NAECAD Interview: Ashley Hodge, Dodge County Esports

February 1, 2022

Teacher, content creator, editor, coach, and advisor. Although many work in these occupations individually, few have managed to cover them all simultaneously. Only the most devoted and diligent people are able to do so, much to the amazement of spectators.

Among those heralded for their versatility is Ashley Hodge, the current head coach for the Dodge County Esports (DCE) program. Since joining the program, she has helped DCE become one of the most respected programs in the state of Georgia.

The National Association of Esports Coaches and Directors (NAECAD) interviewed Hodge to discuss DCE’s current state and how it began. She also discussed how the DCE has impacted its surrounding community and provided advice to those looking to start a program of their own.

What is the current state of Dodge County Esports?

Ashley Hodge: “The current state is we're growing big and we're growing fast. I took over this program last year and I think there were maybe about 10 kids in it and since then we have grown to about 45. When I got there, they really focused on just a couple of games because that was all that was available at the time. Those were League of Legends, Smite, and Rocket League.

I also teach audio and film so what I did was I started making hype videos of the students actually playing the games and I would release them to our YouTube page. The kids and all the classes would see it and that kind of made them want to sign up. Then we got some new games added. Right now, we also offer Rocket League, League of Legends, Smite, Madden, FIFA, Super Smash Bros., Splatoon 2, Hearthstone, and Super Mario Kart.”

How has the esports program impacted the students and the community?

Ashley Hodge: “I think it gives a certain group of students the ability to feel they're part of a community. That's because there are some students who will not do extracurricular activities for a variety of reasons. They might not be physically able to play a sport or they just don't really fit in with a traditional sport culture, so esports really reaches a broad and diverse group of kids.

“Esports is really for everybody. Males and females can play together so it's one of the few sports that can do that. I've had parents come and tell me, 'My kids are more sociable now. They engage with people more.' It teaches them very important skills.”

What was the process to get Dodge County Esports started?

Ashley Hodge: “The program had already started when I got there, but prior to taking over Dodge County Esports, I actually built an esports program at Colquitt County and that was the largest esports program in Georgia. I think the process of building a program is very similar to any other program in Georgia.

“You first have to get approval so that you can go to your AD. They would then go to the Board of Education. You would be interviewed by the Board of Education about why you should have it, why you're the coach for it, and it would get approved. After that, I would recommend having a parent night where you could talk to parents, address their concerns that they may have about video games, and then have some meetings to fundraise for a little bit and try to get some local sponsors. That’s how I did it and that's kind of how I did it again at Dodge County.”

What advice do you have for other school districts looking to start an esports program?

Ashley Hodge: “I would highly recommend it. I know that a lot of coaches, admins, and schools might be very hesitant to start esports because of the negative stigma around video games and first-person shooters. All of the games that we play are approved by our parent organization first, so parents don't have to worry about super violent games.

“You don't have to be a gamer to coach. You just have to be there for the kids. It really does open a wide array of opportunities for them. They could go to college to not just play but build a career in computer science, broadcasting, or video editing. It just opens up a crazy career path. You might be scared and it can be overwhelming, but it's definitely worth it.”

Podcast Plug

You can check Ashley Hodge and her co-host Wil Nix out and learn more about the work they are doing at The Esports Report. 

Youtube link

Apple Podcast link

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