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 theacademic side of esports offer a lot of opportunities for students to understand the industryand esports far beyond the gaming side of it. You're listening to enrollment growthuniversity from Helix Education, the best professional development podcast for higher education leaders lookingto grow enrollment at their college or university. Whether you're looking for fresh enrollment growthtechniques 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, aproud member of the connect ETU podcast network. I'm Eric Olsen with Helix Education andwe're here today with Joey Griziac, director of esports at Shenandillah University.Joey, welcome to the show. Thanks air thanks for having me. Lookingforward to the conversation. Looking forward to talking with you today about the growthof 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 Universityand your rule? They're sure so. Shenando university is a small private LiberalArts Institution in Winchester, Virginia, beautiful setting here in the Shenandoah Valley andabout two thousand Undergrad two thousand graduate students. We've had an esports program here fortwo and a half years on the competitive side and a year and ahalf on the academic side, which will get into both of those a littlelater on. And my role here is the director of Esports, where Ioversee everything esports related on campus, from curriculum development to staffing, to budgetto tournaments were playing in. Those are the things that I run here oncampus and you know, like I said, we've had it for about two anda half years now. It's we've run into a lot of mistakes andwe've learned from those mistakes and it continues to grow, continue to drive enrollmentand I'm excited about where we're going to go with this and we'll talk aboutkind of how we got started, what the plans are going forward and howit 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 collegecampus. Yeah, it's really excited to see what you're doing. Joey Collegeesports had already been growing rapidly and popularity before the pandemic, but the intercasiesmay still be new to many and higher ride. To kick us off andjust level set us, can you give us a high level overview of bothesports in general and your esports program specifically at Shenandoah? Sure. Yeah,esports in general, especially at the collegiate level, is a lot like traditionalcollege sports, where now you have at a lot of universities, you havevarsity teams, you have club teams, you might have recreational teams. Alot 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 oftournaments. So it is a little unique in that regard compared to some traditionalathletics. But you know, it really has taken off at the collegiate leveland a lot of times what we see and what makes esports so great isthat it goes beyond that and that's where esports is at Shenando University. Itgoes 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 videogames, and not that we're we're saying it's not playing games, because ittotally is. But there's so much more to esports than just gaming, andthat's what a lot of universities are starting to tap into now and understand andto provide their students. Is that educational opportunity that can be gained through themechanism that is esports, things like building character for students that you'd hear inlike traditional sports, right, you put kids in football at an early ageto build character. But what does that mean? That means, you know, developing communication, team work skills, sportsmanship, adaptability, all those thingsare important for students to learn in traditional sports. Well, the same thingcan be learned through esports now on a...

...college campus or high school for thatmatter, and trickling down to middle school now. And so those are someof the things that we learned through the mechanism that is esports. is you'rein learning those same character building ideals that would transition to skill sets beyond collegeor beyond high school. And what a lot of schools now are also offeringour things like professional development, getting students ready for what is that life looklike after college? They know full well that a lot of students participating anysports of the college level are not going to be professional gamers and make hundredsof thousands, if not millions of dollars, which is what the prize pools arethese days. Somehow is we've gotten to these ideas of millions of dollarsat stake in these prize pools, and that's great. I'm so glad esportshas gotten there. But students have to realize that not everybody can make itas a professional gamer, just like not everybody can be the next Lebron Jamesor 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'sso many more opportunities in esports then playing games and being that progamer. There'sthings 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, whatelse can we offer besides just playing games? What are the other opportunities that existfor us to provide our students through the mechanism that is esports? Becausethe sports is it's a passion project for a lot of students that they justwant to be involved in. They want to have the sense of community andand bond with people with that are very like minded and have those same interestsand skill sets, and so it does provide them that that mechanism to developfriendships and socialize with other students and belong to something bigger than themselves, becausefor a lot of these student Eric they've never belonged to something bigger than themselvesin an educational institution, whether it's high school or college. A lot ofthem don't come from a traditional sports background. Some do, you know, wehave students here at Shenandoah that are on the tennis team or the soccerteam 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 opportunitybeyond just playing games and it is being something bigger than themselves, a reasonfor staying at school or going to school