“Lessons Along the Way” will be a subsection of my overall blog where I talk specifically about moments of enlightenment, opinions on industry news, and very specific experiences I’ve had that have kept me agile, evolving, and realistic along the way. Think of them as short stories in parallel to my primary theme of development sharing. They are important because they are memorable pivotal moments in my way of thinking that truly shaped my journey.
The Biggest Lessons
I am going to start this entry off with talking about embracing failure, managing expectations along the way, and being a realist along the way. I imagine those of you that are developing esports energies at your campuses have gained some serious momentum in the beginning as students get hyped up from the prospect of building a community, competition, and every other wonderful thing this topic can bring.
The challenge here is that it is sensory overload and you want to tell everyone which gets them riled up too. Slow down! Step back! Process! Then speak! I still struggle with this one today because sometimes things are just extremely exciting and I want to tell the world. Think strategy instead of hype. Filter announcements and conversations to an objective and realistic standard and you’ll find you still have plenty to share without putting the cart before the horse.
Mike Aguilar – Lead Advisor @ Esports Association at OU. Answer questions from decisions makers in analog (conventional) sports at the 2018 SEAT Conference at the Gaylord Texan.
The "V" Word
The first topic I want to address is the same topic a lot of you will try to predefine this development with before you even really understand your own culture, political landscape with this topic, legal constraints, and real opportunities. I stated in my first article that above all things never try to predefine this topic without some research on your own specific campus cultures.
Now, this topic is one of the biggest variances across campus due to your level of athletics development and division classification. For instance, OU is a Division 1 program meaning it falls under the highest form of NCAA governance. That sounds extremely prohibitive, right? Yes, it is, but if you started thinking about where this could live already and you started in athletics infrastructure then freeze and ask yourself whether or not you really know anything about the way those programs are run, what is the funding opportunities, and what power do you lose when you throw this development into a preexisting governance body on your campus.
Never forget that once you impose more governance and oversight on your development you become less agile and less able to explore the possibilities of this broad opportunity. Don’t just be “we’re in esports”, try to become an “innovator in collegiate esports development”. We are still way ahead of the bell curve before universities across the board value this on a full mainstream level. Don’t rush to produce mediocrity. Flex all opportunities and innovate the industry. It really is empowering and fulfilling.
At the time of this article schools of similar NCAA governance and oversight to OU lack athletics affiliation because of the amount of red tape, instability in the industry, and rulings imposed to narrow their scope of opportunity. The rarity of this is UCLA who in August 2018 declared full endorsement from administration and athletics programming alike. Legitimately the first one at this tier. For OU’s specific development we started to ask the students in the early energies if the word “varsity” was even desirable. The answer was, “nope”. So think about what your world would look like if you removed the word from your vocabulary in the context of your own definitions of what you are developing and you might find yourself considerably less burdened. Think of it like this. Most athletics programs do not look at esports as defining it as “athlete” or “athletics” at this moment in time. There isn’t anything wrong with that in my humble opinion. The industry is still very young and there are other battles to win. That honestly is NOT a big one. Think about academic teams that compete with your school logos on their chest with full university backing. There are other opportunities! EXPLORE THEM ALL!
Sidenote: I have zero issues with promoting my peers in the space and neither should you! We all need each other to push the agenda. This is part of staying humble and being part of the collective mission before we all get super competitive on this topic several years from now.
For the schools without this amount of legal constraint, acknowledge that the path of club sports, fitness & recreation, and athletics are all absolutely on the table for possibilities to home your program in. All I’m saying is to explore all options and do not allow yourself to just pick the easy path for visibility early on. Develop programming of substance to impact your students and communities around you. Be an influencer and pioneer, not a “what is every other university doing?” that I know we all are getting asked to justify our missions further. Collaborate with your peers in the space, students and administrators alike. Push the limits. Find the opportunities. Flex the possibilities. Be the new standard!
Callie Simonton – Film & Media Studies 2019, Internal Communications Director, Flagship Streamer, Captain – Overwatch
Sit Down. BE HUMBLE!
One of the biggest challenges on this journey is staying humble. It’s easy to feel like you’re on top of the world as you gain subject matter expertise that makes you a unique asset to your campus, but remember the majority of campus just doesn’t care at this time or even value the real opportunities of esports in the collegiate space or how it can truly tie to the professional industry. They are fixated on the quick turn of visibility, recruitment opportunity, and revenue potential that’s not fully even here yet. Understand that everyone and everything is still predominately infrastructure development still. Everyone in esports pro, collegiate, amateur alike do the work of at least 4-6 or more roles individually. That’s the standard right now. That’s a big indication that infrastructure and the professionals to round out the industry are absolutely needed to help spread the workload.
