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8 Ways to Get Started with Esports

If you've been looking to get involved in esports on campus, either in the classroom or in competition, these tips and resources will help.

closeup of esports gamer on computer

The global esports market will generate $1.4 billion in revenue in 2020, and is growing at a rate of 26.7 percent year-over-year, according to a forecast from esports analytics firm Newzoo. That trajectory led the University of California, Irvine's Division of Continuing Education to develop an esports management certificate program designed to help students "turn a passion for gaming into a viable career," according to Stephane Muller, instructor for the program and director of business and technology programs at the university. Delivered on the Coursera platform, the four-course specialization provides an overview of the esports industry, game development, teams and players, collegiate esports, career planning, esports management and more.

In a session at this past fall's STEAM Week virtual conference, Muller and Henry Ngo, program manager and creator of the esports management certificate program, spoke about their program and offered some tips for getting started with esports on campus, from curriculum and instructional design to games and competition.

1) Talk to industry experts.

The esports industry is growing exponentially, said Ngo. And while there's high demand for people to work in the industry, most students don't know a lot about the nuts and bolts of managing esports going in. Universities can help narrow that skills gap by aligning their esports programs with industry needs. When starting up the esports certificate program at UC Irvine, "We started talking to industry professionals who are deep within the esports and gaming industry," Ngo said. "We made sure that we [approached] people who had over five to 10 years of experience in this industry, so that when we do work with them, we know for sure that they are the people who will hire our students. We asked them, if a student were to come out of this program, what skills do you need them to have in order to be successful in the esports industry? We created our program around those skill sets so that our learners would have those tools to be ready for the workforce."

The No. 1 most desired skill among esports employers: communication, Ngo said. "Business communication is crucial, especially in an online environment. Game designers, developers, they may know the tech side but they might not know how to communicate with their teammates, working together on projects." In addition, other high-value skills are project management as well as an understanding of the business side of esports, he noted.

2) Create a program map.

A program map should outline core competencies and program objectives. It also includes a map for each individual course, breaking down readings, assignments, discussions, exams and specific learning outcomes. For instance, in UCI's Overview of Esports course, Ngo said, "What's important is for the learner to know: What even makes an esport an esport? What are the major developers right now in esports? And what are some of the career tracks that you can have in this industry?"

3) Provide instructional design support.

For its esports certificate program, UC Irvine hires industry professionals to serve as subject-matter experts (SMEs) and instructors, and then brings in an instructional design team to help them create course content and hone their teaching skills. "We're basically trying to make everything easy for our SMEs so that they can focus on teaching and we can focus on the technology side," said Ngo. "We teach our SMEs the pedagogy, because not all of them know how to teach in an online environment. We have training to teach them how to get students engaged, how to keep them engaged, and how to get them to understand a specific learning outcome." 

4) Research the esports job market.

The top three esports employment sectors right now are in software engineering, marketing and operations, according to data from Hitmarker, an online job board focused on the esports and gaming industry. "We are really about trying to help students get a great career in this industry," Ngo said. "And one of the ways we're doing that is working with Hitmarker." In addition to providing an overview of esports job opportunities, Hitmarker has helped UC Irvine find companies that can potentially offer internships for students. 

5) Find out what other esports programs are in your area.

The Entertainment Software Association offers a breakdown of college esports programs, companies and industry advocates by state and district. "This is a really good resource for students and learners and people who want to get into the industry, telling you where these companies are located and where these college programs are located," noted Ngo.

6) Work with a streamer to build a diverse fanbase.

Esports is continually changing, asserted Ngo. "It's still trying to figure out what it wants to be." In particular, esports is trying to attract the casual viewer — similar to a casual basketball fan or football fan, someone who can turn on a game and intuit what's going on. Right now, Ngo said, "If you were to turn on an Overwatch game, you probably won't know what's going on at all. And that disconnect is probably going to cause you to look for something else."

One way to capture the casual viewer market is through streamers: gamers who broadcast live video of their gameplay and develop millions of followers on platforms such as Twitch and Mixer. "Streamers not only help advertise the game for the developers, they also teach the viewers about that game," he noted. "Streamers right now have so much power. There's a lot of influence that streamers have over the viewers and who plays these games."

That includes influence over netiquette and online safety: "In our courses we're always trying to remind students and teach them that diversity and inclusion is something that we highly value. It's okay to be different, and one commonality that we all have is playing these games. It's a lot of value to us when we work with streamers who embody these core values, because online safety and community and diversity is something that this space needs more of, and we want to be cognizant of that."

7) Tap into developer resources.

Riot Games, developer of the popular game League of Legends, has created the Riot Scholastic Association of America, a governing body for collegiate League of Legends competitions. RSSA provides free support to colleges and clubs participating in its seasonal leagues and championships, Ngo explained. "They help unlock all of the League of Legends content. For instance, you don't have to buy all the characters and skins; it'll all be there for you. They've been just amazing help for us with getting started and also helping us network with other individuals in the industry."

Similarly, Blizzard Entertainment's Tespa is a network of students, competitors and club leaders with more than 270 chapters across North America. Members can earn in-game rewards and partner discounts, win merchandise and attend online workshops and events to learn industry skills and connect with peers.

8) Keep up-to-date on games.

The Entertainment Software Rating Board provides game ratings on age appropriateness, including content descriptors (e.g., violence, drug reference or nudity) and information on games' interactive features (e.g., in-game purchases or user-to-user communication). "If a student comes to you and wants to play a certain game, and start a club around that, this is a good place to check to make sure that the game is appropriate for your learners," said Ngo.

Also, keep in mind that not all games are esports capable, he advised. "Just because it's a game and there might be some competition around it doesn't mean it can be a viable esport. That's because developers own these games, and they can make changes without any given notice. For, let's say, League of Legends or Overwatch, you can't [just play the game at will] — you have to either purchase or you have to have an agreement with the developer in order to play it, especially if you want to create a league. So without developer support, it'll be very hard to get started."

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