Esports Growth During the Pandemic

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Dr. Joey Gawrysiak, Director of Esports at Shenandoah University talks about the “more than games” reality of esports’ growth this year from a cross-disciplinary program standpoint, from a broadcasting standpoint, and from a public safety standpoint.

We've really expanded the programs on the academic side of esports offer a lot of opportunities for students to understand the industry and esports far beyond the gaming side of it. You're listening to enrollment growth university from Helix Education, the best professional development podcast for higher education leaders looking to grow enrollment at their college or university. Whether you're looking for fresh enrollment growth techniques and strategies or tools and resources, you've come to the right place. Let's get into the show. Welcome back to enrollment growth university, a proud member of the connect ETU podcast network. I'm Eric Olsen with Helix Education and we're here today with Joey Griziac, director of esports at Shenandillah University. Joey, welcome to the show. Thanks air thanks for having me. Looking forward to the conversation. Looking forward to talking with you today about the growth of esports during the pandemic, especially at Shenandoah. But before we dig in, can you give the listeners a little bit of background on both Shenandilah University and your rule? They're sure so. Shenando university is a small private Liberal Arts Institution in Winchester, Virginia, beautiful setting here in the Shenandoah Valley and about two thousand Undergrad two thousand graduate students. We've had an esports program here for two and a half years on the competitive side and a year and a half on the academic side, which will get into both of those a little later on. And my role here is the director of Esports, where I oversee everything esports related on campus, from curriculum development to staffing, to budget to tournaments were playing in. Those are the things that I run here on campus and you know, like I said, we've had it for about two and a half years now. It's we've run into a lot of mistakes and we've learned from those mistakes and it continues to grow, continue to drive enrollment and I'm excited about where we're going to go with this and we'll talk about kind of how we got started, what the plans are going forward and how it esports is grown on college campuses around but Shenandoah certainly ahead of the game, Pun intended, I guess, when it comes to esports on a college campus. Yeah, it's really excited to see what you're doing. Joey College esports had already been growing rapidly and popularity before the pandemic, but the intercasies may still be new to many and higher ride. To kick us off and just level set us, can you give us a high level overview of both esports in general and your esports program specifically at Shenandoah? Sure. Yeah, esports in general, especially at the collegiate level, is a lot like traditional college sports, where now you have at a lot of universities, you have varsity teams, you have club teams, you might have recreational teams. A lot of universities will offer scholarships, some full right scholarships, some partial scholarships. There are coaches, there are jerseys, there are leagues that people compete in, there are national championships where students are competing for rings or jackets, trophies or just playing glory. There is prize pools at for a lot of tournaments. So it is a little unique in that regard compared to some traditional athletics. But you know, it really has taken off at the collegiate level and a lot of times what we see and what makes esports so great is that it goes beyond that and that's where esports is at Shenando University. It goes beyond gaming, and that's a tagline that we take very seriously here, and that esports. Yes, it is playing video games and competing in video games, and not that we're we're saying it's not playing games, because it totally is. But there's so much more to esports than just gaming, and that's what a lot of universities are starting to tap into now and understand and to provide their students. Is that educational opportunity that can be gained through the mechanism that is esports, things like building character for students that you'd hear in like traditional sports, right, you put kids in football at an early age to build character. But what does that mean? That means, you know, developing communication, team work skills, sportsmanship, adaptability, all those things are important for students to learn in traditional sports. Well, the same thing can be learned through esports now on a...