to get an education as part ofthat educational experience, and that's what esports has to be. It has tobe part of what a university already does and what the mission is of acollege or university. Esports at each school is going to be different. Whatit looks like at Shenandoah might be very different than what it looks like atMaryville 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 itshould 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 lotof schools they've struggled with that because they're just getting started. Well, howdo we start a program? What goes into starting a program? How dowe attract students? And I tell them, well, you here, you knowx, Y and Z. Here's how you get started, but asyou develop you have to figure out what is your actual identity, how doyou fit into the larger educational mission of the institution so that you're part ofthe institution, you're not a separate standalone silo or your own island away fromeverybody else. You have to be integrate it into that college experience and that'swhat that we take wholeheartedly here at Shenandot is that we want our students havinga solid collegiate experience, with esports part of that, and I hope it'sa big part of that, but it is just a part of that.We want them go down and socialize. Of course, grades and classes alwayscome first. Getting that college education always comes first. When in a nationalchampionship, that be great, that be awesome. I come from a traditionalsports background. I hope we win a national championship and every singles game thatwe play, but I also know that that's not really in the realm ofpossibility with the way that we operate and with the mission is that we havehere. And so you know, that is what every school has to decideis how we fit into that larger educational mission of the institution. And sothat's where we see esports now at the collegiate level, as we see itas an opportunity for students and educational opportunity...

...for the students to belong to somethingbigger 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 morethan games moments. For Sin and Dooa recently they caught my attention. Sofor many institutions, a football game over homecoming weekend classic tradition. It's wherethe community comes together. It was often also made impossible this year for youdue to Covid. Talk about how your esports program was able to help replacethis event. Yeah, Erica, I love this story and I wish Icould take credit for this, but I can't take full credit, just likeI can't take credit for a lot of things, because it's a total teameffort. You know, we have some great people in place here and somegreat 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, obviouslywith covid and what's going on, we had to cancel our football gameand so the idea came out as well. How do we still engage our alumnibase? How do we still engage the community? How do we engageour students during homecoming, especially for those seniors? How do we provide themsome kind of experience, opportunity to still celebrate homecoming, and so we thought, well, esports is the only esports, is the only competition going on onour college campus for the fall. There's no football, there's no,you know, Lacrosse or soccer or field hockey or anything, but esports canhappen because the nature of the game allows it to be where you can playremotely, and so we were able to get a virtual homecoming game playing agame 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 shoutout to them. We really appreciate them working with us, and Italked to their esports director and said, Hey, let's play a game inMadden for homecoming. This is our homecoming day. We love to play agame in Madden. Can you give us a student there? And he saidabsolutely, let's make it work, and so they worked with us and weput on this madden match where we played a game of madden one versus oneonline. We played it from our esports arena. We brought in one ofour football announcers that does the announcing at our football games, brought him intothe arena, brought in one of our esports people that is very highly rankedin madden across the country, got them behind our broadcast desk and let themdo 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'sthe great part, Eric, this is the awesome part. We actually,at halftime pause the game, we did our homecoming court where we crowned ahomecoming 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 theceremony we got back to the second half and we play the second half ofMadden using and with our announcers and our castors. We had some football playershere in person, of course, six feet apart with masks on. Ourpresident came out or provos came out to check things out. We had ourathletic director and football coaches here. The crowd got into it. It wasso much fun and so I just kind of sat in the bag and Iwas 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 tobe a lot of fun, you know, and so I was just really happythat we were able to get our students involved. We had I don'tknow how many concurrent viewers. I think we're at like seventy or eighty wasour max concurrent viewership. Over twozero total views of the homecoming match, andso, you know, I just appreciate all the work that went into it, all the thought that went into it, the students for coming out, RandolphMacon for being part of it and helping us out by finding a studentletting US play them on a Saturday. And you know, I can't tellyou how excited I was to see it all come together. And my favoritepart was just having our football announcer in a and an esports broadcast desk watchingmad and not knowing what the world was going on, but he was tryingeverything he could to keep up and announced it like it was an actual footballgame 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 thingsthat a lot of schools did to try to keep things going during covid andusing 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 covidhit and you had to