NAECAD Interview: Dr. Michele King, William & Mary

March 9, 2022

The last thing anyone would expect from a speech lecturer is for them to create an esports program for a storied institution in Williamsburg, Virginia.. But for Dr. Michele King, she decided on just that.

Since becoming the Director of the Academic & Applied Esports program at William & Mary (W&M), King has helped the program grow exponentially to around 500 participants within two years. On top of fielding competitive teams, W&M offers various courses that help students build skills for their own use. Designed to help both inside and out of esports. The W&M Esports program is unmistakably showing its effectiveness throughout the student body, the surrounding community, and beyond.

The National Association of Esports Coaches and Directors (NAECAD) interviewed Dr. King about the program’s current state, its division into separate disciplines, and more.

What is the current state of William & Mary Esports?

Dr. Michele King: “Our journey began a little more than two years ago, like any great entrepreneurial idea, on the back of a napkin.  During that time, we developed the Academic & Applied Esports program. Our academic approach is grounded in education, exploration, and experiential learning.  We conduct research in esports. For example, we had a Monroe scholar receive a grant to explore diversity in character customization or a student who collaborated with world renowned W&M faculty to publish a chapter in an esports book.  We offer courses in esports and we’re  exploring ways to build out a minor. In fact, our Faculty Task Force reflects the interdisciplinary nature of esports with representation from the Business School, School of Education, and Arts & Sciences. Most importantly, we have students actively taking part in pioneering this landscape. We have students who work closely with me as Esports Pioneers (EPs).  They bring their passion of data analytics, wellness, curriculum design, sponsorship and outreach, and content creation, and we mentor them using an esports lens. We recently had one of our EPs receive the 2021 Gen. G $10,000 scholarship or another EP who learned to write a proposal that was approved for a Pepsi sponsorship. The applied approach is our competitive edge. We started with five titles the first year and have grown to eight titles this year.  We held tryouts with more than 135 students competing and 63 made the cut. Our D1 varsity players receive a cool jersey, attend team practices, receive stellar coaching, and use the ETARC (Esports Training & Research Center)that houses our Alienware gaming stations. We represent W&M on the national stage through our membership with EGF (Electronic Gaming Federation) which is the governing body for D1 universities with esports programs.” 

Why is the esports program broken down into 3 disciplines (Academic, Applied, Wellness & Community)?

Dr. Michele King: “Not only do our students have strong academic and applied opportunities, but they experience a program grounded in wellness and community. We have students from the psychological sciences department who are being trained through the prestigious W&M Center for Mindfulness and Authentic Excellence (CMAX).  The Esports Wellness Advocates are learning how to assess the goals of each team, develop a wellness toolkit, and guide them to resources we have available. Nothing can flourish if you don’t have wellness. We have a saying that we need both self-care as well as community-care.”   

How is the esports program building awareness on campus and in the community?

Dr. Michele King: “We have more than 500 students involved in our esports community who game casually or competitively.  On campus, we organized a Development Day to learn about flourishing as a gamer, held watch parties, streamed fundraisers, hosted team socials, invited students to cast games, and offered weekly tournaments. In the community, we will be hosting the inaugural W&M STEM & SCRIM(™) Esports Summer Camp for rising 8th graders to seniors in high school.  The co-ed day camp will have sessions in the morning on topics from computer animation, marketing, educational gaming, leadership, and wellness. In the afternoon, campers will scrimmage in the ETARC against each other and perhaps a visit from some of our D1 varsity players. Next month, we will take part in the Ampersand International Arts Festival where folks in the community can meet our players and try their gaming skills against our scholar-athletes. We are honored to have the support of President Rowe, Provost Agouris, Vice Provost Hanson, numerous faculty, staff, and administrators, and a host of other esports advocates across campus.  Ultimately, we are doing this for the students who have found an esports home at W&M.”

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