...college campus or high school for that matter, and trickling down to middle school now. And so those are some of the things that we learned through the mechanism that is esports. is you're in learning those same character building ideals that would transition to skill sets beyond college or beyond high school. And what a lot of schools now are also offering our things like professional development, getting students ready for what is that life look like after college? They know full well that a lot of students participating any sports of the college level are not going to be professional gamers and make hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars, which is what the prize pools are these days. Somehow is we've gotten to these ideas of millions of dollars at stake in these prize pools, and that's great. I'm so glad esports has gotten there. But students have to realize that not everybody can make it as a professional gamer, just like not everybody can be the next Lebron James or the next Patrick Mahomes. You know, those are great to strive for, those ideals are amazing, but there's so few and far between and there's so many more opportunities in esports then playing games and being that progamer. There's things working in the industry or working in industries tangential to the esports industry, and so colleges and universities are starting to pick up on. Well, what else can we offer besides just playing games? What are the other opportunities that exist for us to provide our students through the mechanism that is esports? Because the sports is it's a passion project for a lot of students that they just want to be involved in. They want to have the sense of community and and bond with people with that are very like minded and have those same interests and skill sets, and so it does provide them that that mechanism to develop friendships and socialize with other students and belong to something bigger than themselves, because for a lot of these student Eric they've never belonged to something bigger than themselves in an educational institution, whether it's high school or college. A lot of them don't come from a traditional sports background. Some do, you know, we have students here at Shenandoah that are on the tennis team or the soccer team or the wrestling team, or they're part of the conservatory where they're, you know, they're in a an orchestra together. But esports provides an opportunity beyond just playing games and it is being something bigger than themselves, a reason for staying at school or going to school to get an education as part of that educational experience, and that's what esports has to be. It has to be part of what a university already does and what the mission is of a college or university. Esports at each school is going to be different. What it looks like at Shenandoah might be very different than what it looks like at Maryville or Northwood or UCR vine or Utah or Harrisburg, and that's okay. Every school is going to look a little different with their esports program but it should look like what university looks like. It's a part of the greater whole. It's an additional offering that just provides this opportunity to students and a lot of schools they've struggled with that because they're just getting started. Well, how do we start a program? What goes into starting a program? How do we attract students? And I tell them, well, you here, you know x, Y and Z. Here's how you get started, but as you develop you have to figure out what is your actual identity, how do you fit into the larger educational mission of the institution so that you're part of the institution, you're not a separate standalone silo or your own island away from everybody else. You have to be integrate it into that college experience and that's what that we take wholeheartedly here at Shenandot is that we want our students having a solid collegiate experience, with esports part of that, and I hope it's a big part of that, but it is just a part of that. We want them go down and socialize. Of course, grades and classes always come first. Getting that college education always comes first. When in a national championship, that be great, that be awesome. I come from a traditional sports background. I hope we win a national championship and every singles game that we play, but I also know that that's not really in the realm of possibility with the way that we operate and with the mission is that we have here. And so you know, that is what every school has to decide is how we fit into that larger educational mission of the institution. And so that's where we see esports now at the collegiate level, as we see it as an opportunity for students and educational opportunity...

...for the students to belong to something bigger than themselves, that they take as part of the larger educational experience. I love that more than games, descriptor Joey. It's one of those more than games moments. For Sin and Dooa recently they caught my attention. So for many institutions, a football game over homecoming weekend classic tradition. It's where the community comes together. It was often also made impossible this year for you due to Covid. Talk about how your esports program was able to help replace this event. Yeah, Erica, I love this story and I wish I could take credit for this, but I can't take full credit, just like I can't take credit for a lot of things, because it's a total team effort. You know, we have some great people in place here and some great vision for what we can do with esports. That does go beyond gaming. That's more than just playing a game. So for homecoming this year, obviously with covid and what's going on, we had to cancel our football game and so the idea came out as well. How do we still engage our alumni base? How do we still engage the community? How do we engage our students during homecoming, especially for those seniors? How do we provide them some kind of experience, opportunity to still celebrate homecoming, and so we thought, well, esports is the only esports, is the only competition going on on our college campus for the fall. There's no football, there's no, you know, Lacrosse or soccer or field hockey or anything, but esports can happen because the nature of the game allows it to be where you can play remotely, and so we were able to get a virtual homecoming game playing a game of Madden with one of our football players, are senior football player, and we got in touch with another university, Randolf Making College, which big shout out to them. We really appreciate them working with us, and I talked to their esports director and said, Hey, let's play a game in Madden for homecoming. This is our homecoming day. We love to play a game in Madden. Can you give us a student there? And he said absolutely, let's make it work, and so they worked with us and we put on this madden match where we played a game of madden