NAECAD Interview: Sari Kitelyn, Full Sail University

January 12, 2022

Full Sail Armada is Full Sail University’s collegiate esports organization. Armada competes across various games throughout the year, including Call of Duty, League of Legends, Rocket League, and more.

Sari Kitelyn is the Director of Esports and Project Development for Full Sail University. Kitelyn has been building and establishing Full Sail’s esports program for five years.

What is the current state of Full Sail University esports?

Sari Kitelyn: Our esports program is a tad different than some traditional collegiate esports programs. We have to embrace a complete 360 approach to esports. Building our program when we first started, we came at it from various strategic directions to best serve our internal communities, as well as ensuring our active role in the global esports community and industry at large.

We have thousands of active gamers and active players in the scene that are not necessarily here competitively, in addition to our competitive focused participants. We maintain both our varsity program and our community gameplay program simultaneously. We're also huge on events, both in-person and streaming, so many folks are familiar with our on-campus esports arena, and production facility, “The Full Sail University Orlando Health Fortress.” To date, it remains the largest collegiate esports arena on any college campus in the nation.

Building and maintaining relationships with industry leaders and community partners to host events on our campus that provide our students with valuable hands-on experience remains a main focus of ours. We work to maintain all of these areas simultaneously. As we continue to move our multifaceted approach forward, we remain committed to providing our student athletes and the esports community with a lasting positive impact.

Earlier, this year Full Sail University partnered with DreamHack for the DreamHack Beyond gaming festival. Can you tell us why that was important for the program and any advice for other universities trying to do something similar?

Sari Kitelyn: We've been a big fan of DreamHack for quite some time. I know that many folks are as well, and it was kind of honestly always on our wish list of could we do something with DreamHack? Could we do something like DreamHack? What DreamHack does for the global gaming community is phenomenal. Their inclusivity aspect of really just entertaining all areas is excellent, and they're spread out through the international sector is also wonderful.
How can we plugin, and how can we get involved?

We were fortunate enough to plugin from multiple areas including production, tournament hosting and content creation.. This is something that they [DreamHack] enjoy, and the breadth of job opportunities for our alumni in something like DreamHack is incredible.  This global event runs the gamut of so many different degree programs and bridges that connection between collegiate and the industry. I think DreamHack has so many fantastic initiatives and opportunities for connecting as they come back in person.

I would encourage so many folks to try to keep that going. It's just an excellent opportunity to connect with so many different organizations and areas within that space.

How is the esports program educating and engaging with parents about esports opportunities for their students?

Sari Kitelyn: We review guidance from some groups already doing this well in the industry. COPE is one - The Coalition of Parents in Esports. They do such a phenomenal job at just trying to make sure that people understand the benefits and value of esports.

Because our roots are within the entertainment & media industries, and we have had gaming degree programs for decades, we have a long-standing history of showcasing the benefits of the game industry, and why it's a legitimate place to build a career that could lie ahead. So for us, we had an excellent runway leading up to the development of esports at Full Sail.

Another area of opportunity that I think is phenomenal for those starting out in esports is the idea of content creation. An entrepreneurial component to being a content creator within esports is valuable for students to learn and understand. You're responsible for everything you're putting out there, and valuable lessons such as brand reputation are learned at a great age.

As the esports industry as a whole continues to grow, the opportunity for careers in this field continue to grow with it. From casters, tournament organizers, athletes, and coaches, to skilled talent managing event live streams, video, audio, graphics, social media, business development, and more, it’s exciting to see where our alumni are already making waves. I found that many parents are coming along, and I'm super appreciative of many people in the industry that are leading the way with those conversations.

Can you speak to how the Full Sail University experience has helped former students achieve jobs in the gaming and esports space?

Sari Kitelyn: This is one of my favorite parts and something I'm so proud of. Many of our grads are out there already doing amazing things. Our students are coming to Full Sail with a passion for the entertainment, media, and technology industries, and those who join Armada have a strong interest in esports. First and foremost our students are earning their degree while they're here in areas including IT, cybersecurity, film, entertainment, business, computer animation, game design, show production and more. While they’re focused on their areas of study, we also work to provide out students with real-world opportunities to hear from industry pros, shadow professionals working in industry roles on large scale events that we host on campus and provide access for them to continue to hone their skills. The Full Sail University Orlando Health Fortress is a remarkable facility, but for our students it also serves as a technologically advanced classroom where they are learning while putting their skills into practice.

The world is expanding, and just knowing and loving esports may not be enough to get you a successful career in this space. And so for us, a prime focus is if you're coming to school to learn and earn your degree in a specific field - . Whatever that field is, there may be an esports job that relates to it. So, figuring that out early on is beneficial to set you on the right path forward. What brought you to wanting a career in esports? What is it that you love about it?

In 2021, alongside our partners at Orlando Health, we awarded $50,000 in scholarships to Armada student athletes. We heard from alumni who accepted leadership positions helping to create and develop esports programs across the county.  As we embark on the new year ahead, in 2022 we are excited to be hosting events including the “Jump Off: Madden 22 Finals” on January 29, and the 4th annual “Bolts Chel Challenge” NHL 22 tournament on February 12. We remain committed to supporting our students' dreams and look forward to standing alongside our alumni as they share their talents in furthering the growth of the esports industry.

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