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Trailblazing USC Coach Joe Jacko Discusses What Drives Him To Create A Better Way For Esports

This Super Coach is finding a groove between the collegiate chaos and an all-girls high school to make esports a better place.

Thom Fain
Nov 13, 2020

For all the thrills and intense exchanges on gameday that occur when the USC Trojan Esports team suits up for battle, coach Joe Jacko can’t imagine it any other way. In college, he was an esports player with some accolades but when he realized it was time to hang ‘em up, the itch to continue innovating and contributing in esports remained. Besides, his career started all the way back as a high school recruit, and it’s what he’s known and loved. 

Now Jacko has carved out a niche coaching in esports, all while bringing lessons he picked up along the way to both USC and the all-girls team at Westridge School (CA) he’s taken under his wing. 

“When I captained a team at the collegiate level, we won over $20,000 in collegiate esports scholarships at Virginia Tech – so I know what’s at stake,” Jacko told PlayVS. “At the time, I was incredibly immersed in the esports realm and noticing all of the issues surrounding gender diversity and gaming/esports. So I began to connect my classwork in communication and gender to this world of esports while pursuing my degree.” 

This season Jacko is tasked with developing another generation of esports players who could enter the collegiate scene (or beyond), so he’s begun drilling the importance of unit cohesion and a productive behavior as much as any type of in-game skill he could ever teach them. In fact, he points to esports approaching a turning point for rooting out the toxic elements of online competition he experienced in years past. For his team, this is ground zero.

“The group at Westridge is extremely welcoming and inclusive, whenever a new student joins, that’s the greatest measure of success. I get to witness the heartwarming and wholesome exchanges firsthand,” Jacko gushes.

And it’s not just the fact the STEM-minded program enables extracurricular bonding in an age of staying at home and social distancing. The Westridge team flourishes under his acknowledgment that, at its heart, gaming is social. And shared experiences can be used to uplift one another.

“The girls welcome new players into their ranks with open arms and create new memories everyday. They create mentorship opportunities amongst themselves as they step up to help and instruct new players on the very same techniques that they once struggled with,” he said. “When practice concludes, now that we’re online, they share photos of themselves from before quarantine to highlight things they’ve done and what the team is about. They induct new members with immense passion and an open heart.”

It’s a culture he hopes will inspire other programs to follow, as high school esports spreads throughout the country with new varsity programs joining PlayVS each and every season. While elevating their games at Westridge, many of his students have also picked up on the path their coach has taken and are inspired to play esports at the highest levels if they can continue advancing. But at the end of the day, the girls of Westridge esports first want embody the set of core values they wish to see across the rest of the esports space.

“I tailored my education to the pursuit of a better and more inclusive environment within gaming so that I could become more educated about the cultural issues that surround the scene,” he said.

As the season marches on you can catch the Westridge team in Rocket League competition over on Jacko’s Twitch channel

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