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Column – Do you need an esports degree?

A guest column by Steven Leunens

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On May 23 the University of Staffordshire mentioned in a tweet that in the future you will need a university degree to start working in esports. The post launched a discussion in the industry with multiple high profile esports icons weighing in.

The University of Staffordshire mentioned in a tweet that in the future you will need a university degree to start working in esports as part of their attendance at the #ESIDIGITAL esports conference, organized by the folks over at Esports Insider. Though for an outsider this statement might not ignite any fires, it certainly sparked up something within the industry.

Tweet by Staffordshire University London Digital Institute:
Screenshot of the now deleted Tweet by Staffordshire University London Digital Institute

The sentiment in most of their comments was crystal clear. Esports does not require any form of formal education and many esports fanatics condemned the statement as being out of touch with reality within our beloved industry.

Although I follow the reasoning behind their outrage and feel similarly in many aspects, I also believe formal education should be given its place in tomorrow’s esports environment. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a bootstrapped co-owner of an esports scaleup that wasn’t founded on the backbone of a formal education, a university degree or a college professor leading the way. When I started my gaming career in 2002 with the ever-so-fantastic Medal of Honor: Allied Assault (gotta love that Omaha Beach scene) I didn’t know of the opportunities ahead. What started as a small gaming team – TEK9 – quickly transformed into a thriving Call of Duty 2 & 4 community between 2004 and 2010. I was learning on the go, failing forward or any other bootstrapping metaphor you want to insert here.

Like many people involved in esports in those days, it brought us all together for a common cause: growing esports. It helped shape the industry we now have, bubbling with new initiatives and booming with investment. It put hundreds, if not thousands, on the forefront of an industry built on passion and excitement about competitive gaming. During this time, I grew phenomenally, both as an entrepreneur and as a person. I made mistakes and celebrated wins.

Looking back some of those mistakes could have been easily prevented. I was, and perhaps still am to some level, childishly naïve. Uneducated on certain subjects and foolishly stubborn. But I’ve come a long way. Mostly through experience, but also through listening, reading and educating myself. Attending conferences and conducting meetings of which the outcome might not be known yet. Hearing people speak on topics I knew nothing about, but which I considered vital to the growth of the company or myself as a person.

Therein lies the utopian dream of a perfect education and where it might have a huge benefit in the esports world of tomorrow. With a more formal background in all things entrepreneurial, a better financial understanding when I started my first true company in 2008 or more detailed playbook on how to run an event, I could have saved myself a lot of time, money and headaches.

It all starts with the basics for a good education and that are good educators. If you have the right people teaching, a good education can give students the wealth and expertise needed to take a jumpstart in their future careers, even in esports. Who wouldn’t love a masterclass in live esports commentary from legends such as Paul “Redeye” Chaloner from Code Red Esports or Stuart “TosspoT” Shaw from Endeavor. A quick guide on starting and building an esports team from the likes of Alexander T Muller from SK Gaming, Sam Matthews from Fnatic or Carlos Rodriguez from G2. Or a crash course on how to run events by Adam Apicella from MLG or Silviu Stroie over at PGL. With the right input, that can be a goldmine for an aspiring esports enthusiast.

There also lies the problem however. With esports being a new industry that is constantly developing, the true masters of a craft in esports are few and far between. They are right in thinking there are not many with their levels of expertise and wary of anyone new coming into the industry claiming to be an expert. That is also what is happening with a lot of these educational projects popping up, many filled with professors and staffers who have yet to experience their first victory royale, their first ragequit or their first LAN party late night pub brawl.

You cannot teach a passion for esports nor “a love of the game” like us oldskoolers have in abundance, but you can teach event management, marketing, sales or more technical elements such as broadcasting. You can teach common sense in business or a basic understanding of entrepreneurship, raising funds or going to market with your innovative ideas. With the right “esports” nuances and the right educators at the helm, this can – at an accelerated pace – help the hordes of highly motivated people with their hearts in the right place, find their way in the esports industry. But just to be clear about one thing.  A mandatory degree to work in esports is, like many of my colleagues pointed out so eloquently, utter BS. Go chase your dream.

Steven Leunens is Co-owner & Director of Operations of META, a longstanding esports agency based in Antwerpen, Belgium.

Image Credits: Bart Oerbekke/ESL and Vasily Koloda via Unsplash