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How Can Student Volunteers Help Your Esports Program Flourish?

Filling out your ranks for a winning program that attracts recruits

Thom Fain
Apr 26, 2021

Maybe your esports program is in its fledgling state, with just a few monitors in a back office with some diehard Overwatch players practicing for the PlayVS season after school every other day. Or, maybe precautionary covid-19 measures has left your university with nary a greek letter to be seen and, absent a brimming campus life, the birds have taken over the quad.

No matter. You can still run a high-flying program, and nobody can do it alone. That’s where the students come in.

New challenges in collegiate esports crop up all the time, and universities are befitting from student volunteers who acquire valuable work experience while ensuring aspects of the team run like a well-oiled machine. Our Super Coaches tell us: Getting your program approved and finding those first five or six players who want in esports is just the first big step. After that, esports directors and team personnel have to get creative. 

“This year when we're recruiting, we actually made content creation one of the categories that we're recruiting,” said PlayVS Coach Ronnie Baskin. “Going into the season, we're looking for students who’ll be involved in video editing and crafting highlight clips, or putting together our team’s best stuff.” 

Finding Talent, Build Culture

It all starts with an inviting space. You wouldn’t think an esports team would need a risk manager, but let Annabel Zinn of the University of Central Florida tell you why that instinct may be awry. She makes sure everyone who applies is fit for the program, and prepares inbound athletes for all the resources they’d ever need to succeed. Once they are set up on the team, she ensures a positive and productive environment with student volunteers to help.

“We have a staff tailored to professionalism,” said Annabel Zinn of UCF. “Staff members are [thoroughly vetted]. We have a general manager who specifically represents our players and makes sure they’re heard. There can be drama but when you focus on professionalism, but that we have money at stake and the desire for a great program here does motivate students.”

“As a risk manager, my job is to help make sure the players are safe, and while our management staff can feel stretched we compensate with staff nights, hangouts and watch parties so that we don’t get burned out.”

Leveling Up Your Program’s Inner Workings

Akron University’s esports director Nate Meeker has a lot to be proud of. His esports program fields competitive teams in seven different games, all while designing a unique brand identity for them – from the team’s sparkling website and recruitment portal, to partnering with the Cleveland Clinic on a premier sponsorship. To allow him the time Meeker needed to get Akron here, he left day-to-day operations from student workers.

“We employ 26 student employees who oversee the operations of the facilities and the updating of computer hardware,” said Meeker. “And then we also employ a smaller group who does social media and event management.”

Even on his coaching staff, Meeker sees room for students to learn and grow under the guidance of administrative-level staff – so he employs a student coach and student manager for each team, who are on scholarships rather than getting paid. 

Networking Through Your Students

Once coaches have their program running on a proper cadence of team-building, regularly scheduled practices, social media updates and lab upgrades (with the very best comm’s equipment and peripherals available to expense), expanding outside the school and region quickly becomes a priority.

“The capacity to use student workers (and interns) to kind of build out a bigger network around you is important,” said Callum Fletcher, the esports director at Illinois Wesleyan University.

While Callum’s team can boast of a new 5,700 square-foot esports lab, the coach notes he had a lot of help along the way from student volunteers. In fact, it was barely two years ago that Illinois Wesleyan began competing in varsity esports. Something the team has regularly done to create further buy-in are community nights when the lab is turned over to casual gamers on campus for recreational competition.

“Something that gets [my team] out of the esports mindset and something that gets them into the ‘hey we’re all friends hanging out’ mindset is always beneficial,” says Callum. “Another thing, it’s great to host watch parties and game nights or social networking events in our space.” 

“We use Discord to figure out how to make [our esports facilities] more accessible for new players,” said Dr. John Price of Henderson State University. “Our program has a pretty large community, and since we’ve had intramural programs reach out to us we’ve been able to drive campus activity and awareness about our program.”

One thing’s for sure, said Price: Developing the framework for an esports tradition to carry on has meant relying a lot on players to take leadership roles. And, if his projections are correct, the new crop of Henderson State student volunteers will mean the sky’s the limit in 2021.