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Christian Konczal, Director of Esports at Champlain College — Interview Series

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It's one thing to gel with four or five like-minded Esports enthusiasts for the sake of securing a string of consecutive victories in a surprisingly cutthroat industry, but to teach, mold, and evolve a collective to be able to tackle unfathomable trials is a goal only some can afford to accomplish. Take Champlain College, for example; Christian Konczal, the acting Director of Esports at the Vermont-based university, is one of the few who has the rare power to shape such minds and elevate a curriculum that's both relevant and impenetrable.

To get a clearer understanding of what it takes to not only be an esports coach, but to grasp a foothold in the ever-evolving workspace, we thought we'd pick at Christian's brains for a short while.

Thanks for taking the time to speak with us, Christian. Tell us a bit about yourself. How did it all start for you?

Christian: Thank you for having me! My journey into collegiate esports is intertwined with my love for gaming and traditional sports. Like pretty much everyone in the field, growing up I was immersed in video games, spending countless hours playing on the latest Nintendo console. But parallel to my gaming, I was actively involved in traditional athletics throughout my early schooling, if there was a sport offered my parents signed me up for it. During my high school and college years, I developed a particular love for Rugby, which definitely helped instill within me a sense of teamwork, discipline, and the thrill of competition. However, a wrist injury sidelined me from the sport I loved, forcing me to reconsider my involvement in physical competition. Despite the setback, this period of my life was pivotal as it marked a transition towards taking gaming competitions more seriously. Unfortunately, the same injury that ended my rugby career also posed challenges for extended gaming sessions, further shaping my future path within the esports arena.

During this time, my younger brother became deeply involved in fighting game competitions. Following the loss of our parents, we leaned on the esports community for support, and I began accompanying him to events and tournaments across the country. While I didn't compete due to my injury—and let’s face it, skill level—I became increasingly interested in the organizational side of esports – managing, planning, and bringing competitions to life. This aspect of esports resonated with me, highlighting the potential for building supportive, inclusive communities through shared passions, experiences, and love for competition.

The camaraderie and solidarity we found within the esports community played a crucial role in our healing process, revealing the profound impact this space can have on individuals facing personal adversities. This realization cemented my desire to pursue a career in esports, leading me to further my education with a master's degree while continuing to volunteer at various esports events.

As esports began to gain recognition within the collegiate landscape, I saw an opportunity to contribute to and expand a community that had offered me so much support and a sense of belonging. My experiences as a competitor in traditional sports, coupled with my personal journey through loss and recovery within the gaming community, have provided me with unique insights into the transformative power of collegiate esports. It's this power – to unite, inspire, and support – that drives my commitment to nurturing and growing this community, ensuring it remains a welcoming, inclusive space for all who find comfort and identity within it.

So tell us — why Esports? What was it that drove you to plant roots in this particular field of the gaming industry?

Christian: Esports represents a fusion of my personal passions and professional aspirations, primarily because of its unique community dynamics. The essence of esports is not just found in the games themselves but in the people who come together to play, celebrate, and support one another. This sense of community is what initially drew me to the industry and continues to fuel my dedication to the field. I think a large part of it was the surprising juxtaposition of the behaviors you would find in the game vs out of the game. Toxicity is very prevalent in the space when everyone is anonymous and your lobbies are filled with random people, (for comparison, imagine playing a pick-up game with the YouTube comment section), but in person, it was much more like what I had experienced in traditional athletics. That’s the aspect of competitive gaming I am hoping to promote and help flourish.

The supportive nature of the esports community is truly remarkable. Throughout my journey, from dealing with personal challenges to pursuing professional growth, I've consistently encountered individuals and groups within esports who are eager to uplift one another. Whether it's offering advice, sharing resources, or simply providing a listening ear, this community stands out as a space where everyone, regardless of their background or even skill level, can find belonging and acceptance.

