The University of New Haven in Connecticut fielded its first esports team this past fall and named Corey “flashstep” Parks Director of Esports & Head Coach. As a former pro Counter-Strike player and collegiate team coach, Parks has inside knowledge of the challenges that students will face as well as opportunities they can harness to succeed in the esports industry.
NAECAD sat down with Parks to see how things are going.
NAECAD: Can you tell us about the current state of esports at the University of New Haven?
Corey Parks: Right now, I think we’re a real frontrunner in the space — I might be a little biased, I know — but we took an approach to esports that’s anchored in academics, specifically on the business side. We’ve always had video game design and the creative aspect of casual video games, but esports is anchored in business, right? Tech companies eyeball competition and that’s where the whole ecosystem kind of started.
We have degrees for esports at this point and that’s a whole rabbit hole I could go down. From my background, being professional in the scene, it comes down to leveraging the varsity program as more than just a club — more than going back to your dorm and playing with friends. You can do that at any college anywhere, but this is team building, critical thinking, the intangibles that you’re not going to get anywhere else. We’re a team and we’re trying to breach those stigmas of being 40 years old, playing video games in your mom’s basement.
Obviously, we prioritize education every single time. But if someone really loves what they’re doing within the team or the game they’re playing, they’ll learn time management so they can do it all.
NAECAD: How are you building a culture and standards for your program?
Corey Parks: I think culture is everything. Collegiate esports is brand new, so you want to mimic what the pro teams have done to skip those pain points. It always comes back to culture and what you do with team interactions. Everybody will get good when it comes to the meta or the mechanical skill of a game. But if you don’t have a strong culture that supports some of the intangibles I talked about before, there are so many things that activate in esports that you don’t see anywhere else.
A good story I have about the other program I created: I had your typical nerd (I can say that because I’m a nerd, too) come in who loved Counter-Strike and didn’t have any plans of being on a sports team or anything else. A couple of weeks later, one of the football players came down who loved football but Counter-Strike, as well. They ended up becoming really good friends over the course of a semester. You don’t really see that anywhere else on campus. When it comes to the esports culture, we look at how we can activate individuals to be in a competitive setting that will help them further themselves later in life. Community first.
NAECAD: How are you educating students/athletes about career pathways in esports?
Corey Parks: When it comes to educating people on how to get into the esports space and get a job, I always tell people to dive in and start doing something. We have degrees and people that are trained to get you a job, but at the end of the day, we know that esports is so focused on GenZ and Millennials, and there are so many people who don’t know how to reach them as a demographic for ads, etc.
It comes back down to being genuine in the space because that’s the way it’s always been. We play the game, we’re passionate about it, tech companies cared a little bit because they sold us graphic cards, but leaders of pro orgs did it because they loved it. That’s why I tell people that if they want to be in a pro org, to go make one right now. If you want to do social media, reach out to a brand and start doing it. That’s how I educate — feet on the floor. If you don’t get experience at the college level, you’re going to be playing catchup when you get out there.