Develop a strong mindset of self-improvement. No matter where you find yourself in esports, identifying ways to improve your skills and developing a learning mindset will allow you to constantly grow in and out of game.
The eSports market size is now more than a billion dollars. Teens and even children as young as 6 can now earn hundreds of thousands of dollars competing in eSports. What does one have to do to succeed as a player in eSports? What are the challenges and opportunities that pro gamers face? What does the eSports lifestyle look like? How is it similar to traditional athletics, and how is it different?
In this interview series, called 5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career In eSports, we are interviewing professional gamers, eSports coaches, esports tournament organizers, and executives from gaming companies who share lessons from their experience about the “5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career In eSports.”
As part of this series, we had the pleasure to interview Timothy Fowler, Director of Esports at Southern New Hampshire University.
Timothy Fowler is the director of esports at Southern New Hampshire University where he runs teams for League of Legends, Overwatch, Rocket League, Valorant, and Super Smash Bros. He graduated from Randolph College in 2013 with a degree in philosophy and spent his early career in the IT field. Now, he spends his days at SNHU focused on his students and staff, and when he isn’t working, Fowler spends his free time chasing his dogs around the house.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to ‘get to know you’. Can you tell us a bit about your background and your backstory?
I’ve always been a competitive player in games, starting with traditional sports throughout school and transitioning from lacrosse to StarCraft II in college. I founded the school’s first competitive gaming team (what esports was called before esports) there in 2011 and fell in love with digital competition. After graduation, I started my career at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) in the IT department. In 2016, when the first scholarship for competitive gaming was given, I realized that the university had students interested in esports and built the varsity esports program. From there, we’ve grown to five staff members and around 50 players competing nationally across all titles. I’ve had the great fortune of designing an esports arena on campus that we’re excited to open in fall 2021.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this particular career path?
I’d love to say that I had always planned to do something like this as it is truly a dream job, but the pieces sort of just fell together. I had a background in competitive gaming and the IT experience to make it work at scale at SNHU. When I saw that collegiate gaming was gaining ground across the country, it seemed like a no-brainer to explore what our community was like on campus. I was lucky to find students already competing in esports and was able to support them by building the infrastructure for a program.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you first started? What lesson did you take out of that?
It came just after my first year. I was the only staff member dedicated to esports and despite having gone to college, was still new to the way that term structures and scheduling worked from a staff perspective. Our teams were still competing until the middle of the month, and the next thing I knew, commencement was happening. It took me completely by surprise because I was so busy keeping up with teams and handling ordering, scholarships, and sponsorships that I hadn’t realized the end of the year was already upon us. I hadn’t planned any “going away” or year-end activities and made my best effort to pull them together last minute. It helped me to realize how important those ceremonies and acknowledgements are and to make sure to take time to prioritize them. Thankfully, that year we only had a couple of seniors, so I was able to take the time to acknowledge them as founders of the program and appreciate the hard work they had put into the first year.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?
Not necessarily a quote but more a mantra: “Look inward.” Particularly in competitive team games, it is too easy to fall into the trap of finding excuses or blaming others for a loss or failed play. I think it is extremely important to recognize one’s own failures or shortcomings and work to better those. I do everything in my power to review or reflect on how I handled situations and try to come up with heuristic solutions that I can employ in the future.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting new projects you are working on now?
Building the SNHU esports arena on campus has been one of the greatest professional projects I’ve had the opportunity to work on. We considered so many different perspectives that informed the way that the space needed to be laid out to support our players and students most successfully. One of my requirements for the space was that it be free to use for all students during open hours to promote inclusivity. We also made sure to build it in such a way that we could support a content creation team to give students experience in producing video content in esports. I can’t wait until it opens this fall and our community finally has a physical home. Until now, we’ve been operating almost exclusively digitally.
What would you tell a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your career? What advice would you give?
Develop a specialized skill that is important to the industry while gaining a general understanding of it. In my case, I always had a passion for esports and competitive gaming but spent the early part of my professional career honing my information technology knowledge. When the opportunity arose, I was able to marry the two skills. If you’re an artist, you can focus your studies on graphic design or video production and apply those skills to the esports industry.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Raising money for charities has become an incredible way for the gaming community to give back to the world. Organizations, like Games Done Quick, and content creators, like DrLupo, have raised an unreal amount of money for important institutions because of contributions from their communities that have grown from platforms, like Twitch and YouTube, and their focus on gaming content. We’ve done a few SNHU esports charity events to help local institutions, and I hope to continue those efforts as much as possible.
The truth is that none of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person that made a profound difference in your life to whom you are grateful? Can you share a story?
