This summer, US Sports Camps and The College of William & Mary have teamed up to launch a new STEM & SCRIM summer camp dedicated to the rapidly growing world of esports. Through the W&M Academic & Applied Esports Program — held on the William & Mary campus in Williamsburg, Va. — campers will develop competitive gaming skills while exploring valuable topics like coding, leadership and healthy gaming habits.
Under the directorship of Dr. Michele King — who is a professor, ludologist (one who studies games) and representative for the Electronic Gaming Federation — the university has emerged as a leader in the field. King will run the camp this summer, bringing with her a passion for student development and empowerment.”
“We are proud to introduce teen gamers to the esports of William & Mary,” says Charlie Freund, Partnership Director for Youth Enrichment Brands at US Sports Camps. “The college has embraced this new media and entertainment industry in full force. Dr. King brings the topics and experts to this camp that will not just make better gamers, but better people.
Where did the idea for this whole not the camp, just the program actually come from?
MICHELE KING: A little over two years ago, there was this idea: Let’s tap into something that has already been thriving underground with the students. It was gaming and esports. There was a university teaching learning project that myself and a couple of colleagues started to explore. We put interest surveys around campus and we had an explosion of a response, more than 300 people responded. We said, “Okay, we’ve got something. Something’s going on here.” And then we said, “Okay, how can we harvest this energy and really develop it into an organized program.” That’s when we came up with the academic and applied esports program.
On the academic side, we’re building out a minor in esports. We’re going to have different tracks into the industry. On the applied side are our competitive gamers. We’re a Division One university, so we are members of EGF, which is the Electronic Gaming Federation. We compete with other division one schools.
We are the academic and applied side and the Foundation that we have is wellness and community.
Not everyone is going to be a professional gamer. How else can they get into the industry whether it’s business, marketing, or computer science?
We saw that it’s not only at William and Mary, but it’s in high schools, and Middle schools. We’re saying, “Well, we have a great esports community here. Let’s reach out to the middle schools. And high schools welcome them to the William and Mary Esports program.”
We came up with the camp. It was great timing because we already have a relationship with [U.S.] sports camps with other programs, and they recently added the esports division.
How has the reaction been to the camp so far?
MICHELE KING: So far? It’s phenomenal. People are like STEM and SCRIM what a great name. Plus, with U.S. sports camps being STEM accredited that drew us even more to partnering with the relationship we were to have with them. We’re reaching out and we’re getting ready to do a bigger push right now with the registration. It’s been a wonderful response of “Wow, you’ve got world renowned faculty. Because of the way the campus is set up, in the morning they will have sessions on different topics. Then in the afternoon they get to scrimmage against each other. Then we’re also going to have some of our varsity players or esports varsity players come in and scrimmage against them as well. It will also include coaching and things like that.
What kind of topics will be involved because the whole field is very interdisciplinary, right? There are a lot of angles that can come into this.
MICHELE KING: Yeah, absolutely. You hit the nail on the head when you said interdisciplinary. We have a faculty member, Head of Marketing over at business school, who will come in and talk about the business of esports marketing, branding and esports analytics. We also have a professor from Arts and Sciences, who will be teaching about communication leadership skills.
We also have a world renowned Dr. Kelly Crace from our Wellness Center. He will be talking about skill sets that you need to flourish as a gamer, to handle the stress and the conflict and those items that come up.
We also have a professor from our computer science department. He double majored in computer science and mathematics. He worked for NASA as a computer engineer, but his specialty… What he really likes to focus on is parallel rendering. Now this was a little over my head, but that’s okay. Parallel rendering and virtual reality. His big thing is digital production. He’s done computer animation for the gaming industry.
So basically, a day will consist of morning sessions which are more academic in nature. And then in the afternoon the gameplay is like lab and practical? They’re essentially getting into it and dealing with their “product” right.
Now for the camp and the program, what was development like? I mean, how do you go about putting together because it’s new, right? Also, was the notion of an esports camp and program accepted across the board, right? There must have been skeptics.
MICHELE KING: With our background and putting together curriculum and curriculum design, we already know how to do some of those things. We said, “Okay, I’m a parent. I have a 18 year old who is a gamer, and I love that he games. I encourage it. I see the value. Some see it as just a pastime but, oh my goodness, there are just so many skill sets that come from gaming.
So how do we harness this and help?
Parents are those who are skeptical or maybe not even know the value of it? Instead of students staying at home in the summer, they’re gonna play video games, bring them to camp. We will structure it and say look at the different areas that you can go into. How do we look at that? We look at it as “What would someone want to learn?” There’s so many pipelines into the industry. There are going to be some who want to do computer science. We have some students at William and Mary, for example, they’re majoring in psychology and they want to be sports psychologists. This is great, right?
Then others who want to go into the business aspect. You’ve got the marketing, got the sports and esports analytics. It appeals to many people on many levels. I think parents are starting – especially the high school, faculty and administrators – to see the value of it, because clubs are popping up everywhere across campus.
What games will be included in the camp?