Moreover, the inclusivity of esports is another compelling aspect to me. It breaks down traditional barriers of entry found in physical sports, such as physical abilities, gender, or geographic location. In esports, what matters most is your drive, teamwork, and dedication to improvement. This level playing field allows for a diversity of players and participants, enriching the community with a wide range of perspectives and experiences. Friends I couldn’t play rugby with I could play video games with, and even though I couldn’t compete with them on a team back then, I am actively contributing to a space where that would’ve been a possibility.

Tell us about your role as Director of Esports at Champlain College. What does this position entail, and what have you implemented into the program since joining the staff?

Christian: In my role as Director of Esports at Champlain College, I am responsible for the stewardship and expansion of our esports community. This encompasses overseeing the welfare and progression of our teams competing each semester, as well as serving as the primary advocate for competitive gaming both on our campus and within the broader community. I also act as a liaison between our community and various organizations to forge partnerships that create collaborative opportunities for our students.

At the heart of Champlain College's ethos is a commitment to career preparedness—a principle I strive to embed within our esports program. Recognizing the challenges I faced in my early career, like unpaid volunteer work, I am focused on constructing a framework that offers structured learning opportunities for our students. This approach not only enriches their college experience but also equips them with valuable, practical skills in fields adjacent to competitive gaming such as broadcasting, social media management, content creation, community management, and event programming, among others.

Since joining Champlain College, I have spearheaded several key initiatives to elevate our esports program:

  • For the first time in over two decades, Champlain now boasts varsity esports teams. We acknowledge and reward the dedication of our players, managers, and student coaches by offering scholarships, underscoring the value we place on esports as a legitimate and integral component of our athletic and academic offerings.
  • I designed an open esports facility that is accessible to all students, regardless of their team affiliation or even interest in competition at all. This inclusive approach ensures that every student has the opportunity to engage with our community, fostering a vibrant gaming culture that allows our students to flourish. 
  • Our program employs around two dozen student workers, allowing them to apply classroom theories to real-world scenarios. From graphic designers crafting social media content to communications majors producing live streams, and marketing students managing our online presence. Our goal is to offer professional development opportunities that emulate the environment of a professional organization and prepare students for their future careers. 
  • Recognizing the growing demand for formal education in esports, I have been helping design an Esports Management degree for Champlain College Online. This initiative reflects our commitment to providing comprehensive academic pathways that align with industry needs and student interests.

Through these efforts, we hope to cultivate a competitive esports ecosystem and a nurturing community where students can grow academically, professionally, and personally.

And what advice would you give to someone who's currently looking to get a foot in the Esports industry?

Christian: For anyone looking to make their mark in the esports industry, I can't stress enough how opportune the moment is. The landscape of esports today is vastly different from what it was even a few years ago, offering newcomers a multitude of paths to establish themselves.

First and foremost, the expansion of collegiate esports has opened doors to scholarships, internships, work-study positions, and graduate assistant positions. These opportunities provide not only financial support but also invaluable hands-on experience in the field. Unlike in the past, where getting involved often meant volunteering at local events with little to no compensation, today's aspiring esports professionals can gain practical experience while also advancing their education and career prospects.

Moreover, some players in the academic world have embraced esports with open arms, offering dedicated degrees and concentrations in esports management. These programs are designed to equip students with the knowledge and skills necessary to navigate the industry's multifaceted landscape, covering everything from event planning and team management to marketing and legal considerations. For those of us who were early to the scene, such specialized education was unattainable during our undergrad years.

Beyond formal education and internships, the esports industry is ripe with avenues for self-initiated growth and learning. Engage with the community through social media platforms, streaming services, and various Discord servers. Networking is key in this industry, and many professionals are open to sharing insights and advice. Attend esports events not just as spectators but with the intention of learning and connecting. Many events offer panels, workshops, and networking sessions specifically designed for those looking to break into the industry.

Furthermore, creativity and innovation are highly valued in esports. Don’t be afraid to start your own projects or initiatives, whether that's organizing local tournaments, creating content, or developing tools and solutions for gamers and teams. These projects not only showcase your passion and skills but also contribute to the community and industry at large.