kind of pivot and and end it be innovative andreevaluate things. So I just had such a great time. It was socool to do and it's something that we plan on doing going forward, knockon wood, once covid is over and you know, we're back to thissince some sense of normal scene. We're able to have actual football games inreal life IRL, but we want to keep the esports component as part ofour homecoming events for homecoming weekend, in addition to the traditional football game goingon now. Love that story, Joey. Talk about the streaming investment and coststhat made that kind of rivalry possible. And and one are the brand andengagement benefits of these live broadcast opportunities moving forward now that you have thattechnology. Oh my gosh, I can't express how beneficial streaming broadcasting and contentcreation is for for esports in general, but also for what we do hereat Shenandoah to give our students that real world experience. So one of ourbig goals for this twenty. What is this? Two Thousand and twenty one. That's a lot of twenties. Two and twenty one academic year. Evenbefore Covid we had kind of earmark that we were going to focus on ourbroadcast 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 toinvest a ton of money into producing high quality content. What you need toinvest is time and it's it's sweat. Equity is what it is. Andso we really identified some students that we knew how a passion and a skillset that they wanted to help us out with the broadcast production, with creatingcontent 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 theplay byplay in the analysis for it, to do the research and put inthe 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 onequipment. You have to have some good equipment, especially software and hardware, to make sure you have these broadcasts going on. But after that it'sjust making sure you have the right people in the right positions to make ita successful broadcast. And so we had quickly identified those students. They tookit 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 likeBoise state, fantastic content, fantastic program and and we said, all right, what are they doing that we can what can we borrow from them thatwe can make our own for this broad cast production? And so what wedid is that we've really been able to enhance our brand and extend our reachby 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'sputting up content to talk about the academic programs that we offer here, whetherit's like tonight, for example, we're streaming a bunch of myself, someof the coaches mother, what we call the old heads in the program playingsome video games and just talking, talking about esports, talking about life andand what we're doing during the break, you know, just to kind ofhave that content out there, because people crave content, they crave routine whenit comes to that, and so it really was a group effort and alot of students putting a lot of time and energy and their own sweat equityinto making our broadcast what it is now, and we've reimagined what our setup lookslike. For next semester we're going to continue to grow. We're goingto have better capabilities to produce replays for next semester are hot. Editing isgoing to really take off. We're purchasing a little bit more as far asthe hardware goes, one more PC that we can dedicate to working with ourbroadcast production. We're going to have some more students come in and start gettingtheir feet wet on that side of things, because it's such a critical part ofthe industry that students have to understand in order to work in a lotof parts of the esports industry and, to be honest, not even esportsbroadcast 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 holdthem just into esports, but allows them to work and a lot of otherindustries, learning concepts, yes, through the lens of esports, but caneasily transition to a number of other industries. I'm so glad you brought up thecontent reality and the broadcast realities here, because five years or so ago,when twitch got big, I remember being that guy who said who wouldwatch a video game? Yeah, and over time I became someone and evenvery very recently, with congresswoman o Costio Cortez live streaming her playing among us, with these Gamers, I watched it with my daughter. It was sofun and we've since watched subsequent streams of those of those gamers and they helpus learn how to play the game ourselves. And these are professional streamers who makea solid living, yes, streaming video games to an audience. Doyou think of it? I'm this is slightly rhetorical because you tease this alot in your last answer, but do you think of what you're building hereas a potential media company in the making and with all the cross disciplinary opportunitiesthat open up for your students moving forward, as you had in that direction,you know, possibly, you know, if I had a crystal ball andcan see what's going to happen down the road, I could probably makea lot of money, you know, and that'd be nice. But intothe day, that's not the that's not the end goal. It's we're tryingto give our students every opportunity we can to be successful, and I'm havingthis opportunity to work on the broadcast production side of things is another one ofthose opportunities, along with a number of other ones that were working on andtrying to offer students. You know. So this is this is kind ofa slice of the pizza that we have here and and that it just itmakes up part of the program. Could it turn into something bigger down theroad? Absolutely. Is that, at the end of the day, mybiggest 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 tooffer our students the best opportunity possible to be successful after college, getting thoseinternships, getting those jobs in either any sports or tangential to esports, becauseof all the things that we can offer. And yes, I wanted to gethuge. 