Right now we’re still exploring the final titles that we’re going to do, but some popular ones are Smash. We also have Rocket League. FIFA and League of Legends is very, very popular as well, but we’re trying to look at the timeframe and everything and spitting all of that in there and what the students want and what the campers want.
There are STEM aspects involved. Can you just discuss sort of the stem aspects that are involved in the program and in gaming in general, because I I’d really like to go into the value of gaming. There are still so many people who aren’t sold on it, and see it as a waste of time. Or they see it as they see it from the addiction end, as opposed to, the community-forming end.
MICHELE KING: As with anything, there can be that addiction element. But going back to your question about STEM, we look at the technology behind it, the engineering and the math and all of that. Again, not everyone’s going to go into that type of pipeline. We’ve got some people who are going to go into casting in production.
We provide professors who are in the industry who can show the students and campers that they can have a lucrative career in the gaming industry. Parents would be happy with that. Going into game design, going into digital production with the games we come up with and testing them computer animation. We’re also looking at music conservatories for that aspect. Minecraft for me, I don’t know about you, but that music, that soundtrack. I love it. It’s very soothing.
CHARLES FREUND: Gaming requires so much engineering thinking, trial and error, and doing mathematical thinking. For example, when you are playing League of Legends, you’re doing so many calculations: is it worthwhile to have +20 ability power or an increase of 10% ability power. You are making decisions in the moment when you’re purchasing these items as accumulated. And of course, using technology is important. For example, having the need to actually figure out “How does Discord work? How does this work? How do I connect? How do I set up a multiplayer game?” On top of that, in 2014, there was a study that showed video gamers are way more likely to enter STEM fields.
Wellness is a big part of this program. Can you discuss that in terms of the sense of community that can be fostered through gaming?
MICHELE KING: On development day (October of last year), we had eight titles. We have 63 varsity players and when you’re within your title, you have that sub-community going on. I wanted them to know all the other titles and gamers and so we had a big development day. They all came together. We were also able to get the President of the University, the Provost of the University and the Vice Provost of the University to show up on a Saturday morning. That’s impressive.
What was even more impressive was that I had 63 gamers show up on a Saturday morning. That right there shows that they love this. There’s a passion and a drive behind the program. It’s also a reflection of how the President sees this as a necessity on our campus.
There’s a self-care element involved. We have a concept called Community Care. We look out for each other. It’s such a strong pillar of ours that we have created as esports pioneers. I call them EP pioneers, because they’re pioneering this landscape. What we’ve done is we’ve taken those students who are interested in wellness – they may not be gamers or just casual gamers – but we put an esports lens to it and what they’ve done is they’ve gone through the Wellness Center at William and Mary, and every week they’re taking a course and they’re being trained. Each Wellness Advocate is assigned a title. So there’s a Wellness Advocate for League of Legends, another Wellness Advocate for our Rocket League team and so on. What they do is they go in and it’s not “Oh, it’s an intervention and let’s see what’s right now”… It’s “What are you doing well? How can we support you? What tools do you need to continue to thrive?”
Something that we found out is they wanted more social events. It’s one thing when you hear each other on Discord and then you see each other on campus and especially when you see their gamer tag. You see the tags on campus and you’re like, “Oh, hey, there you go.” It pulls that community together.
What they have to do is they do social events with partners with another title. I know one social event coming up. They’re playing basketball at a rec center. That’s going to be with our Valorant team and our Overwatch team. They’re going to get together and do it. So building that community is very important. I mean, yes, you have it online but also getting together on campus is important.
What is your ultimate goal for this? Where do you have an imperfect world? What’s the end product of this?
MICHELE KING: If I had a magic wand, we would have an esports arena at William and Mary. We would host nationals. We would have watch parties for all these different titles we would bring in. I mean, Williamsburg, is a wonderful tourist attraction in and of itself, but to bring in people for Esports that would be wonderful. So a huge facility, growing the esports community that we have at William and Mary. We have more than 500 students who are actively involved in our esports community. That’s what I would love to see that on the community side. On the academic side, I would love to see a major.
Can you discuss the importance of play in the development of people?
MICHELE KING: To me, that’s where you can learn more about a person in one hour of play than a year of conversation. I wholeheartedly believe that. I bring games into my classroom. I teach public speaking. I bring games into my classroom. When we start to play games, I see them really get animated and their vocal variety and different delivery elements pop up. I’m like, right there. I want to see that in your presentation.
Play gives you permission, in a way. It gives you permission to be silly. It gives you permission to not be focused on that but in a different way. approach something differently. Play is embedded in us.
You walk into anybody’s house, I guarantee and I’m the OG gamer board gamer. analog version, right? You walk into anybody’s house, you will find a board game board and I go into thrift stores, garage sales, I don’t always find a board game. They’re there. They’re everywhere. So play is everywhere. So why not tap into that? What’s happened to that and with this digital realm of esports going on that’s why I bring that into it as well.
CHARLES FREUND: One of my mantras has always been you play the way you live. That’s what I tell kids. Whether it comes to cheating or stealing or sportsmanship, all of that I’ve taught to many kids while playing. We’re mammals; we’re primates. We would be out there in the forest playing games and learning how to interact and practice these skills.