My supervisor, Heather Lorenz (our then dean of students), has been incredibly helpful in helping me bring esports to SNHU. When I first spoke to her about esports, I expected a need to convince the administration of the school that esports was a worthwhile and important endeavor. I was surprised to find that they didn’t want to hear if we should have esports, but rather how we should implement and operate a program. From that moment, she has been an incredible advocate and supporter of our program, and it wouldn’t exist without her.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Many of our readers may be familiar with gaming, but they haven’t been exposed to the culture of professional gaming. What does the eSports lifestyle look like? What is life like for a professional gamer?
I’ll focus a bit more on collegiate as that is where my expertise is. For the most part, it is similar to being a traditional athlete on campus. Compared to the professional scene, our students need to juggle practice and competition with academics and the rest of college life. Typically, our players spend their days in classes and their afternoons/evenings in practice. We do replay/VOD reviews, individual coaching sessions, and in-game practices where we implement the strategies that we’ve prepared. Probably the most fun aspect of competition is LAN events. Mostly we play online, but when we get to go to LAN and meet all of the other teams and players in person, it’s an extremely fun time.
What are the unique opportunities that pro gamers have?
My direct experience has been with esports athletes who have the unique opportunity to grow their personal brand on different platforms. Depending on team contract restrictions, players can stream in their downtime to bring in additional income and connect directly with their fans. This can not only give players more notoriety but also allows them to develop a fallback after their retirement.
What are the unique challenges that pro gamers face?
Burnout is common in gaming. They can play every hour of every day and practice/scrimmage sessions can go extremely long. In a lot of games, practicing a particular character sometimes needs to happen on personal practice time rather than team practice time. In collegiate, we try to make the most of our practice time so that our students don’t need to dedicate additional time outside of practice. Balancing that extra time with homework can lead to that burnout, so we’re always mindful of that.
How is professional gaming similar to traditional athletics? Can you explain with a story or an example? How is it different? Can you explain with a story or example?
Teamwork is paramount in both traditional athletics and esports. Trips to events are one of the most obvious examples of this. Our League of Legends team went to LAN in Manhattan for a championship a few years ago, and the trip reminded me of the team trips I would go on to far-off schools while I played lacrosse. Even though the playing field is different, the team dynamics and out-of-game interactions are the same.
Other than the obvious digital-versus-physical difference, the shifting nature of the games that we play is probably the greatest difference. Game developers make updates and release balance patches on a frequent basis and teams/players constantly need to adapt to the changes made. A meta shift as a result of an update could completely invalidate previous strategies that the team employs. While rule changes do happen in traditional sports, they generally don’t change the basic landscape of the game. In esports, that can happen, and it does happen frequently.
With traditional sports, young people get recruited by talent scouts who work for professional teams. Is it similar with eSports?
From the collegiate perspective, yes, it is extremely similar. Our coaches are attending recruitment camps and combines to find high school students with talent who are interested in pursuing their academic goals. In addition, we’re working on getting our veteran players in front of professional scouts for an opportunity to play in the pro scene.
If a young person reading this wants to become a professional, paid gamer on an eSports team,, where do they start? What are the steps they need to take to get picked up by a team?
It can be slightly different depending on which game they’re interested in, but generally the starting point is to climb the ranked ladder. One of best pieces of advice I learned from my early days in StarCraft II is the importance of looking back on replays from your previous games. Identifying mistakes and finding strategies to implement in future games can help to increase your rank more than moving your mouse more quickly will. Once you’ve climbed and have some experience, find a team interested in competing in some of the bigger tournaments or T2/T3 leagues such as Proving Grounds or Contenders.
Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. Can you please share “5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career In eSports”? If you can, kindly share a story or example for each.
1. Develop a strong mindset of self-improvement. No matter where you find yourself in esports, identifying ways to improve your skills and developing a learning mindset will allow you to constantly grow in and out of game.
2. Choose your path in the industry. While it may seem like the esports industry is all about playing games at a high level, there are hundreds of jobs that don’t involve playing a game. You could practice law with a focus in esports, do commentary for esports matches, or handle the IT infrastructure required for tournaments and leagues.
3. Join a community. Solo Queue is a great place to hone your skills, but having others to bounce ideas off of or discuss matchups can bring diverse perspectives and benefit you greatly.
4. Be open to change. As I mentioned earlier with shifting metas, games and the esports industry can change in the blink of an eye. Make sure you’re adept at recognizing and adapting to the things that are happening.
5. Share your love of games with everyone. No matter where you come from, we all have a common love of games in this industry. Make sure to welcome everyone into the community and recognize how similar we all are.
Wonderful. We are nearly done. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
For all the amazing advice he’s given me surrounding running a program and building an arena, I think I owe Doc Haskell (Dr. Chris Haskell of Boise State University, national esports coach of the year in 2019–2020) a lunch. Next LAN it’s on me, Doc.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
This is where I get to highlight our students’ work! Follow us on Twitter, @esportssnhu, and on Twitch at SNHU Esports. We often highlight new announcements about the program, including the fall 2021 opening of the SNHU esports arena on the SNHU website.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success in your great work!