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 doinghere with esports. Joey, from an online learning standpoint, many see thisyear as a huge online accelerant, while others are nervous that giving students suchan emergency online experience this past spring actually may have set online education back ina student's trust in online education. Did you experience or see any parallels tothis in esports this year? Since esports were the only travel safe sports option, all eyes run you. Did you see that similar, Exceller, andhappen? You know? I think so. And you know, anytime you're anunfortunate situation like we are with with covid and what's going on, youtry to find opportunity in there. You know, you try to find away that, number one, you keep everybody safe. That is by farthe first and foremost thing that you have in mind is how do we keepeverybody safe and how do we still allow for growth and opportunity? How dowe find those opportunities in there? And so I think that we did experienceat accelerated pace for our esports program and that it certainly did grow because ofthe online nature of everything. This semester, you know, we did a lotof broadcasts and we we kind of just got started into September and itwas a bumpy road that it kind of forced us to re reevaluate our programfrom the online perspective and forced us to really focus on, yes, thebroadcast production, but also the social media that we're doing and how we're producingcontent on social media and getting the word out about our program because all thesudden we can't travel to these land competition, these local area network competitions. Everysingle competition is done remotely. Now Shenandoah was hybrid for the fall semester. So we were able to keep our esports arena open. Students would comein 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 beforeand after they use them. So we kept everything as safe as we couldand we luckily had no outbreaks for in our esports program and Covid, andso we were able to still at least...

...compete from campus. During covid wejust competed everything completely online and it forced us to kind of re evaluate howwe 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 socialmedia and connect with with the community online? And so we ran a lot ofdifferent kinds of promotions on our social media, like give them away gamingchairs. If they followed us on twitch or if you liked our instagram andfacebook and twitter account, you had your entered into a chance to win,you know, a new gaming chair from from respawn. So things that wetook advantage of and it really accelerated us by having almost being forced to doeverything online we but we looked for that opportunity of where we could focus ourgrowth 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 didin two or three months. So I think absolutely, because of the handwe were dealt you try to find those opportunities. I'm not saying everything wasgreat and it helped us out because we were going to have a grand openingfor our esports arena here on campus last April and of course that didn't happenbecause we wanted a grand in person come check out, come see, comewalk into our esports arena, and obviously last April that's not going to happenin person. And so yeah, there are things that you know that wehad to readjust on that side of things. So I think that it hurt usin some ways but totally accelerated us in some other ways. You teasethis earlier, but from an academic standpoint esports is growing programmatically at Shenandoah aswell. Talk About Your brand new MBA concentration that launched this fall and theinitial 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 hereat Su because I've been invested on that side for a number of years andand that is my first title, or one of my titles, is associateprofessor of esports as well. I've been a professor of sport management for thelast six years here at Shenandoah until about two years ago I transitioned over toesports because of the academic opportunities where I wrote the sports curriculum as one ofthe first esports majors in the country. We have its multitrack, but thenwe also developed a minor in esports. Coming into this year we wanted tooffer academic programming, as you mentioned, Eric, at the graduate level withour MBA concentration. We also have a graduate certificate and UNDERGRAD certificate, anundergraduate Bba concentration and a coaching certificate, and so we've really expanded the programson the academic side of esports to offer a lot of opportunities for students tounderstand the industry and esports far beyond the gaming side of it. And sowith the NBA concentration, we just started that this year. We just finishedour first semester. Right now we have for full time students one parttime studenttaking those courses. The feedback has been tremendous from those students because what we'vebeen able to do is find people that work in the industry and one ofour partnerships is with the Washington Justice Overwatch League team and it's it's a firstpartnership of its kind for any university with any professional esports team where they offernot only internships every semester to students but also one of their front office staffactually is an adjunct professor for us in our Mba a program where he isteaching our students very, very real world, real time situations, working on projects, working on issues that are popping up, bringing in some guest speakersto grow their network, and the students absolutely love it. I have acouple students that are putting notorious for Oh, I didn't get anything out of thatclass. I didn't give you all that class. But when it cameto these these esports classes with people in the industry, they were blown awayand tell me, oh my gosh, I didn't know there was that muchto esports and I learned more in one semester than I have in the lastthree 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 thereal people that are making the industry go and so that the feedback has beentremendous. We're hoping to continue to grow...

