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Producing the Esports Experience

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Photo courtesy of the School of Communications & Media Technologies.

It’s been a year and some change since the ArtU Esports program at Academy of Art University made its debut, and the collaboration between the Schools of Communications & Media Technologies (COM) and Game Development (GAM) are taking their Esports endeavor a step further with a new class on production.

Students enrolled in The Esports Experience will learn the skills needed to be an asset in a rising gaming industry. Production aspects of Esports, from broadcasting to staging on big tournament and on an at-home solo streaming levels, make up the core of the class, but course leads Steven Kotton, COM associate director, and Michael Witzel, technology coordinator, anticipate students will walk away with skills beyond what’s listed on the syllabus.

The midterm and final, however, are already planned: Running an online broadcast of the two intramural ArtU Esports tournaments – the Overwatch 3 vs. 3 match for the midterm, and the 6 vs. 6 match for the final, respectively – both at 491 Post with a live audience and on the university’s Twitch channels.

Naturally, these disciplines fall in line with a COM curriculum, but Kotton believes GAM students bring an understanding of the game’s intricacies and distinctions that COM students might not be privy to. In the same vein, GAM students interested in becoming commentators can learn the nuances in play-by-play and color commentating during a broadcast.

“The sense of all sporting events is a story,” he said. “We think about what do we need to tell it, what are all the different elements… [That includes] specific terminology and graphics and language that is very consistent and specific to the game industry. You have to have a balance of both.”

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Photo courtesy of the School of Communications & Media Technologies.

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Photo courtesy of the School of Communications & Media Technologies.

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Photo courtesy of the School of Communications & Media Technologies.

To COM students, The Esports Experience may carry similar attributes as other productions, such as Academy’s Got Talent and UrbanKnightsRadio.com, but for GAM students, the class offers a completely different perspective to their work as game developers. Though the coursework may not exercise their design skills, Witzel said seeing how games are received by two types of consumers (gamers and broadcasters) offers students a different perspective to game conceptualizing and development.

“I don’t get to choose for my game to be an Esports game, the community decides that,” emphasized Witzel. “Game publishers are very involved with the Esports for the games they create because they need to know what’s going to make it better.”  

According to Witzel, the ArtU Esports program initially started as a way to bring Academy students together, no matter the discipline; all that was needed was an interest in games. Students were enthusiastic and regularly participated; eventually, top players were invited to play on teams representing the Academy at Tespa’s intercollegiate league.

On the wings of the Esports team development, the COM department and media production students volunteered to broadcast the weekly tournaments, something that became “a regular Saturday thing,” according to Kotton, but as the Esports industry continued to spike, student interest in production grew along with it.

“Companies are starting to see more value in it because of how many people are watching and paying attention,” Witzel said. “We want [students] to come out of this [course] being able to handle it and be confident that yes, you can go out and work for a company, small start-up or anyone that wants to host more tournaments.”

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Photo courtesy of the School of Communications & Media Technologies.

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Photo courtesy of the School of Communications & Media Technologies.

“If this industry really explodes like we think it’s going to explode, there’s going to be tons of opportunities for our students,” Kotton added, noting several professional sports organizations are also venturing into Esports.

Recently, the Golden State Warriors’ Golden Guardians Esports franchise announced its admittance into the North American League Championship Series, (the professional League of Legends Esports league) which requires a $13 million fee to participate: “It’s their way of making the NFL or NBA,” Witzel commented.

Though many still question if Esports is an actual sport or not, there’s no doubting the staying power it has as an industry. Viewership and prize money continue to increase (the 2017 League of Legends World Championship had a prize pool of over $4 million), it’s world that’s growing fast and with classes such as The Esports Experience, the Academy is tagging along for the ride.

“We want to be there at the front,” Witzel claimed. “We want to be the innovators, we want to be the one setting the trends, not following the trends.”