This column is part of a series of articles from the University Business Academic Esports Guide, which serves as a primer for schools and faculty interested in getting started in competitive video gaming. Jason Bauer and Jay Prescott, esports leaders at Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa, discuss five key departments that facilitate programs at the college and K-12 levels, while defining the five different roles within competitive gaming that make up any program.
Since the introduction of Atari, gaming continues to gain popularity, so much that formalized esports programs have entered the high school and collegiate scene. Although many gamers play in the confines of their home, many are finding that when structured under the school umbrella, tremendous benefits occur, such as community building and sense of belonging.
Although some organizations fully embrace and utilize various stakeholders from the beginning, most have taken a grass roots approach in which interested students join forces and form a club team. Many esports club teams are now making the transition to a formalized program because esports is becoming a sanctioned sport, which creates opportunities for additional stakeholders to be involved. It is helpful to understand how potential stakeholders can contribute to a program and serve in the greater context of the esports ecosystem.
1. Facilities Management
Creating a welcoming space that builds community does not necessarily have to include the bells and whistles. Although some programs are fortunate to have arenas decked out in LED lighting and graphics covering the walls, the majority are working with a refurbished room that has turned into a glorified computer lab. No matter the scenario, it is important to involve the facilities staff in selecting the best possible space. With their knowledge and expertise, a facilities management representative could suggest minor changes to the room aesthetics to enhance the space and make it more welcoming. Creating an arena in which student/athletes take pride in their space can help with community building and attract potential gamers.
2. Informational Technology
Although there may be an upfront technology cost to add esports, there is minimal additional costs to support the program as with traditional sports because teams do not have to travel to compete. Other than playing for prize money, most competitions occur remotely. Yet, nothing can frustrate an esports player more than a poor internet connection. When identifying a space on campus, it is important to involve the IT department to ensure there are adequate connections to support the intended stations and that proper bandwidth is specifically designated to the arena. Bringing an IT representative into initial conversations regarding space likely will provide an additional perspective and further insight on best utilization of resources. It is likely that someone within the IT department is an experienced gamer and may be a natural fit to lead the esports program.
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From a macro level, there are stakeholders still trying to make the determination on how esports fits into the sports world. What began as playing in a basement for pure entertainment has quickly evolved into a team sport and playing in front of an audience. Involving athletics helps legitimize the sport, not only for the esports athletes, but also for the portion of the population that is unaware of the evolution. Running an esports program is similar to running other sports programs and should be treated and viewed as such. There is also a great deal that can be learned from the athletic department when it comes to administrative tasks outside of the games themselves. Running tournaments, purchasing gear and equipment, travel arrangements, budgeting, recruiting, compliance to governing bodies, sponsors, and fundraising are just a few areas the athletic department of your school can assist in providing valuable resources and knowledge.
4. Student Affairs
At the collegiate level, approximately 60% of programs are umbrellaed under athletics and 40% under student affairs. With esports being new to the scene, some athletic departments are not convinced that gaming is an official sport. Another dilemma is that some esports athletes already have won money competing in tournaments or streaming, which would compromise their amateur status in traditional sports. The benefit of including student affairs at the collegiate level is that their focus and experience lies with inclusivity, sense of belonging, and community building. Both options have seen success at the collegiate level so high schools may need that same innovation when it comes to oversight.
Based on their own experience, many administrators did not grow up gaming and have limited exposure to esports, which means education and awareness becomes the first step. If you are fortunate to have top level administration supporting the creation of an esports program, do everything you can to build on that support by including them in the program’s development, giving them visibility at special events, and making sure everyone you talk to knows how supportive your administration has been in developing the esports program at your school.
If your administration is new to esports then education and awareness needs to happen. The intention is not to convert them as a No. 1 esports fan, rather allowing them to see the value esports brings to the school and the students. An administrator’s support likely leads to the necessary resources to build and maintain a program. Encourage those involved in esports to educate and update administrators by inviting them to practices and events, possibly sharing personal success stories from within the program. Understand an administrators’ schedules are typically full, so make it worth their time.
Roles Within Esports
This position is responsible for overseeing the esports program. In a club program, a director simply could be the sponsor or advisor, and is typically a person in IT, a faculty member, or someone who has a passion for gaming. The director may begin with minimal responsibilities such as making sure the computer lab is unlocked and notifying players of available times to practice and compete, but as the program grows so does the responsibilities.
Common responsibilities include arranging practice schedules, lining up scrimmages and competitions, coordinating team-bonding activities, communicating work orders, ordering of team apparel, and helping with academic and personal issues. It also can include developing a program budget, ordering equipment, maintaining equipment, and securing program sponsors and fundraising activities. In some programs, interest in participating on an esports team has outpaced space and computer availability, forcing the director to maximize time and space so that everyone is having a positive experience.