Lastly and in some ways most importantly, maintain a learner’s mindset. Esports is an ever-evolving field, with new technologies, games, and community dynamics constantly emerging. Staying informed and adaptable is crucial for anyone aspiring to make a long-term career in esports.

So tell us, what are the core values that define a successful Esports team?

Christian: In my experience, the core values that underpin a successful esports team mirror those found in traditional sports teams and even effective workgroups in the office. The foundational elements of drive, discipline, resiliency, and adopting a growth-oriented mindset are universal in cultivating an environment where success is not just possible but expected.

Discipline plays a critical role in maintaining consistency and focus. It's about adhering to strategies and being committed to your role within the team despite the inevitable obstacles you will face. Discipline ensures that even when the initial excitement wanes or when faced with setbacks, the team remains steadfast in its pursuit of excellence. Resiliency is essential in an industry as dynamic and competitive as esports. Teams will inevitably face losses, meta-shifts, and other challenges. The ability to bounce back from defeat, learn from mistakes, and maintain a positive outlook is what sets successful teams apart. It's about fostering a culture where challenges are viewed as opportunities for growth rather than insurmountable obstacles. And lastly, a Growth-Oriented Mindset encourages continuous learning and adaptation. In esports, where game mechanics, strategies, and competitive landscapes evolve rapidly, staying open to learning and improvement is crucial. Teams that succeed are those that regularly review their performance, seek feedback, and are willing to make changes to their approach.

Again, there is nothing so unique about our form of competition that the elements that make us successful would be foreign to any other successful team. Esports is simply another vehicle to promote human growth and achievement, it is a lens that focuses passion into excellence.

As for the future of Champlain College — what can we expect to see over the coming months? Are you working on bringing any new ideas to the classroom this academic year?

Christian: As I look ahead to the future of the esports program at Champlain College, our vision is rooted in continuous improvement, expansion, and the pursuit of excellence. The coming months are set to be an exciting period of development and innovation, with several key initiatives already in the pipeline.

One of our primary objectives is to deepen our engagement with the broader esports ecosystem. This means expanding our network of partnerships with industry leaders, gaming companies, and other collegiate esports programs. These collaborations will open up new opportunities for our students, including internships, guest lectures, and collaborative events that provide insights into the professional world of esports.

In terms of competitive play, we are focused on broadening our repertoire of games and increasing our presence in national competitions. By diversifying the games our teams compete in, (like SimRacing, our latest competitive initiative), we aim to attract a broader range of talent to our program and offer more students the chance to participate in esports at a high level. 

Furthermore, we are committed to fostering a more inclusive and diverse esports community at Champlain College. Initiatives aimed at increasing participation among underrepresented groups in gaming are in development, with a focus on creating a welcoming environment for all students, regardless of their background or level of experience in esports. 

Exciting times! Any final words for our readers?

Christian: Whether you're a student exploring the burgeoning world of esports, a seasoned professional considering a pivot into this dynamic field, or simply an enthusiast curious about the impact of competitive gaming, know that the landscape is rich with opportunity. At Champlain College, we stand at the forefront of this exciting industry, not just as participants, but as innovators and educators shaping the future of esports.

Our journey so far has been marked by remarkable growth, community building, and the relentless pursuit of excellence. Looking ahead, our commitment to expanding the horizons of esports education, competition, and community engagement remains strong. It is an incredibly exciting time to be a gamer, on or off our campus!

I appreciate your interest and support of Champlain College's esports program. The future is bright, and we are just getting started!

Thanks again, Christian. We wish you and the folks of Champlain College all the best for future tournaments!

If you’re interested in keeping tabs on Champlain College, as well as its ever-growing Esports program, then be sure to check in with the team over on their website here.

Jord is acting Team Leader at If he isn't blabbering on in his daily listicles, then he's probably out writing fantasy novels or scraping Game Pass of all its slept on indies.