Aaron Kapiko is the latest in a stream of former professional players to enter the realm of collegiate esports. Originally a Top 25 caliber Hearthstone player, Kapiko signed with Blinn College in June 2020 to become their Head Coach of Esports after Kapiko earned a coaching certification from the National Association of Esports Coaches and Directors (NAECAD).
The NAECAD interviewed Kapiko to discuss the current state of his program, the culture he’s establishing there, how his pro career impacted his coaching and his NAECAD coaching certification.
Although Kapiko is heading a relatively new program, he has already led Blinn to impressive results in several esports titles. This includes having a national Top 10 caliber Valorant team and two semifinal placements in that game and Rocket League within NACE and NJCAA.
With recruits and an improved facility on the way due to Blinn's success, Kapiko is eager to surpass that for next season.
"I'd say that the current state for us is a lot of success, but we're still hungry for more and to keep growing," said Kapiko. "We've had a lot of great support from the school and it is very excited about the results we've had, so we're looking forward to what we can continue to accomplish in the future."
When it came to establishing a culture for the school, Kapiko wasted little time to describe what he's looking to emphasize. To construct a healthy environment at Blinn College, he wants to promote inclusivity and diversity.
"We want to establish a culture that is accepting of everyone. We want everybody to feel involved," said Kapiko.
Additionally, Kapiko is aiming to create opportunities for students that aren't solely interested in the competitive side of esports.
"I feel like esports is a place where even if you're not the most competitive person, you can find wherever your niche may be. One of my biggest personal goals has been to make everyone feel like they can find their place in esports however long that may be."
At the same time, Kapiko is aware of the negative traits currently inhabiting gaming and esports. Toxicity and negative behavior can discourage players from gaming, so Kapiko is adamant that won't thrive under his watch.
"We're not gonna allow [toxicity] in the program. It's just not something we're about here," said Kapiko. "It's okay to get frustrated but there's a time and a place and a way to handle things when there is that level of frustration."
Although Kapiko built a professional career as a Hearthstone player, he also has an emotional affinity for coaching. Shortly after graduating from high school and entering college, he coached wrestling for another school. At that time, he developed an adoration for teaching people how to improve in their field. Kapiko faced little issue translating his knowledge of competition to coaching.
As someone who understands the difficulties of being a player, Kapiko has applied what he has learned to Blinn College Esports.
"Being a coach, my biggest goal is to be able to put students where they want to be," said Kapiko. "Whatever that goal is for them, I want to help them get there in any way that I can.
"Whether that's using the connections I made as a professional player to reach out and put people in a good position, helping students find internships in esports, helping students just achieve whatever goal they have, I want to help them get there."
As a former professional player, Kapiko knew virtually nothing about collegiate esports. But by receiving his coaching certification from NAECAD, he gained his footing and adequately learned how to be the leader of a program. There's so much a player can do by themselves, but with NAECAD's help, they can continue working in esports well beyond their retirement.
"I didn't have a lot of connections as far as collegiate esports went and NAECAD gave me an opportunity to develop my skills as a director. It went as far as recruiting, budgeting, how to work in higher education, and also with just making connections," said Kapiko.
"I've had a lot of improvement in myself as a director and coach since my introduction to NAECAD. I have an abundance of experience in esports and I can translate that into being a good fit in terms of the collegiate esports space as well."