM accredited eSports organization in the world, and we want to make sure we’re doing the right thing, so we’re doing STEM learning through gaming. We have free curriculum that goes to all these schools.

Bubba Gaeddert: At varsityesportsfoundation.org, you can actually donate. These campaigns we have, we’ve got a million dollar campaign for STEM learning. We partnered with what’s called the LinkedIn of eSports. It’s called eFuse. You can go to efuse.gg. Actually, we’re doing a whole campaign on there for scholarships, grants, equipment, opportunities for prizing for students.

Bubba Gaeddert: Then we just, we partner with a lot of apps and tech companies because they want to get in front of all these students we work with, and we want them to because we vet them because there’s cyber bullying apps, they’re mental health apps, suicide prevention. We want to get that kind of data and information and accessibility to these students and these parents because instead of us creating something and making up a PDF about why eSports is good and why you shouldn’t bully, let’s find people who are doing it right, put them in front of all the 6,000 schools we work with, which is over 300,000 students that we work with across the country, and help them and support them, so varsityesportsfoundation.org is a place you can get connected. We’d love to have support. We really just want to amass awareness about the things we’re passionate about so people can start having a conversation.

Ryan Knuppel: For sure. I’ll put that link out on the show notes for sure. If they wanted to get a hold of you, is that where they’d find it as well, just out on that-

Bubba Gaeddert: Sure can.

Ryan Knuppel: … contact there and get a hold of you there?

Bubba Gaeddert: That’s right.

Ryan Knuppel: Awesome. Well, I’d urge everyone listening if you’re interested in eSports at all, if you have questions, if you just want to engage more with Bubba, go out there, send a contact, one of the great guys in the industry. Obviously, as you can tell from this interview, super knowledgeable, super on top of this space. Bubba, I really appreciate you being here. Any last words for the audience here before I let you get back to your busy day?

Bubba Gaeddert: We’ll be in Tampa next year when the Chiefs are playing in the whatever number Super Bowl it is, and so we’ll see you there.

Ryan Knuppel: Tampa. I will definitely be there, so I want to make sure we get that booked on the appointment-

Bubba Gaeddert: Great.

Ryan Knuppel: … schedule so I can sit down with you and chat. Bubba, thank you. Appreciate it. Listeners, appreciate you guys being here. Until next time, have a great day. Thanks again, Bubba.

Ryan Knuppel: Thanks for listening to this episode of the Knup Sports Show. If you enjoyed this podcast, please consider subscribing to our iTunes channel today. Plus visit us knupsports.com for more picks, previews, strategy, and news. That’s K-N-U-P sports.com.

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