5 fail-safe ways to recruit players for esports programs

Midland University's Nathan Ragsdell offers strategies to other college coaches who are hoping to land the best student-athletes for their schools.
Nathan Ragsdell

(This excerpt is from a column written by Nathan as part of the Academic Esports Guide, which serves as a primer for schools and faculty interested in getting started in competitive video gaming.)

The field of esports is rapidly expanding, both in game title updates and in media and player popularity. Coaches on the front end of this wave must be flexible, responsive and innovative in order to create a successful program.

Though it may well be the most fun part of the job, there’s more to being an esports coach than working with your team to hone their craft and develop strategy.

At the university level, recruiting and talent-scouting are necessary elements of forming a successful team and overall program. But where do you find players when games take place in a virtual space? There are five major ways to recruit players:

  1. Discord. Discord is a free VoIP digital communication application that serves as the central network of communication for gaming and esports. This platform is where you can find scrimmages, tournaments, professional development opportunities, general points of contact, and recruiting channels. It is entirely possible that a Discord server for tournament organization also has LFS or LFT sections – “Looking for scrim” and “Looking for team” – respectively. As a side note, it’s important to know that not all Discord servers are interested or willing to have an official college or high school team recruiting from their server, so be sure to ask for permission before advertising your school’s team.
  2. Seeing recruits in person. The other bread-and-butter recruiting resource for esports is through good, old-fashioned high school visits. As more high schools and local organizers adopt esports and play in, or host tournaments, scouting talent is becoming easier for schools. Much like traditional sports, with enough support and structure, esports someday will offer the opportunity for in-person recruiting at state championships to check out the talented players vying for a state title.
  3. Camps. Outside of this dynamic, setting up time to speak to a high school gaming club/team/program is a large part of recruiting. In tandem with high school visits, hosting and or attending esports “camps,” as well as setting up campus visits with local area high schools or community colleges, will help build your recruitment pool. If your school is privileged enough to have its own esports facility or arena, this is a great opportunity to bring students in to see what being an esports athlete can look like, or to let them get a taste of the experience through camps.
  4. Social media. This offers great recruiting potential.  A lot of casual, and even professional, conversation occurs over Twitter, Instagram, even Facebook. Having a consistent and strong social media presence that you build over time will allow you to gain traction and recruit players.
  5. Recruiting services. The last recruiting resource is recruiting services such as Next College Student Athlete (NCSA) and BeRecruited. Be aware that not all recruiting services are optimized for esports, though more are choosing to incorporate the sport as the field continues to grow. Services such as these are easy to navigate and understand for student-athletes, parents, coaches, and directors. It’s simple to create your own recruiting profile, and the site’s search engine allows the ability to search for specific terms, and players to search for specific schools. Depending on the site, you can search for items such as names, game titles, graduating year, GPA and more. These services also will have email push notifications regarding a new student-athlete’s interest in your program and might send you recommendations for students that meet your criteria.

Recruiting is a time-consuming process, but with careful planning and strategy, each of these methods can easily harmonize with the others to maximize efficiency. Thanks to automation and the overlap between these methods, you’ll be able to find great players.

Nathan Ragsdell is the esports coach at Midland University in Fremont, NE. He is an active Overwatch player and has reached the rank of Grandmaster, which is in the top 1% of players worldwide. 

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