An esports coach is the individual who is highly knowledgeable and skilled at a specific game. The focus is placed on individual and team development. Although there are drills specific to eye-hand coordination and in-game strategy, team development might require teaching skills such as game planning, healthy communication, and sportsmanship. Since gaming is a sedentary sport, a coach should communicate the importance of proper exercise, diet, and rest.
Structured esports programs have formed on high school and college campuses because of the increased benefits of student engagement and community building. The coach must remain committed to academic success and creating a positive gaming experience for the participants. Since esports is new to the competitive scene, players typically understand the game better than older adults, so a program must resort to hiring a student coach. To increase the chance for success, the expectations of a student serving in a coach’s role should be condensed, but understand a student/coach creates its own set of challenges. Some of the initial concerns are: hiring because of limited leadership training and experience, as well as the challenge of coaching peers in a highly competitive environment. It takes a special depth of maturity and skill to be able to coach student-athletes that are the same age as the coach.
3. Competitive Players
Although most individuals enjoy playing several games, a player will generally specialize and compete in one game. Depending on the games’ objective and personality of the individual, players have the option to play solo or in a team format. This flexibility allows more people to participate in esports. Unique to esports, one must not ignore the challenge of a player honing his or her skills specific to one game, and then being forced to transition to another game when the larger esports population loses interest.
Streamers are valuable to a program and recruited by universities. A streamer plays online, typically on Twitch, for others to watch in an attempt to gain a following. Fans are able to watch their favorite player practice, but unlike any other sport, viewers are able to communicate with him or her in real time. It is common for streamers to create a personality that is entertaining and attracts a larger audience, and at times trumps focus and competitiveness that other gamers must maintain for optimal performance. Streamers can help build branding for a program within the esports community. For streamers who have a large following, players and the program can receive financial compensation.
There continues to be an increase in spectators watching esports, creating opportunities for a caster, short for broadcaster, or also known as a shoutcaster. Much like other spectator sports, this position enhances the viewer experience when watching on television, online, or in person. The addition of a caster not only adds an excitement factor but provides understanding of the game to an audience who may have limited exposure to the sport. Similar to other sports, players will review their game to improve performance, especially in a team-oriented game, and the caster’s acknowledgement of a great play adds to the overall player experience.
Because of the various roles, there are opportunities for individuals to contribute and showcase their talents and gifts within an esports program. The integration of new roles should be intentional and likely involve an experimental phase, requiring patience and necessary adjustments. When all roles are functioning effectively, students become empowered by their own contributions, while also respecting and appreciating the roles others play for the collective good.
The landscape of esports is constantly evolving, which will likely lead to additional key stakeholders not mentioned. At this time, these are the current stakeholders involved in a complete program, but understand that not all are necessary to run a successful program. A positive experience for students can be created simply by providing a space to game. Involving others can change that positive experience into a transformational experience that has life-long memories. Never miss the opportunity to do something spectacular that will make a difference in the lives of young people.
Jason Bauer is Associate Vice President for Student Affairs/Director of Analytics and Assistant Executive Director of the esports program at Grand View University in Des Moines, IA. Jason brings an excellent combination of educational leadership, professional development, and coaching experience to NAECAD. As a former Division I basketball player and coach, Jason has served in varying capacities developing athletes and coaching staffs. He has a great passion for training and development. He has been part of a team that develops mobile platforms to enhance teaching and learning in higher education and now brings that expertise to competitive esports. He is the Associate Executive Director of the National Association of Esports Coaches and Directors and the founder of Go Live Competition.
Jay Prescott is the Vice President for Student Affairs and Executive Director of the esports program at Grand View University in Des Moines, IA. He helped launch the varsity esports program at Grand View in fall 2016. Jay is also the Executive Director of the National Association of Esports Coaches and Directors (NAECAD). The NAECAD’s mission is to serve, legitimize, and advance competitive esports at all levels with NAECAD members at the epicenter of leadership, advocacy, and professional development. Jay has spent the past 30 years in education. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Secondary Education from Westmar College, a Master of Science in Education from Drake University, and his doctorate degree in Educational Leadership from Drake University. Jay also attended the Harvard Institute for Educational Management (IEM), Harvard Graduate School of Education, and Harvard Institute for Graduate Education in Cambridge, MA. Jay spent 10 years as a high school teacher, guidance counselor and coach, eight years as a high school principal and the last 14 years as the Vice President for Student Affairs at Grand View University.