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Super Coach Justin Tolbert Talks Sportsmanship And Team Chemistry In Esports

The most talented player might not always be the best culture fit

Thom Fain
Sep 27, 2021

As just about any coach in esports can understand, making the transition to virtual practices and remote VOD sessions can throw a wrench in the plans of culture-building for a new program. That’s why one of our Super Coaches, Justin Tolbert, decided to focus on the intangibles he can instill into Spring Hill College Esports as they continue growing the program. 

According to Tolbert, it all starts with sportsmanship. As he met the unique challenge of designing team culture (with the help of his best players), the coach also found a few key areas to focus on that would allow them to reach their goal. In order for Spring Hill to grow, he knew he needed to build trust. That’s when Tolbert created an open-door policy with the implication that the most invested players would become the foundation for the team.

“Office hours are powerful when there's a student who has a problem and they know they can reach you at this time, there's a window to talk to you,” he recently said at a PlayVS Coach Clinic.

Cultivating Sportsmanship In Esports

Together, Tolbert and the first years decided to design the do’s and don’ts for participating on the team. It all started with having a good attitude the minute you step foot onto the team, and treating your opponents with respect.

“We made sure to establish that culture of sportsmanship, barring toxicity and promoting non-toxic behavior early,” Tolbert said. “One of the things I've impressed upon my athletes is to just completely disable in-game chat [while in the lobby]. And, we also designated just one representative from our team to chat with the other team for coordinating ahead of the match.”

The coach also preached holding one another accountable, and while he works on keeping the team focused through regular check-ins, the potential for promotions allows his top players an opportunity to speak out about what they think should be the focus of the group.

“If you come across a teammate who’s been unsportsmanlike or toxic, you show them the sidelines,” said Tolbert. “And then the kid that's been dying to play, gets to play. The most pressing thing is nipping unsportsmanlike behavior in the bud as soon as it occurs.”

Streaming On Twitch Can Unify The Team

Like most teams, Spring Hill regularly meets in the team Discord server. But one opportunity Tolbert found for them to establish a great comm’s process was through streaming. And that all started when virtual practices began early in 2020.

“What I found that helped my guys kind of come together was we started streaming their practices,” he said. “It kind of got them to focus a little better as a team. We started off just streaming it for my own internal review. It was a way to watch them practice, but they also took it as a way to test stream it on our Twitch channel for the school.”

The opportunity to build a community became another team goal, giving the players one more reason to play well and to practice together. After Twitch sent him the info to become part of the Twitch student program, Spring Hill Esports was fast-tracked to become an affiliate streamer.

“That gives the students incentive because once you get that partner status, you can start generating revenue,” Tolbert said. “And so it almost gives them another goal – something to do as a team, other than just competing. They're also trying to build their program, and at the same time laying the foundation for future years of athletes that come through your program.”

At PlayVS, we regularly spotlight schools that compete in our leagues. Check out the PlayVS Twitch channel to learn more.