When we go to an NBA game we are there to see the players on the court, but what we’re really witnessing is the work of dozens of people putting on one of the most consistently high-quality entertainment products in the world. The amount of work that goes on behind the scenes to make sure an NBA event goes off without a hitch can’t be understated. It is the result of hard work from people across multiple sectors from marketing to management to the arena staff. Of course, when someone grows up wanting to work in the NBA they usually don’t typically dream of being on the side that isn’t in the spotlight. However, we adjust when it becomes apparent to most of us at some point in our life that we won’t be an NBA star. Sometimes our adjustments get us at least close to our childhood dreams.
It’s not that different in the world of eSports. When kids grow up wanting a career in video games, they’re thinking about doing so on the side of playing them for a living as a Twitch streamer or a pro in an eSports league. Of course, just like those of us who grew up wanting to play the NBA, life doesn’t always allow us to follow the paths we want. For many people, that ends their desire to work in video games or esports because they don’t see how else they could be involved, when in reality there are more opportunities than ever.
Two organizations doing this, the Brooklyn Nets and Atlanta Hawks, are approaching this from different angles but with the same goal. They want to help members of underserved communities find that there are career paths in esports. They can grow up wanting to play video games, and even if they aren’t the next star of the 2K League, they can still take those experiences and build a career. With the Hawks, it has been through events like Careers Beyond the Console. With the Nets, it’s a partnership between their 2K League team, Nets GC, and HBCU Gaming.
“I’m a firm believer that people aspire to what they see and so a lot of this for us is creating access to opportunity and so it is allowing HBCU students to learn about the vast career opportunities that exist within esports.” Jackie Wilson, Executive Director of Diversity and Inclusion for the Brooklyn Nets, told Dime. “Everybody knows what it’s like to be a player, but through this program, we are hoping to open the eyes of students and let them know that there are jobs beyond just actually playing. And so through that, and through these panel discussions that we’ll be having in conjunction with this program, it’s all about creating the access to opportunity to help create that diverse pipeline for esports. ”
While the Nets are going through the many HBCU’s across the country to help create these career opportunities, the Hawks are staying more local with their own efforts. At the Welcome All Park facility where they’ve refurbished a number of basketball courts around it, they built a gaming center to highlight the 2K League and Hawks Talon Gaming, and reach the community beyond those who want to hoop. The Hawks have also held events focused at local high schools called Careers Beyond The Console. These events are meant to show that working within esports is more than just being someone who plays games. It’s an opportunity to grow your entire career.
“There are so many different opportunities there.” Wesley Acuff, coach of the Hawks 2K League affiliate Hawks Talon, said to Dime. “You can manage social media, you can take pictures, do photography, content creation, video editing, you know, software programming, head coach, general management, strategy, film coordinator. Everything that you can do for traditional sports translates over into the gaming industry and the professional gaming industry.”
While eSports are the focus of these programs, they also provide the students they work with with the opportunity to build out their resume to follow any of the more traditional career routes beyond the gaming sector by building skills that are transferable to a number of fields.
“If you’re in accounting, you could be an accountant for any sports team.” Thomas Foley, Principal of Indigo Group, told Dime. “If you’re in marketing, there are probably greater marketing opportunities planning with all of the esports activities, and when you’re building a hundred million dollar esports arena, there is an entire growth model that’s going to be focused on a lot of that event component. When you’re streaming and all of the audio and visual components behind the scenes exist, that may not be tied to [only] esports…[it’s about] showing the opportunities in those areas and then connecting them to professionals in that space.”
By creating these opportunities and continuing to prove that eSports is an industry that should be taken seriously, it’s also helping end a stigma that plagues not only eSports, but video games as a whole: That these are real jobs that people work incredibly hard in.
“I would probably just say the biggest [stigma] is just people not taking it serious, like people thinking that you can just pick up a video game and just be good at it just because you play it.” Acuff said. “I think understanding the difference between a casual player and a pro and not treating the pros as if their careers aren’t serious careers. I think that’s it. You know, people just need to do a little bit more research and educate themselves a little bit more because it’s definitely a serious career. And it’s and it’s something that you have to put in a lot of work to be great at.
With opportunities like Careers Beyond the Console, and the Nets GC Partnership with HBCU Gaming, the Hawks and Nets are trying to doing everything they can to lay the foundation for opportunity. They’re taking the action where others might not.
“I think that opportunities come across from intentional actions.” Wilson says. “And so, if you don’t have leaders within the industry, creating programs such as this initiative with Nets GC and HBCU gaming, those opportunities don’t exist. And so you have to be intentional about creating the opportunities. You have to be intentional about the outreach and making sure that these opportunities exist. You have to be intentional about the follow through to make sure that these opportunities actually yield the results in which you’re looking for. There’s been a lack of intentional action within industry leaders who have the ability to make that change. And so I’m proud to work for an organization that allows us to be intentional about reaching the goals that we say.”