Here’s a question I get a lot: Clint, how would you advise building a successful esports program at my school?
It’s a question worth asking and while there is no one correct answer, I’ve come to believe there are fundamental elements that all successful programs tend to have in common. Looking at programs across the country, each one is diverse and unique. All that’s required is: a dedicated coach or general manager -- no experience required, support from administrators and parents, adequate tech to functionally run each title and interested students.
Beyond those things, there are some ideas and concepts that each school should consider and implement in whatever way they think best suits their specific needs.
Values, vision & a video team
Whether you’re a coach, a general manager, or a just a caring and reasonable adult, it’s important to instill some core values and principals for your program to represent. Setting goals for each individual team and the program as a whole helps place specific benchmarks for everyone to achieve. One of the often challenging aspects of coaching esports is that students frequently are much more knowledgeable about the games than you. Use this to empower them to become leaders within their team and the program as a whole. For many players, this could be their first opportunity to lead their peers rather than taking instruction.
An exciting aspect of esports is the opportunities it creates for roles beyond players (more on that below). This includes a media team: shoutcasters, editors and stream coordinators will support your team in ensuring anybody who wants to support them can watch matches from anywhere streaming is available. Not only that, but reviewing a previous match is a great way to identify and correct miscues.
More than just the roster, more than just gaming
It’s important to understand that the size of your program need only meet whatever demand exists at your school. Big schools can have small programs and vice-versa. So long as the appetite for esports is met then you’ve probably got it right. Fortunately, there is no shortage of roles for non-players. I mentioned the media team, but there are also social media roles, graphic designers, scrimmage partners and team managers. These roles help spread the excitement and celebrate the successes of your program. Plus, with more people around you can keep things fun and have time for more casual gaming.
Any time video games are discussed by academics, a healthy balance of physical activity is always a topic -- and with good reason. That’s why successful programs ensure students have a balance in their lives. That can include regular non-gaming events, pre-match stretching, yoga and exercises designed specifically for esports athletes (link to video for this).
Teams require a minimum number of players, depending on the sport. League of Legends and SMITE teams require 5 players plus a substitute per team. Rocket League teams require 3 players plus a substitute per team. Ensuring you have a full starting lineup of players for each match, while seemingly obvious, ensures your teams are at full strength for each match.
Nothing at a school happens in a vacuum and, without institutional support, good things with student momentum can peter out. That’s why successful programs have the support of faculty, students and parents. While many schools have adequate tech already, plenty do not and that can require fundraising. Programs that are able to raise their own money for expenses will, understandably, have much more support from administrators concerned with budgets.
Parents can also contribute to the health of a program simply by ensuring their kids are adequately supported. This could mean simply making sure they have a ride home after matches or understanding that when their child is playing a video game they may be practicing for an important match. It also means watching matches. While it may be confusing at first watching an intricate, strategic title like League of Legends, once you’ve watched a few matches it’s easy to understand who is doing well (player reactions always tell the tale).
As I mentioned up top, these concepts aren’t revolutionary and they’re far from comprehensive. But they’re a good touchstone for getting a grasp on what the best program for your school may look like. So, take these ideas, scale ‘em, shrink ‘em or ignore ‘em if you think they don’t apply to you. Esports is supposed to be fun and these ideas provide a foundation for your program to allow your students to have the most fun esports can provide.
Keep an eye out in this space for more insight and tips on building an esports program. Next up - taking your program to the next level.