The inaugural OP Live Dallas esports event recently took place at the Irving Convention Center.
In addition to hosting the largest collegiate Overwatch tournament in North Texas and a day-long Fortnite “Bounty Royale Brawl,” a significant focus of the event was to educate attendees about various aspects of gaming and esports. There were workshops for parents unfamiliar with esports, talks for students interested in breaking in the industry at several different levels, and sessions for those already in the industry.
One of the featured talks was presented by Mark “Garvey” Candella, the Director of Strategic Partnerships for Twitch. Garvey has been a professional gamer since 1993 when he went pro as a Magic the Gathering player. He then moved on to Ultima Online, and then proceeded to behind the scenes work. He has been employed at Twitch for five years.
Gaming is very important to Garvey. During his presentation, he told a story about how he grew up in the “rough and tumble” streets of Brooklyn in the 1970s and was, himself, a “rough and tumble” kid.
“But I had one friend who had a good family. And every other Sunday his uncle would come over, and they would play Dungeons and Dragons as a family.
“I played the exact opposite as what I was in real life. I roleplayed the goodie-goodie of Dungeons and Dragons; I roleplayed a paladin. My nickname in Brooklyn was ‘Marcus Garvey,’ but my paladin was named ‘Garvey.’ And through roleplaying over a matter of several years, I started understanding that there was a different way to think, there was a different way to talk to people, there was a different way to act: being in the service to others is the finest form of living you can have.
“And slowly but surely, this interaction between me being in the service of others and this really good storytelling DM, it made me realize there’s a different way to live my life. And here I am, 25 years later, about as opposite as how I grew up as you can possibly imagine.
“This is the power of gaming. This is the power that I have in my mind. ‘Mark,’ to me, has negative connotations. ‘Garvey’ is the epitome of how I want to live and how I want to be.”
Garvey’s OP Live Powered Talk presentation was on “sustainability and increased professionalism through investment in education and students,” which is a topic that’s close to his heart, as the founder of the Twitch Student Program.
There’s no question that the esports industry is currently growing at a rapid pace. However, what Garvey is mainly concerned with is the sustainability of the industry.
Photo Credit: Esports Marketing Blog
Currently, the major focus of esports is on the highest tier of player – the best of the best. Which is fine; that’s the same as traditional professional sports. However, by the time someone has made it to playing professional baseball, for example, that person has advanced through several leagues: from pee-wee, to little league, to high school, to college, to the minors, until finally a shot at the big league.
Additionally, it’s understood that not everyone will get to play major league baseball. So, while in high school, that future major leaguer was playing in one league, other players from the same pee-wee team where playing in a much less competitive league.
Not everyone can play at the same level, but everyone gets a chance to play.
Currently, for the most part, esports doesn’t have those tiers. There are professional esports players, and there’s everyone else.
That’s why Garvey believes that – to sustain the current momentum – the future of esports lies at the high school and collegiate levels. As Garvey said in his talk, those students with an interest in esports are the ones who have to opportunity to become “the future community members, future pro players, future content creators, employees, employers, thought leaders, and vision holders.
“What we’re really hoping to do with programs like this, especially working with universities so closely, is empower students and give them confidence in themselves, apply themselves with passion and vigor to start answering some of the known unknowns that we have in the industry. And, more importantly, maybe identify some of the unknown unknowns that we have in this industry for the next generation of students to pick up the ball and create their own opportunities.”
Garvey’s presentation began by focusing on how investing in education and supporting student growth will benefit the esports industry.
“We have three major components that we like to talk about. We have a Twitch Student Handbook that we send out to universities and students, which is the basis of the program. It describes the knowledge, tools, and support that we have available for universities and students. The second part we like to talk about is the vision of the program. I’m a big proponent of always starting discussions with the vision.
“I think starting with vision and why you want to do something is cool because when you work with people and you express your vision and they believe in your vision, they don’t work for you, you don’t work for them, and you don’t work for a company that also believes in the vision – you’re all working together toward a shared vision.
“The third component is what I like to call the university challenge. This is the heart and soul of the program. This is what creates opportunity for not just gamers on a campus. That’s the sustainability part for the industry. We’re talking about professionalizing the industry. So, the university challenge is a one-page document that you can find on our Twitch Student Portal, and it’s an interdisciplinary approach to practically applying one’s education to the business of this new digital world.”
Garvey went on to explain that there are a wide variety of degrees that can be applied to the esports industry, including business development, marketing, arts and media, and computer science. And, interestingly (and, perhaps, more importantly) the abilities learned by participating in esports can also be useful to those disciplines.
“The skills you learn by being a part of an esports program can be applied to any digital media company. Whether it’s people who have websites, whether it’s traditional companies that don’t have an Instagram or a Twitter presence. The tools you are learning are applicable to any industry.
“Think about the benefits for the individual students. An art student, for example, that graduates and now has this great, engaging story on their cover letter that says, ‘I know my resume shows that I’m a recent grad and I studied art. But I want to let you know that I applied art to a digital medium. And I created the digital visual assets for our school program’s social media. I created the digital visual assets for the Twitch team page, and channels,’ and everything else they did. ‘I applied A, B, and C and our school’s esports program went from one to four. Here’s my portfolio of proof of executions.’
“Same thing with the marketing department. ‘Here’s my social media strategy. Here are the tools that I used to qualify and quantify the data behind it. Here’s how I reached out with different messaging to different communities in our college or high school and brought people together.’
“Portfolios and storylines on the cover letter that show that you’re not just a recent grad. You have three years of experience specifically applying your educational discipline to this brand-new digital medium.”
A major strength of the Twitch Student Program is that Twitch just provides some tools and suggestions (there are requirements, like a set number of Twitch broadcast hours per week), while the students and administrators have full autonomy over the program. This really sets up a school esports program up for success, because those are the people who know their school the best – and will understand how to nurture a successful esports program.