one versus one online. We played it from our esports arena. We brought in one of our football announcers that does the announcing at our football games, brought him into the arena, brought in one of our esports people that is very highly ranked in madden across the country, got them behind our broadcast desk and let them do the play byplay just as if we were watching an actual football game. We had it streamed on twitch, we had it streamed on Youtube. Here's the great part, Eric, this is the awesome part. We actually, at halftime pause the game, we did our homecoming court where we crowned a homecoming king and a homecoming queen and a virtual ceremony. We did the announcing, we brought them flowers and crowned them and everything, and then after the ceremony we got back to the second half and we play the second half of Madden using and with our announcers and our castors. We had some football players here in person, of course, six feet apart with masks on. Our president came out or provos came out to check things out. We had our athletic director and football coaches here. The crowd got into it. It was so much fun and so I just kind of sat in the bag and I was just laughing and cheering and yelling. It was it was, Eric, was a lot of fun in a situation that doesn't always allow for there to be a lot of fun, you know, and so I was just really happy that we were able to get our students involved. We had I don't know how many concurrent viewers. I think we're at like seventy or eighty was our max concurrent viewership. Over twozero total views of the homecoming match, and so, you know, I just appreciate all the work that went into it, all the thought that went into it, the students for coming out, Randolph Macon for being part of it and helping us out by finding a student letting US play them on a Saturday. And you know, I can't tell you how excited I was to see it all come together. And my favorite part was just having our football announcer in a and an esports broadcast desk watching mad and not knowing what the world was going on, but he was trying everything he could to keep up and announced it like it was an actual football game and it was so much fun to have and it's so great to do. So, yeah, really great to do just one of the many things that a lot of schools did to try to keep things going during covid and using esports as that mechanism and that vehicle...

...to do things that are different, outside the box, that you know you wouldn't have otherwise thought about before covid hit and you had to kind of pivot and and end it be innovative and reevaluate things. So I just had such a great time. It was so cool to do and it's something that we plan on doing going forward, knock on wood, once covid is over and you know, we're back to this since some sense of normal scene. We're able to have actual football games in real life IRL, but we want to keep the esports component as part of our homecoming events for homecoming weekend, in addition to the traditional football game going on now. Love that story, Joey. Talk about the streaming investment and costs that made that kind of rivalry possible. And and one are the brand and engagement benefits of these live broadcast opportunities moving forward now that you have that technology. Oh my gosh, I can't express how beneficial streaming broadcasting and content creation is for for esports in general, but also for what we do here at Shenandoah to give our students that real world experience. So one of our big goals for this twenty. What is this? Two Thousand and twenty one. That's a lot of twenties. Two and twenty one academic year. Even before Covid we had kind of earmark that we were going to focus on our broadcast production, our content creation, our broadcast production are streaming of the events. So we invested a little bit of money, but you don't have to invest a ton of money into producing high quality content. What you need to invest is time and it's it's sweat. Equity is what it is. And so we really identified some students that we knew how a passion and a skill set that they wanted to help us out with the broadcast production, with creating content and graphic design and, you know, stingers and transitions for our broadcast. We had students that wanted to get behind the broadcast desks to do the play byplay in the analysis for it, to do the research and put in the effort to do the broadcasting and to do the interviews of the players, you know. So the investments we made? Yes, we invested some money on equipment. You have to have some good equipment, especially software and hardware, to make sure you have these broadcasts going on. But after that it's just making sure you have the right people in the right positions to make it a successful broadcast. And so we had quickly identified those students. They took it to heart and they challenge each other to produce the best broadcast they could. We looked at some other schools doing really high quality content, schools like Boise state, fantastic content, fantastic program and and we said, all right, what are they doing that we can what can we borrow from them that we can make our own for this broad cast production? And so what we did is that we've really been able to enhance our brand and extend our reach by producing content on twitch and on Youtube because of the content that we're creating, whether it's our matches that were playing with our varsity teams, whether it's putting up content to talk about the academic programs that we offer here, whether it's like tonight, for example, we're streaming a bunch of myself, some of the coaches mother, what we call the old heads in the program playing some video games and just talking, talking about esports, talking about life and and what we're doing during the break, you know, just to kind of have that content out there, because people crave content, they crave routine when it comes to that, and so it really was a group effort and a lot of students putting a lot of time and energy and their own sweat equity into making our broadcast what it is now, and we've reimagined what our setup looks like. For next semester we're going to continue to grow. We're going to have better capabilities to produce replays for next semester are hot. Editing is going to really take off. We're purchasing a little bit more as far as the hardware goes, one more PC that we can dedicate to working with our broadcast production. We're going to have some more students come in and start getting their feet wet on that side of things, because it's such a critical part of the industry that students have to understand in order to work in a lot of parts of the esports industry and, to be honest, not even esports broadcast production in the and the things that they're learning go far beyond esports. Yeah, and that's true for the the educational components we have for Esports, the academic programs is that we want to...

