British Esports content director Dom Sacco was invited to give a guest lecture on esports journalism at the University of Chichester’s Bognor Regis campus in late February, to both esports and sports media students.

He recounts his experience, looks back on his own student days and checks out the university’s esports course in this blog post.

It seems like only yesterday that teenage me was making the trek from Billericay to Bournemouth for the Multimedia Journalism open day at Bournemouth University.

Of course the young, naive me didn’t allow for any train delays, and of course there were plenty of them, so I ended up getting to the university just as the open day was ending. I felt like a right plonker walking into that lecture theatre to hear the course leaders saying: ‘Goodbye and thanks for coming.’

But in a way, my lateness was a bit of a blessing in disguise. There were some brilliant lecturers at Bournemouth who took the time to give me a personal tour and talk through my aims and ambitions one on one. I left there thinking I really had to secure a place on the course – and I worked my socks off to get the grades I needed.

I ended up leaving Bournemouth with a 2:1 and an initial idea for a publication that would later become Esports News UK, which ultimately landed me my job at the British Esports Association. Not only that, but it’s true what they say: you make friends for life at university.

Me on the far left in my old university journalism group (I am so sorry to my old friends for posting this publicly!)

 

Anyway, some 15 years later, when I was invited to host a guest lecture on esports journalism at the University of Chichester, I didn’t make the same mistake. I’d worked for years in London and had built up heavy layers of distrust towards the train services. My alarm was on for 5am, I would be there in good time. No train delays or leaves on the line would stop 34-year-old me!

After arriving at the university’s tech park (opened by the outgoing Duke and Duchess of Sussex in October 2018), it felt very strange to be in the lecturer’s shoes this time. There were students waiting outside talking about their latest matches in Teamfight Tactics – Riot Games’ auto-chess League of Legends spin-off game – and I suddenly felt very old.

But the two-hour guest lecture flew by and it was incredibly rewarding. I spoke about the basics of journalism, interview techniques, the business of esports and more, but I tried not to make it two hours of just talking at the students.

So I threw in some videos, we analysed some interviews together (including the challenges of interviewing a player that’s just lost a big game, courtesy of Scarra and Pobelter), we drew up some mindmaps and I also gave them a writing task: to come up with an opinion piece based on the old ‘should esports be in the Olympics’ debate to get them thinking.

The students came up with some great ideas and asked some decent questions.

I definitely need to work on a few things, like projecting my voice better, but the content was there – and people seemed to enjoy it.

I have to say I was personally very impressed by the team at the University of Chichester. Former pro gamer Rams ‘r2k’ Singh has embraced the teacher role as a senior lecturer, he has a real presence in the classroom and has clearly earnt the respect and admiration of the students. Brandon Smith (pictured below, left), associate lecturer and FIFA esports commentator, is also another top addition to the team.

Team Dignitas founder and London Royal Ravens manager Michael ‘ODEE’ O’Dell has also given a talk at the university.

For me it’s great to see a university going for established talent in the esports space to teach the next generation. The esports in education space is still very new in the UK and is in its early stages, but other universities can definitely take note of Chichester’s initial movements here. We need leaders to teach those up and coming hopefuls who are the future of our industry.

Rams also gave me a tour of the facilities and showed me the gaming room, which is used by the esports students and others, bringing the wider student community at the university together.

It was great to speak with the students there and look at some of the work they’ve been doing. Real, deep analysis of matches, learning the theory behind successful esports events and plays and more. Aaron, one of the students I spoke to on the day, goes into greater detail on this at the bottom of this article.

With plans to grow the course and the number of students taking part in it, as outlined by Rams below, the future is looking bright for the university – and esports as a whole.

I came away from the day feeling rewarded to give back and help inspire the next generation of esports professionals and journalists. It’s definitely an area I will look at more closely in the future and, who knows, maybe someday I’ll be able to work as a lecturer in the future.

For now, I look forward to seeing this new generation of esports students graduate and seek employment in a couple of years’ time – that is when we will truly start to see the fruits of these new esports courses.

 

The lecturer’s perspective: ‘It’s been a whirlwind of activity’

Rams Singh, senior lecturer in esports at the University of Chichester, British Esports advisory board member and former pro gamer, spoke about the course so far and what’s next.

He said: “It’s been a whirlwind of activity down here at the new Tech Park at the University of Chichester. This first year we’ve had 20 students and they’ve enjoyed what Brandon and myself have been doing for them in this course. We’ve been to events like EGX and CDL London, we’ve brought in a few top guest speakers for the students who they would only see on streams and social media and that is just the beginning.

“This coming September we’re looking at 35 [students] as we’ve an had an incredible amount of applications. Again we’re trying to keep the quality of the classes that we put on with our 20 students currently so any higher amount of students than 35 and the quality goes. We’re going to expand to a few more rooms in the Tech Park for this and its going to be pretty exciting with the fact that we are launching Games Design this September to go along with this.

“My aim really is to give the esports industry their future workers of the scene and get them doing things right so we can have the next coaches, managers, marketers, production people etc, and also for me personally to get this teaching right, so that people who are currently in the industry will have a path to look forward to if they think about moving on.”

 

The student’s perspective: ‘I’ve learnt a lot of beneficial things’

I spoke to one student, Aaron, about his time on the course (while he was playing a match of TFT, which I probably caused him to lose… sorry Aaron!)

He said: “I’ve learnt more skills to do with esports, so every Monday we have team bonding exercises and solo play exercises, we’ll learn what we’ve done wrong and how we can improve.

“Through our coursework I’ve learnt about how brands like Adidas, DHL, HP Omen and others have got into the esports scene and supported it, the business of esports and more.

“Some of us come here wanting to play, but when you learn about things like journalism, management, branding, coaching, team play, psychology, physiology, you can start thinking about as we progress on the course, get older and learn, we might try and push ourselves out to be a coach on a team, maybe get work experience… there are a lot of things I’ve learnt here that are really beneficial.

“After this course I’m going to look into the esports scene and figure out if I can’t work for a team – which I’d love to do – maybe I’ll work at an arena, support events or join different organisations. I want to be a part of it and this course is helping me learn about all the different parts I can enjoy.

On battling people’s perceptions of esports, he added:

“When I was younger, my dad used to say: ‘I don’t care if you’re in an esports world cup final, it’s your dinner time and you’re eating it right now.’

“Then you look at people like Ninja and how much he’s earning, how much money there is in Dota 2 tournaments, at Intel Extreme Masters and so on, how much money they’re pulling in. There are prize pools in the hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars, and you start looking at those numbers. Many people wouldn’t earn that in a year or several years in their life.

“You then get an understanding of how much there is in esports and how much it’s growing. You look at the viewership numbers on FUT Champions Cups, Call of Duty League matches, CSGO tournaments, thousands and thousands of people. Once people see this growth, they start backing you a lot more. Some think we’re just playing or sitting in a classroom or with your head in your hands, but as they understand it they learn that this is something that is only going to grow.”

 

You can see more about the University of Chichester’s BA (Hons) Esports degree course here