Colleges are a hotbed for esports in America. Gaming enthusiasts share dorm floors, students have ample downtime, and communities form around registered student organizations. That said, esports is quickly growing past your average student housing hobby. Universities across the country are forming varsity esports teams to compete nationally.
That’s where the National Association of Collegiate Esports and Layne Shirley come in. Shirley educates college administrators on the benefits of starting such programs, facilitates competition and works on the frontline of regulating this new, increasingly competitive activity.
Find Your Grind: Tell us a little bit about yourself and your career journey, Layne.
Layne Shirley: I am from Council Grove, Kansas — population 2,800. This is one of those towns where you played all the sports all year round. I guess the way I got into esports is just having a love for competition playing traditional sports and having a love for gaming. The two go hand and hand.
I started really getting involved with esports in college. I played two years of college basketball at Kansas Wesleyan University. I took an early retirement and still had that competitive drive. At the time, I was the president of the Coyote Gaming Club, which started my spark of esports management. We had a bunch of students who wanted to compete, had the hardware to do so, and saw the few schools already getting involved at the varsity level. I took it upon myself to meet with the university president and athletics director to discuss what varsity esports is and how it would fit into our campus. After many meetings, we finally came to conclusion that KWU Esports would happen and that we would start the scholarship and recruiting process immediately. We then became the sixth school in history to have varsity esports.
FYG: How would you describe your job to someone who knows nothing about what you do?
LS: I pretty much do a lot of different things for my job. I wear many hats, if you will. I basically educate administration at schools on what varsity esports are and how they would benefit them as an institution. I speak on budgets, products, recruiting, retention, majors, etc. I also set up competitions for NACE and reach out to sponsors and publishers to get permission to use their IPs.
FYG: What kind of experience or degree would someone need to get a job like yours? How did you obtain that experience/degree?
LS: I can’t really answer this. I was a computer science major, and my position actually has nothing to do with my career. I obtained the experience by being self-started, believing in myself, and also working very hard. You have to volunteer and put in work where others won’t. I did tons of research and leaned on others for help. Get advice and don’t be scared to ask for help. I obtained the experience by starting the esports program at KWU, being the gaming club president, running events for students on campus to play games. Be an extrovert!
FYG: What advice would you give to kids in high school, especially kids from rural areas, who want to get into esports?
LS: I would say just find a way to get involved. Online tournaments, travel to local schools/universities to compete and ask if you can help set up. Anything you can do to get some experience will help you so, so much. Once you gain that knowledge, you can then set up your own LANs or events! In high school, I would get involved with the High School Esports League. Start a club in school and get people to be on your team’s roster and compete! Be the team captain/manager.
FYG: What kind of lifestyle does your career allow you to live? What sort of salary and work environment can people typically expect from a position or field like yours?
LS: I would say you are going to have a unique lifestyle. You’ll have the opportunity to meet a ton of really cool people who share the same interests as you. Then, your salary isn’t going to be amazing at the start. Esports is really new, and there is still the lack of experience. But it’s the type of career path where there is tons of room to grow and move up. Companies are struggling to find qualified people to fill esports roles, and that is where you come in!
FYG: What strengths, skills, or character traits do you think are most important for your position?
LS: I would say people skills, communication skills, writing, speaking, and knowing how to manage teams/event. You need to know how to speak to professionals and know how to properly brand yourself in this market if you want to make it.
FYG: What does it mean to you to Find Your Grind? Why is it important?
LS: To me, Find Your Grind means being able to find home. Working at NACE is my grind. I enjoy everything I do with passion, and I come into work every day knowing that I am going to be pioneering the growth of collegiate esports, something that has made me who I am and means a lot to me. Finding Your Grind is finding your place, your dream, your meaning. I found mine.