If you’re looking at putting on a standalone esports event – and for the sake of clarity, that’s an event that’s being organized, planned, and executed, by you / your team, on your own dime – the single most important term (the one you should write on your palm every morning when you wake up) is “pre-planning.” The physical and digital assets required to support your event take months, and sometimes more than a year, to design, fabricate, and ship to the destination venue. No matter when you start preparation, you can be certain that exhibitors and sponsors have very specific guidelines about how / when their brands and assets can be used in collateral used to market the event before, during, and after its duration. And game makers – the bedrock of esports events – all have their own requirements for how their games can be used to promote and actually execute the event. Just as critical to all of these requirements and time constraints are the volunteers you’ll be using to meet partners’ AND attendees’ expectations. When it comes to esports events, volunteers are as critical to success as are game makers, sponsors, and venue partners.
Without people coming to or working your event, there would be NO event, so it serves to reason that your pre-planning efforts should be focused on them first. And there will be several different types of people helping you pull the event off: FTE’s, hourly employees, contractors, and volunteers, to name a few. Volunteers – especially college aged volunteers – are a huge opportunity for esports event organizers; not only are they in a highly engaged gaming demographic, many colleges are dedicating degrees to both making games and earning a living in esports. This combination makes volunteering at esports events a great opportunity for many of them. But as eGency Global’s Director of Marketing, Stephanie Chavez, points out: “Volunteer management is a much bigger job than a lot of people think when they’re planning an event. It’s not just signing them in, pointing them to a piece of exhibit real estate, and handing them a script. There’s a lot more that goes into it if you want your volunteers to get some good experience and enhance the experience for attendees.”
The work centered on how to use volunteers should be started at the beginning of the project, when event planners put together the layout of the venue and parse out which sort of tasks / functionality need to be driven by volunteers. “You’ll need different kinds of volunteers for different tasks,” explains Chavez. “If you have competitions that are open to the public, you’ll need volunteers walking the queue to get them signed up on tablets. If you have sessions / events that are open to the general public, you’ll need volunteers counting people as they enter the meeting room / space. If your event takes place in large venues with portions of it spanning beyond attendee line of sight, you’ll need volunteers at information booths / stations to supplement directional signage, letting people know where the other parts of the event are happening, as well as the content that they’ll find there. These are all different training scenarios, and you should alot time well in advance of the show to spend time with volunteers, showing them how each of these tasks should be handled.”
Anyone who’s done work with unionized workers in an exhibition / trade show capacity knows that scheduling of work AND break times are both critical. Without getting into the history of trade unions and their impact on trade show production, it’d be a safe bet to approach your volunteer staff’s schedule with that same kind of rigor and attention to detail. “Volunteers are there for many different reasons, but – at the end of the day – they just want to help. And the best way to let them help is to provide them with the knowledge and schedules that maximize their willingness to help without putting them into a situation where they’re doing the same thing over and over again for too long,” explains eGency’s Chavez. “So when we’re putting on events, we’re slotting volunteer workers with the same type of rigor we apply to everyone else’s schedule. ‘Will they find this post interesting? Are we rotating them often enough to keep them engaged?’ These are the things we’re asking well in advance of the exhibit’s launch to make sure it’s a great experience for us and for them.”
Just as you would with a paid employee, you need to be thinking about the needs these volunteers will have while they’re doing their work and when they have downtime in between shifts. “Having hospitality areas set up for talent, event workers, and sponsors is a no brainer. But you should definitely be thinking about a similar space for your volunteers,” continues Chavez. “They’re likely going to show up carrying things – like purses or backpacks – that they don’t want to carry with them while they’re working the exhibit floor. Make sure you have lockers in the volunteer lounge for them. Like anyone else who works an exhibit for hours at a time, they’re probably going to be tired and would like to sit down, rest, and recharge in between their shifts. Make sure you have comfortable seating areas set up for them in the lounge. And just as important is food. Working on your feet for hours at a stretch is going to make you hungry. You need to make sure that you have a food contingency planned; this one’s especially important because sometimes venues won’t allow outside food. You won’t be able to just order up a few pizzas and drinks to be delivered; you’ll have to pick – and buy at full price – from the food service the venue offers to everyone else inside of their walls. Getting all of these things cleared up and planned for in advance of the event will make it more enjoyable for you and for everyone there to help make the day a success,” Chavez finishes.
Volunteers are a wonderful resource, and in esports, event managers have an embarrassment of volunteer riches. Not only do many of these volunteers have an inherent love of the subject, a big percentage of them can also apply this experience to their academic goals. While these facts can make their resource planning seem like a last minute concern, they should absolutely be a part of foundational planning. In order to get the most out of your volunteers, you need to think about their wants and needs in the same way you’d account for the accommodations you provide for audience-drawing talent. Training, scheduling, at-event-support, and off-time accomodation, need to be all top of mind if you want your event to be a success for your attendees and the volunteers that help make it happen.