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Nearly 500 collegiate Esports athletes will soon take center stage at the Esports Stadium Arlington for the 2023 “May Madness” CSMG Collegiate Esports Commissioners Cup.

The CECC is modeled after the 64 team NCAA March Madness Basketball tournament where students will compete in Overwatch 2, VALORANT, Super Smash Brothers Ultimate and Rocket League.

This tournament is the full embodiment of the Collegiate Sports Management Group’s mission to add commercial value to colleges, universities, and college conferences across the country.

The Idea Is Born

CSMG CEO Michael Schreck said he defines value as “any type of revenue generating opportunity for the schools and or the students, as well as driving exposure for the schools and the students.”

Schreck comes from a traditional sports background.

According to the orgs website, Schreck’s fifteen year career includes negotiating over a quarter billion dollars of media rights for NFL, NBA, NHL while at ESPN, CBS, FOX and more.

Schreck said he knew that if he could figure out a way to convince colleges to get on board with a “conference championship” tournament he could deliver the value he knew was in collegiate Esports.

So his first pitch was a natural one.

“If we're doing these traditional deals for commercialization,” said Schreck, “why don't we start aggregating the rights to a lot of these Esports conferences in schools, and figure out what that looks like for monetization.”

Schreck said there was only one problem facing he and his then sole business partner “​​we don't know a f***ing thing about Esports.”

Finding The Right Help

He knew immediately his next move was to bring on Esports heavy hitter Angela Bernhard Thomas who brought with her nearly two decades of Esports experience.

Bernhard Thomas’ career started in TV and film. A skillset that would lead to starting The Gamer Agency, an exclusive Esports agency, as well as serving as an operation executive for Microsoft’s MIXER studio in Manhattan.

Angela Bernhard Thomas at the Tempest Awards

Angela Bernhard Thomas at the Tempest Awards in 2022

She was the perfect person to help Michael bring this vision to life and he almost blew it, but not really.

The story goes back to 2020 when CECC was still in “beta test” phase, Bernhard Thomas was brought on as a consultant to oversee the CSMG’s virtual Esports event.

“We were going to kind of get to know each other a little bit better and she was going to teach me a little bit about Esports,” said Schreck.

As he tells it, after seeing how Angela put together an amazing event, he didn’t hesitate to offer her a partnership role as Chief Esports Officer.

Angelea tells a slightly different version of the story.

Not to get into details, but somewhere along the way, someone had told Micheal that Angela had a few choice words for him. Which apparently included some name calling.

Bernhard Thomas reenacted the phone call she made to Schreck to clear the air.

“Well, yes I did. You were acting that way that day,” she said with a smile, “so I think he liked it because I owned it.”

The two shared a good laugh about it, and immediately got to work.

With the success of the 2020 virtual tournament, they had a basic framework for the next year’s event, but they still had a problem.

Bringing Collegiate Esports Together

There was an overall lack of cohesion and community across the many collegiate Esports programs across the county,

The CSMG leaders both said their solution wasn't some clever marketing scheme or influencer campaign.

Angela noted, it was a more traditional approach, “as simple as phone calls saying, ‘hey, this is what we're going to do. Nobody was doing it and it needed to be done.”

But unlike traditional sports that funnel through university athletic departments, Esports programs have a bit of a “get in where you fit in” model.

“As it relates to infrastructure, Esports sits in different areas on different campuses,” said Schreck, in some cases, it's in student life, in other cases, it's in athletics, and in some cases it's in a journalism school. It really depends on who's raised their hand to say Esports belongs here.”

Since their pairing, the true magic shared between these two industry juggernauts was a willingness to work together outside the typical boundaries of the industry.

Overwatch competition at CECC

Overwatch competition at CECC

Instead of trying to fit the round peg of Esports into the square hole of traditional sports, Schreck and Bernhard Thomas checked their egos at the door and brought the best of themselves to the table.

This could be seen on display at the 2022 CECC event in Atlanta.

For starters, Angela said a point of personal pride for her is bringing the same level of production value to the live streams that you see on television for traditional sports.

Which includes bringing in A-List talent like former Green Bay Packers running back turned Esports Coach Ahmad Green.

It also means creating an on-air look that rivals traditional sports networks, “We have really high end production, we have high end ESPN style graphics, we have high standards for our broadcast,” said Bernhard Thomas.

In addition to top notch Esports competition and high end production value, the event will look to bring a significant impact to the Dallas Fort Worth community.

It was reported last year’s CECC event had a 1.78 million dollar impact on the local economy in Atlanta. This year, with McDonald’s signed on to be the presenting sponsor, Bernhard Thomas expects this year’s Arlington event to be just as impactful.

“We've engaged the Texas community to come and be at our event and bring all of their communities. So it really has turned into more of a festival,” she expressed.

Students competing at CECC

Students competing at CECC 2022

There will be recruiting booths for local businesses, corporate execs there to speak to the college studying about the growing gaming industry, an activation with the Dallas based educational Esports technology company Esposure and full red carpet experience the Friday night before the competition begins.

“We really have a focus on community”, expressed Bernhard Thomas.

A community, according to the 2022 Trends in Collegiate Esports Study by Foundry, is one seeing incremental growth in diversity.

May Madness

In a survey of 300 collegiate Esports programs, it was found that 84% of 116 programs reported having non-white representation and 60% of all programs were seeing representation from students with disabilities.

“This is the future generation and workforce of tomorrow,” said Bernhard Thomas, “it’s very very diverse.”

Thanks to the hard work put in by Michael, Angela and the CSMG team, they have more than delivered on the promise they made to the colleges and universities over four years ago to add value to their campus.

Michael said they are starting to see trends of students deciding where to go to school based on how well colleges compete in their event.

As for Bernhard Thomas, CSMG’s early success with CECC is an indication to her she is exactly where she needs to be, out front leading the charge,“I really like it for its pioneering opportunity, something that's never been done before, and us having the chance to really make a big impact and shape what that looks like.”

The lights will be bright, the stage will be grand. Paved is the road to collegiate Esports glory.

64 teams and their traveling fan bases will converge into the state of the art Arlington Esports Stadium May 5-7th but only one will emerge as the 2023 Collegiate Esports Commissioner's Cup Champion.

May Madness here we come.