A version of this article appeared in the Globe’s tech newsletter, Innovation Beat (sign up here).
A few weeks ago, I asked a source what’s something the Globe should cover more. To my surprise, she responded quickly: XSET, a Boston-based e-sports team that’s making waves in the industry with its promise to be nice, diverse, and authentic.
I was intrigued, but knew little about it. I decided to dig in, and attended a virtual panel at MIT on Wednesday on diversifying the gaming economy. What I learned was not entirely surprising.
The gaming industry, which does around $155 billion in yearly revenue and counts 3.1 billion people worldwide as video game players, is rife with toxicity, racism, and bullying. E-sports teams, many of which are backed by major corporations, are primarily male, have done poorly recruiting diverse talent, and are loath to speak out on social issues. The industry’s treatment of women has resulted in major scandals over the years, including this week with claims of harassment erupting at Activision Blizzard, the video game creator.
Amid this backdrop, a group of four gamers, all with deep ties to Boston, wanted to change things. Three of them — Greg Selkoe, Clinton Sparks, and Wil Eddins — were fresh off stints with FaZe Clan, a top-flight gaming organization in Southern California. Marco Mereu, an e-sporting league founder himself, was looking for a change. (FaZe Clan inked a content partnership with Boston’s DraftKings this week.)
Together, they started XSET, hoping to create an e-sports organization that speaks its mind, lives up to the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion, does so while being a cultural force, and is firmly rooted in Boston. (XSET joins Boston Uprising, an e-sporting team owned by the Kraft Group, as one of the major gaming presences in the area.)
A little over a year into their experiment, the jury is still out on how big they’ll become. But no doubt, they’ve influenced the industry.
The club has over 50 competitive gamers across nearly a dozen different games, including Valorant, Fortnite, and Call of Duty. It joins roughly a hundred other e-sports teams across the country, which draw in roughly 550 million viewers, according to industry estimates.
Their slate of gamers is the most diverse in the industry, experts said. They have already come close to winning gaming championships, dispelling the myth that diverse teams don’t do well. Half of the team’s eight co-owners are Black. Their brand — which urges players to be authentic and speak openly on social movements such as Black Lives Matter, gender rights, and mental health — has led to marquee talent, including the Patriots linebacker Kyle Van Noy, joining their ranks. (Ezekiel Elliott, the Dallas Cowboys running back, recently joined the roster.)
With the traction they’re gaining, they want to increase their content creation and establish more partnerships with apparel companies, recording artists, and elite athletes.
But the question remains: Can the success of one team change an entire industry?