The graduating Master's student
talks about her history with OU Esports, the importance of the organization, and the impact of charity at a local level.
Originally a casual member, Kara “Kelbright” Brightwell would become a key player in developing important charitable events and connections. Kelbright’s events were prolific, especially for only having the resources of a competitive club. During her time in this position, Kelbright raised upwards of $16,000 for charity. However, Kara illuminates why numbers are not the only significant piece when it comes to outreach.
Graphics by Zachary Satz.
The community outreach coordinator will encourage a growth mindset for all members of the organization by promoting a culture of patience and understanding, embodying one of the most basic tenets of the organization to “debate not degrade”. The community outreach coordinator must be comfortable building bridges between community organizations and businesses in order to fund and facilitate the program’s growth into K-12 education and beyond.
BIO: Kara gained her undergraduate degree in International Studies and Spanish here at the University of Oklahoma (2019). She is now pursuing her Masters degree in International Studies with a focus on laws and institutions. She also works as a graduate assistant for the David L. Boren College of International Studies. She first discovered gaming by playing on the GameCube with her older brother, but her passion was really ignited when she got to college. Her dorm floor organized Overwatch groups and she discovered the fun of playing games in large groups. She now enjoys playing more relaxing single-player games such as Animal Crossing, but still loves to watch the Overwatch League every weekend.
Kelbright began gaming very casually, with a love for games like Animal Crossing. Things changed when she arrived at university. “I really got back into shooters and the more competitive games when I got to college, and my friends from my dorm floor started an Overwatch group.” She said in an interview. Overwatch, in particular, would become important later in Brightwell’s journey within OU Esports.
Starting as a casual member, Kara eventually applied for a Overwatch shoutcasting position within the club. However, her ambitions took her higher, as when the year ended she applied for her current role as Community Outreach Director. On this, Kelbright said, “I have always been very passionate about community service and philanthropy, so I knew that the community outreach position would be a great opportunity to combine interests.” While in the role, Brightwell made the position her own by expanding events and connections.
This position is aligned with her degrees too — undergraduate and graduate. Originally getting a Bachelor’s in International Studies and Spanish, Kara is graduating this semester with a Master’s in International Studies. “I have become more concerned with issues of digital rights and cybersecurity,” Kelbright mentioned, “I think this is going to be a really relevant topic in years to come, and I hope that I can work in some way to make internet environments safer for everyone.”
Kara’s experience in the club has affected her considerably during her college career. The focus on community extends to a personal level too, and Kelbright developed friends in the club that helped her through hardship. “One night a couple years ago, my friend’s mom died and I was having a really hard time with it,” Brightwell recalled, “some friends from the org sat in a voice call with me all night to distract me and help me laugh.”
At the professional level, Kara stated that her time in the club helped sharpened skills. Regarding her Community Outreach Director position, Brightwell said that “coordinating events takes a ton of work, and if you’ve never done it before — like I hadn’t when I took my role on — it can be really challenging.” Kelbright added that it takes trial, error, and time to develop these skills. Ultimately, she would learn skills like professional communication and organization of teams and events. “I will definitely take these skills into any job I may take on.” Kara said.
Both of these combine into one of Kelbright’s favorite moments with the club: Extralife 2019, the last in-person event Kara would host before the pandemic. It was her first time hosting such a large event, and despite some chaos and setbacks, Kara was blown away by the support and aid from the community. Due to some technical issues, “we started hours late. So, we had a really reduced time but all of the people that were responsible for running these tournaments really stepped up… and were able to put on good programming for the day.” On top of this, organizers came to help an exhausted Kelbright teardown and put away computers, showing their dedication past the closing hour. “I was just so in awe of how everybody really came together on that day.” said Kara.
Charity and outreach are a key part of the OU Esports mission, and Brightwell knows this better than anyone. This reflects in her strong opinions about community. “Charity and community outreach is an important topic for any organization,” Kara affirmed, “I don’t think that there should be any [club] that doesn’t reach out to their community.” Kelbright believes that organizations need to give back to their communities, as they are the ones that ultimately support the organization.
Outreach for Kara means something special when related to esports too, as it combats the typical “gamer” stereotypes, helps inform people what esports is, and fundamentally elevates OU Esports as a whole. “We’ve really had the opportunity to allow people who don’t understand Esports or video games,” she added, “to observe how we interact with the people around us and how we can act as a community to really impact others.” Kara points out that these events are not extreme or unusual. They are things the club’s members already do: play games. “We got our community together to go play video games, and we raise money,” Kelbright said.
An emphasis on community and understanding is important for combating other esports and gaming problems. In particular, for issues of diversity and inclusion. While first starting out in shoutcasting, Kara describes a moment where a male outside official acted surprised about how good of a job she did. While he didn’t mean harm, Kara points out that, “He was shocked that I did well because of some of his preconceived ideas about what it means to be involved in these kinds of opportunities.” Unfortunately, stories like this aren’t uncommon in the realm.
Despite instances like this, Kara remains grateful of those who have already treated her equally. “I have never felt that my character as a woman was even in consideration in my role as the community outreach director,” She said on the subject, “People saw my work and they judged me on that.” Kelbright reminds us that although this is true, sexism and other diversity problems aren’t fixed in esports and that there is work to be done.
Lastly, she said, “But, I know everyone in this club and in the environment that it creates are working every single day to fight against exclusionary behaviors and to make a welcoming environment for everyone.”
Sponsors & Alumni
Kelbright hasn’t found her post-graduate position yet, but she believes her experience in the club makes her a better candidate. “The skills, experience, and confidence that I built in my role are highly translatable to any job in the nonprofit sector,” she added. On top of this, esports is a great way to make connections and conversation. Jasmine mentioned this in her interview as well.
Brightwell also isn’t completely leaving the club. “Obviously my involvement levels might have to change based on my other responsibilities, but I will always be open to answering any questions and serving as a mentor for members that follow me, (especially the new [Community Outreach Coordinator], I will always be available to help with advice)” She mentioned. Kara wants to see OU Esports continue growing in the quickly expanding esports industry. However, to do this, Kara’s aware the organization will need more sponsorship, stating, “The skillsets used in esports are so multifaceted and can be such a great resource for communities. Esports can also be such a force for good — look at the charity and community events that we were able to run with a limited budget — can you imagine what we could do with more resources?!”
Finally, Kelbright has a message for the community.
”You guys are going to do great things. I am so proud of the creative things that people within the org are doing. I talk about all of you all the time! My grandma now knows all about esports and the club because I talk about it so much!Kara "Kelbright" Brightwell
Take your time to really experience all the opportunities that the club offers and if you don’t see an opportunity that fits, make one! Esports is an evolving industry with all kinds of different industry tie-ins. You never would’ve thought that an International studies major could become a leader in esports, but I did and it worked!
Also, don’t worry about not being good at games as a limiting factor. (one of the most consistent things I heard at public tabling events) I’m terrible at so many games, but as long as you have fun and have the drive to do some good, you can have such a big impact.