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Creation of the U-M esports rec team – Cybbi Barton

Cybbi Barton discusses the formation of the University of Michigan esports recreational team.
How did the university of Michigan come to create an e-sports recreational team? <v ->Yeah,</v> so we have the university of Michigan e-sports and it’s a umbrella that supports 10 different competitive titles. So we have like Valorant, Overwatch. League of Legends, a variety of different games that will compete against Ohio state and Michigan state, and all of the teams that we love to compete with. And so their focus is on gaming competition. They’re in tournaments leagues, a variety of different variety, different responsibilities, but it’s all competitive. So that’s a section of our program. And then we also have a section that is, do you like to play video games, like me? Yes, I do.
Am I good enough to be on a competitive team? Absolutely not, but that’s okay. So we have a whole other area where you can be involved. And if you just like to play video games where you want to meet somebody else that plays the video game that you like to play, that’s where you can have those conversations and start building those friendships on a college campus that is so massive. It’s really easy to find somebody that can fit right into what you’re wanting, or what you are searching for out of a friendship. And so the group of students that I work with now, they have been existing on campus for a very long time.
So they went from a group that it was a voluntary student org. They set up a lot of different events and they did a lot of really incredible things without any administrative support. So when I filled this role at the university of Michigan, I knew that this population exists. And so I communicated with them saying, Hey, we have an opportunity to work together and for y’all to have university level support, and to be able to call yourselves a university of Michigan, when you go and compete, but also just resources dedicated to you in some way. So of course they were like, absolutely let’s do this. And so we’ve had that from the jump. It was really exciting.
The energy is still the same level now because we have seen the growth and we continue to see the growth with not only our program, but with other programs in the states, in the country, in the world. And all of that just helps everybody else rise to have a successful program in some way or another. So that is a little bit of a nutshell of how we operate and where we came from. Do you see any issues related to diversity, equity and inclusion at the collegiate level of competitive gaming? How do you ensure that teams are inclusive?
<v ->Yeah, we, like I said, the, the 10 games</v> that we do support, if you’re, you know, not at the level of where we need to be competitively, you can still play in those games or play with the varsity team in some way and, and be a part of that. But we also, yeah, like when I think about our program, I see it as an umbrella of gaming and underneath that, you can play animal crossing, where it’s just you and you find a friend that’s like, Hey, come and visit my island. And you can compare islands if you’re not familiar with the game, that’s a huge piece of it.
So I, I think that managing this has been really helpful for me because it feeds into my vision for this program. My big dream is that we have this huge gaming community that supports our competitive teams. We have our recreational players that are playing in those competitive titles, but just in a different way, or they’re just playing with their friends. We are playing in games that aren’t supported. So I play Fortnite. We don’t have a Fortnite team, but I love playing. And then we have all the rest of gaming, right? So mobile gaming is a huge, huge piece of the ecosystem. Right now it’s accessible. People have games on their phone.
I would like to see that I would like to see tabletop board games come back into play and how we can just have a game night where we’re playing Monopoly or Sorry, or I don’t really know what the board games are or what they look like these days, but those are the games that I love to play. And what I think about. So really just a whole world of gaming and not limiting it to just e-sports, but we could go even old school back to playing Life and seeing how our students react to that and how they can be a part again of a community and have that, that sense of belonging on the campus.
What are the considerations that go into converting a student program into an official competitive program? <v ->Two things that I think about when people ask me this</v> question is the first one is you may have an existing program on campus, and it is so important to connect with those students or that group. to see history, where have they been? What have they been doing? And seeing if it’s something like what I did of, okay, you’re under our wing now, or you might have to start off from scratch, but if you are adopting an organization, it’s really important to make sure that they are a part of the conversation the entire way through.
There is never a decision that I make, that I don’t bring along my student leaders and have them talk about it and see their perspective on it, because this is their project. This is something that a lot of students, not only now, but in history have worked really hard to be where it is today. And without that work, they wouldn’t have been the university of Michigan e-sports program now. So honoring that, making sure they’re a part of the conversations, and it’s going to help you understand what students are wanting, what they need to, to succeed. And it’s always just, they keep you young, keep you fresh. So I really love that component too.
The second thing that I always encourage people to think about and to consider is, gamers exist on campus. We know this it’s very easy in a lot of ways, as long as you have the resources to get a team going and perfect, we got a team filled, they’re competing, great work here is done. What I encourage professionals or administrators that are in a position to support these students is okay, great.
You, you did that, but how are you protecting and how are you making sure that this program is taken care of and all of the ways that we treat a lot of different areas in our work of diversity, equity and inclusion, how are we talking about some of the bigger challenges and barriers that exist in gaming and how are we taking care of our students? Because the internet is a wild place and it’s scary and unsafe at a lot of times. So I think sometimes we, we tunnel vision to this is what is now. And once we get this done, then we can check it off our list. That’s part of it.
But how are you taking care of your students once you get them into your space? I think is absolutely crucial to the sustainability of the program and making sure that it’s fitting into your values either as a person or the values of your department or the values of your university. So those are definitely some things that have shifted the way that we have navigated the university of Michigan e-sports program.

In this segment, Assistant Director of Esports and Intramural Programs at the University of Michigan Cybbi Barton shares context surrounding the formation of the University of Michigan’s esports recreational team.

She also shares her recommendations for others looking to convert student esports programs into official, competitive programs as well as her vision for the future of esports and gaming at the University of Michigan.

Discussion: What do you see as the most common challenges or considerations when establishing official competitive programs in esports?

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