...teach student skills that doesn't pigeon hold them just into esports, but allows them to work and a lot of other industries, learning concepts, yes, through the lens of esports, but can easily transition to a number of other industries. I'm so glad you brought up the content reality and the broadcast realities here, because five years or so ago, when twitch got big, I remember being that guy who said who would watch a video game? Yeah, and over time I became someone and even very very recently, with congresswoman o Costio Cortez live streaming her playing among us, with these Gamers, I watched it with my daughter. It was so fun and we've since watched subsequent streams of those of those gamers and they help us learn how to play the game ourselves. And these are professional streamers who make a solid living, yes, streaming video games to an audience. Do you think of it? I'm this is slightly rhetorical because you tease this a lot in your last answer, but do you think of what you're building here as a potential media company in the making and with all the cross disciplinary opportunities that open up for your students moving forward, as you had in that direction, you know, possibly, you know, if I had a crystal ball and can see what's going to happen down the road, I could probably make a lot of money, you know, and that'd be nice. But into the day, that's not the that's not the end goal. It's we're trying to give our students every opportunity we can to be successful, and I'm having this opportunity to work on the broadcast production side of things is another one of those opportunities, along with a number of other ones that were working on and trying to offer students. You know. So this is this is kind of a slice of the pizza that we have here and and that it just it makes up part of the program. Could it turn into something bigger down the road? Absolutely. Is that, at the end of the day, my biggest goals to have a kind of media production firm or a separate company? You know, not necessarily. I just want to make sure we're contending to offer our students the best opportunity possible to be successful after college, getting those internships, getting those jobs in either any sports or tangential to esports, because of all the things that we can offer. And yes, I wanted to get huge. I wanted to get as big as we can possibly get it, as long as it doesn't take away from the rest of what we're doing here with esports. Joey, from an online learning standpoint, many see this year as a huge online accelerant, while others are nervous that giving students such an emergency online experience this past spring actually may have set online education back in a student's trust in online education. Did you experience or see any parallels to this in esports this year? Since esports were the only travel safe sports option, all eyes run you. Did you see that similar, Exceller, and happen? You know? I think so. And you know, anytime you're an unfortunate situation like we are with with covid and what's going on, you try to find opportunity in there. You know, you try to find a way that, number one, you keep everybody safe. That is by far the first and foremost thing that you have in mind is how do we keep everybody safe and how do we still allow for growth and opportunity? How do we find those opportunities in there? And so I think that we did experience at accelerated pace for our esports program and that it certainly did grow because of the online nature of everything. This semester, you know, we did a lot of broadcasts and we we kind of just got started into September and it was a bumpy road that it kind of forced us to re reevaluate our program from the online perspective and forced us to really focus on, yes, the broadcast production, but also the social media that we're doing and how we're producing content on social media and getting the word out about our program because all the sudden we can't travel to these land competition, these local area network competitions. Every single competition is done remotely. Now Shenandoah was hybrid for the fall semester. So we were able to keep our esports arena open. Students would come in with masks are we have plastic barriers between each of our computer stations. They do have hands and at times that they wiped out all the products before and after they use them. So we kept everything as safe as we could and we luckily had no outbreaks for in our esports program and Covid, and so we were able to still at least...

