In our continuing series on women in esports, SYFY FANGRRLS got a chance to chat with up-and-coming analyst Jordan Fragen.
At 24, Fragen is already becoming one of the leading women in esports audience data, helping to tell the story of why the esports audience is like it is to help brands invest smarter. It’s a side of esports that you might not know about, so Fragen is here to explain what her job entails and to encourage other women to get into the field.
Can you give us some insight into FanAI and what you do?
FanAI is the leading audience monetization platform in esports, though we’ve begun to branch out to traditional sports. We’re the only data service that draws from millions of records to back up our conclusions rather than simply using survey data. My role as an esports analyst is to answer our clients’ questions about potential partnerships through data and present these results in the most meaningful and actionable way possible.
This is a very different job than we’ve seen before in our women in esports series. What is the day to day like for you?
My day to day varies pretty frequently. FanAI is a small start-up; I’m employee 16-ish of about 20, so we all wear many hats. We do always start the morning with a quick meeting to go over the day’s game plan. I tend to work in longer sessions, so most mornings I work on presentations and data requests until lunch. If I don’t do more of the same in the afternoon, it’s likely because I’m working on blog posts for our website or because I’m doing research.
Also, Twitter. Lots of Twitter. It’s the social platform of choice for esports, so it’s how I keep up with what’s going on in the space. Plus, it’s typically where I come up with interesting ideas for case studies.
How did you end up getting into this? How did you even know this was a possibility?
When I went to college, I thought I wanted to be a doctor. It took me until around Organic Chemistry to realize that wasn’t the right path for me. Stereotypical, I know. So when it came to figuring out what to do instead, I thought about my hobbies. I’ve been a geek almost my whole life, so gaming was an obvious choice. But until I took a data science class in college I never knew what role I could fill in the process.
I like to compare data analytics to a toolbox. Especially as our world becomes more digitized, where data can be collected automatically instead of by hand, being able to work with different techniques and statistical programs means I have a skill set that can be applied in almost any industry.
The final piece that set me down this road was actually a boy I dated in college. I knew competitive gaming was on the road to becoming a real self-sustaining industry, but I started going to Smash Bros. tournaments with him. That’s where it clicked for me. There are so many people who want to be a part of this space, but my ability to make sense of the data was always unique. And data plays a massive role in determining success for everyone from the smallest content creators to the largest teams. I’m no longer dating him, but I’ll always thank him for helping me find a place where my passion was useful.
From there, it was all about figuring out where I could provide value. No one was doing data-driven journalism at the time in esports, so that was where I figured I could carve out my niche and make a name for myself. So I wrote data-driven stories for esports publications, then eventually found my way to FanAI.
What game got you started?
In general, the game that got me hooked was Pokémon Red. It was one of the first games I ever played, and as a kid growing up at the height of Pokémania in the '90s, I too became hooked. There was something so special about being able to explore and discover secrets about another world that really spoke to me. In fact, I actually competed for a bit before I really knew what esports was.
As for esports, Super Smash Bros. was the series that captivated me. I’ve never played at a high level, but it was the community where I found my start. Southern California was where most of the largest Super Smash Bros. for the Wii U tournaments happened thanks to the Esports Arena in Santa Ana. There I made friends and built relationships that helped expose me to the larger esports community.
What have you taken from traditional sports that’s helped here?
Honestly, I think people would be surprised by how much traditional sports are looking to esports for innovation. Many have gotten comfortable with a model that’s past its prime, and it's that comfort I look to as an example of what esports companies shouldn’t do in the long run. Looking at data as an example, you’d be surprised by how little data is used to drive marketing decisions. FanAI has begun working with several traditional sports teams, and I’m always taken aback by how much data they have that goes unused and unexamined.
However, this isn’t to say that esports have nothing to learn from traditional sports. You must have done something right to have a league that has lasted for 50+ years. I always look to traditional sports for cues on how esports should be thinking about building lifelong fans. The most common story I’ve heard when I ask people why they are fans of a particular sports team is that they became one through a relative or a friend when they were young. We are starting to get the era of multi-generational video game fans, but esports absolutely needs to start cultivating the next generation of viewers and players as soon as possible.
Can you break down audiences for us? What is the male-to-female split?
So you know that stereotype of the younger, overweight guy that lives in his mom’s basement covered in Cheeto dust? That’s how most people envision the esports audience, from my experience. And those people shouldn’t be listened to.
Of course, there is a basis for why that stereotype exists, but that ignores the growing segments of parents, teens, and female fans that will have a significant impact on the industry.
On the whole, esports fans do skew male. There’s no getting around that. However, there is a wide range for how large the gender gap is in different games. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Counter-Strike tends to be the most male-dominated. FanAI has data to suggest that there are roughly 9 male fans for every 1 female fan. However, the split is dramatically different for a game like Overwatch. We’ve found that nearly 1 in 5 Overwatch fans are female, so double the rate of female fans in CS:GO.
As for age, esports fans tend to be older than you might expect. While the median changes by community and team, most esports fans are in their mid-20s or early 30s. This means they are hitting their stride in their careers, have the disposable income to back up their spending habits, and are looking to become parents if they aren’t already.
On top of this, esports fans tend to be educated and, as a result, have higher lifetime earning potential. This is particularly true for PC-based communities.
Additionally, esports fans are much more likely to live in cities. FanAI data suggests that esports fans are living in large metro areas at nearly double the rate of the U.S. population as a whole. [Fragen gave us the infographics below to demonstrate.]
What games are the most popular with audiences these days?
There’s been a whole lot of debate around whether or not Epic Games’ Fortnite is “esports-ready,” but there’s no denying that it’s still the game that everyone in the industry is keeping an eye on.
Personally, the three games that I think could be the “next big thing” in esports are Rainbow Six, Rocket League, and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.
Since its contentious launch nearly 3 years ago, Ubisoft has managed to grow Rainbow Six’s fans into a thriving community. It has the depth to keep viewers engaged, and it’s about to launch in China, by far the most important market for the future of esports. That being said, CS:GO going free-to-play and adding a battle royale mode might change my mind on this one.
Rocket League is the game I always recommend to people who want to watch but know nothing about video games. Sure, you could watch Madden, NBA 2K, or another sports simulation game, but why would you choose to watch those over something you couldn’t do in real life? Rocket League has enough of a traditional sports feel so people can follow it without playing themselves, but it preserves the fantasy elements of video games that make the medium so unique. Plus, Rocket League has been the game that has some of the most appeal to advertisers. There’s no realistic gunplay, which can be a huge concern for major brands, and it has tons of successful brand partnerships under its belt.
I may be a bit biased on this one, but I’ve long thought that Smash has the greatest potential of almost any game to become a successful esport. It’s got IP that would make most marketers drool, it fits the easy-to-follow but hard-to-master niche for viewership, and it has a community full of vibrant personalities. What’s held it back up until now is Nintendo. But with the success of the Nintendo Switch and the Ultimate Invitational at E3, I’m very optimistic about the future for Smash.
What advice would you give women who want to get into this field?
In college, I was lucky enough to take a class with Christopher Weaver, who not only coded the first-ever real-time physics engine for a sports game but also was one of the original co-founders of Bethesda Softworks. There he gave me the best advice I’ve ever received (career or otherwise). That advice was to find my unfair advantage. For me, that was being able to bring a unique, data-driven perspective to the esports industry. If you truly want to find success in this industry or nearly any other, you need to understand what you are uniquely good at, and how to communicate that to others. That’s how you become indispensable.