Author’ Note: This is the second part of my series of open letters to people who will shape the future of collegiate Esports. If you didn’t see my first letter to prospective scholarship players, you can find it here. This is for administrators at colleges and universities considering the creation of an Esports program.
When I began exploring the potential for an Esports program at UCI, Kurt Melcher, the Godfather of college Esports, from Robert Morris University, was generous enough to speak with me a few times. He shared his wisdom and answered my naive questions. At that time, there were only four schools that offered scholarships, and two years later that number had soared to nearly 30. Now that UCI has launched a program, I enjoy speaking with administrators from other schools and sharing what I’ve learned along our journey.
Here are some suggestions that will hopefully get you on the right track and help you evaluate whether Esports are right for your campus.
First of all, reach out to your gaming community. I quickly learned that our student club, The Association of Gamers, was incredibly knowledgeable and well-connected. We would never have gotten the program off the ground without their support and heavy involvement. They helped us build a program that gamers like and are proud of.
Secondly, you need to understand why you are creating this program. Early on, we created our four pillars (Competition, Academics/Research, Community, & Entertainment) and by having set our priorities, and articulating them it has been invaluable to us. We want to compete against the best college Esports teams on the planet; unravel some of the mysteries around video games, learning methods, and Esports; support and engage our massive population of gamers; and create awesome events and online content for everyone.
Additionally, while you do your research and learn from the best practices of other schools, you should develop a program, business plan, and a strategy that is unique and appropriate for your campus and personnel. Our model may not be possible for you and there is no all-encompassing checklist I can offer.
Next, as your vision becomes more clear, you should find a campus leader to champion the program. Get your president or chancellor to endorse your idea. This will help get meetings with key stakeholders and help get buy-in from other folks. We are very fortunate to have very forward-thinking campus leaders and they have been incredibly supportive of our program. Don’t get me wrong, we still have to do a lot of educating to those who hold tight to negative stereotypes about video games and gamers, but we were lucky enough to have many open-minded supporters.
Finally, having seen and heard many different visions for Esports programs, I’d suggest a minimum commitment (If you have the resources to do more, that’s great) to the following:
- 5-10 small scholarships for students to compete for a team in one game
- A small practice facility for your team
- One paid part-time coach
- One paid part-time staff member who can put time into things like recruiting, media and public relations, sponsorships and partnerships, managing the team and players, and growing the program
In addition to this letter, I am sharing the business plan that we used in our first pitches to the university. While things have definitely changed and grown from this initial version, it will give you an idea of how we answered questions and addressed the concerns of administrators.
I have also included the end-of-year budget for our first fiscal year (ending 6/30/17). It will show you the costs we incurred in our first year with the program and building the arena as well as our revenue. Your costs will likely be different and heavily dependent on your ability to get campus partners to donate time to help you. Esports programs cost money and you’ll need to be prepared.
Another resource that I will offer is a weekly online streamed conversation about my experience creating our program. It can be found at twitch.tv/uciesports on Thursdays at 1:30pm (pacific time). I plan to do it weekly provided that people are showing up and benefiting from the stream. All conversations will be stored on our YouTube Channel. You can ask questions in the chat or by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org or by tweeting with the hashtag #uciesports.
Finally, we just started a subreddit so our community can engage with us, ask questions, and find other gamers. This can also be a great place to check the pulse of our program to see and hear what issues, concerns, and opportunities matter to folks on campus.
In conclusion, I believe that Esports are the future of competition and will find permanent homes on college campuses once there’s an overwhelming and compelling case for them. I know more schools will continue to enter the exciting world of collegiate Esports and I hope this information is helpful to some people along the way.
I’ll see you out there,
Acting Director, UCI Esports