...compete from campus. During covid we just competed everything completely online and it forced us to kind of re evaluate how we do things online. What is it online nature of gaming look like? How do we learn how to produce tournaments and events and broadcast production and social media and connect with with the community online? And so we ran a lot of different kinds of promotions on our social media, like give them away gaming chairs. If they followed us on twitch or if you liked our instagram and facebook and twitter account, you had your entered into a chance to win, you know, a new gaming chair from from respawn. So things that we took advantage of and it really accelerated us by having almost being forced to do everything online we but we looked for that opportunity of where we could focus our growth and I think it did. I think it did accelerate US probably, and what we were going to concentrate the next two or three years we did in two or three months. So I think absolutely, because of the hand we were dealt you try to find those opportunities. I'm not saying everything was great and it helped us out because we were going to have a grand opening for our esports arena here on campus last April and of course that didn't happen because we wanted a grand in person come check out, come see, come walk into our esports arena, and obviously last April that's not going to happen in person. And so yeah, there are things that you know that we had to readjust on that side of things. So I think that it hurt us in some ways but totally accelerated us in some other ways. You tease this earlier, but from an academic standpoint esports is growing programmatically at Shenandoah as well. Talk About Your brand new MBA concentration that launched this fall and the initial interest in feedback from students about that. Yeah, yeah, I mean academically, I really that that's where a lot of opportunity is for us here at Su because I've been invested on that side for a number of years and and that is my first title, or one of my titles, is associate professor of esports as well. I've been a professor of sport management for the last six years here at Shenandoah until about two years ago I transitioned over to esports because of the academic opportunities where I wrote the sports curriculum as one of the first esports majors in the country. We have its multitrack, but then we also developed a minor in esports. Coming into this year we wanted to offer academic programming, as you mentioned, Eric, at the graduate level with our MBA concentration. We also have a graduate certificate and UNDERGRAD certificate, an undergraduate Bba concentration and a coaching certificate, and so we've really expanded the programs on the academic side of esports to offer a lot of opportunities for students to understand the industry and esports far beyond the gaming side of it. And so with the NBA concentration, we just started that this year. We just finished our first semester. Right now we have for full time students one parttime student taking those courses. The feedback has been tremendous from those students because what we've been able to do is find people that work in the industry and one of our partnerships is with the Washington Justice Overwatch League team and it's it's a first partnership of its kind for any university with any professional esports team where they offer not only internships every semester to students but also one of their front office staff actually is an adjunct professor for us in our Mba a program where he is teaching our students very, very real world, real time situations, working on projects, working on issues that are popping up, bringing in some guest speakers to grow their network, and the students absolutely love it. I have a couple students that are putting notorious for Oh, I didn't get anything out of that class. I didn't give you all that class. But when it came to these these esports classes with people in the industry, they were blown away and tell me, oh my gosh, I didn't know there was that much to esports and I learned more in one semester than I have in the last three years by playing and competing and coaching in the esports industry. Told them, I'm glad you got something out of that one, because these are the real people that are making the industry go and so that the feedback has been tremendous. We're hoping to continue to grow...