SEAT Conference – July 2018 – Gaylord Texan Conference Center, TX
From left to right: Jayne Bussman-Wise – Content & Communications at New York Red Bulls, Andrew Yanyuk – Founder of Tempo Storm, Brian Costello – EIC at Portland Timbers, Mike Aguilar – Lead Advisor at Esports Assoc. @ OU, and Tom Halls – Strategic Development at Gfinity
Staying humble also means listening to people around you that you may think are above, parallel, or below you. I’m specifically referencing students. Their feedback is essential to your success. If you exclude them from the conversation you are failing. If you are mentoring them to stand closer to you in parallel then you are succeeding. Why is this such an important topic for me? Simple, our mission in higher education is to grow and groom the professionals of today and tomorrow, leveraging the experiences from the past and present to push the potential of everyone forward for the future. If you lose sight of the mission of higher education at the core of everything you do then please take a moment to reflect on that. I for one, am tired of seeing students graduate from institutions across the US and can’t find work because they were pushed to fail early, challenged to rise up, and given a well-rounded skill set to start their career. YOU can be the change.
I want to reference an example of what I think is the wrong way to do collegiate esports. A public university in the region announced the full endorsement of their esports development. In April and May there were two Twitter posts and a press release and nobody has heard or seen anything else about this 6 months later. Their student leadership reached out to me for advice and shared his struggles and journey. I spent hours on the phone with him and talked through all of it and found that several of his administration was just not listening to this pioneer within their own ranks, capitalizing on the buzzword “esports”, ignoring the student influence, and building nothing for sustainment. They had less than 60 students in their organization and very little infrastructure in place. This series of events I hope doesn’t become more of the norm, but knowing how universities fixate on recruitment and draw I would not be surprised. Fast forward to Fall 2018 and I’ve stayed connected to this student only to find that again they had not listened to him and decided to hire someone to fill the role of development for the program not including the student president in the research panel to define the skill sets needed. Luckily, their choice in developer has the right head on their shoulders as I just spend 2 hours on the phone with them both yesterday to inspire, direct, and collaborate on how to proceed. They are the first official public university with full esports endorsement. I am proud of them even if they approached it wrong from my standpoint. The strategy to that is they still have visibility to push the agenda forward across the state and if they are willing to collaborate then I’m all in to help to unify our state.
Understand the World Around You (University Level)
As I started this journey in November 2016, it was rumored that our current university president of over 20 years was planning to retire. This was important intelligence because imagine pouring all of your energy into promoting a topic to an administration that would be leaving anyway. If you have never been in a company during a changing of the guard then let me paint the picture for you. It’s disruptive, culture changes immediately, rumors fly rampant, and uncertainty is prevalent. It’s a genuinely uncomfortable time for everyone as the future is definitely going to change paths, but what is more critical is the present will change as well. Having gone through new officers in the military, new elected officials and directors at Oklahoma County and the death of Steve Jobs and rise of Tim Cook during my time at Apple, enterprise-level aggressive changes are manageable and expected chaos for me.
We knew that with this in the pipeline that we could not put any agendas past internal organizational infrastructure development within our own ranks. So we hunkered down and fixated on creating so that when the time was strategically better we could drop a fully developed program with success stories and history versus just a concept with no tangible and relevant experience that correlated to the cultures at OU. Remember that “what are other universities doing?” questions. Have some answers to that, but if you’re interested in going out to see Mark and Kathy at UC-Irvine and you live in Oklahoma well just know that there is very little you can bring back from that expense culturally because of their location. Blizzard is right up the road. The culture of students there are used to having those things from the get-go and are willing to fund it with minimal marketing and the industry around them absolutely supports them physically and multiple times in a single month. You have to have tangible results and analytics to tell the story for your own climate.
David L. Boren, the 13th president of The University of Oklahoma (1994-2018)
James L. “Jim” Gallogly, the 14th president of the University of Oklahoma (2018 – present)
As colleges and universities, we have so many resources available to flex our topic. The age demographic is perfect, we have meeting spaces, labs, and have all of those physically located together for the most part. Flexing conversations across campus to develop mutual partnerships is key to early energy success. Minimize expenses, maximize visibility internally, and gain allies on your journey. Our very first event flexed a computer lab in engineering that bolstered their student life programming with them having to do zero work, us gaining the resource to push the agenda and we both benefited. Partnering with low traffic spaces on campus will keep you at no cost and those spaces are great for bring your own device events, tabletop gaming, and social events. Explore everything! I’ll leave you with one of my favorite analytics on this journey. Aside from my time, this development is 23 months in as of Oct 2018 and we’ve only consumed $2.2K of any preexisting budget resources through OU IT. That’s it!