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This week, Major League Baseball teams will hit the pitch for Spring Training ahead of next month's start to the regular season. But Chris Park, a former baseball executive, has oped for a different kind of ball field for his second act.
Recently, the former MLB executive vice president responsible for growth, strategy and operations was at Blizzard Arena in Los Angeles for the season two kick off of Activision Blizzard's Overwatch League (OWL). In January, the 39-year-old was appointed CEO of Korean esports organization Gen.G. The team is valued at $110 million, according to Forbes, and it boasts rosters in six different esports leagues -- including OWL and the popular League of Legends game.
The move puts Park in the midst of what research firm Newzoo predicts will be a $1 billion industry this year, and marks the entry of another sports executive into the space. The firm's data show that almost $410 million of that revenue pool will come from the North American market.
Esports viewership numbers, which have surpassed many landmark sports events, are also projected to reach just over 453 million viewers by the end of this year. It makes a tantalizing opportunity for people like Park, a Harvard-trained lawyer who spent years developing his craft as a baseball executive.
"I have paid attention to esports through the lens that this is the first sport born on digital media that was global almost from its inception," Park told CNBC in a recent interview. "It's probably the closest thing we've seen to a user-generated sport."
Park emphasized that esports' success has also been the industry's ability to naturally "[drive] tribal associations" that "organically attracts really passionate viewership and really passionate allegiances." He also believes that traditional sports have been "challenged to understand" the younger demographics who devour both esports and regular athletics.
A big part of that, says Park, has come from a changing media entertainment landscape where content creation, competitors and influencers have converged. That in turn has led to what Park said is a breakdown in many of the business models traditionally adopted by sports leagues and media brands.
"Fans, influencers and athletes were discreet categories of people, and that's just not the case in this world," he explained. "Every day on Twitch really challenges those distinctions in those categories. It creates incredible interactivity which is just tailor-made for social media today."
He added: "I think that is clearly what the next stage or level of high-quality content is going to be and there are a lot of different ramifications of that across the business."
A number of former executives in traditional sports are making the jump into the electronic version. Yet Park explained that the space still needs participants whose experiences are mainly shaped by the esports experience, which is necessary for its continued growth and development.
Park doesn't believe the esports industry will follow much of a "textbook" approach to growth. Consequently, much of its future will depend on a combined effort to mature the industry, which in many aspects diverges wildly from traditional business models.
The rapid growth of the sector is "both so compelling and complicated, it also creates opportunities for organizations to work together to figure things out," he told CNBC.
"That's harder to do in a 200-year-old league where franchises have already established their lanes and rivalries, and the surrounding ecosystem is already cordoned off by rights holders who don't ever really veer off of their core," he added.
And Park stressed that cooperation is necessary, given how quickly the esports scene can change. He points to the launch of Electronic Arts' free-to-play shooter "Apex Legends" -- and the explosion of its player base -- as an example of how a new game or product can shake up the space in mere days.
"We are in a historic moment where [trends] in media and marketing are converging," while the esports sector itself is in its "formative years," he added.