...those programs and expand those opportunities topeople either at shetion and Doah or visiting students if they want to take theonline certificate of the graduate level. But yeah, it's been it's been greatand we've had a lot of support from the university and from the community tocontinue to offer these programs and develop and expand them, and the initial responsehas been fantastic. We know where we need to work on it and improvethings, but it's been off to a great start. Joe, I lovehow broadly you're thinking about the potential of these sports, both from a crossdepartmental 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 theiresports adoption after hearing what they're hearing, but may still be skeptical of thevalue 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 toonly start with one competitive team or offer one class. If you want towork on the academic side, you know some of the things you have tohave. You have to have some administrative support. You got to find peoplethat are willing to take a chance. ESPORTS is not inside the box traditionalthinking when it comes to higher education and academia, it is a totally differentarea that yes, there are critics and there's criticism to what we do hereand I totally get and I welcome all criticism because it allows me to reflectthem what we're doing to make sure that we're offering what the students are expectingand 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 esportsis, number one, find that person on campus that is going to bethe quote unquote champion for esports that can really go to bat for students.Talk to administration, Talk to faculty, Talk to Curriculum Committees, talk tothe community, talk to parents about what esports has an opportunity to do onthat college campus. Where are the educational opportunities that exist through esports? Butyou'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 tohave that one person that is that go to person on campus. That isa big part. You've got to get some administrative support. Our University Presidentwas on board with esports from the competitive side point, from the academic sidepoint, from day zero, before even day one happened. She was onboard and wanted just like, let's grow it, let's do it, thisis exciting, and I said, okay, we don't I don't know what thatlooks 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'vegot to get started somewhere. You've got to get started and you've got tobe careful that you control once you get started, because esports can get outof control very quickly, because students will say, Oh, we should playthis game, let's play this game. Oh, let's try this, let'stalk 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'sthink long term about what we're doing and what we're building. You can't letthe fire be an explosion. It's got to be a controlled burn and you'vegot to grow it organically and do it in a way that makes sense foryour university. Eric, like I said earlier, it's got to fit intothe mission of your university and it's going to be different from every other institutionin 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 foryour 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 onlyone or two games? Does it makes sense to offer fifteen games? Doesit make sense to offer academic programs, a major, a minor, graduateprograms? 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 interestedin this? Let it grow organically.

Is it a top down approach?is at a bottom up approach? You know? So there's so many differentways to do it, but you just got to do it. You've gotto just get start. You got to be willing to take that chance tobe comfortable being uncomfortable. You know, don't be afraid to ask people.How did you do it? What do you do with this situation? Whatkind 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 yourown, because then you have something that you can talk to students about abouthow 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 finda way to get started and a way that makes sense for you and yourinstitution. I love your universities leadership here. I love that we all get tolearn off your curve. Joey, thank you so much for your timetoday. What's the best place for listeners to connect with you if they haveany follow up questions? Yeah, the best way is email, you know, or twitter. So my email it's confusing. It's J G A WRYSI AT SU Die Edu. Twitter is at Joey GERRISIAC. That name isterrible. I wish I'd have my whole last name in there because it's hardto spell. But believe me, there's no other greasyacs out there. Soif you can find at Joey Greasy Act, that's definitely me. So either oneof those ways is absolutely fine to reach out. I love talking topeople about this and trying to help out as much as I can, andso 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 thisconversations. Awesome. Thanks so much for joining us today, Joey. ThanksEric. Attracting today's new post traditional learners means adopting new enrollment strategies. Helixeducations data driven, enterprise wide approach to enrollment growth is uniquely helping colleges anduniversities thrive in this new education landscape, and Helix has just published the secondedition of their enrollment growth playbook with fifty percent brand new content on how institutionscan solve today's most pressing enrollment growth challenges. Downloaded today for free at Helix Educationcomaplaybook. You've been listening to enrollment growth university from Helix Education. Toensure that you never miss an episode, subscribe to the show in Itunes oryour favorite podcast player. Thank you so much. For listening until next time,.

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