...those programs and expand those opportunities to people either at shetion and Doah or visiting students if they want to take the online certificate of the graduate level. But yeah, it's been it's been great and we've had a lot of support from the university and from the community to continue to offer these programs and develop and expand them, and the initial response has been fantastic. We know where we need to work on it and improve things, but it's been off to a great start. Joe, I love how broadly you're thinking about the potential of these sports, both from a cross departmental curriculum standpoint from a civic partnership standpoint. It's really, really impressive and exciting. Any next steps? Advice for institutions listening considering the acceleration of their esports adoption after hearing what they're hearing, but may still be skeptical of the value or not sure how to sell it upstairs? Where they start first? WHO GET STARTED? You know there's you've got to get off the ground. You've got to start somewhere. It's okay to start small. It's okay to only start with one competitive team or offer one class. If you want to work on the academic side, you know some of the things you have to have. You have to have some administrative support. You got to find people that are willing to take a chance. ESPORTS is not inside the box traditional thinking when it comes to higher education and academia, it is a totally different area that yes, there are critics and there's criticism to what we do here and I totally get and I welcome all criticism because it allows me to reflect them what we're doing to make sure that we're offering what the students are expecting and providing them the opportunities that they deserve and that they're there they're wanting, and so I welcome all criticism and it's about having that conversation, you know. And so what I recommend to other universities and institutions looking to develop esports is, number one, find that person on campus that is going to be the quote unquote champion for esports that can really go to bat for students. Talk to administration, Talk to faculty, Talk to Curriculum Committees, talk to the community, talk to parents about what esports has an opportunity to do on that college campus. Where are the educational opportunities that exist through esports? But you've got to have that one person that will really be that champion for esports. No matter what part of esports you're talking about, whether it's the academic, the competitive, professional development, whatever it might be. You've got to have that one person that is that go to person on campus. That is a big part. You've got to get some administrative support. Our University President was on board with esports from the competitive side point, from the academic side point, from day zero, before even day one happened. She was on board and wanted just like, let's grow it, let's do it, this is exciting, and I said, okay, we don't I don't know what that looks like. Let's do it. And so you know, it was. It's a project of passion and so I encourage universities and institutions to you've got to get started somewhere. You've got to get started and you've got to be careful that you control once you get started, because esports can get out of control very quickly, because students will say, Oh, we should play this game, let's play this game. Oh, let's try this, let's talk to these people, let's build that, let's buy my let's buy this. I just say, hold on, let's think about this strategically. Let's think long term about what we're doing and what we're building. You can't let the fire be an explosion. It's got to be a controlled burn and you've got to grow it organically and do it in a way that makes sense for your university. Eric, like I said earlier, it's got to fit into the mission of your university and it's going to be different from every other institution in the way that they set things up, in the way that they do things, and that's the way it should be. Do what makes sense for your school, your administration, your current and, maybe more most importantly, your future students. What is the way that makes sense? Is it? Does it make sense off for scholarships? Does it make sense to offer only one or two games? Does it makes sense to offer fifteen games? Does it make sense to offer academic programs, a major, a minor, graduate programs? You know what? What makes sense for Esports at your institution? And how do you just get started? Is it equipment? Is it people? Is Its students? Setting up a discord to get students talking and interested in this? Let it grow organically.

Is it a top down approach? is at a bottom up approach? You know? So there's so many different ways to do it, but you just got to do it. You've got to just get start. You got to be willing to take that chance to be comfortable being uncomfortable. You know, don't be afraid to ask people. How did you do it? What do you do with this situation? What kind of games did you do? What kind of leagues did you join? And then take that to what makes sense for your university and make it your own, because then you have something that you can talk to students about about how you operate differently that other colleges or programs they might be looking at. So that's my biggest piece of advices. A find that champion and just find a way to get started and a way that makes sense for you and your institution. I love your universities leadership here. I love that we all get to learn off your curve. Joey, thank you so much for your time today. What's the best place for listeners to connect with you if they have any follow up questions? Yeah, the best way is email, you know, or twitter. So my email it's confusing. It's J G A W RYSI AT SU Die Edu. Twitter is at Joey GERRISIAC. That name is terrible. I wish I'd have my whole last name in there because it's hard to spell. But believe me, there's no other greasyacs out there. So if you can find at Joey Greasy Act, that's definitely me. So either one of those ways is absolutely fine to reach out. I love talking to people about this and trying to help out as much as I can, and so email twitter the best was to start that conversation and then later on, discord, discord. Discord is going to be the best way to continue this conversations. Awesome. Thanks so much for joining us today, Joey. Thanks Eric. Attracting today's new post traditional learners means adopting new enrollment strategies. Helix educations data driven, enterprise wide approach to enrollment growth is uniquely helping colleges and universities thrive in this new education landscape, and Helix has just published the second edition of their enrollment growth playbook with fifty percent brand new content on how institutions can solve today's most pressing enrollment growth challenges. Downloaded today for free at Helix Educationcoma playbook. You've been listening to enrollment growth university from Helix Education. To ensure that you never miss an episode, subscribe to the show in Itunes or your favorite podcast player. Thank you so much. For listening until next time,.

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