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Esports as a sport – Cybbi Barton

Cybbi Barton, Assistant Director of Esports, discusses esports in relation to other forms of sport.
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What is your relationship to gaming? <v ->Hi James.</v> My relationship to gaming started when I was really young and I had an older brother, so, anything he did, I had to do it too. And I also had to be better at it. So, my love for video games has been, since I could hold a controller and now I have a career in it, and it’s been incredible to see, the growth of the Esports scene on a collegiate campus, off a collegiate campus. But now having the support of administrations and various colleges around the world at this point, and being involved with that mission is really exciting. And so, that’s my current relationship with Esports and gaming.
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And I do a lot of volunteer work that focuses on, a lot of different barriers that come with gaming. And it really is all about what I value as a person. And I have an opportunity to live out those values with my work. <v ->You previously had a role where you managed Club Sports</v> and Esports at the university and have recently transitioned to being the Assistant Director of Esports in Intramural Programs. How did that transition come about and what has changed? <v ->Absolutely.</v> Five years ago, we, there weren’t that many Esport Programs on college campuses. It was very unheard of. If it was on campus, it was maybe at a smaller institution.
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And since that time, we have seen a tremendous rise with support of these Esport Programs at various colleges. So, two and a half years ago, the University of Michigan posted a position to oversee Club Sports and Esports. And obviously (laughs) I filled that role. And what I was able to see is, how I’m going to create this program? How am I going to support the students that are gaming on campus? And also the, other hat that I have on of Club Sports. Which Club Sports are more traditional sports, your Baseball, Softball, Lacrosse, Rugby. All of those traditional sports make up our Club Sport Program. But now we have this Esport Program, and what does that mean?
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How are they the same? Why does it make sense to live with one person? And so we could identify some of the things that make sense. When I talk about practice and I talk about games, competition, jerseys, coaches, watching film. You could interchangeably, put Lacrosse in there or our League of Legends team. So, they operate very similar similarly, like a traditional sports model. Where my work has shifted a little bit, is of course, with COVID and there was more focus on how could we, have these opportunities for students to be engaged in a safe way.
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And you could do that with gaming, where it didn’t really make sense for Rugby, to be up against each other and doing their sport in a COVID world. So, I was able to see more about the ecosystem that makes Esports what it is today. And with that work, I was able to see that this is more work than one person can handle. Our Club Sports Program is thriving. They’re extremely active. They do a lot of things and so does our Esport our Esport teams. So, the shift to a Program Manager role to an Assistant Director role came from our department, realizing that and knowing that we need to put more resources that are dedicated towards gaming and Esports on campus.
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And so, that’s, what’s really exciting about the role that I have now of being with Esports primarily and being able to focus more on my efforts towards that program. And the Intramural component is, also just another way for students to be involved in, yes, some of our traditional sports, some that are not traditional, like Mini Golf or Tricycle Polo. But it’s also an emphasis on gaming. 70% of at least 70% of students who come on campus are playing a video game in some capacity. It could be on their phone. It could be on Nintendo Switch, Xbox, PC.
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So, our Intramural Program could also benefit from the knowledge of Esports and seeing where maybe some of the games that aren’t as huge. But a way that we can have students involved is another area where this makes sense for this position and where it should live. <v ->What value do Esports bring to collegiate players?</v> And why should universities support the development of Esports teams? <v ->I believe that with my department,</v> two and a half years ago, when they created the Clubs Sports and Esports position.
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They were paying attention to trends and they were paying attention to what our students want and what they demand from their experience, being at the University of Michigan and being able to do something that they just enjoy doing to take a break from academics or whatever other areas that they have to focus on. And so with that, I think that’s where we saw the support from administration and with our department specifically, and I have peers all over the globe who have challenges of, getting an Esports program up and running on their campus. A lot of administration is just, they don’t see the meaning of it or how it could benefit the students.
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And so, where I’m really proud of the University of Michigan is, they realized that this is a need for our students to just being engaged into a community. And if anything has taught us in the past year and a half of this pandemic is how crucial a community is to just your overall wellness. So, that shift, I think, was, was the, the motivation for our university to support it. But we’re just seeing that continuous, continually build momentum as we just see the growth of Esports and gaming in the world, not even just collegiate level. But, we’re inheriting students that, like me, have been playing video games since they were younger.
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And it’s starting way younger, even now with kids having access to an iPhone. You can play video games on an iPhone. You can play it on an iPad. The options are endless almost at this point of where you can play video games. <v ->How are Esports structurally different</v> from traditional sports? <v ->So we talked about community</v> and we talked about our students being able to do what they like to do. I also like to shine some light on how massive this ecosystem is. And it’s, again, similar to a traditional sports model, where we have students that are dedicated towards production, broadcasting. We have commentators that are commentating Rocket League games.
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And there’s a lot of different avenues and areas where students can get involved that isn’t necessarily tied to playing a game competitively or against another school. So, the benefits that I see from this program and just all of the ways that could, it just really flourish. And specifically with the University of Michigan creating a Minor of study that it’s supposed to hit fall sometime in the near future. We are seeing that this is a legitimate thing. We have academics that are going to be dedicated towards Esports. We have students that are gaining life experiences, in a variety of different ways. I have a student that is in charge of diversity, equity and inclusion and they’re incredible.
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And why should that be, the only focus of myself or other professional staff? Let’s get our students involved and learning about, how this is a priority for different companies or different schools that you go to next whenever you graduate. So, seeing the, seeing that, where our students are just excited and they want to be involved and they see the bigger picture. It’s my responsibility to provide that vision. And also to remind them, hey, you may have just done this competition or produced this stream. But these are all of the transferable skills that you’re gaining experience in now, that you can talk about no matter what you do after you graduate.
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So, the benefits are endless to have a Esport program on campus in some capacity. And like I said, earlier, students are playing video games. They’re here, it’s just, how are we going to support them in every way that we can, and not just focus specifically on the competition, although that is important. There’s a huge net for everybody that would want to be involved with gaming.

In this segment, Cybbi Barton, Assistant Director of Esports and Intramural Programs at the University of Michigan, discusses esports in relation to other forms of sport, what value esports brings to collegiate players, and why colleges and universities should support the development of esports teams.

(Optional) Is eSport a ‘real’ sport?

(Optional) Recognizing ESports as a Sport – The Sport Journal

Discussion: How do you think esports is situated in the realm of “traditional” sports?

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