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Explaining collegiate esports – Cybbi Barton

Cybbi Barton discusses the many considerations that go into the development of a collegiate esports team.
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How do you decide what games to feature? <v ->Yeah.</v> Great question and buckle up because a lot of the answers, I don’t know, but we’re going to get through this together. So the area of where I don’t know is that the world of gaming is changing every single day. And what’s unique about it from a traditional sports model is we know football is gonna be here forever. We know soccer, we know basketball, all those sports are gonna live forever. Games like Valorant or you know Call of Duty, the video games shelf life it varies. And it could be for a variety of different reasons, just losing interest.
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There was a fun game called Fall Guys for a while, and that’s not as popular anymore. So that’s something to consider when you are trying to determine what games to support and what games to play, but also leaving yourself area to adjust as games become popular and then as games kind of die out. So the rule of thumb that I have is just seeing student interest. We have certain criteria that each game needs to meet in order to be considered to be supported by our program. And it involves, okay, are there games and competition dedicated to your game? Is there a league that you can join that facilitates the play? How many students are involved?
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Are we gonna support a game that supports one student? Are we going to support a game that supports a hundred students? So those are some things to consider. There’s no correct formula. That’s going to work for every single person, but those are some things to consider. The other piece of e-sports specifically with competition is that the leagues that support play or facilitate the tournaments and competitions, those are changing all the time as well. So how we play the game is controlled by the publisher, the gaming developers, it’s controlled by leagues and when you can play them for competition and when you can’t and where and all that.
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So there’s a lot of just different things that vary from game to game. So that’s another piece that’s really hard to keep up with. And hopefully one day we get to a point where there is an overarching national governing body that just everybody gets along and it’s all good. And we have that support, but I don’t think we’re there yet. I don’t think that’ll be in the next two years, but I think it’ll be sooner than we think it will be.
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Based on, I think publishers are starting to realize the impact that college teams have on their game and all of the areas of concern or like barriers that happen in the world as we know it, is also that I think these publishers are starting to realize and understand that, okay, these college teams are more than just players, but they are such a huge part of a mission for a university or just for gamers everywhere. So I try to think about, okay, e-sports doesn’t live in a vacuum. In some ways, yeah, you can hop on a video game and escape the world and that’s it.
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But a lot of things that are going on outside of the world are impacting inside gaming and e-sports. And so really thinking that that’s something that we’re always going to have to think about and be mindful of. And so all of that to say, James, I don’t know, and we’re going to continue to learn more and more, but those are the things that are happening right now and at this very time. And like I said, it could all change just before you know it. How did tournaments work at the collegiate level? <v ->Yes.</v> So it depends on your involvement with e-sports.
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So if you’re wanting to run a tournament, we ran a Rocket League tournament back in April, and it was open to all colleges. And with that administration piece, we had to contact the publisher for Rocket League and say, “Hey, we’re running this tournament. We want to do it on this day, time, all of that, what else do we need to know?” And they gave us a list of, okay, here are things you can do. And here are things you can’t do. One of them being, you can’t charge students to play, to have an entry fee into the tournament. And that is a huge theme that’s across the board with gaming is how can they remove that financial barrier?
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Because there are already so many financial barriers in place with getting gaming systems and buying games, like, it starts to add up. So there are things that are very unique from game to game, just depending on the publisher and how they want their game to be played. So that’s a little bit different than your traditional sport, because you can find a court outside no matter what time it is or what day. And as long as you have a ball and a hoop, you can play basketball. That’s not the same thing when you’re thinking about tournaments and things like that, but there are definitely different levels of that too.
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So just playing games on campus in some capacity, it’s a little bit different as far as your relationship with the publisher, but as long as you own the game in some capacity, then you’re able to offer that opportunity for people to play. It’s just when you start getting into the more organized competition play, that’s where the relationship with publishers is so crucial so that you know, that you’re doing all the right things because they own the game. Nobody owns basketball, right? So they own how it’s played and everything to that game, as long as it lives. So there’s a lot of different layers to that.
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What is your vision, or what would you like to see for the future of e-sports and gaming at the university? <v ->When I think about</v> the dream program, my vision for this program, it looks like a area where someone could step foot into a space and feel comfortable, feel safe and knowing that they don’t have to, they have minimal barriers of being able to play a video game. That’s not reality right now, there are so many different layers to this. And some of my volunteer work is dedicated towards advocating and supporting and educating, like what those barriers are and what can we do to minimize those.
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So knowing that not everybody grew up with a PlayStation in their home or a computer, or things that we can play these games and knowing that those people exist on our campus and how do we support them. So when thinking about all of the barriers that are in place, what I really want our program to focus on, and I think what we have goals for in the near future is looking at the demographic of who is in our program, knowing those numbers, knowing where we need to start, which we conducted an assessment last semester. So we have that foundation of, okay, we know where we’re at, where do we need to be?
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And then how are we going to get there? And so talking about earlier of how I have my students that are involved with DEI work and just being a part of the operations of this program, having them come up with some ideas, how can we recruit more people of color? Or how can we look into this a little bit differently? and have them think about that, right? Like I could say something, but it might not make sense to students because I’m at a completely different mindset. So having them a part of the conversation has been really helpful and awesome because they’re coming up with great ideas.
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So when we think about recruiting, when we are coming up in the fall semester here shortly, it’s having that education piece of, we know the numbers, we know where we’re at. We know some of the action items we can work on to recruit a little bit differently with our teams, and then just continuing to assess that every semester, every however often we need to do it and really pulling in our different partners on campus, partners in the community and different support in that way.
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I think is where we re where we will really shine because a lot of our partners on campus are already dedicated towards this work, and so working together, I think will just allow us to have endless opportunities to really work on some of the values that matter the most to our program. How do you see the e-sports recreational program growing? <v ->Absolutely.</v> We have students that really want to be at the University of Michigan, just on its own. We just have an incredible population of high school students seniors that are wanting to be a part of this university. So I see that now I have students emailing me right now saying, “Hey, this is my rank.
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This is what game I play. When are tryouts?” I’m like, hold on you’re first year in high school, like, call me back in four years. So that interest is there and it just gets younger and younger every year that goes on. And so they’re practicing younger and younger to be competitive and to be the best. And so the students that I have now and the teams that we have now, knowing that they don’t have scholarships. They’re not being supported in that way to come here. They are just here and happened to play this video game. And they’re doing really well competitively, which is always fun to win.
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So I see our program growing in a lot of different ways, and I see it growing competitively as well. If we get to a point where we have dedicated coaches for each game or scholarships, or whatever other resources that we can put into this program, absolutely seeing our players developing more while they’re here and to compete professionally. I see that happening it makes sense. And we have a professional team over in Detroit, so that’s a whole other layer to this too of, “Hey, we got piers down the road, let’s see how they did it” and gather information on how we can support those students that are good and they love playing. How can we get them there?
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And that’s how I view all of my students that I get to work with is what is your goal? And then how can I help you get to that point?

We return with Cybbi Barton, Assistant Director of Esports and Intramural Programs at the University of Michigan, who discusses the formation of collegiate esports teams including how competitors are recruited, what games are selected, and diversity, equity, and inclusion implications at the collegiate level of competitive gaming.

(Optional) Supporting players who may be combating burnout is a responsibility of the collegiate organizer. Read this short article on how to recognize signs of burnout.

Discussion: In what capacity do you think colleges and universities should support the development of esports teams?

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