Where it Began
When I was in high school, I spent approximately 4-8 hours a day (if not more) playing video games. My two favorites were World of Warcraft (WoW) and League of Legends (LoL).
Unfortunately, I didn’t know of many students in my school who also shared my interest. Most of my peers played sports or were involved in extracurriculars. There wasn’t any kind of organization for something as nerdy as video games.
Being a gamer before it “went mainstream” was definitely a lonely road. Either not many kids gamed, or they did, but were embarrassed to admit it due to it being “uncool” at the time.
It was difficult navigating my social life in high school because I met most of my friends online. There were people from my games who I spoke with daily—in class on my iPhone 4S—while students talked to each other around me.
I wasn’t interested in knowing who was dating who, where the next party was going to be, or what Smith scored at the game last Friday.
I was much more interested in what my virtual friends had to say about the latest patch notes in LoL or what they earned that day at the Auction House in WoW.
Starting on a Clean Slate
Now that we’ve gotten through the darkness of revisiting high school, I’m happy to say that things got a little better in college.
Each year, for 4 years, I packed up my dual-monitor rig, my peripherals, and my 25-lb custom tower into three different boxes to move onto campus. That meant there were three extra trips to the car and back to the 4th floor of my dormitory (that didn’t have an elevator). My parents were stoked about that.
Each year, for 4 years, I had like-minded students stop by when my door was open to join in watching me play games, to talk about games, or just to say something nice about my computer rig. It was an entirely different social experience as compared to high school. I was beginning to realize that I wasn’t the lone wolf I thought I was all this time.
I found a casual group of students to play with my sophomore year. Our small gaming crew consisted of two international students, a student from Tennessee, one from Maryland, and myself.
It was really fun, but it wasn’t anything too serious. We would play a few League of Legends matches after class before heading to the dining hall together to talk about our sick (and not so sick) plays.
It was so refreshing to have a group of people in real life (IRL) to play video games and nerd out with.
By senior year, the group that I played with had expanded, and soon I was a member of two entirely different social groups, or communities, who shared the same exact interest: gaming together and then talking about it over food.
Unfortunately, there were still no existing organizations on campus to join that were centered around this type of video gaming, so tiny cliques of gamers were building up. There was one club for board games and old school consoles, but not PC players. It felt like the idea of a “gaming club” on a college campus hadn’t been updated since 1998.
By the time I was ready to graduate, however, students mobilized to start an esports club. During this time, I was busy IRL with 2 part-time jobs and an internship in addition to classes, so I was unfortunately unavailable to assist.
Thankfully, their efforts were a success! After I graduated, my alma mater added a varsity esports program. It was super exciting, but I was a bit bummed I wasn’t able to play for them or help them with their program. I guess it just wasn’t meant to be!
The “Real World:” Part I
My first job out of college, however, was meant to be.
Two months after I graduated, I packed up and moved to live by myself in Philadelphia, PA to work at Saint Joseph’s University (SJU) as an Admission Counselor.
Having not attended this school and needing to learn seemingly everything about it within the span of a month so that I could recruit students, finding my place within the community was a bit of a challenge at first.
Then, after reading about Albright’s announcement of their esports program that fall, I discovered a way to get involved in the community that would also be personally enjoyable.
I reached out to the person in charge of student organizations and asked if they had some sort of active video game or esports club. Turns out, they had a League of Legends club! After talking with the student president of the club, I learned that they were a really small and underrepresented group, much like my squad at Albright.
Over time, I sort of organically became the staff adviser to the organization. The students and I played games together and organized some events. One event was a great success over two semesters: a virtual reality experience during finals week to relieve stress.
Soon, I was not only a member of this club and community, but also the bridge for leadership and the students to work together to expand on the idea of a university-recognized esports program.
I worked at the helm of a team of talented and knowledgeable individuals who collectively brought a vision of a physical esports lab and co-curricular program to life on campus.
In August 2020, SJU unveiled their esports program.
The “Real World:” Part II
My passion and dedication for this kind of work did not go unnoticed in my professional network. The only problem was that there weren’t many careers that existed in the collegiate esports field yet. Now what?
The work that I was doing for SJU inspired me to bet on myself and take a chance. In February 2020, I quit my full-time job and pursued independent consulting as a contractor to build collegiate esports programs.
Prior to the world shutting down in March, I had successfully signed on three clients. After the world shut down, I was left with one.
I’m lucky. The community of staff, faculty, and students at the Pennsylvania College of Art & Design (PCA&D), my only standing client in 2020, wrapped me up in a big virtual hug and presented me with an opportunity to build their esports program.
I’ve been working with this community for about 7 months now, and the relationships I’ve built with administration and the students are stronger than I’ve ever experienced before.
There is a new dynamic with this client: one in which the administration is excited about learning about esports along the way. It has directly resulted in a hands-on, collaborative effort of the entire PCA&D community.
Even through the pandemic, I was afforded the ability to pursue my passion of fostering and growing a community of gamers. There has to be a reason for all of this, I keep thinking.
At last, I think I discovered the reason.