Minnesota-based Taco Bell Franchisee Hosts Employee Esports Tournament
Screenshot of Border Foods’ Rocket League tournament for employees. Border Foods

Minnesota-based Taco Bell Franchisee Hosts Employee Esports Tournament

In a bid to boost worker engagement and retention, New Hope-based Border Foods has rolled out an esports competition for employees.

As workers continue to resign in record numbers, employers are scrambling to find ways to keep them engaged. Companies have tried everything from boosting benefit packages to hosting monthly outings like karaoke to retain and engage staff during the Great Resignation. For this New Hope-based Taco Bell franchisee, the answer comes in the form of an esports tournament.

Taco Bell franchisee Border Foods began its inaugural employee esports tournament in December. Over the course of three weeks, three-person teams competed in qualifying rounds of “Rocket League,” a motorized soccer video game. The tournament will wrap up when the final 14 teams battle for the championship on Friday. The games will be viewable to the public on livestreaming platform Twitch.

The competition is open to workers at the company’s restaurants in Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Wyoming. One of the largest Taco Bell franchisees in the nation, Border Foods operates more than 200 locations.

More and more companies have been trying to jump into esports within recent years. In Bloomington, the Mall of America is developing its own e-sports hub, and even the Vikings ownership is investing in its own e-sports team. Border Foods leaders saw the opportunity to jump on the trend while engaging staff and recruiting new members.

“We are always looking for ways to engage our employees and make Border Foods an incredible place to work,” said Aaron Engler, president of Border Foods. “We also know esports are exploding in popularity and thought this tournament would be a fun way to introduce ourselves to a wide range of potential employees.”

Of course, employee engagement isn’t just one activity or one initiative, but an overall experience, said Lisa Brezonik, CEO of Salo, a national staffing and consulting firm based in Minneapolis.

“Employee expectations are always changing, and we’ve learned a lot in the last two years about what makes people happy at work. We’ve learned how crucial it is to be clear about your company’s purpose, mission, and values and how every employee’s role aligns to them.” said Brezonik. “People want to know their work matters, that their daily tasks have meaning, and that they are able to make an impact. When this happens, you see engagement, innovation, and better community.”

Like scores of other companies, Border Foods has tried out plenty of ways to keep employees engaged. That includes tuition reimbursement, scholarships, and even an all-expenses-paid trip to Mexico for its top performing members. The company also started a program called “Border Shares,” which rewards a “share” of the company to employees in leadership positions. Those can eventually be traded in for cash upon retirement.

Meanwhile, winners of the company’s esports tournament will get much more than bragging rights; workers also have a shot at Amazon gift cards, TVs, and even additional paid time off. Engler believes it’s a positive way to kick off the near year.

“We’ve worked on some sports-related marketing in the past with Gameplay Marketing, and they were the first to recommend us getting into the esports industry,” said Engler. “They thought our employee base would be interested – and they were right. It took about a month to set up the tournament, in partnership with eFuse.”

So far, employee feedback on the tournament has been positive, according to Engler. It’s always a wise idea to continue gathering feedback about employee benefits.

“You can learn ideas from other companies, but the best way to build your package is to ask your employees what they want and create something specifically for your company,” said Salo’s Brezonik. “It should be based on your company values, add to your culture, and be inspired by your people.”

Border Foods had 15 percent of their restaurant locations from Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, South Dakota, Wisconsin, and Wyoming participate in the e-sport tournament with a total of 28 teams and 84 players. Engler said it’s a “great participation rate,” and he anticipates future esports events.

“Hopefully, the success of this event will create opportunities for us to do more like this in the future and on a broader scale. One idea is to have a tournament that’s open to any gamers – not just our team members. I think there are a lot of opportunities in the esports space, and we’re excited to explore them,” said Engler.

The championship games will be livestreamed and viewed at 6 p.m. Central on Friday. Viewers are also eligible for random prizes awarded throughout the broadcast.